Are you one of those who dream of owning your own business? You’ll be your own boss, and the captain of your destiny—–maybe even a captain of industry. Is it hard? Without a doubt. Is it challenging? Absolutely. Do you have to be wealthy and well-educated with a lengthy resumé? Not at all! Can you do it? As the magic 8-ball says, “All signs point to yes!” So how do you do it, and make it work? Plan, plan, plan! There are some tried and true ways head down the path of creating your own business, and there is no time like the present to get started!
Pinpointing your business purpose
Have an idea. It might be a product you’ve always wanted to make, or a service you feel people need. It might even be something people don’t know they need yet, because it hasn’t been invented!
It can be helpful—–and fun—–to have people who are bright and creative join you for a casual brainstorming session. Start with a simple question like: “what shall we build?”. The idea is not to create a business plan, just to generate some ideas. Many of the ideas will be duds, and there will be quite a few ordinary ones, but a few will emerge that have real potential.
Define your goals. Do you want financial independence, eventually selling your business to the highest bidder? Do you want something small and sustainable, that you love doing and want to derive a steady income from? These are the things that are good to know very early on.
Create a business plan. A business plan helps to define what you think you need to launch your business, large or small. It summarizes the sense of your business in a single document. It also creates a map for investors, bankers, and other interested parties to use when determining how they can best help you and to help them decide whether or not your business is viable. There are seriously good books available on writing business plans that cover many chapters, and you should avail yourself of at least one of these as a guide (bookshops, libraries and online are good places to find these). In a nutshell, your business plan should consist of the following elements:
- Executive summary. Describe the overall business concept, how it will be monetized, how much funding you will need, where it stands currently, including its legal standing, people involved and a brief history, and anything else that makes your business look like a winning proposition.
- Business description. Describe your business more specifically, and how it fits into the market in general. Who will you be selling to, and how will you deliver your product? If you are a corporation, LLC, or sole proprietor ship, state that, and why you chose to go that route. Describe your product, it’s big features, and why people will want it.
- Marketing strategies. You must know your market if you are to be successful, so spend a great deal of time analyzing just who it is that will want your product, and how you plan on appealing to them to take cash out of their bank account and give it to you. What is the size of your market, will there be opportunities to expand the initial market, and what are your sales potentials? When you understand these variables, you want to sell them to the person reading your business plan.
- Competitive analysis. As you develop the above sections, you will learn who your key competitors are. Find out who is doing something similar to what you are planning, and how have they been successful. Just as important is to find the failures, and what made their venture fall apart.
- Development plan. How will you create your product? Is it a service that you are offering, or if it’s more complex—software, a physical product like a toy or a toaster—whatever it is, how will it get built? Define the process, from sourcing raw materials to assembly to completion, packaging, warehousing, and shipping. Will you need additional people? Will there be unions involved? All of these things must be taken into account.
- Operations. Who will lead, and who will follow? Define your organization, from the receptionist up to the CEO, and what part each plays in both function and financials. Knowing your organizational structure will better help you plan your operating costs, and fine-tune how much capital you will need to function effectively. Keep in mind that your business will continue to evolve and that this will be a rough idea of who is needed to keep things functioning; as the business grows, you’ll likely make changes to the hiring plans to fit what is happening at the time. Also, in a number of cases, the “staff” is you and whomever you can consult, such as your lawyer and accountant. This is fine, as long as you show that you’re prepared to pay for external advice and help until your business is ready to take on staff.
- Financials. Succinctly, this describes how much are you plan on spending, and how much you’re making. Since this is the most dynamic part of your plan, and perhaps the most important for long-term stability, you should update this monthly for the first year, quarterly for the second year, and then annually after that.
Naming your business and team-building
- Create a working name. You could even do this before you have an idea for the business, and if the name is good, you may find it helps you define your business idea. As your plan grows, and things begin to take shape, the perfect name may come to you, but don’t let that hinder you in the early phases—–create a name that you can use while you plan, and don’t mind changing later.
- Take a cue from the Beatles, who often use fun names for a song before it is finalized, like Yesterday, which had the working title of “Scrambled Eggs.”
- Define your team. Will you do this alone, or will you bring in one or two trusted friends to join you. This brings a lot of synergy to the table, as people bounce ideas off each other. Two people together can often create something that is greater than the sum of the two separate parts.
- Think of some of the biggest success stories in recent times include John Lennon and Paul McCartney; Bill Gates and Paul Allen; Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak; and Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In every case, the partnership brought out the best in both sides of the equation, and every one of them became billionaires. Is a partnership a guarantee of being a bazillionaire? No, but it doesn’t hurt!
