It’s not easy to start your own business, and unless you’ve done it before you often have no idea where to begin. Do you need a business plan? Do you need a location? How do you finance your business? How do you determine the legal structure for your business? Do you need to register a business name? Every business owner has struggled with these questions.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and there is no better way to start than by learning from others who’ve been through this process multiple times. When we learn from others, we learn from their mistakes, successes, and decision making processes so that we can refine our own.
We asked 10 respected small business experts to share what they believe is most important when starting a business. Here’s their advice.
1. Plan, Prove and Protect
With over 20 years of experience publishing business magazines and other business related content, Brian Moran has learned a lot about entrepreneurship and starting a business. He breaks-up his advice into three parts:
1. Have a GPS plan on where you want to go with your business. It needs to show how you will get there and then have a backup plan for when things go south.
2. Prove your concept as quickly as possible. Prove that someone will pay money for your product or service.
3. Watch your cash flow. Starting out, you will have a LOT more expenses than receivables. Guard your money & your time. Protecting both is the key to success.
2. Develop a Long Term Strategy
As a small business owner, Liz Jostes often encourages entrepreneurs to not focus on immediate absolute perfection, but rather to focus on fully fleshing out a strategy in order to understand whether or not the strategy worked. Especially in a world of instant gratification via social media, Jostes says that entrepreneurs’ attention spans are too short.
My best pieces of advice are to first, get started and keep moving forward, and second, to do more with less. People need to get to know you, build trust with you, and then have a need for whatever you are selling before they are ready to buy. So keep doing what you are doing. Plan for the long game. Know that what you are doing today will pay off months from now.
3. Do Less But Do It Well
Author, small business expert, and founder of the small business network Enterprise Nation, Emma Jones, says that she typically sees entrepreneurs trying to take on too much at once. She warns against doing everything at a minimal level, and like Liz Jostes, encourages entrepreneurs to focus on a few things with all of their energy.
There are only so many hours in a day, and small business owners have to perform all the same business tasks that a larger company would, but with a fraction of the staff. When it comes to marketing your business, don’t get caught up in “the next big thing”. You are better off putting the time or budget that you have into doing a couple things very well instead of trying to stretch that same amount of time or budget across 5 social media platforms, blogging, creating videos, and the like.
4. Get Real Paying Customers
Barry Moltz, a respected small business expert, author and consultant, keeps it very simple and clear when advising small business owners. He focuses on proving the concept before investing large amounts of money into the company, and clarifies that proving the concept means getting your real target audience on board. Entrepreneurs usually tap into their close circles in order to get feedback or users, but Moltz argues that this can be biased:
Get real paying customers first! Relatives and close friends don’t count.
5. Create a Game Plan
Senior columnist for USA Today and small business expert Steve Strauss offers seven steps for small business owners on the best way to get started with their business. He believes in practical, real-world methods that work for most types of companies, and emphasizes that each decision should be critically questioned to be sure it’s the right decision.
1. Self-evaluation: Are you cut out to be an entrepreneur?
2. Business Evaluation: How viable is your idea?
3. Legalities and Formalities: The nuts-and-bolts are critical!
4. The Business Plan: Your roadmap for a successful journey.
5. Get Funded: There are a lot more options than you may know about.
6. Set Up Shop: This is the fun stuff!
7. Trial and Error: Learning from your mistakes, and successes, is important.
6. Know Your Role
Columnists at Entrepreneur and small business experts Doug and Polly White advise small business owners to focus on preparing for the long run, and understanding the different scenarios they might face down the road. The Whites say that it is extremely important for small business owners to be in control and understand their role in the business right from the start.
1. Possess the requisite skills to do the primary work of the business (or if you possess only some of the required skills, you can partner with someone who has a complementary skill set). It may sound like remedial counsel to say that before starting a business, the owner should ensure that he or she could do the primary work of the business.
2. Have a plan for performing the ancillary functions. If you love baking cakes, don’t open a bakery. Get a job as a baker. If you are going to start a company, you’ll have more to do than just the primary work. If you are running a bakery, you’ll have to wait on customers, order supplies, set up a bookkeeping system and administer it. You will perform administrative functions and have an IT infrastructure.
3. Realize that growth means you will have to let go. The time will come when you’ll face a choice. You’ll have to delegate doing the primary work of the business to others, stop growing or hire someone to run the company while you continue doing the primary work of the business. Before you launch your new venture, know which path you’ll take. Be prepared to deal with success.
7. Document Your Key Business Processes
Denise O’Berry, a small business expert helping small businesses since 1996, explains that small business owners often keep everything in their minds, making the good ideas or improvements hard to execute and easy to forget. By documenting everything when forming or ideating for your new business, you will be more likely to be able to execute that idea.
Document your business processes. We can keep a lot of information in our heads. But that doesn’t mean we should. No matter what size business you own, things get done in a certain order. Taking the time to write those things down will help free up your mind for other important business issues. On top of that, having them written down will allow you to hand them off when you’re ready to hire someone to take on the task.
8. Be Objective
Rieva Lesonsky, two time CEO, small business expert, and former editorial editor for Entrepreneur urges small business owners to be more objective when starting their company. She suggests looking at everything through an outsider’s lens in order to remove biases and truly make the best decisions.
1. People will disappoint you. Don’t take it personally.
2. You always need more money than you think you do. Budget carefully.
3. Invest and don’t skimp on technology! The most current hardware & software really helps you be more productive and efficient, even if it’s a little more expensive.
4. You’ll get less sleep than you think you will.
5. All that said, it’s worth it.
9. You Need Passion, Dedication and Perseverance
Successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist Evan Carmichael says that in order to start a successful business, an entrepreneur must have unmatched passion and willpower for the project. Carmichael acknowledges that entrepreneurship is tough, mistakes are made, and a lot of sleep is lost- which is why he says that only the dedicated, passionate, and willing truly succeed in the end.
Being a successful entrepreneur isn’t about having an outgoing personality, having funding or other resources, or having the best connections. None of those things matter. What successful entrepreneurs have in common are: 1) they had an idea that they were passionate about, 2) they did something about it and took action instead of sitting on it and watching someone else get rich from it, and 3) they persevered and had the conviction to follow through and not quit when times got tough.
10. Listen to Yourself
As a seasoned entrepreneur, blogger and podcaster, Paul Segreto is familiar with the emotions that many entrepreneurs feel when starting their own business. He says that while sometimes those emotions can get in the way, they can also be used to help propel our companies forward. Overall, Segreto emphasizes the idea of our own internal voices as guides:
A time comes in your life when you finally get it. When in the midst of all your fears and old hurts you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere, the voice inside your head cries out – “ENOUGH!” This moment is the turning point that leads to success and happiness.
Do you have questions or other tips you can offer entrepreneurs and small business owners? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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