Starting and building a business is no bed of roses. You start with a lot of enthusiasm and gusto only to realise that the journey is a lot more complicated and tough than you'd anticipated. In times of confusion and despair, one of the best way forward is to listen to people who've been there, done that.
We have curated contributions from 34 top entrepreneurs and business professionals on what are some of the most important things you need to know before starting a business.
Let's dive in!
Most people put off launching an idea or wait until they have the 'perfect' offer in place. The reality is that it is better to get the product or service launched quickly and then tweak it as you go. Apple didn't wait until they had the perfect phone. They went to market with an acceptable product and have since evolved the product to the point it is almost unrecognizable to the first generation they sold. Waiting for perfect leads to procrastination.
There are so many benefits to starting your own business, including the ability to work for yourself and to be a master of your own destiny. However, starting your own business can be a grueling affair. You will be responsible for all aspects of the business and will be the main point of contact for every question or issue.
However, the success of the business will be yours alone and will be more satisfying than anything else. When starting a business, be sure to have a good support team around you. This includes family and friends who you can lean on for advice and to support you when things get tough.
The tip that meant the most to me as I started my own business was to leverage my existing brand into creating a business presence. Rather than thinking of starting a business as creating something all new, it is helpful to think about it as an extension of all the work you have done in the past to build a reputation, an online presence, a broad and diverse network, and a trusted identity.
Business strive to create goodwill, so if you can amplify the goodwill you have already created into goodwill for your business, then you will giving yourself a head start. Take the time to inventory your brand, your social networks, your online voice, your subject matter expertise, and what you are known for. Then take the inventory of your brand assets and build your business brand directly on them.
If possible, I would encourage new business owners to hold on to a full-time job for a while, until their new business takes off. If you have a full-time job and you're starting a business, the first thing that usually comes to mind is quitting your job in order to pursue your business.
Many types of businesses, especially online business, can be started and grown part-time. Holding on to a full-time job for a while will reduce financial risk, allow you to have more patience, and reduce stress.
One of the best podcasts that I constantly listen to would have to be Rewire by Ryan Stewman. This podcast certainly isn't for everyone, and that's one of the biggest reasons why I love listening to it so much. This podcast is raw and straight-to-the-point, but very helpful when it comes to improving almost every area of your life (especially business).
Build a support network. Starting a business is full of challenges and failures; to get through it and achieve success, you're going to need to be resilient and comfortable with accepting failure at times. You're going to need to learn how to adapt, revise your strategy, and continue pushing forward.
Having a support network is crucial for this process. Whether it's friends, family, colleagues, or a mentor, surround yourself with support from people who truly care about your well-being. Remember, failure is just a step toward success.
People tend to think marketing is about advertising, using discounts, posting on social media, and maybe having a website. But when you are just getting started your most important marketing tool is the people you know. While you can be successful without a good network, knowing people, especially the right people in your target audience or those who are connected to your ideal customer, will give you that initial boost and momentum to get started and help increase the effectiveness of all of your marketing efforts.
Don’t hesitate to get out in the community and talk to people, build connections, and let them know what you’re doing to get some buzz going organically. I’ve found that personal relationships are a key ingredient in the marketing mix of successful businesses.
Having a well-rounded marketing plan that includes using a variety of marketing channels, such as SEO, social media, email marketing, publicity, event marketing, etc. is important too. You need to have brand strategy and awareness out there to supplement and encourage word-of-mouth marketing.
Relying on personal connections alone can take time to build up, but the bigger your network of friends, family, and all your other personal connections, the faster you can grow. So get out there networking, volunteering, and attending events where you get a chance to connect and build relationships with your audience. And let your passions for your business shine!
Let them feel the excitement and energy. It’s contagious! Finding influencers and those well-connected among your ideal customers is going to be even more beneficial. But don’t try to use them to build your business. Take the time to build real friendships or partnerships with these people. Real connections are what matter for our soul and for our business.
