For prospective small business owners, getting a new company off the ground may seem to be an intensely complicated endeavor. Though there’s no question that the process can be long and detailed — requiring research, analysis, funding and planning — it can be beneficial for the entrepreneur to focus on the basic concept of simplicity.
In a story for Forbes, Mike Kappel writes that this can start in the idea phase.
“Be careful not to let your concept snowball into something overcomplicated,” he says. “You could end up with an expensive, elaborate end-product that nobody wants to buy. As a new business owner, try to start small and narrow your focus. Learn how to test your business idea. Create a simple, quality good or service. A successful business idea should fulfill promises to customers and exceed expectations.”
Here’s a look at how simplicity can help small business owners properly focus in the early stages.
This is a key step in the start of a small business, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be an overly complex document. Among the crucial parts of a good business plan are an explanation of the concept, product and services; analysis of the market opportunity and competition; and financial needs and projections. In an excerpt of Entrepreneur Media’s book Write Your Business Plan, the authors note that plans often run 15-25 pages:
“Miniplans of five to 10 pages are the popular concise models that may stand on their own for smaller businesses. … The size of the plan will also depend on the nature of your business and your reason for writing it. If you have a simple concept, you may be able to express it in very few words. On the other hand, if you’re proposing a new kind of business or even a new industry, it may require quite a bit of explanation to get the message across.”
As Tim Berry writes for Entrepreneur, simplicity also applies to sentence structure, formats and charts.
“Don’t confuse your business plan with a doctoral thesis or a lifetime task,” he writes. “Keep the wording and formatting straightforward, and keep the plan short. But don’t confuse simple wording and formats with simple thinking. The reason you’re keeping it simple isn’t because you haven’t developed your idea fully. You’re keeping it simple so you can get your point across quickly and easily to whoever’s reading it.”
Brainstorming sessions for a small business can bring all kinds of ideas to the surface. Many may not be realistic, and some may be so ambitious that they require a great deal of further research. And some may fall right in line with the business’ goals, taking advantage of its strengths. In a story for allbusiness.com, Susan Guillory writes, “It’s easy to get trapped into thinking that we’ve got to continually increase the complexity of what we’re doing. In fact, complexity only brings chaos.”
As an example, Guillory uses fast-food giant McDonald’s, when it has occasionally branched out with new products that strayed from its usual menu with “wild-card items like the McLobster and McSpaghetti.”
“Nobody expected these items to do well because McDonald’s thrives at making hamburgers,” she explains. “ … But recently McDonald’s decided to do something super simple: offer breakfast all day. And guess what happened? Sales went through the roof. It didn’t require scientists squirreled away in an R&D center creating some magical new failure. The company just took one simple idea and ran with it.”
Prioritize the product
A small business’ products or services should naturally be at the top of the owner’s priority list. Distractions can complicate this list, however, and take the owner’s attention into areas that are not as critical. In a story for Forbes, Jules Schroeder recommends fighting the urge to get lost in these details.
“So many business owners believe they have to have every aspect of their business perfect — from their business cards, to their website, to their logo, to their social media accounts,” she writes. “What they don’t realize is that this is actually a massive distraction from their actual product. Focusing on how many Twitter followers your business has, who might never become actual customers, doesn’t produce profits at the end of the day. The best businesses are the ones that strive to make their products and customer experience the very best they can be. Focus on your product first and foremost, and the smaller details will take care of themselves.”
Distractions of negativity
Just as lesser tasks can serve as a distraction for small business owners, so can negative energy. It takes a sense of bravery to step out on your own, and those who are driven by the entrepreneurial passion shouldn’t be derailed by skeptics. Simplicity, then, comes in focusing on and following that path. In a story for Entrepreneur, Kimanzi Constable writes to avoid those with “self-limiting beliefs.”
“Realize that these people are addressing the struggles they’re having inside, and those aren’t your struggles,” he says. “Understand that a fear of failure scares many from becoming entrepreneurs. Those people will work hard to convince you and themselves that they’re right. This is a distraction but one you can avoid. Filter who you allow in your life and filter the information you share about your business.”
The array of items presented to a customer can have an effect on their potential purchases. Consider restaurants that have thick menus with wildly varying cuisines. Choosing a dish can seem like a difficult task amid all those options. In an allbusiness.com story, Maura Schreier-Fleming describes becoming overwhelmed when shopping online for a camera.
“Even limiting it to a price point had too many options,” she writes. “What did I do? I simply shut down. I didn’t buy.”
Schreier-Fleming references a study from California to illustrate her point. It involved an upscale grocery store, with one display table that had 30 different kinds of “exotic jams,” and one that had just six. Researchers reported that 60 percent of the shoppers went to the table with more varieties, 40 to the other table, she says.
“You therefore might expect more sales from the 30-variety table,” she says. “Wrong. When the time came to make an actual buying decision, only 3 percent of the people who went to the table with the 30 choices made a purchase, while 30 percent of those who viewed the more limited six choices bought the product. Fewer choices produced a 10-fold increase in purchasing. The customers avoided choice overload when they were given fewer offerings.”
A new business’ homepage can also focus on simplicity, serving as an introduction to what the company is all about. (A business that is primarily an online retailer may require a more detailed approach.) In a story for business.com, Danny Mola advises that “vast amounts of information” or “a vague statement about the company” are not the best methods for a homepage. Instead, it should simply highlight why the user should explore the site, he says.
“[This] is what businesses ought to strive for, and it is the hardest to get right because it requires constant brainstorming and multiple changes,” Mola explains. “The average website bounce rate is around 60 percent, meaning 60 out of 100 web visitors leave a website right after landing on it. The reason, most of the times, is that they cannot find what they are looking for in a way that is very simple to understand.”