Ask any profitable entrepreneur, “Was starting a successful business easy?” I have yet to personally have met a business owner that can answer “Yes” to that question. One of my content requests was to discuss some of the steps necessary to starting a successful business. This post will cover some of the bare (and sometimes forgotten) essentials.
For some, coming up with a GREAT idea is natural; but for others, they forget there is a such thing as a BAD idea. One of the biggest keys to making the distinction between a great idea and a bad one is target audience. Your idea(s) have to be able to satisfy a need. Simultaneously, your needs also have to be met as a result of bringing the idea to fruition. Whether your idea satisfies the needs of one (which can include yourself), or satisfies the needs of millions, I always suggest that you think about what it is you need out of it. That will bring both tangible and intangible value to your idea.
Due Diligence and Feasibility
Now that you have an idea, it’s time to do some due diligence and feasibility. Do not allow vanity to lead you to believe that you are the only person (or the first) on the planet to have a particular idea. Break your idea down into its elements, and use the power of your favorite search engine (ahem, Google) to find out how others are incorporating those elements into their businesses. Ask yourself (and answer, in writing) the following questions:
- Has anyone else had the same (or similar) idea as mine? If so, what have been their successes / best practices and failures? How could I improve on what they have already tried?
- What problem does my idea solve? How many others have the same problem, and who / where are they?
- What alternatives to my idea exist to solve the same problem? What makes my idea better?
- What resources do I need to realistically bring my idea(s) to life? (Financial, Legal, Insurance, Facilities, Personnel, Logistics / Supply Chain / Transportation, Raw Materials, Equipment / Machinery, et cetera – and most importantly – KNOWLEDGE)
Starting a successful business is not just about the idea(s), but also about the sacrifice(s) you are willing to make. I can tell you from personal experience, one of the biggest sacrifices I have had to make as an entrepreneur is time. Outside of my personal time, a great chunk of my professional time is spent acquiring knowledge – keeping up with the latest trends & technology, and learning new software, tools, and equipment every day so I can stay competitive. The most important questions to ask yourself (and answer, in writing) are the following:
- How much personal time is necessary so that I can continue to satisfy my personal commitments to myself and others?
- Will my loved ones support me in the event(s) that cause my time with them to become limited?
- Will my sacrifice(s) serve to build a legacy beyond my years, or is it just to satisfy my own needs in my own time?
- Without any other support or resources, what do I actually have, right now, to bring my idea into fruition? Is that enough?
- What is each sacrifice worth (tangibly and intangibly)? Can I afford it?
Informal Business Plan
There are hundreds of websites and resources available that cover how to create formal business plans. I’m going to discuss how to create an informal business plan (intended just for yourself and your closest circles) that should tell you if proceeding with a formal business plan is even worth it, well before you consider starting a successful business.
Create an overview that presents your idea(s), and the problem(s) solved. Only put enough detail about the idea so as to not give the SUCCESS of the idea away. Tune it so that when you read it aloud, you can deliver it in 90 seconds or less (this becomes your 90-second pitch). Practice the pitch until it becomes your prophecy. Then test the pitch with people you trust that would have a vested interest in the idea (because it solves a problem of theirs). Take their feedback, and “apply, rinse, repeat.”
Provide some historical context for your idea(s). What has been tried and tested? What has succeeded and failed?
The Trial (Proof of Concept)
Part of your sacrifice needs to include whatever would be necessary to prove your idea(s) can solve a problem. If possible, document every aspect of the process and resources necessary to fully demonstrate the success of your idea(s).
Taking into account your sacrifice(s), due diligence, feasibility, and the trial results (if applicable), answer why you should proceed to bring your idea(s) to fruition, and also, why there is no better time to begin the pursuit of your dream than today.
Answer the following three questions:
- What steps are necessary to bring my idea(s) to fruition?
- What measures will I put into place to 1) hold myself accountable for each step that I take to bring the idea(s) to life; and 2) blow the whistle on myself when I do not successfully complete each necessary step?
- What timeframes and tangible / intangible value do I need to get out of the success of my idea(s)?
Now that you have assembled an informal business plan, record yourself (at least audio, preferably video) reading it. Adjust whatever isn’t clear. Pay attention to your self-confidence (because it is MANDATORY for you to have it in starting a successful business). Once you have given yourself the OK, share it with others in your closest circles (use a Non-Disclosure Agreement, if you feel it is necessary). Get feedback, and again, “apply, rinse, repeat.”
“Baby Steps” by Dr. Leo Martin
Ok, this “What About Bob?” reference doesn’t actually exist, so don’t point your browser to Amazon just yet. Your goals need to be ACHIEVABLE, so I always recommend taking baby steps to achieve them. Your goals need to be primarily driven by KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE; you may have to even outsource (or dare I say, PARTNER) in order to have enough of both to take your baby steps. Take your time to do things right the first time, so that you can quickly learn how to work smarter (and NOT AS hard).
Disasters can, and will, happen
Believe it or not, disasters can occur in the early phases of starting a successful business. The best way to minimize fallout is to develop a disaster plan. Your disaster plan should have a “worst case scenario” attached to each baby step, as well as what additional steps will be necessary to succeed – even in the event of failure.
Consult with an attorney or a professional who has PROVEN knowledge and experience with business incorporation. My personal preference is Limited Liability Companies / Partnerships, so that the limits of liability (in the event of a disaster) do not “usually” carry-over into my personal assets. In the United States, business incorporation is typically filed with your local Secretary of State.
Whatever legal structure you decide, do NOT try starting a successful business without incorporation. It just doesn’t make sense in this day in age where society loves using litigation for personal gain.
How Much Planning is Too Much?
Business planning is a forever evolutionary process. Clients / customers change with their needs, so your initial idea(s) will have to continuously adapt. With some guidance, knowledge, and experience, you can create a great formal business plan that will INITIALLY help in starting a successful business. Make sure you, at the very least, set quarterly reviews for all of your mission-critical documents (business plans, operations manuals, processes and procedures, disaster plans / safety manuals, et cetera). After you get writer’s cramp / carpel tunnel syndrome from all the documentation, be sure to gather feedback and, if applicable, test your documentary work.
I’ve tried to cover some of the bare essentials that, while for some are probably common sense, hopefully will be beneficial to others that need some insight beyond their idea(s). If there is more information you would like me to expound on about starting a successful business, please ask (see the “CONNECT” section of every page).