The little things are the big things, and they definitely pile up. Find individuals with contrasting skills and leverage their knowledge and experience as much as possible. For example: If you are a sales/marketing guru but lack the technical skills or legal knowledge then go out and find 2-3 advisors that you can leverage to grow your brand faster and more efficiently. Like everything else, it seems, it's always a lot more challenging than you think.
Before starting your business, the first thing you need to do is pinpoint what your market is and how your idea or product might change your field. There is likely no shortage of great ideas in your field - only a shortage of people brave enough to give them life - so it is imperative that your idea be specific to your market as possible.
Ask yourself: How does my idea stand out compared to what exists already and how will my industry benefit from the change it introduces? Then, you need to do a SWOT analysis of your idea. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, a process used to analyze what tools you have that will lead to success and what obstacles stand in your way.
For some, it is tempting to focus on either the positive or negative, but failing to take in the whole picture is a recipe for failure. While it is often difficult to honestly face your weaknesses, an audit of the full SWOT picture is necessary to prepare you for the circumstances you will inevitably face as you start your business. When you've done these two exercises, you're ready to start your journey.
Just be sure that you're not trying to do it alone. Find a mentor and build a team of supporters who can fill in the blanks where your skills might be lacking (such as finance/accounting or marketing, for example).
Earn money while you build your new business. As a new business owner, it will take some time to earn a steady income. Keep your day job and work on the business during off hours so you can earn money during the first stages which are typically the most challenging times. It is difficult to live without money for very long and it may be a long time before your new business actually starts making any profit.
Starting a successful new business is a process. Being employed while you're starting a new business means money in your pocket while you're going through the start-up process. Build your business in stages and you will gradually start earning a steady income. Once you have a steady inflow of cash from your company, you can quit your nine to five job and handle business ownership full time.
Do not forget about marketing your business. Run small and lean during the initial grind to enable room in your budget to gain customers, leads and branding. We see it all the time with clients, they spend their entire budget renovating their store front, buying inventory or creating their image that they have no money left to bring customers in the door over the first few years of business.
My top tip for anyone starting a business is to hire freelancers to help with jobs you don't have experience with. Not only will this help you tackle tasks you are not confident with, but you can make huge savings. Our local accountancy firms were quoting us £1,500 to prepare our accounts). We are only a small business, with not much for them to take care of. We hired a chartered accountant online for £150.
We've had great success hiring designers, email marketers, content writers and much more on popular freelance websites. The only jobs we really had issues with were web developers. My advice here is to ensure you know exactly what you need from a web developer before you hire them and make sure they have completed similar jobs before hiring.
I started a business a little over a year ago and getting going has been more difficult than I thought. I'm finally getting some traction and have a number of things in the process that I believe will be successful.
My Top Tips Before Starting Out are these 4:
1. Find and watch several of the online videos by Rob Fitzpatrick called The Mom Test.
2. Read several of the great articles on-line about Customer Discovery. Pick one that you like and do what it says. You'll learn whether you are ready to go or not.
3. Make sure you or someone on the team has had a successful experience of marketing and sales in the planned product/service marketplace. If not, you must get someone who has such successful experience.
4. List everything the business will do, all processes. There will be some that you haven't done in your career. Make sure these are covered by co founders, local support people, consultants, etc. You can't waste time learning how to do things.
We made a huge mistake when forming our company initially that ultimately cost us $20,000 in legal fees to correct. When we formed the company in 2012 we did it simply as a Tennessee LLC. Quick and easy and cheap we figured it was the best way to get our company up and rolling, however we did not realize is that an LLC is a no go for institutional investors.
Any outside investors such as private equity, angel investors, or venture capitalists will insist that your company be a Delaware C Corp. This is because Delaware has an abundance of case law that is favorable to corporate structure, investors, and board members and is generally accepted as the standard by the investor community.
When we raised capital last summer we came to the table with our Tennessee LLC and almost got laughed out of the room. We had to pay a specialist attorney to dissolve the old LLC and very carefully assign everything to the new proper entity which is a Delaware C Corp. My advice to anyone forming their company is to to carefully consider going with a Delaware C Corp. if they plan on raising outside investors capital.
