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Startup life in the time of Corona, Lesson 1: Offering

In this series, I share with you some of the key learnings I have had from my first 6 months of launching my first startup (Shiageto Consulting) and how those lessons are applicable for the challenges my business is facing during this pandemic crisis (and any business at any time in fact)

The initial challenge

So, what have I learnt in the last 6 months of running a startup about my offering and how might that be of relevance to things currently?

I mean, surely offering is easy, right? Everyone should understand what it is you do, it's not rocket science. Really? Have you ever asked your grandparents what they think you do for a living ("he's a very nice boy"), or your parents ("it's something to do with business isn't it?") or even your best friend ("yeah of course, you're a consultant, you consult on things")?

Hmm, worrying is how I put it. Heck, even I'm sometimes not sure what it is I do or what my business specialises in (it is so tempting to say everything) that I have to remind myself. With this in mind, my first 2 weeks as a startup was spent locked in a room writing down all the things I think I could offer, refining it down to a list of things that I could actually offer and was passionate about, then removing the ones that nobody cared about before finally having the nucleus of an idea of what it is I wanted my business to focus on (for the record that is helping businesses get greater clarity on what success was for them, how they could best get there and what barriers stood in their way with a heavy focus on improving their softskills as a low cost boost to their business and employees).

With my mind quite clear on this, I then spent another 2 weeks trying to come up with a good way to summarise this to others (not as easy as it seems and why I eventually came up with the famous Shiageto equation Success = IQ x EQ xFQ).

Relieved that I'd done all the hard work, I then went out into the big wide world, tested my offering with a select bunch of folk and.... was gutted when it fell a bit flat. Many folk didn't get it, others desperately wanted to pigeon hole my business ("oh, you're just like so-and-so) and some others just interpreted it how they wanted to (I suspect with this group it was a reflection on the kind of business they might set up). I also got some great feedback that it was too broad and that I needed to focus on just how I would help clients.

So back to my Batcave, I continued to work on it, getting more specific, chucking words out, coming up with analogies, tweaking aspects here and there. The lesson I learnt was that rather than do lots of work and then reveal, I tested it more regularly, brought people in to help build it with me so that finally it made sense to more folk. My entire company website was built thanks to the input of some lovely folk (some of whom are very senior individuals who surprised me with just how much of their time they gave so generously) who would review draft paragraphs at a time and give me feedback on them.

What I was left with, as an end result after my first month, was an offering that was more focused, made a lot more sense, that resonated with people, that I was proud of and that I could explain in under 10 seconds or hold in-depth conversations for hours about. That doesn't mean that it was complete. I discovered that I could never expect everyone to get it first time, so I continued developing different variations just in case (something you learn early on is that as a startup owner you will never stop talking about your own business).

How has the pandemic amplified my challenge?

I'm so glad I continued to adapt, refine and understand my offering (not just the offering itself but the benefits it delivers, why I do it, who it's predominantly for, etc.) because when this pandemic hit I noticed the amplification of 3 things: 1) people had less time for sales pitches so they needed you to be clearer and more to the point; 2) businesses had much less discretionary spend so if I can't articulate the whats-in-it-for-them/me (WIIFM) then they weren't interested; 3) people were less interested in generalist responses, they want specific solutions and see people promising the earth as disingenuous.

I've been immensely glad that I'd been through the pain at the start of my startup journey that I am prepared to explain things more simply, in different ways and to continuing adapting how to articulate my offering. This wasn't a new challenge; instead of swimming against a difficult current, I was now swimming against a more difficult current (it still required my same swimming skills).

So, what are my takeaways from this learning?

Now, don't get me wrong. I still have days where I have major doubts that I'm not offering the market the right product and that I'm not able to articulate it in the right way but I've come a long way from my naive first step of "I'm sure everyone will understand what it is I am offering".

That said, the things I ask myself everyday (and might be of use to you - just change the word Shiageto for your business/job/life) are:

  • Am I passionate and genuine about what it is Shiageto offers? [In a worse case scenario, if nobody pays for any of these services or realises that I do them, will I still leap out of bed to deliver them]

  • Am I specific enough on what the services that Shiageto offers?

  • Can I explain Shiageto's offering in under 10 words? Do I have enough different ways to explain it if required?

  • Have I tested my offering recently? Have I genuinely listened to the feedback I have received? [I should have no sacred cows and not be precious about anything]

  • Am I claiming to do too much?

Phew! Who would have thought that there was so much to something as simple as an offering? It's been a real journey on this one and I'm sure there's more to come but at least after 6 months of grappling with Shiageto's offering I am now much more confident what to say to people when they ask "What is it you do?".

Never, underestimate the importance of that. It's been a real pleasure to share this with you and hopefully you'll join me for the next blog where I talk what my learnings have been around marketing.

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