SINGAPORE, WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2018 – While angel investors are crucial in providing the magic that brings your business idea to life, equally coveted is the quest to earn your unicorn horn (if only so you can stand as a shining titan of your sector and inspire generations of entrepreneurs that would follow in your footsteps).


In today’s lightning-fast world, start-ups looking to maintain a healthy bottom line must be able to meet consumer demand that often can change from moment to moment. Getting the basics of your business correct is just part of the puzzle; once you’ve worked out a viable business model, you’ll need to ensure it is ready and able to scale in tandem with market or investor demand.


Entrepreneurs need to ensure a steady trajectory as they navigate from start-up to small business to eventually joining the ranks of vaunted legends at the $1 billion mark. This means steady and predictable growth, agility to make changes, and the capacity to accommodate them.


Of course, every business is different, and faces unique challenges on their journey to unicorn-hood. However, there are also universal problems that confront every entrepreneur. Here are 5 things your business must do to set the right foundation.


  1. Hire the Right People

Business owners and investors know the importance of hiring the right people – it can literally make or break your business. Yet, how many of us actually go the distance to find the right person for the job?


Many start-ups rely on their own (limited) network to fill positions, or tap temporary resources like family members and friends to stand in. While that might work in a pinch (say, during a particularly busy Sunday), it will not bode well for your business in the long run.


Instead, invest in finding the right person for your business – even if you have to hire expensive headhunters to help you fill core positions. Look out for talent who can do what machines can’t, have plenty of great ideas, and can comfortably take on multiple roles.


  1. Automate, Automate, Automate

Yes, there’s nothing wrong with doing your P&L statement for the month on a piece of A4 paper. But if you truly want to scale your business then you need to automate everything about your business that can be automated.


Say you’ve successfully launched a new shampoo made of Tibetan yak wax, and your customers are clamouring for more. Orders are growing by the double digits week-on-week, and projected revenue is skyrocketing.


However, there is no way your current delivery fleet consisting of one rusting van driven by your 70-year-old uncle can keep up with the deliveries. And not to mention the logistical nightmare of stock-taking you now find yourself wading into.


Look, who knew Tibetan yak shampoo would be such a hit? But, if you switch to an automated logistics and order fulfilment system that tracks and responds in real time, you’d be relaxing with  a luxurious bath at home, instead of tearing your hair out in your backyard warehouse.


  1. Outsource Whenever You Can

You and your core team members should be busy dealing with all the important stuff, such as strategy, direction, communication and growth. Everything else – from execution to fulfilment and after-sales support – can (and should) be outsourced.


Outsourcing is advantageous because it allows a business to quickly gain needed capabilities without having to invest time and money setting up a department internally. This means that outsourcing at the right time can enable your business to scale up when market demand surges. It can also provide crucial support to your business as it adjusts to a new level of activity.


Outsourcing can also provide temporary support while you find and groom the necessary talent to bring the function in-house – which you may eventually want to do, for certain roles such as marketing.


Having said that, don’t forget that there are selected economies of scale that small businesses or start-ups would find difficult to achieve, such as in last-mile fulfilment. Far better to subscribe to an order fulfilment system that you can customise to your needs, than to burn your profits maintaining your own delivery fleet.


  1. Stay Engaged in Social Media

At the risk of stating the obvious, social media is not the same as mass media. The main difference is that social media provides a way for brands to engage with their target audience.


The key here is engagement. Don’t treat social media like you would mass media – it’s not simply another channel to push your promotions, it’s a two-way channel that will let you learn what consumers really think about your brand, and what they want to see coming from you.


Successful brands understand that engagement is a two-way game; it allows them to test out ideas before committing time and money and other valuable resources.


Thus, social media is a relatively inexpensive yet powerful tool that can help start-ups chart the course towards that coveted $1 billion valuation.


  1. Make Your Marketing Scalable

Marketing is an important business activity that you’ll need to engage in at every stage of your business. The tricky thing is marketing costs in Singapore can be prohibitively expensive. How do you make sure your hard-won investor dollars generate the most bang for your buck in your marketing campaigns?


Consider making your marketing scalable. What does that mean? Well, simply put, it means putting out marketing that reinforces your brand while engaging your target audience. And of all the forms of marketing out there, content marketing is the most scalable.


At its heart, marketing is storytelling, and content marketing is simply being skilled at crafting and translating the brand story into engaging pieces of content that your target audience would seek out and consume.


In order to help your business achieve scalability, consider investing in a skilled and experienced content marketer, one with the wit, creativity, boldness and vision to take your brand story into the needed formats and directions, so as to strike the right chord with your audience.


Scale Up to Earn That Unicorn Horn

Building scalability in your business is not optional – it is what every business needs to do in order to become or stay viable.


Knowing when to scale is as important as knowing how to, and trying to choose the right time can sometimes feel like you’re trying to decipher an ancient prophecy. However, with a little courage, plenty of insight and a dash of luck, your business just might make the leap.


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