There's nothing worse than seeing an entrepreneur walk away from her business because she didn't create a long enough financial runway. It's easy to see people on social media flaunting their overnight success and assume that's the norm. I think 6-12 months is more realistic. To that I would suggest: Have 3-6 months of savings set aside to alleviate the financial stress of not having a regular income.
Also, make sure your spouse/partner is on board if it takes 6 months or longer to generate income. An honest discussion today can prevent arguments down the road. Be sure your idea/product will sell. A friend's opinion doesn't count. If you can get financial buy-in before leaving your day job, even better.
Most new entrepreneurs invest heavily in the nice business cards, website, and branding before they've sold anything. This eats up your precious resources and it's not the reason people will buy from you. Your brand will go through many iterations so spend minimally here in the beginning. Bolster your financial runway today and you'll give yourself the breathing room and timeline to grow your business.
Build a team that gives your company the advantage of diverse viewpoints.. You want the ability to see and solve your challenges and problems early, and to not have blind spots because your whole team is looking at the world from the same perspective. On Boatsetter's team, we've got people from 13 countries who speak 10 different languages. We quite literally have a huge diversity of world views, and it’s a great competitive advantage for us.
Hire slow, fire fast. You’ve probably heard this before, but I reiterate it, since it’s guidance that will save you a lot of pain as a leader. Know your strengths and your weaknesses and, very early, bring on expertise to fill in for your weaknesses. Self-awareness and humility will save you a lot of lost time, resources, and energy. Figure out what you are not good at, and then bring aboard people who are great at exactly that.
Don’t obsess about making the right decision, focus instead on making your decisions right. As an entrepreneur, creating new things in uncharted territory, you are constantly going to be having to make decisions with incomplete or imperfect information. You should focus on making your decisions in the best possible way, given what you have at hand in that moment, knowing that you might have to adjust in the future.
Gather as much information as you reasonably can. Humbly request and hear guidance and critique. Be ready to admit previous mistakes, to change your mind, and to flexibly alter previous decisions.
And always be ethical - business is a lifelong marathon and people’s trust in you is an asset that will pay you handsomely throughout your career.
“One hand for the sailor, one hand for the boat.”
This is an old sailing adage that is to remind you that you are only an asset to your team if you take good care of yourself first. If you’re neglecting your own well-being, so over-focusing on dealing with the boat’s issues that you slip and injure yourself or fall overboard, you not only are no longer there to contribute to the team, you are burdening them further with them having to save you.
Especially as a founder and CEO, with your passion for your business and your drive to succeed, you have to remember to nurture your own strengths and energies so that you have 110% to give while you are on the job.
Network as much as you can. Often new business owners make the mistake of thinking they can run their businesses as they know their service/product inside out, but it's the other sides of the business that will throw up the most roadblocks. From admin to taxes to recruitment, there is a lot more behind a business than just a product/service. That is just the tip of the iceberg.
Depending on the size of the business, you will probably need to be a jack of all trades at the start, so speak to peers and ask how they started and what challenges they overcome. You can help to avoid some of these yourself if you are aware of them. Learn the basics of the 'boring' stuff before you start. Take an accounting course, enrol in leadership classes, read man-management books - the more you know before you start, the less you have to wing it and learn on the job.
My top tip for starting your own business is to start something you’re passionate about. And may not make you any money in the short term but you’ll be better off in the long term. So many entrepreneurs, especially young ones, are encouraged to go into “profitable niches” like finance or health and wellness or anything other than what they really care about.
But the truth is, going into a particular business that is most lucrative will only guarantee you money in the short term. In the long term when you want to scale and make a lot more money or become a lot more immersed in what you’re doing, you will need the passion to drive you through challenges. If it wasn’t there in the beginning, it won’t be there when you really need it and you’ll find yourself willing to take less money to do something you really care about anyway.