- Choose wisely. When choosing the person or people you’re going to build the business with, be careful. Even if someone is your best friend, it doesn’t mean that you will partner well in a business operation. Things to consider when choosing your co-leaders and support cast include:
- Does the other person complement your weaknesses? Or do both of you bring only one set of the same skills to the table? If the latter, be wary as you can have too many cooks doing the same thing while other things are left unattended.
- Do you see eye to eye on the big picture? Arguments about the details are a given, and are important for getting things right. But not seeing eye to eye on the big picture, the real purpose of your business can cause a split that may be irreparable. Be sure your team cares about the and buys into the purpose as much as you do.
- If interviewing people, do some reading on how to spot real talent beyond the certifications, degrees or lack thereof. People’s innate talents can often be somewhat different from the conventional education streams they’ve pursued (or failed to) and it’s important to look for “click” (you get along with them) and latent talents as much as paper credentials.
Sorting out the law and the money
- Find an attorney. Choose someone with whom you “click” and who shows that he or she understands your business. There will be many hurdles to leap as you go from working stiff to overworked and underpaid small business owner. Some of those hurdles will be composed of stacks of documents with rules and regulations, ranging from building covenants to city ordinances, county permits, state requirements, taxes, fees, contracts, shares, partnerships, and more. Having somebody you can call when the need arises will not only give you peace of mind, it will give you a much-needed resource who can help you plan for success.
- Form a business entity. Decide what type of business you would like to be—–a corporation, LLC, sole proprietorship, co-op, etc. This is important for tax purposes and for attracting investors. This decision can be complex, so read widely on the advantages and drawbacks of each entity, and also give consideration to the newly evolving social enterprise style entities that some jurisdictions are allowing to form. If you’re of a social entrepreneur bent, more socially-minded business structures may be just the ticket for your business.
- Think money. How are you going to finance your business initially? The bank, venture capitalists, angel investors, Small Business Administration (SBA), your own savings: these are all viable options. Remember the four F’s for investment: founders (people who share your idea), family, friends and fools.
- When you start a business, be realistic. You will probably not roll out of the gate making 100 percent of whatever you project, so you need to have enough ready reserve to fund things until you are really up and running. One of the surest roads to failure is under-capitalization.
- You may determine it will take $50,000 to start your business, and that’s fine. You get your $50,000, buy your desks and printers and raw materials, and then then the second month arrives, and you’re still in production, and the rent is due, and your employees want to be paid, and all the bills hit at once. When this happens, your only likely recourse will be to pack it in. If you can, try to have the reserves for a year of no income.
- Plan to keep purchases of office equipment and overheads to a minimum when starting up. You do not need amazing office premises, the latest in office chairs and pricey artwork on the walls. A broom cupboard in the best address can be sufficient if you can artfully steer clients to the local coffee shop for meetings every time (meet them in the foyer). Many a business start-up has failed by purchasing the expensive gizmos instead of focusing on the business itself.
- Chart your way to financial success. What price do you intend to sell your product or service for? How much will it cost you to produce? Work out a rough estimate for net profit—factoring in fixed costs like rent, energy, employees, etc.
Check out your competitors. Know how much are they selling a similar product for. Can you add something to it (add value) to make yours different and hence make it a more enticing price? For example, perhaps your company would like to provide an additional year of guarantee at no cost, or a repair part free-of-charge or an additional gadget with the initial item.
- Competition isn’t just about the goods or services themselves. It is also about your social and environmental credibility. Consumers are increasingly conscious of the need to show that your business is concerned with labor conditions and isn’t damaging the environment. Certification endorsements from reputable organizations, such as labels and stars, can reassure customers that your product or service is more aligned with their values than one lacking the certification.
- Keep a close eye on your running costs and keep them in line with your projections. Whether you’re a $100 a year company, or a $100,000,000 company, you always need to know where your money is being spent.
- It may be that you’re running a bit more electricity than you had budgeted: take care of business, and turn off some lights.
- Whenever you see something spent wastefully—like electricity, phone plans, stationery, packaging—look around, and estimate how much really need, and minimize or remove the cost in every way possible. Think frugally when you start up, including hiring items instead of purchasing them and using pre-paid plans for services it needs instead of locking your business into long-term contracts.
- Get a merchant account. A merchant account is a contract under which an acquiring bank extends a line of credit to a merchant, who wishes to accept payment card transactions of a particular card association brand. Without such a contract, one cannot accept payments by any of the major credit card brands.
- Get a website. If you’re selling online, get your ecommerce in gear and either build a website, or have one built for you. It’s your storefront, so anything and everything you can do to make people want to visit, and want to stay, do it. If you need a professional custom-made website for an affordable price, visit http://nightworlddesign.com/get-quality-web-design-for-your-business/
- Hire professional designers. They may cost more initially, but a well presented and trustworthy site is essential. It needs to look professional and work with ease. If you are including money transactions, invest in security encryption and check that your money transfer companies are sound and reliable.
