What do you need to do to start a business? There are dozens of websites that have checklists to remind you of the many tasks you should perform when starting a business. Although such checklists are very useful because they help you remember important startup steps, they are just To-Do lists. They tell you what to do, but don’t provide any tips about what makes a business successful.
Unfortunately, you don’t succeed in business just by completing a list of tasks. Nor will your business be a success just because you think it’s a good idea. What will make or break your business? What determines if it will be a success?
Choose the right business for you. The old formula — find a need and fill it — still works. It will always work. The key to success is finding needs that you can fill, that you want to fill, and that will produce enough income to build a profitable business.
Be sure there really is a market for what you want to sell. One of the biggest mistakes startups make is to assume a lot of people will want to buy a particular product or service because the business owner likes the idea or knows one or two people who want the product or service. To minimize your risk for loss, never assume there is a market. Talk to real potential prospects (who aren’t family and friends) to find out if what you want to sell is something they’d be interested in buying and, if so, what they’d pay for the product or service.
Research your competitors. No matter what type of business you’re starting or running, you’ll have competitors. Even if there’s no other business offering exactly what you plan to sell, there are very likely to be other products or services your target customers are using to satisfy their needs. To be successful, you need to research your competition and find out as much as possible about what they sell and how they sell it. Competitive research is something you should plan on doing on an ongoing basis, too.
Plan to succeed. If you’re not seeking investors or putting a huge sum of money into your business, you may not need an elaborate business plan, but you still do need a plan — one that specifies your goal and your destination — and then lays out at least a skeletal roadmap for how you’ll get to where you want to go. The plan will change as you progress and learn more about your customers and competition, but it will still help you stay focused and headed in the right direction.
Know the operational needs. Most people who are thinking about starting a business focus on what they’ll sell and who they’ll sell it to. What they often don’t consider is how the business will actually operate. For instance, if you’re selling items, how will they be delivered? How much customer support will be needed — either to answer questions about the product or to respond to people whose shipments haven’t arrived? Will you invoice customers? Who will follow up to be sure you’re paid? Who will build and maintain your website and social media presence? Even if you’re starting a small personal service business, these are issues you should consider and plan for.
Start on a small scale before going all out. Some people believe that entrepreneurs are risk-takers. But for the most part, successful entrepreneurs don’t like walking blindfolded on a limb. Instead, they take controlled risks. They test an idea on a small scale, then build on what works well, tweak what shows promise, and discard the disasters. You can also consider starting as a freelancer first.
Don’t fixate on mistakes or get demoralized by them. The difference between successful people and everyone else is that successful people learn from their mistakes and move on. They don’t dwell on failure, blame the economy, curse their bad luck, or blame other people for their fate. If the path to their goal is blocked, they look for an alternate path or sometimes choose a different, more attainable goal.
Learn from others. Find mentors, join groups with like-minded people, and learn everything you can about your industry and what it takes to get from where you are to where you want to be. Attend industry conferences. Take training courses when they’re available. Buy courses offered by experts. You’ll save a tremendous amount of trial and error by learning from people who have been there before.
Understand the difference between working for yourself and building an ongoing business. If you want to build a business, you need to develop systems and methods that allow you to hire other people to DO the work of the business while you plan it. You limit the potential for growth if you don’t bring in other people to work for you.
Get to know investors. If the business you’re starting will need investors to grow, do what you can to find out what investors are looking for and where to find those who might invest in your kind of business. Local angel and venture capital groups are a good place to start. Attend meetings they hold or meetings where investors are speaking. Have an elevator pitch practiced so you can use it to interest investors if you get the chance.
Embrace digital marketing. Even if you’re running a local business, you need a comprehensive digital presence. At a minimum, you need a professional-looking website, an email list that lets you communicate with customers and prospects on a regular basis and a presence on the social media channels that your customers frequent. While you may get many of your customers by word of mouth, referrals, or networking, you still need a strong digital presence. The reason: prospective customers are likely to look you up on the web before they decide whether or not to contact you.
Never stop learning and trying new things. What’s profitable now won’t necessarily be profitable next year or 10 years from now. So, don’t let yourself fall into the “this is the way I’ve always done things” rut. Keep your eyes and ears open for new things. Are there newer or better ways to market your products and services? Are customers asking for something you’re not offering? Is there a different type of customer you should be targeting? Get answers by reading everything you can about your industry and listening to your customers.