If you do what you’re passionate about, in the beginning you probably won’t make a lot of money. There is a reason why artists are often referred to as starving artists. There is a reason you and all your friends don’t have your dream job working in music or the NBA.
It’s because working in those fields is not only challenging, it’s worth less money. But again, in the long run if you want to reach the top of your business or your chosen industry, the passion has to be there. Sacrifice the short term for the long term gains of doing what you really love.
Check out the competition, especially those that are the most successful. What are they offering, how are they fulfilling? What can you offer that is different or has a greater perceived value? Invite folks who you believe would be your ideal clients to coffee, share your ideas and ask them their thoughts. Also, be sure to ask them what they would do differently. Also ask them what similar service providers or products they use, and why.
This will help you determine how your initial offer will be something of value, versus just being a commodity. With this information in hand, now you can create a value proposition that will resonate with your target audience, and before you know it your idea is a money-making machine
One tip I would give to someone who is starting their own business is to make sure you understand what you are and are not good at, and then delegate the latter. It's important to focus your energy on your talents and strengths. It's equally important to have a fantastic team that you trust to help you when needed.
Make sure you really love what you're doing and surround yourself with talented, positive people who believe in your end goal. After all, it's your community who will get you through every stage of your business. Starting a business is hard, but you really have to trust the process. Everything good and bad happens for a reason, so have faith.
Do some research before you get too excited about a business name. So many entrepreneurs think up what they think is a brilliant name.
Then they find problems like:
1. Someone else already has the url
2. Another bigger company has a similar name and asks them to “cease and desist,”
3. The name doesn’t mean the same thing to others as it did to them.
So companies not like them show up on Google searches. Or, it actually has a very negative meaning. Or it confuses customers enough that they have to spend precious marketing message time explaining it. At the beginning, businesses need to be open to many alternatives before settling on a name.
Having owned a couple of successful businesses, I always give advice to my colleagues who are just getting started in their own ventures. Here are a few of my top tips for new entrepreneurs:
1. Seek Help / Coaching - This is my best advice for a new business owner. We use a statewide program through our University system called the Small Business Development Center, but there are tons of (free) options available! Get an outsider's view.
2. Focus on doing 1 thing really well. When we start, it seems that we want to take over the world and do all things! Find the 1 thing and do it really great!
3. Focus on a niche. If you can focus on finding a niche that you are interested in and have a connection to that industry, it will be easier for you to become successful.
The KISS principle: All business owners face the same initial dilemma: How big should I go? Let me answer that. Did you hear about the KISS principle before? It stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. Noted by the US Navy in the 60s, it means that you should not overcomplicate the concept. You are going to be in charge of your business in its initial phase, and you don't want to deal with something too big and complicated. You could end with something too elaborated (and probably too expensive) that no one wants or even needs.
Start with something small, and don't let your idea snowball into something too big to handle. Avoid unnecessary costs, especially at the beginning.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. -- Leonardo da Vinci
Lots of successful entrepreneurs got their ideas just by studying what other people were doing and coming up with a way of achieving the same thing in a more simple (and cheap) way. Brainstorm your main idea, make a list of all possible features/parts/services and then ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I need this?
- Do my potential customers need this?
- Is this crucial for launching my business, or can it wait?
- Can I simplify this?
Then, brainstorm again.
When you are starting a new business it's important to get as many opinions as you can about your startup idea. But remember, most people hate being the bearers of bad news, so you'll need to read between the lines. Observe body language and use questions that are more likely to solicit undiluted feedback. If all your dinner guests say you should start a restaurant, ask them if they would be willing to invest in your restaurant.
Take a close look at their first reaction. You may have to cook a few meals, but you will get a credible answer to your business idea pretty quickly. If you need broader input, seek the chance to collaborate at events like Dallas Startup Week. You can cut months off your incubation process just by sharing your ideas in a collaborative environment.
