09/14/2012 12:10 pm ET Updated Nov 14, 2012

New Business Startup? Think Like a Rock Star

Launching a new business? Why not borrow ideas from your favorite rock stars to help you develop a strategic plan? Here's how.

Musicians, like business start-up geeks, begin with spending a lot of time behind the scenes working through the development stages of their products. It would be naïve for them to jump into the limelight prematurely, yet if they're smart, they'll get their feet wet whenever they can. They might perform at bars and bar mitzvahs, coffeehouses, weddings, or even on the street as buskers. All are good opportunities for testing their products in front of real audiences.

In the same way, business start-ups can get their feet wet by participating in networking opportunities with peers and investors, and through running trials and beta tests of their ready-to-launch products. Focus groups can offer valuable market feedback, and beta tests will offer opportunities to work out glitches and to educate a group of "chosens" that could become valuable promoters of the new product or service.

Thank Your Grub Work

Well-known music veterans may not know the exact secret behind their success because many times it has been due to organic growth. Back when they started they may merely have been in the right place at the right time. There might have been less competition and less perfectionism. Even poor and mediocre singers have been able to cut and sell albums. They might say they got lucky or they might admit that they did spend a lot of time in the trenches first. They've paid their dues.

On the surface, there may have been no well-oiled unfolding plan a successful musician has followed, but if you were to ask one about his product, what songs define him, and what his setlist would include if asked to do a concert tomorrow, he could tell you. Well-seasoned musicians know who they are, where they've been, and know what their audience wants.

A business too needs to know who they are, how they want to be defined, and where they're headed. Business is fierce today, and a well-oiled plan is usually necessary if a start-up is to gain funding and launch its business well. There can be a well-crafted business-school-type business plan in place, but an entrepreneur should realize there will be also be lots of grub work to do and that fame and fortune is not quick and easy.

Musicians that have been successful may say that doing the grub work of playing for lesser crowds has helped to hone their craft and fine-tune their image. Over time they've been able to collect valuable feedback from audiences and discover what works and what doesn't work. Once promoted to the bigger league they learn what it takes to sell an album and concert ticket. They learn how to pace a performance with just the right levels of energy, danceability and melodic sway. Then, as many times as they've sung the same songs over and over, they always include them because that's what the crowd is waiting for. They know what their audience wants and they deliver because they're in it for the long haul.

Do the Things You'd Rather Not Do

Just as musicians prefer to spend their time making music, a business owner might have his favorite things he wants to focus on. If he's a snow shoveler he wants to shovel snow not work on building clients, doing paperwork and working out employee problems. This other grub work, however, is always included. A small business owner will need to talk to bankers, accountants, lawyers, landlords, marketing experts, and clients.

Your favorite rock star will tell you he's done his fair share of media stints, autograph signings, and photo shoots. He'll tell you he's traveled places he would never have dreamed of traveling to and done so when he didn't feel like doing it. He'll tell you how he's fought with his band mates and agents, and risked his personal relationships. A music veteran will tell you he's where he is today because he did what he needed to do and stayed on the ride for as long as the ride would take him.

Brand like a Rock Star

Once an artist has been signed, he crafts an image and keeps it consistent for as long as it works. Look at veteran performers KISS, Willie Nelson, and Frank Sinatra. What image comes to mind when you hear these names? For KISS it was costume, hair, makeup, and rock; for Nelson it was a beard, bandana, braids, cowboy hat, and country music; for Sinatra it was a suit, tie, fedora, and the standards. These artists stuck to what they did best. They each appealed to a specific audience. They weren't all over the map. Their images and product were so successful they stuck for decades. Today that's called good branding and product mix.

A business start-up needs to brand and sustain a good product mix too. It may need the help of a few outside professionals to take it to the next level and their brand may take time to catch on. A small business start-up owner should carefully consider if she has the energy for the long ride ahead.

It's important for any small business start-up to fine-tune its business guitar strings before taking center-stage. As you prepare to launch your business, take lessons from your favorite rock stars. Figure out what defines you, what your audience wants, and how you can give it to them while turning a profit. Fine-tune how you'll communicate your message, and look for proactive ways to get your feet wet. Be willing to do the grub work, because it will be there, but always keep one eye on your dream. In the words of the '60s band, The Hollies, the road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads you to who knows where, but if you're strong, you'll get there!