If you lead a small business, then you likely know that one of the most important times in your company is when you are putting something new out in the world for your consumers. This month, I’m thinking a lot about launches, as I recently went through a big launch in my own business. Whether it’s a line, a new product, or a new service, a launch is always a special time — and a time especially prone to false starts, mess-ups, and general snafus.
There are few times more stressful for a small business than launch time, and making sure that you lay the groundwork to attack head-on the stresses of a small business launch are essential. Here are a few key ways to be ready for what’s to come. Because it’s coming, I promise.
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Have a Plan
There’s a quote about well-laid plans going awry that you likely know. It’s not the time to remember it now. As a small business owner, you probably have had the experience a time (or twenty) of laying down the best of plans, only to have them blow up in your face. Things change, and so should plans. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make them. Taking the time to create detailed plans is an essential step in getting a launch out the door as successfully as possible. Yes, those plans will change. But without them, you’d be stuck at the starting gate. Take a cue from some of my past failures to remember that having a plan – even if it will change! – is the most important first step. After all, thinking about the many possibilities is a critical part of plan formation, and even when one possibility doesn’t come to fruition – and another that you didn’t plan for does – you’ll have at the very least considered some of the alternatives.
Once you have a plan in place, then it’s time to go beyond considering the contingencies, and actually think hard about them. Asking yourself a few hard questions is a great way to get going. Questions like, “If we don’t hit our goal, then what?” are essential for any small business owner to think about. Oftentimes we don’t want to acknowledge that things might not go as great as we hope, but doing so will help us to be better able to tackle head first those potential challenges should they arise.
Get a Team
Good launches don’t happen alone, and it’s important to ensure that your small business is ready for the onslaught of good and bad that happens during launch time. Do so by getting extra help during those critical days or weeks. Importantly, though, don’t hire the extra help at the last minute when you’re already struggling under the weight of dozens of customer service requests that need urgent answers. Calling in the big guns – in the form of a team to support you – is essential to do before the madness starts.
Whether it involves requesting extra hours for current team members, or finding some support members who can step in just during your launch time as part-time support, the key is to ensure that there are extra hands who can offer the help you need when you (might) need it most, and to ensure that you’re not scrambling to find them last minute.
As always, be as smart as possible in getting folks up to speed on the potential work they might have to take on before they need to dive into the fray – even if it means spending some money to pay for those learning hours.
Care about the Details
Are you a details person? I’m not. So that’s why I’ve got to rely on people around me to help me.
Last year, I was in the midst of a launch when, thanks to a server error, we found more than 1500 emails that had been hidden from our inbox. Many of these emails were from customers who had urgent concerns about all manner of issues relating to the products they had purchased. I had been in charge of the hosting domain (and the attendant email addresses that went to it), but I wasn’t doing anything to write home about. The lesson? Remember the details (and don’t ever put me in charge of understanding things related to email servers!). Things like the settings on your hosting provider matter. If you’re not a details person, make sure that someone on your team is. You need someone both cracking the whip — and ensuring that you’re signing on the right dotted line.
One of the most important things I’ve started to do when it comes to details is to realize that finding people who are detailed oriented is a skill in and of itself – and asking “are you a detailed oriented person?” doesn’t necessarily cut it. During the hiring process for any short or long term member, get as many specific examples as possible of an individual’s past work successes to best analyze they type of work they thrive at – and the type they struggle with.
Ultimately, successful launches depend on preparation. Launches can be wonderful times, and they can also be verified disasters. (I’ve experienced both.) If you know ahead of time that landmines lie ahead, you’ll be better prepared to confront the problems that will arise.
Always be prepared. In small business launches, and in life.