- Secure space. Whether it’s an office, or a warehouse, if you need more space than your garage or your spare bedroom, now’s the time to get that.
- If you don’t generally need an office beyond your home, but may occasionally need meeting space, there are often places downtown that can address those needs. A quick Google search on “business meeting rentals [your city/state]” will deliver plenty of rental options in your area.
Launching your business
- Build your product or develop your service. Once you have the business all planned, financed, and have your basic level of staffing, get going. Whether that’s sitting down with the engineers and getting the software coded and tested, or getting materials sourced and shipped to your fabrication room (aka “garage”), or purchasing in bulk and marking up the price, the building process is the time during which you prepare for market. During this time, you may discover things such as:
- Needing to tweak the ideas. Perhaps the product needs to be a different color, texture or size. Maybe your services need to be broader, narrower or more detailed. This is the time to attend to anything that crops up during your testing and development phases. You’ll know innately when something needs tweaking to make it better or to make it less like a competitor’s stale offerings.
- Getting feedback. Friends and family make great resources for asking questions and getting feedback––don’t hesitate to use them as your sounding board.
- Needing to increase the size of your premises. This happens more often than expected. Once the stock starts piling up, you may find it ends up in your living room, bedroom and the garden shed. Think rental of storage premises if needed.
- Discover your inner publicist. You might truly believe in your product or service but it won’t fly unless everyone else believes in it too. If you’re new to advertising and marketing or you dislike doing the sales pitch, now is the time to overcome such feelings and put on the publicist persona. You need to develop an excellent short pitch to convince people they need your product or service, one that reflects the value, purpose and potential of what your business is offering. Write down this pitch in many ways until you find one that you feel satisfied says it all and is something you can say readily. Then practice it like crazy!
- Have interesting, eye-catching business cards printed.
- Spend time developing an excellent social media presence. This can be done well before the business is ready, increasing anticipation. Use Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, and any other social media you participate in to build excitement and spread the word. You want to build a buzz so that people will begin following your progress. (Be sure to choose business accounts for your business and keep your personal accounts separate. The messages you send should be tailored differently, depending on which account you’re sending from.)
- Implement your marketing and distribution plans. With your product being built or services developed, and a reasonable expectation on when either is ready for selling, begin marketing.
- If you will be advertising in periodicals, they will need copy or images at least two months in advance of publication.
- If you will be selling in stores, get pre-orders sold, and shelf space allocated. If you will be selling online, get that e-commerce site ready to sell.
- If you’re offering a service, advertise in appropriate trade and professional journals, newspapers and online.
- Set up a website for direct orders of your products. While you don’t need to know how to make a website yourself, it is strongly recommended that you learn the basics so that you know what to expect when asking someone else to make one for your business, and so that you can make tweaks and fix problems at 2am in the morning, should they arise. Basic short courses in website development are available online, many for free.
- Start contacting people in the industry, and get the word out to your future customers about that thing they always wanted is about to be available to them.
- Launch your product or your service. When the product is all built, packaged, coded, online, and ready to sell, or when your services are fully worked out and ready to go, hold a special event to launch your business. Send out a press release, announce it to the world. Tweet it, Facebook it, let the word resound to all corners of your market—you have a new business!
- Hold a party and invite people who can spread the word for you. It doesn’t need to be pricey––purchase the food and drink from bulk discount stores and get family and friends to help with catering (you can give them a product or service in return).
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with prices.
- Most direct selling companies have low start up capital compared to a traditional brick and mortar business. You can also break even rather quickly compared to the traditional business.
- Always provide value and service to those who may be your customers, even if they are not currently. When they do need your product, you want them to think of you first.
- Keep learning, and be adaptable to change. Find buddies, mentors, local business-related organizations, Internet forums, and wikis to discuss the daily details of running a small business. It’s much easier for everyone to perform their core businesses well and prosper when they don’t waste time and energy “reinventing the wheel” on housekeeping.
- Try to add more and more great ideas as you go!
- With the advent of the internet, online businesses are probably the easiest way to start and very much less expensive in terms of start-up cost than an offline counterpart.
- A franchise is a great idea although the start-up capital is way too high for most people.
- You can also consider trading on eBay or Overstock.
- Beware of people who ask for money before giving you business. Trade leads to prosperity through mutual gain, so a business should be willing to pay you to work for it. (A franchise store or home-sales business may have legitimate start up costs, but they should reflect a reasonable cost of getting you started in the business so the managers would make money through your success, rather than just by getting you in.)
- Beware of business propositions that seem to offer “something for nothing.” They probably involve taking something from somebody—usually you. There are innumerable variations, some more polished than others. Examples include pyramid schemes and advance-fee fraud.