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Working Smart vs. Hard

Posted by Seth Elliott On October - 19 - 2010

This article was first published as “Smart vs. Hard” on Technorati

Woody Allen famously said, “Ninety percent of success is just showing up.” The fact is, in a startup environment, you have to show up A LOT. Grinding out 12-plus-hour days is certainly a hallmark (if not a badge of honor) for many successful startups.

However, there’s certainly more to it than simply putting in the time. A big part of entrepreneurial success is working smart – not just hard.

Unfortunately, many aspiring founders seem to be stuck on the bottom end of this scale – all perspiration and no inspiration. (There are founders boxed in at the other end also, but we’ll save that examination for another time.) There comes a time, relatively early in your company’s life cycle, when you need to pull your nose up from the grindstone and take stock if you’re actually advancing your corporate goals.

Fill a need. Be certain that your product actually plugs a hole in the marketplace. Satisfying customers is inspiring – particularly because that results in sales (revenues!). If your product doesn’t move off the shelf in a reasonable time frame, you should be evaluating your circumstances.

Seek Competitive Advantage. I see a lot of “me too” business plans lately. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with replicating a competitor’s success (particularly with key modifications or improvements). Nonetheless, creating breakthrough innovations, new intellectual property, proprietary developments and new business processes are particularly satisfying and a source of foundational strength in building a startup.

Hoard IP. In a related fashion, create intellectual property wherever you can. Register domain names. File for trademarks and service marks. Copyright when appropriate. Register the same (and related names) on social media sites. File patents whenever possible. Building a storehouse of intellectual property should serve you well in the future.

Foster Development. Serve as a mentor and leader to your team. Build a strategy and make specific efforts to encourage the development of new skills throughout your organization. Education and learning can serve as the foundation for many in-company developments that shortcut time to market or create new forms of competitive advantage.

Model. Remember a great product with a competitive advantage does not a business make. Figure out how to outprice your competitors, deliver better service, a higher quality product and still produce a fantastic gross margin. OK – once that fantasy is disposed of, realize that focusing on a core business model designed to deliver success is a key component of working smart. Control what you can – particularly your own knowledge base – and find a business model that can serve as a foundation for successful growth.

At the end of the day, your startup is about achieving revenues and profits. Whatever reasonable steps you take to get there are the right ones. Nonetheless, try focusing on working “smart” in addition to working “hard” and see if you can’t get there faster – while having more fun.

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About the Author

I have spent the last 15 years advising entrepreneurs on starting and growing their businesses, as well as assisting in financing those growth efforts. I have also been an entrepreneur on several occasions myself. By writing this blog, I hope to provide actionable advice on how to achieve your goals and become more successful.