NORTH POLE – Dec. 19, 2016 – No one ever thinks about Santa as an experienced business owner, but he’s been running a successful enterprise for centuries. So before the holiday crunch, I sat down with Santa over a cup of hot chocolate and asked for his small-business start-up advice. I also asked for a red Tesla. I’ll see if Santa comes through with the Tesla, but in the meantime, you can learn from this great entrepreneur now. The jolly old elf’s advice:
Find a niche
“When we started out,” Santa explained. “I wanted to deliver a gift to every person on the planet. Mrs. Claus wisely advised that I was thinking too big. ‘Don’t try to be all things to all people,’ she said. ‘Focus on a smaller group.’ We settled on children who celebrate Christmas and were well-behaved.”
Like Santa, your startup has a better chance of success if you focus on a specific market segment, or niche.
“I had dreams of developing all kinds of toys but had no cash,” said Santa. “Being cash-strapped actually worked in our favor. It forced me to focus on launching one core product first – just basic wooden blocks. That established my reputation. Over time, we expanded, based on learning from real customers. When you start out, get your product or service out the door and later make improvements. And wooden blocks are still a hit, especially with our youngest demographic.”
Develop a business plan (business model canvas)
Part of Santa’s wild success stems from his ability to plan, follow through, and, when necessary, change course. “When kids started playing on digital devices,” said Santa, “I was so worried that I lost weight. How was my workshop going to survive?” Santa sat down and came up with a plan. He hired a team of tech elves to develop electronic devices and apps using the lean canvas.
Watch your cash flow
“We do all of our business Dec. 24th,” said Santa. “But we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars months before that. We buy materials in August, the elves start crafting toys in September, and I pay a ton of overtime in December. I have to board the reindeer year round, Rudolph’s nose keeps shorting out, and vet bills are crazy. Thank goodness for the Affordable Reindeer Act.”
When it comes to cash flow, make cash projections of when money will come in and go out. Don’t keep too much inventory, which ties up money. Get a line of credit to pay for expenses when income lags and save during high-income periods.
Most people don’t realize that Mrs. Claus is not only Santa’s wife but also his CTO (chief toy officer). He relies on her, his team of well-trained elves, and of course, his reindeer.
You can’t do everything yourself, especially as your start-up grows. You have to hire good people and trust them to do their jobs. You don’t have to completely relinquish the reins – only Santa gets to fly the sleigh – but you do have to delegate at some point.
USATODAY.com, USA TODAY, Rhonda Abrams.