- You want to make sure you prepare thoroughly before starting a business, but realize that things will almost certainly go awry. To run a successful business, you must adapt to changing situations.
- Conducting in-depth market research on your field and the demographics of your potential clientele is an important part of crafting a business plan. This involves running surveys, holding focus groups, and researching SEO and public data.
- Before you start your own business selling your product or service, you need to build up your brand and get a following of people who are ready to jump when you open your doors for business.
- This article is for entrepreneurs who want to learn the basics steps of starting a new business.
Tasks like naming the business and creating a logo are obvious, but what about the less-heralded, equally important steps? Whether it’s determining your business structure or crafting a detailed marketing strategy, the workload can quickly pile up. Rather than spinning your wheels and guessing at where to start, follow this 10-step checklist to transform your business from a lightbulb above your head to a real entity.
How to start a small business
- Refine your idea
- Write a business plan
- Assess your finances
- Determine your legal business structure
- Register with the government and IRS
- Purchase an insurance policy
- Build your team
- Choose your vendors
- Brand yourself and advertise
- Grow your business
1. Refine your idea.
If you’re thinking about starting a business, you likely already have an idea of what you want to sell online, or at least the market you want to enter. Do a quick search for existing companies in your chosen industry. Learn what current brand leaders are doing and figure out how you can do it better. If you think your business can deliver something other companies don’t (or deliver the same thing, only faster and cheaper), or you’ve got a solid idea and are ready to create a business plan.
Define your “why.”
“In the words of Simon Sinek, ‘always start with why,’” Glenn Gutek, CEO of Awake Consulting and Coaching, told Business News Daily. “It is good to know why you are launching your business. In this process, it may be wise to differentiate between [whether] the business serves a personal why or a marketplace why. When your why is focused on meeting a need in the marketplace, the scope of your business will always be larger than a business that is designed to serve a personal need.”
Another option is to open a franchise of an established company. The concept, brand following and business model are already in place; all you need is a good location and the means to fund your operation.
Brainstorm your business name.
Regardless of which option you choose, it’s vital to understand the reasoning behind your idea. Stephanie Desaulniers, owner of Business by Dezign and former director of operations and women’s business programs at Covation Center, cautions entrepreneurs against writing a business plan or brainstorming a business name before nailing down the idea’s value.
2. Write a business plan.
Once you have your idea in place, you need to ask yourself a few important questions: What is the purpose of your business? Who are you selling to? What are your end goals? How will you finance your startup costs? These questions can be answered in a well-written business plan.
A lot of mistakes are made by new businesses rushing into things without pondering these aspects of the business. You need to find your target customer base. Who is going to buy your product or service? If you can’t find evidence that there’s a demand for your idea, then what would be the point?
Conduct market research.
Conducting thorough market research on your field and demographics of potential clientele is an important part of crafting a business plan. This involves conducting surveys, holding focus groups, and researching SEO and public data.
Market research helps you understand your target customer – their needs, preferences and behavior – as well as your industry and competitors. Many small business professionals recommend gathering demographic information and conducting a competitive analysis to better understand opportunities and limitations within your market.
The best small businesses have products or services that are differentiated from the competition. This has a significant impact on your competitive landscape and allows you to convey unique value to potential customers.
Consider an exit strategy.
It’s also a good idea to consider an exit strategy as you compile your business plan. Generating some idea of how you’ll eventually exit the business forces you to look to the future.
“Too often, new entrepreneurs are so excited about their business and so sure everyone everywhere will be a customer that they give very little, if any, time to show the plan on leaving the business,” said Josh Tolley, CEO of both Shyft Capital and Kavana.
“When you board an airplane, what is the first thing they show you? How to get off of it. When you go to a movie, what do they point out before the feature begins to play? Where the exits are. Your first week of kindergarten, they line up all the kids and teach them fire drills to exit the building. Too many times I have witnessed business leaders that don’t have three or four predetermined exit routes. This has led to lower company value and even destroyed family relationships.”
A business plan helps you figure out where your company is going, how it will overcome any potential difficulties and what you need to sustain it. When you’re ready to put pen to paper, these free templates can help.
3. Assess your finances.
Starting any business has a price, so you need to determine how you’re going to cover those costs. Do you have the means to fund your startup, or will you need to borrow money? If you’re planning to leave your current job to focus on your business, do you have money put away to support yourself until you make a profit? It’s best to find out how much your startup costs will be.
Many startups fail because they run out of money before turning a profit. It’s never a bad idea to overestimate the amount of startup capital you need, as it can be a while before the business begins to bring in sustainable revenue.
Perform a break-even analysis.
One way you can determine how much money you need is to perform a break-even analysis. This is an essential element of financial planning that helps business owners determine when their company, product or service will be profitable.
The formula is simple:
- Fixed Costs ÷ (Average Price – Variable Costs) = Break-Even Point
Every entrepreneur should use this formula as a tool because it informs you about the minimum performance your business must achieve to avoid losing money. Furthermore, it helps you understand exactly where your profits come from, so you can set production goals accordingly.
Here are the three most common reasons to conduct a break-even analysis:
- Determine profitability. This is generally every business owner’s highest interest.
Ask yourself: How much revenue do I need to generate to cover all my expenses? Which products or services turn a profit, and which ones are sold at a loss?
- Price a product or service. When most people think about pricing, they consider how much their product costs to create and how competitors are pricing their products.
Ask yourself: What are the fixed rates, what are the variable costs, and what is the total cost? What is the cost of any physical goods? What is the cost of labor?
- Analyze the data. What volumes of goods or services do you have to sell to be profitable?
Ask yourself: How can I reduce my overall fixed costs? How can I reduce the variable costs per unit? How can I improve sales?
Watch your expenses.
Don’t overspend when starting a business. Understand the types of purchases that make sense for your business and avoid overspending on fancy new equipment that won’t help you reach your business goals. Monitor your business expenses to ensure you are staying on track.
“A lot of startups tend to spend money on unnecessary things,” said Jean Paldan, founder and CEO of Rare Form New Media. “We worked with a startup that had two employees but spent a huge amount on office space that would fit 20 people. They also leased a professional high-end printer that was more suited for a team of 100; it had key cards to track who was printing what and when. Spend as little as possible when you start, and only on the things that are essential for the business to grow and be a success. Luxuries can come when you’re established.”
Consider your funding options.
Startup capital for your business can come from various means. The best way to acquire funding for your business depends on several factors, including creditworthiness, the amount needed and available options.
- Business loans. If you need financial assistance, a commercial loan through a bank is a good starting point, although these are often difficult to secure. If you are unable to take out a bank loan, you can apply for a small business loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) or an alternative lender. [Read related article: Best Alternative Small Business Loans]
- Business grants. Business grants are similar to loans; however, they do not need to be paid back. Business grants are typically very competitive, and come with stipulations that the business must meet to be considered. When trying to secure a small business grant, look for ones that are uniquely specific to your situation. Options include minority-owned business grants, grants for women-owned businesses and government grants.
- Investors. Startups requiring significant funding upfront may want to bring on an investor. Investors can provide several million dollars or more to a fledgling company, with the expectation that the backers will have a hands-on role in running your business.
- Crowdfunding. Alternatively, you could launch an equity crowdfunding campaign to raise smaller amounts of money from multiple backers. Crowdfunding has helped numerous companies in recent years, and there are dozens of reliable crowdfunding platforms designed for different types of businesses.
You can learn more about each of these capital sources and more in our guide to startup finance options.