Our current business climate is filled with opportunities. Sure, there are always challenges to go alongside them, but they can help to make your business a more agile and robust competitor. That said, the early period can be particularly fraught. As you take your start-up from that one, great idea to becoming a fully functioning staple of your industry, you can be vulnerable.
This means that, alongside building your brand and raising your profile among your industry and consumers, you also need to protect your start-up. While you shouldn’t be limited by a fear of failure, that doesn’t remove the need to take reasonable precautions and tread carefully. When you can better understand the risks that could impact your business in its early stages, you also have a better chance of creating procedures that will keep it robust as you scale up.
So, where should you place your attention? While the details of protection can be specific to your startup, some common areas require focus. Let’s take some time to examine them, and set you off on the right foot.
Many entrepreneurs choose to create a startup rather than buy an existing business because they feel that they can bring something new to the industry. Whether this means fresh processes or a new product, there are likely to be proprietary elements that can be key to your success. These need to be protected from those who would seek to illicitly benefit from your innovations.
Putting legal frameworks in place may seem like additional expenses that put pressure on your capital, but they are essential. Registering a patent for proprietary machines, materials, and processes helps to assert that these belong to you and helps you to prove that you implemented them before your competitors. They are also public record, acting as both a deterrent to those that might steal your ideas, but also a basis from which you can gain additional revenue by licensing your products and processes.
There is also often a case for keeping your proprietary resources secret from those outside the organization. While we all like to think that we can trust our employees, there is an element of risk — either through malicious trading of company secrets, or inadvertent leaks. Make it clear to your employees what the boundaries of talking about their work are. It can also be prudent to have each of them sign a non-compete agreement, which not only forbids disclosure but also prevents them from working with your direct competitors for a certain period of time. While such protections are prudent, you must also make certain that these legal agreements don’t overreach. Too many restrictions on employee behavior can prevent you from attracting the best talent in the field.
The world we live in is greatly enhanced by digital tools. For startup entrepreneurs, this means that you have many resources at your disposal, not to mention access to a potential demographic from around the world. However, your reliance on technology can also present a point of vulnerability from the rise of cybercrime. It’s important to take this threat seriously. A 2019 World Economic Forum report revealed that data breaches and cybercrime are the fourth and fifth most likely risks faced by businesses. Even as a small business, your startup has valuable consumer and financial data that can make you a target.
Some areas for your attention should include:
- Staff Behavior
One of the primary causes of breaches in businesses is the actions of staff. This generally isn’t malicious; rather it’s the result of not understanding how risks present themselves or acting a little carelessly. To safeguard against this, you must ensure that there is regular, practical training on what tactics cybercriminals use — phishing links in emails, accessing devices via public networks — what they look like, and how to respond.
- Data Protection Protocols
More customer and business information is being stored and shared online. Particularly since the start of the pandemic, many more contracts are being sent and signed electronically. However, while digital signature methods can make business more efficient and transactions more secure through mathematical algorithms, you don’t have the physical paper trail that you can keep locked away and secure. This means you need to put in place strict password protocols to protect them in storage. It is also imperative that they are only shared and exchanged via encrypted networks.
- Antivirus Adoption
While it can be useful to have a cybersecurity expert on staff to keep abreast of threats, this isn’t practical for every startup. However, you should at the very least invest in robust antivirus software for your systems. Make certain that you engage with providers that regularly assess the current risks, and update their services accordingly.
Throughout the lifespan of your business, your relationships are a vital component of your success. Particularly in the early stages of your startup, your ability to network and forge connections can open up opportunities and access to resources. However, it’s also important to understand that forming the wrong bonds can make you vulnerable.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be treating every relationship you build with paranoia! It’s more that you need to approach your interactions in a way that gives people reasons to operate ethically, and with commitment. Many startups today are using remote workers, which can be challenging to ensure that they are always giving their best to the business. This can be avoided if you seek to make genuine connections with them. Create opportunities to socialize with them, and learn more about each other as human beings. Regularly demonstrate that you value their input, and make efforts to offer routes to progression as your company grows.
The same goes for your suppliers and investors. Keep an open dialogue with them about where your values align and how you can work better together for mutual benefit. Treat them as you would like to be treated — with genuine interest in what you’re trying to achieve. Provide support where you can. Put effort into making healthy relationships that leave little room for mistrust, and also back you up when things go wrong.
Your startup is an exciting opportunity to create something new. However, those early years can find you in a position of vulnerability, too. Take time to assess what proprietary assets benefit from legal frameworks. Create robust cybersecurity protocols to protect you against some of the most prevalent risks you’ll face. Just as importantly, look for ways to reinforce the relationships around you, and stove toward mutual support.