Eternal Sunshine of a Flawless Plan: Winning Startup Strategies

Ever see the 2004 Kate Winslet/Jim Carrey film? Turns out it has a lot in common with an entrepreneurial startup.

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By Dipti Parmar

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | Focus Features

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How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot:
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resign'd

-- Alexander Pope

Very often, business school graduates emerge from their studies holding degrees along with big plans, immaculate strategies and dreams of entrepreneurship. Fast-forward a few years, and you'll typically find them ruminating over the collapse of those perfectly built business plans.

Related: Taking the Startup Plunge? Be Prepared for These 5 Realities.

Certainly, it's great to have a flawless business plan, your sales figures right and your market- and consumer-behavior analysis near perfect. But this is not usually the case -- regardless of those midnight inspirations, the feverish work, the plans drawn up with angel investors. Instead, an entrepreneur with big ambitions should pursue six distinct strategies:

1. Build a business plan.

"What's the goal, Joel?" -- Clementine, Kate Winslet's character, as she addresses Joel (Jim Carrey) in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

A lot of lean and bootstrapping startups forego business plans, as they don't need to raise investment funds. And some advice actually supports this belief: In a paper released in 2009, Julian E. Lange and his team said that writing a business plan before launching a new venture was required only for entrepreneurs seeking external startup funding.

So, it has suddenly become a "thing" to launch a business without a plan. But, on the other hand, we've seen businesses like Roaring Lion Energy Drink that started off merely because of a business plan. Also, entrepreneurship researchers have found that people who make a business plan are two-and-a-half times more likely to get their businesses off the ground.

So, the first step of your strategy should be to write down a detailed business plan.

Related: 4 Reasons Why a Traditional 40-Page Business Plan Is an Insane Waste of Time

2. Get an advisor/partner.

"My goal is to let it flow; there's all these emotions and ideas and they come quick and they change and they leave and they come back in a different form and I think we're all taught we should be consistent." -- Clementine

ScaleOut founder and CEO Bill Bain emphasized in an interview the importance of having a co-founder. Turns out that a solo entrepreneur may be singularly attached to a business idea and not open to changes. A co-founder, investor or advisor, however, can force the entrepreneur to look at things previously ignored or overlooked.

This is considered among the best strategies for startups, to ensure success.

3. Define branding and marketing strategy.

"I don't think your personality comes out of a tube. I think the hair is just . . . a pretty topping." -- Joel

The third step of your startup strategy should be to define your consumer persona and market segment. Does your product solve a problem or is it just a pretty topping? Is the market for your product scalable?

Do you think the demand for your product will increase with time or peter out? All these questions will help you define your product, brand, market segment and pricing. Once you have a sound branding strategy, you can move forward to the next step.

4. Get help.

"Look, man, I'm telling you right off the bat, I'm high maintenance. If you want to be with me, you're with me." -- Clementine

Startups are energy suckers. They get the life out of you. You end up working 18 hours a day from dawn until dusk and sometimes until dawn again. So you have to get smart, hard-working and intelligent people on to your team as early in the game as possible.

First, however, you have to start with a lean team, just a few highly motivated people, as startups are not for the faint of heart. Moreover, learn to use SaaS tools to handle small or peripheral jobs, like invoicing, project management and social media management, as they will prove to be a great help.

Greg Linden, founder of the news and blog aggregation website Findory, in his final note, wrote about the importance of team, advisors and lawyers and further explained that trying to do everything yourself can cost time and result in errors born of inexperience.

5. Create a budget-friendly marketing.

"Seaside gusts of wind,
And a house in which we don't live..."

-- Famed Russian poet Anna Akhmatova

Startups are all about frugality and budget. From working in a shoebox to saving on prototyping and advertising, you'll discover several ways in which to work on a tight budget. Many a startup has gone down simply because it blew up its seed capital. Example: GroupSpaces admitted committing the all-too-common sin of premature scaling, which eats away into the runway capital.

You will find a lot of budget-friendly ideas for marketing on the Internet, if you look, however. The best way forward for entrepreneurs is to focus on what they have and try to stretch their startup dollars.

6. Be nimble, for a business pivot.

"Maybe you need to look at this as a sign to move on. Just make a clean break." -- Carrie (another character in the film, portrayed by Jane Adams)

A business pivot can be one of the most important things for a startup's survival. Every business should have plan B, to which it can jump if plan A doesn't work. From Twitter to Starbucks to Suzuki, many businesses in the past have made a clean break and moved on.

If your own startup strategy doesn't have a plan B, C or D, your business may not be considered a sound investment. The CEO of Imercive, in the company's post-mortem, said that failing to pivot sooner was the biggest mistake he had made.

So, a flawless plan for ensuring the success of your startup should include making a business plan; this can act as the big push you need to get off the ground. Next, have someone out there who will constantly question your beliefs, and raise concerns over your ideas. Think of a co-founder or advisor as a parachute that you need when you jump off that high plane.

And at any cost, avoid high expenses and keep a lean team of smart and motivated employees ready to work at startup salaries. Last but not least, stay nimble. If that undesirable situation arises, don't waste time preparing for plan B. Have it ready to go.

If you follow these strategies, you can ensure eternal sunshine for your startup!

Related: 3 Rules for Making a Successful Pivot

Dipti Parmar

Digital Marketing Consultant

Dipti Parmar is an experienced business and marketing consultant. She helps startups, brands and individuals build a stellar online reputation and establish thought leadership in their industry, with innovative content and digital marketing campaigns.

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