Looking for tips on how to start a business? Every entrepreneur's journey is different. Starting a business can be both exciting and daunting. For me, it was important to get very clear about why I was venturing out on my own. My decision was based on experience, research and what worked for my family.
Still, the shift to entrepreneurship is a long journey—I’ve learned so much along the way. If you are wondering how to start a business, the following guide can help you understand what it may take.
1. Research the market.
The market is constantly evolving. When starting a business, consider hiring a consultant or research firm to give you a market assessment so you can have a better understanding of the landscape, your competitors and what may be missing. A gap in the market may provide the insights you need to address your ideal customers’ pain points in a new or valuable way.
Researching the market can help you determine how you can best position your product or service against your competitors.
2. Develop your business plan.
Focusing on the day-to-day tasks and wins is important to starting a business.. But keeping your eye on the big picture can be the key to longevity. Using a structured format can help you consider all aspects of your business, beyond just the idea. For example, consulting is the tool we use to make money at my agency, but my goal has always been to build a self-funded product company.
When we first started out, I created a three-year plan. If I could do things differently, I would have created a 100-year plan, 20-year plan, five-year plan and a one-year plan. Focusing on the short-term meant that I wasn’t able to take advantage of some of the opportunities that would have helped us hit our goals faster.
Keeping long-term goals top of mind, even when you are just starting out, helps you maintain perspective: Doing so may change the way you approach certain jobs or position the business.
3. Know your investments.
How will you be funding your company? Will you bootstrap it or will you want to go after investors and venture capital? When you have a sense of the anticipated costs of doing business, you can then create a plan around how to get those funds (and update your business plan as necessary).
A market assessment will also provide some guidance on priorities when starting your business. Ask yourself which areas need attention first such as where you will source your materials, what vendors or contractors you will need and other overhead costs. (Keep in mind that your vendors can also be great partners. They know your offering and can provide insights you may not always think of.)
4. Test the product or service.
When starting a business, you’ll want to know how to position your product or service in order to stand out, and that starts with understanding the people who benefit from your offering.
Developing customer personas or profiles can help you fine tune your demographic when you're starting a business. Research the real people you envision interacting with your product or service. You can start by asking questions like:
- What stage of life are they in?
- What interests them?
- How can my business address their challenges or needs?
Once you’ve pinpointed your demographic, run your product or service by a sample size of your target audience to see how they respond. You may even want to consider making your offering available for free to help with your market research. This initial feedback will let you know where you are getting it right and where you need to spend more time. This testing can save you from releasing something too soon.
5. Make it official.
Figuring out how to start your small business includes considering your incorporation options. You’ll need to register your business, assign your business structure, earn tax IDs, complete any necessary licenses and permits and open a business bank account to get started.
When starting a business, part of planning for growth is setting priorities. Try to decide which elements will increase efficiency and get you on the right track.
Hiring an attorney and accountant can help ensure that you're choosing the incorporation option that suits your business best. They can help you make sense of the legal actions, including tax and insurance, that need to be addressed before starting your business.
6. Find financing.
Financing can be one of the biggest challenges of learning how to start a business. Cash flow is often tight in the beginning. In fact, most business owners go years without paying themselves their market value.
Having a good sense of your needs, budget and working capital—and then putting the right processes in place—is an important step when figuring out how to start a business. Consider drawing up a detailed plan that takes into account how you'll fund the business and yourself. A few ways you can get the financing you need for your business:
- SBA loans and grants
- accelerator programs
- business plan or pitch competitions
- individual investors
7. Build the product or service.
Take your learnings from the test scenario and map out requirements for your business on paper. Creating a project plan with milestones and dates to track your progress can really help when you're starting a business. Identify everyone you need to build the product, schedule a kick-off date and then jump in and get started.
Try to avoid getting caught up in planning. Once you have the framework in place, don’t be afraid to take that first step.
8. Build the team.
Being a business owner can be isolating thanks to those long, thankless hours. When learning how to start your own business, it helps to find people who will encourage and support you as soon as possible. You'll also want to invest in your company's culture early.
Sometimes the best people to surround yourself with are those who bring something different to the table—people who see you and all the different hats you wear and vice versa. For example, I am more than my role as the founder of my business, and my employees are more than the projects I hire them they do. We all bring our different experiences into every room, every meeting. Some of my best experiences with my team have come from sharing our stories, learning from one another and leaning on each other’s strengths.
Your people can be your lifeline as you start your business. Keep intersectionality in mind and you’ll bring on those who add dimension and value in ways that bolster you and your business.
9. Brand your product.
Many business owners underestimate how vital this step is to the success of their company when navigating how to start a business. A clear, attractive brand is more than just eye-catching marketing and campaigns—it's cultivating and sustaining a relationship with your target audience that creates brand loyalty.
So tell your story.
Tell the story of the people who will engage with your product or service.
Think intersectionally: If you do so with visual clarity and powerful messaging, you can connect with your customers in a more meaningful way instead of a one-off transaction.
If you invest in a brand that resonates right when you start your business, your customers will come back to your business again and again through their different life stages.
10. Always be selling.
Sales is a lifetline when starting a business. It doesn’t matter how great your idea is if it doesn’t reach anyone.
Similar to branding, it is important to have a sales plan in place in order to connect with your target audience in the most effective way. Get in front of them early and often, recognizing that even when business is going well, you or your sales team will always need to stay ahead in order to keep business going.
Network, advertise, market your product or service wherever you are and whomever you speak with to keep the feedback coming as much as the new opportunities.
11. Plan for growth.
Growth can be challenging and it takes time, especially when what you’re building requires people. My agency centers on my expertise as a strategist and the skills of our core team to execute on our projects. As we grew, it was important for the organization to be able to run without depending so heavily on me. Prioritizing hiring employees allowed me to focus on high-level parts of the organization while my team runs the day-to-day.
When starting a business, part of planning for growth is setting priorities. Try to decide which elements will increase efficiency and get you on the right track. You can fill in the gaps as you go, but prioritizing set pieces can help you succeed in the long run.
Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. It can be a difficult road. But if you're able to identify your purpose, needs, processes and people from the beginning, it can also be a rewarding one as well.
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