Doing something new and different sounds exciting. But it’s almost never easy. In fact, it can be downright lonely as you work to convince the world of the beauty and wonder of your great idea.
It’s always harder than it seems in real life. Whether you’re launching a startup or creating a new approach to a persistent problem, it takes more than a passionate speech to get buy-in from influential champions for your cause. If it’s new, it’s unproven. And risky. And no matter how much you believe in it, your passion will only take you so far.
So, how can you win over customers, influencers and decision-makers for something that’s never been done?
I had the privilege of building a company from scratch, so I’m very familiar with the inevitable challenges of launching something new. And my good friend Lauren Wesley Wilson founded ColorComm, a business community for women of color in the communications industry. So, we sat down recently to talk about what it takes to go from unproven to unprecedented success.
Here are 6 takeaways from that conversation you can apply to your own launching pad.
1. Meet an unmet need – This is one of the best places to start when thinking up new concepts, so look for the opportunity to position your idea in this way. Show how your solution delivers something unique, or how you can do it better, faster or cheaper than an existing solution. Lauren saw that women of color lacked opportunities in the communications industry. While supporting women in business isn’t new, focusing on women of color is. Lauren developed a vision for ColorComm, shared it with others and generated a lot of interest for meeting an unmet need.
2. Adapt and evolve – Very rarely does a successful idea look the same from launch to maturity. Most go through numerous revisions and adaptations, responding to market dynamics and customer feedback. We certainly have pushed – and still push – Mitchell Communications to evolve to serve our clients’ ever-changing needs. You have to, or you’ll get left behind. Once she had ColorComm up and going, Lauren learned the importance of listening to her supporters to find ways to improve the organization. “At the beginning, I was focused on realizing my vision,” said Lauren. “But over time, as I listened to others, I heard them bring new ideas forward. For example, they wanted resources and a community to help them when they faced challenges in their careers.”
Lauren used that feedback to develop new services for members that led to more business opportunities, advanced programming, and a talent initiative.
3. Earn trust – Overcoming the skepticism of others is one of the biggest obstacles when launching something new. Demonstrating your credibility and reliability is particularly difficult if people don’t know you or haven’t worked with you. They’re taking a chance on you, not just your product.
Each of these factors is critical to earning trust, but reliability can be particularly important if you don’t have a long track record. If that’s the case, start with a smaller ask that has a quicker payback and then deliver an early win.
In the early stages of launching her big idea, Lauren said she focused on showing others they could count on her, that she could do the work, and that she had staying power and determination.
“Many new organizations are not sustainable,” said Lauren. “People wonder if you’ll be around next year. You have to show some results as quickly as possible to give them confidence to invest in you for the long-run.”
4. Move with speed – In the early stages of a project, move quickly to seize opportunity, especially when the competition is stiff. This requires you to be available, responsive and accessible.
In the early years of Mitchell Communications, we often turned projects at breakneck speed – sometimes overnight, if needed. This was a competitive advantage because our competition, while more established, was too big and too slow.
Lauren said that type of agility also helped her build an effective team, earn sponsorship support and recruit top executives for her board.
5. Deal with “no” – There are those who simply won’t share your confidence in your idea, and that can be hard to take. That’s why founders and innovators must be resilient and thick skinned.
“You’re not going to appeal to everyone,” said Lauren. “Accept that fact from the beginning, and instead concentrate your efforts on searching for your audience. It can be scary to champion an untested idea, but you have to put yourself out there.”
If you are authentic and your passion shines through, the naysayers won’t get you down and your confidence will spread. “This will win others over,” Lauren said, “and trickle down to your team.”
6. Take smart risk – It’s tough to know when and how to take risk when starting something new. So much is on the line. Lauren’s experience shows you must consider several things:
- Your intuition – Follow your gut. There are times you will just know it is the right thing to do.
- Balance your emotions with reasoning – There are times you will want something so badly. But some of the most important factors — like timing, audience, resources – aren’t there yet. In that case, you must be patient and wait for a better opportunity.
- Don’t be afraid to fail – Fear of failure is one of the biggest reasons people don’t take risk. But you can’t fixate on it. Lauren learned to think of failure as a catalyst for growth. “If we fail, how can we recover quickly, learn from our mistakes and never make them again. We’re hurting ourselves and our organization if we don’t learn. That’s just how you grow.”
What’s the best piece of advice a mentor ever gave you?
Focus. Don’t get caught up in distractions or try too hard to prove yourself. Concentrate on doing what is most important. You know what you need to do. Do it. — Lauren Wesley Wilson
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