It is always overwhelming how much you mislead yourself into thinking you know what people have in their minds. Even now, as I have started many companies and have been consulting startups and corporations for years, I still step into this trap from time to time. Therefore my top advice is about staying open minded:
1. Talk to your customer before you think about websites, pricing schemes, bureaucracy, corporate identity and all that sideshow business. You will be surprised about how much people don't care about the solution in your mind. And you will be surprised about all their real pains in the ass that you can solve much more easily. The customer is the customer.
2. Keep things manual and tinkered as long as you can. This is especially true if you come from a corporate background and are used to high-gloss appearance and processes. Being overly concerned about automated solutions and polished brochures makes you inflexible way too early. If and only if things get out of hand, go for more professional solutions. If you provide real value, nobody cares about a crappy business card. Unless you are in the printing business, of course.
3. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Nobody is going to steal your idea. So don't be afraid to talk to other people. Get out of your own silo and go for the next level. There's always a bigger idea. Of course, there's also always a bigger fish. But that's another thing, not to worry about. The bigger the fish, the slower they are. It is all about constant innovation. Staying open and flexible will keep you in the game!
Because we work closely with business owners we see a lot of great things that people do to generate success in business (including startups).
There are so many top tips I would give a start up like be clear on who you are targeting or invest in finding the best talent and give them equity but there is one tip that is without doubt the most important.
And that tip is “mindset”. You must develop a positive, CAN DO mindset. Your startup business will throw many unexpected challenges at you. These challenges will do their best to knock you off course.
Sometimes those challenges will seem insurmountable. But if you have a clear energetic vision of where you want to go and, most importantly, totally accept that it’s up to you and no one else (victim free zone) you’ll handle these challenges with ease, your team will feel your energy and success will be just around the corner.
Mindset is truly the foundation of your business success.
Be fully ready to commit to go all in!* Have your ducks in a row: Do your research, know the industry, have a plan, and translate your vision into the micro-steps and key milestones that have to happen to progress the business. You have to be able to maintain a daily intensity around what you’re building, be willing and ready to wear various (or all) hats, be agile, and hold yourself accountable in building out various aspects of the business.
Do not think you’re the expert in all areas, surround yourself with people who can provide guidance, resources, connections, and overall support in bringing your vision to life. Be ready to hit roadblocks, stay motivated to find solutions and persevere. A business will not be built overnight and building one is not for the faint of heart, it takes passion, thick skin, boundless energy, and the long-term commitment and gusto to push it forward.
While there are many details that go into launching a successful business, going through a professionally led brand strategy exercise can make all the difference. Without the strategy to build a brand identity, the brand will fall flat. Think of it as building a house without laying a foundation. Many startups want a quick logo designed to get going and think they can revisit their branding and design later.
Focus on that in the beginning. The ones who do get a lot more momentum out of their sales and marketing efforts, leading to more revenue and conversions. It makes it easier to grow and scale a business and target the preferred demographic. Having a true strategy will also make designing your logo, brand identity, and website a much more seamless process.
After years of being in business for myself, I can tell you that in order to persevere through many failures and disappointments, having the right mindset before you begin is critical. Your reasons for being in business have to be larger than your fears.
You also have to have a high level of faith that things will work out the way they should. The business will become your life and you will have to sacrifice in the present for the possibility of a future. I have overcome bad partnerships, monies and material stolen, and everything in between.
That is why when starting a small business yourself, picking something that you love, having the right reasons, and learning how to persevere through failure will be a must if you want to succeed.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but my absolute "top tip" for anyone looking into starting their own business is to have a clear business plan. You have to really sit down and determine WHY you want to start your own business. Is it a spur of the moment decision you made because you're frustrated with your current job? Or is it something you've always wanted to do but never got around to doing?
Finding genuine passion and purpose is essential to starting your own business because the process will be anything but easy. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, starting your own business will undoubtedly present you with a lot of problems that more than likely won't be worth the trouble if your heart isn't into it.
