When you’re an entrepreneur, YOU are as much a representation of your brand as your product or service are. That means investors, industry insiders, and customers will be looking closely at you before deciding whether to invest in your idea. You need to be able to show those assessing you that you’re the real deal, and that in addition to a good idea, you have the skills, mindset, and experience to make it work. .
Building credibility is all about maintaining and capitalizing on the fresh perspective you will bring to the industry of your idea, while still leveraging experience (be it your own or that of your advisors and mentors). If you’re not sure where to start, and find the prospect of building your credibility along with your actual product, service, business and customer base overwhelming, consider these 7 ways to build your entrepreneur cred.
Be focused. It can be tempting to get ahead of yourself once you have an idea or to view being an entrepreneur like being an idea factory. Remember, though, that while ideas are wonderful foundations, execution is the bulk of the battle. In order to execute your idea into a thriving business, your focus and plans must be clear.
That means having a strong idea of who your customers are and how to reach them. It also means understanding the problem that your product or service solves, and how to best communicate that to your target customer. You need a solid strategy for getting from idea to market. Too many entrepreneurs lose credibility by having too many potential ideas – wanting to broaden their idea to be for any customer, wanting to map out the full product suite, wanting to exhaust every marketing channel – but this lack of focus shows that you don’t know how to turn the idea into a real business.
Show your business sense through a strong business plan. One of the ways to display your focus and business smarts, as well as gain respect and trust, is through a solid and well-articulated business plan.
For instance, it’s important to have good projections. Be realistic, but also ambitious. To achieve this, your projections will need to balance showing the market potential of your idea, while being achievable through realistic near-term goals. This requires calculating your market size through two methods: bottom-up and top-down.
“Bottom-up”: determine the specific number of users or customers required to reach your goals, and show how you’re going to strategically acquire them. You can’t expect customers to find and choose you without a lot of hard work to make it happen. Google ads and social media can help build awareness, but they usually aren’t enough. You’ll need to figure out exactly where your customers are and how to best reach them. That means doing a lot of research to understand their habits, behaviors, and trends within your market area.
“Top-down”: this approach takes the total market size for your offering and breaks it down to the specific initial target market. Your target market size needs to be specific enough that within five years you would be achieving at least 5% of the market while still reaching between $1 million and $10 million in the fifth year. This also means that you must be more than just your product, because once a product reaches market saturation, it exhausts its capacity to keep growing your business. So, it’s important to show that your business is more than a one-off invention or gimmick and will have the potential to grow beyond your initial market.
Have great marketing collateral. In order to be credible, you need to be able to clearly communicate your value. Great marketing collateral helps you do that. Remember that no one is going to inherently know about you and believe in your vision and plan. And you can’t just tell them you’re awesome and expect their time, efforts or cash; you’ll need to show them.
You’ll need content — be it your website, videos, emails, infographics — that help establish that you and your business have the focus, knowledge, and strategy to deliver on your vision. Many new entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that their product or vision will speak for itself, but this undervaluing of the hard work required to commercialize an idea is a red flag screaming out the naivete of the founder.
Perception inspires belief, and belief inspires action. This means that professional and polished marketing materials will get customers and partners to take action to support you.
Leverage the credibility of others. Having credible advisors and partners gets you well on your way to being credible yourself. Investors want to see that you are tactical about your traction, not just leaving it up to chance. It can therefore be beneficial to seek out big partnerships early on. This way, you’ll look good by association and may gain access to networking opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have.
It’s also great to find influencers who believe in and would go to bat for your brand and business. Testimonials, like partnerships, can really help your business take off. If you can find a handful of trusted experts in your field to lend a few lines in praise of your business, product, or even you as an entrepreneur, it can help get your foot in the door with others.
Aim high! Don’t think that because you haven’t proven your concept or yourself with big rounds of funding or massive media coverage, that you shouldn’t aim for those influential partners who can help you give you the boost you need. If they’re looking for fledgling, hungry entrepreneurs to help mold, motivate and elevate, you are barking up the right tree.
Have great advisors. No matter how bright and motivated you are, you don’t know everything (don’t worry; no one does!). It’s therefore important to find advisors who know the world you’re entering and can help you navigate it. Remember that you are only as good as the people you work with. Take the wrong advice and you could find added and unnecessary obstacles in your path to business success.
Good advisors, though, bring more experience to your project, plus can assess your plans and product in a more objective way than you can. They’re able to steer you in the right direction if your enthusiasm or the myriad options at your disposal start pushing you off track. On the flip side of this, they can also provide some much-needed moral support when you face challenges, helping you get back on track and turn obstacles into opportunities.
Balance confidence with listening. It’s ultra important to be confident in your business, plan, and abilities. But it’s also important to listen and be adaptable. Keep in mind that many of the questions you’ll receive from investors, advisors and others are intended to provoke you to think creatively. The first reaction most people have to challenging questions is to try to re-explain their decisions, tell how they already considered the alternatives, or otherwise shrug the question off or explain it away. This is a mistake! Often, these questions are serving two purposes: to politely push you towards considering the underlying reason for the question, plus to see how open you are to feedback.
Dismissing the ideas and suggestions of others can point to a stubborn streak and make it hard for people to want to work with you. Fierce stubbornness and refusal to consider incorporating more than just one’s own perspective into how things are done are signs of a very green, immature entrepreneur. That creates an added risk for anyone who might commit resources to your business’s success, which some may be unwilling to take.
Be open to feedback and suggestions, and let the voices of others (like the advisors I stressed earlier in this post) influence you when appropriate. You aren’t going it alone. Remember that in order to be taken seriously and have a strong shot at success, you’ll need to have smart people on your side. Draw from the wisdom and creativity of others, as they may be able to see things you can’t because you’re too close to your concept or product.
Be honest. Nothing makes you more credible to both partners and customers than authenticity. As I mentioned when I talked about the Airport Test in a previous post, being constantly “on” and trying too hard to impress can actually be a turnoff for those considering doing business with you.
People are tired of inflated promises and overly salesy pitches, and they can sniff those things out pretty quickly. They want to see the genuine value of what you have to offer, and they want to work with someone who is transparent in their dealings.
Remember that trust is fundamental to all business relationships and being credible means being trustworthy. Cultivate an open, earnest and real persona, let who you are shine through in your business interactions and inform your choices.
Just as important as presenting yourself in an authentic way is presenting your tool or app or product the same way. While you want to own and capitalize on the positives and convey confidence in what your business can do, you don’t want to overshoot or oversell anything. Never promise outcomes you aren’t 100% sure you can deliver.
In fact, I’m a proponent of the philosophy of under-promising and over-delivering. When you under-promise, you set expectations that are just below what you know your business can achieve. Then, over-deliver by going a bit above the expectations you’ve set. You’ll pleasantly surprise customers.
While it can be a challenge to build credibility as a new entrepreneur, there are some simple ways to show that you and your business are worth support. Show your business sense, be focused, bring on credible partners and advisors, and be open and honest.