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Starting your own business can change your life forever. It can free you from a dull and unfulfilling job and give you the flexibility to work at home, in an office, or shared workspace. Being an entrepreneur allows you to set your own hours, choose your staff, and pursue the career path of your dreams. If you do it right, it also means making more money and having fun at the same time.
But starting a business is no easy task. It takes courage, energy, and determination. Be honest with yourself. Do you have the courage to overcome an endless array of obstacles? The energy to persevere during both good and bad times? And the determination to stick it out over the long run? If so, then you’re in for the adventure of your life. You’ll learn to tap inner resources you never knew you had. You’ll gain a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction like none other. And best of all, once you make it as an entrepreneur, you’ll never have to work for anyone else again.
So what does it take to start a business? The following six steps are based on my own experiences as an entrepreneur as well as the work I’ve done helping others launch and grow their companies. This is practical, no-nonsense advice. Following it can make your business journey a truly fulfilling experience.
1. Commit to one business.
People who create successful companies do it one company at a time. You need to be fully committed to your big idea. Entrepreneurship is not about the latest fad or fashion. It’s about making a commitment to something that will absorb large amounts of your time — and possibly quite a bit of money. So choose your business wisely and plan to devote yourself full-time to making it a success.
2. Know your industry.
I’m from the school of getting experience by working for someone else. If you want to open a restaurant, then work in one before going out on your own. If you want to launch a marketing firm, you need experience in that industry. But you also need to dig deep and research your business sector. And that’s easier than ever to do. You can learn huge amounts online via industry websites, blogs, ebooks and even your competitors’ websites. Make sure you join and participate in appropriate groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social sites and stay informed.
3. Join the right organizations.
It’s essential to join professional organizations in your field — or organizations that support entrepreneurs and start-ups through networking and educational programs. And don’t forget to attend conferences and seminars. Since there are dozens of choices, this can be overwhelming, so I advise you to choose wisely. Shop around and then join two or three organizations that are the best fit for you. And attend conferences with informative speakers and workshops where you can network and meet people to help you on your entrepreneurial journey — and whom you can help in return.
4. Create a business blueprint.
Most likely you will be using your own funds, credit cards or money borrowed from family and friends to launch your business. Unless you are looking for venture capital or angel investors, you probably won’t need an in-depth business plan to get going, but you will need a “business blueprint.” This is a three- to four-page document that serves as a personal guide to navigating the road ahead. Here’s what I suggest you include in your business blueprint:
- A clear description of what the business does and who it serves.
- A description of how the business will run on a day-to-day basis.
- A list of your responsibilities.
- A list of what you will do and what other people will do.
- An estimate of what it will cost to run the business for the first year.
- An estimate of how you will cover these first-year expenses, either through sales or from some other source.
5. You can’t do it alone. Build a team.
One of the biggest myths about starting a business is thinking that you’ve got to do it alone. The truth is that you cannot create a great business without help. Using your business blueprint as a guide, you’ll need to put together the following three teams — professional advisers, an informal “board of directors”, and your own staff.
Professional advisers are the people who will counsel you on the basics of starting a business such as whether to incorporate; what type of insurance coverage to obtain, and where to work — office, home, incubator, etc. These professionals will include an accountant, an insurance agent, a lawyer and possibly, a real estate broker. Make sure you get recommendations from other small business owners before you hire these experts.
Your informal board of directors is a group of unpaid advisers, often made up of business colleagues as well as acquaintances with business expertise, who will mentor you as you’re finding your way in the business world. Don’t be shy about asking for their advice. You’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to help, if you only ask. Expect to meet with this group at least four times a year.
Your staff is the team that will work with you on a daily basis to help you build your business. If you’re not ready for full-time employees, think about adding college interns or part-time employees. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do everything yourself. Instead focus on the key activities that will give you the biggest return. Your business will grow much faster when you learn to delegate.
6. Take good care of yourself and stay curious.
“Give yourself a break” has become a mantra for me. It is essential to take time away from work. Make sure that you socialize with family and friends — and take vacations. It is impossible to make wise decisions when you are consumed by your own private world at work. Getting away helps you see your business clearly — and it makes life much more interesting and fun. Starting a business is an adventure. Don’t let it become drudgery.