You're going to have to take a serious look at things such as finances, business opportunity/ sustainability, legal procedures involved with starting a business, marketing strategies, etc. This may seem a little daunting, but it's all worth the blood, sweat, and tears if you genuinely want to commit to starting your own business
Many people would talk about having selling skills, negotiation skills, marketing skills, and business acumen before starting a business. I don't disagree with these people, but coming from the background where I learned from my mentors who made millions of dollars in their businesses for decades, I believe that the following three components are critical for someone to become a successful business owner or entrepreneur.
The first component is intention. Business owners are there to provide solutions to solve others' problems. It is not about what business you are in but what your business can do to provide solutions to other people. That's the first one, which is dealing with the word "what."
The second component is purpose. After you have figured out the what, you have to ask yourself why you do what you do. If the purpose of any business is to make money, that's having a short-term focus, and that business won't be sustainable in the longer run. So, figuring out the why allows the business owner to be supported with a more significant cause or reason and therefore, he can keep it going.
The late Jim Rohn has this famous quote, "The BIGGER the WHY, the EASIER the HOW!".
Only you have figured out the what and the why, then you focus on the how i.e. the strategies and tactics. This is the appropriate time for you to find out what skills you already have and what additional skills you need to have so that you can achieve your business goals and milestones.
The last thing you should do before ending each day is to plan your next day. The first thing you should do each day when you wake up is to review your plan, reevaluate and add any missing details.
It's easy to have ideas in your head about what you will do. But writing them down is the first step to bringing your ideas to life. I have found that if I begin a day without specific, actionable steps to take, I am more likely to get overwhelmed, and efficiency goes out the window.
When making a plan for the day, keep it simple, and don't set the bar too high. Set 2 or 3 reasonable goals for the day, and follow through on them. If you are like me, the process of setting reasonable daily goals and meeting them will take practice. So don't be hard on yourself if something doesn't get done the way you planned. Reschedule and move on. Eventually, you will understand you and your business enough to set and keep daily goals.
Marc P. Misthal
One top-tip for someone who is about to start their own business is to make sure that their brand/business name is available to be used. This can be done by conducting a comprehensive trademark search through experienced trademark counsel. The search has two benefits.
First, it will tell you if there is anyone else out there who is using the same or a similar mark for a related business. This is important because if someone else is using the same or a similar mark for the same type of business, you could wind up on the receiving end of a cease and desist l
etter. Knowing what is going on in the marketplace will allow you to create a business name/brand that does not infringe on someone else's rights (since the test for infringement is whether are likely to be confused, the fact that your name is not identical to someone else's does not mean you are not infringing).
The search is relevant for another reason. Assuming that the name/brand is available for use, the search will give you an idea of what obstacles, if any, you might encounter in the Trademark Office if you file a trademark application. It is better to find out ahead of time than to submit an application and have it rejected by the Trademark Office based on someone else's trademark registration.
Starting a business isn't an easy undertaking, especially when it's your first. Entrepreneurship, in general, can be a tough one. No formal education can mould and prepare you for it. Most of the experience and learning take place when you immerse yourself in the business world.
Take more of a practical encounter than theory. There are quite a lot of elements needed to make sure you start your entrepreneurial journey on the right path.
It doesn't matter whether you're about venturing into a fashion business or a restaurant business, the below essential tips for starting and running your business will serve even to the weirdest or boring industry.
1. Focus on Values
First of all, you need to be aware that it's not about you but about the lives and well-being of people you want to impact. Your ultimate goal should be focusing on people and their needs, provide value that will help them get to where they desire. Hence, solving their problem. Business is all about people. You can't be successful in business without them. Know their pain points and various a means to solve it for them. That's what makes a business.
2. Get a mentor
Investing in mentorship is what most people disregard when it comes to starting a business. The entrepreneurship road is a lonely one. And getting into something you've never done before all alone without the help of anyone will make the journey slower and harder. Getting a mentor who is older, wiser, more experienced, with a strong track record in business and has been through the journey himself will get you to your promise land safer and faster.
A mentor in business will hold you accountable for your actions and provide you with all the guidance, support and feedback you need to be successful.
So, there you have it! 34 invaluable tips and wisdom on starting and buidling a successful business.