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Last Updated on August 10, 2020

How to Start a Small Business From the Ground Up That Thrives

How to Start a Small Business From the Ground Up That Thrives

How to start a small business?

For most of us, it starts with an idea.

The idea can either be to break free from the corporate world. Be our own boss. Stop feeling like a cog in a machine and actually make a difference.

Or it can be more specific. Build the first or the best widget in the world. Because I’ve used every other widget out there and they are all lacking in a specific way.

The idea is to start a small business. To build something brand new. Brick by brick.

I have worked with dozens and dozens of small businesses and startups over the years. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve seen companies go public at valuations of more than $200M, and others crumble under the weight of their own mistakes.

So if you have an idea, the spark is there but then your heart skips a beat, and you think to yourself: How exactly do I start?

To avoid some of the missteps that others have made, to build a business that thrives; here’s how to start a small business that thrives from the ground up:

1. Know Your Why

Simon Sinek has one of the most popular Ted Talks of all time, and a best selling book as well, called Start With Why. In it, he talks about how important it is to know why you are motivated to do what you do; and that why shouldn’t include “to make a million dollars” or “make my mother proud.”

It is about understanding the way you want to make an impact on the world. And it’s different, and personal, to each person.

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I have found that having a solid foundation on why you want to start a small business makes all the difference. When things get rough (and they will get rough), you can return to this fundamental understanding and as a reminder of why you want to keep moving forward. As Sinek says:

Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.

So ask yourself, how do I start a small business that aligns with my Why?

2. Be a Consumate Learner

The most successful Founders and CEO that I’ve met are constantly asking questions. They are confident in what they know but are aware that they can always learn more. This can come up in a few key ways:

Before you even start your business, research your market.

Then research some more. Never think that you already know everything about people who buy widgets or all the other widgets on the market.

Ask questions. Then ask some more. Find people smarter than you or have way more experience, and listen to what they tell you.

Acknowledge that you don’t know everything. This is another critical piece to running a successful business.

I have seen it so many times. A Founder asks to “pick the brain” of someone else who has gone before. They hire a brilliant person to be part of the team — an expert in marketing or finance, and then disregard what they say or tell them what to do instead of asking them the best way to do it.

The CEO is missing a critical opportunity by not leveraging the team members/ expertise and not acknowledging that this team member has a lot to teach the CEO. It’s disempowering to the team member too.

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3. Roll up Your Sleeves

You might have the fancy title – CEO, Founder or Head Honcho, but when you start a small business, you are also the receptionist and in charge of data entry.

At the beginning, you need to be willing to do all the nitty gritty work that goes into your business. You can’t be too good to do anything. The tasks might not be in your zone of genius. And sooner or later, you will be able to hire and/or delegate a lot of the smaller stuff.

But if you don’t understand all the little pieces that go into making your business great, you won’t understand how to scale your business and grow when the time is right.

4. Get in the Weeds

I have worked with many, many CEO’s, Founders, and Entrepreneurs, and most of them have one thing in common:

They are Big Picture Thinkers.

They are the ones with the dreams and the big ideas. Execution? Not so much.

So, if you are going to start a small business that thrives, you need to get in the weeds. Take a look at the details:

Why would blue be the best color for your widget? Who will take the orders that come in from outside the US? How, exactly, will you ship your products to the people that buy them?

Don’t avoid the details of your business because the big picture ideas are more fun.

Dreams and big ideas are critical when you start a business. But if you don’t have a handle on any of the details, you won’t be able to make those dreams a reality. And eventually, your business will crumble like a house of cards.

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5. Build a Plan That Includes Budget, Expenses, and Profit

When you’re in those weeds, you must put together some numbers — real, researched, well-informed numbers.

Don’t assume you’ll take 50% of the current market because your idea is great. You need to create a plan that outlines every single expense that you’ll expect in the next 6 months to a year. You need to create a realistic timeline to product launch and create estimates for how much revenue you will get from your product, and when.

Without a plan that includes numbers, you will spend most of your time reacting to what happens around you instead of moving forward with intention.

Dave Ramsey is one of the big gurus of small business and personal finance. In his best selling book, EntreLeaders, he keeps it simple. He says:

Business is not really that hard. You are, however, required to do the basics or you will not win. Budget and do the accounting, stay out of debt, don’t buy what is not needed what is not needed to make a profit, save cash, and always be generous.

And you need to have a good answer to the most important question of all – when will you make a profit?

6. Avoid Shiny Object Syndrome

You’ve put your plan together. You’ve researched your market. You know that you want to create 2 inch widgets in a gorgeous shade of blue. You will sell them for $1/widget. Bob the designer is signed up to build them. You’ll launch in June!

And then…

My neighbor Betsy told me she’d love a widget in green. Should we change the color to green? And Johnny’s teacher mentioned that she could use a widget that is 3 inches. Let’s change the size of the widget!

It’s so common. We have an idea but what if there is a better idea?

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Do your research. Make informed decisions. And then stay the course. You can always pivot later.

But if you keep turning your head toward every shiny object, you won’t reach the goal right in front of you. You’ll never launch that product by June.

7. Trust Your Team

A small business might have one founder, but people rarely start a small business all alone. There is often a consultant, a partner, a sounding board. And then, consultants, accountants, and marketing experts.

No one’s “zone of genius” covers every area. So one of the best ideas on how to start a small business is to find a great team to help get your idea off the ground. Spend critical time on the front end vetting and hiring great people. And then let them do their job.

In my years on Wall Street, I saw first-hand the impact on a business when the Founder didn’t trust their team. I had hundreds of small private companies pitch their businesses to me, with the hope that my investment bank would take their company public.

The companies that gave me the most pause, the ones that rarely succeeded were the ones where the CEO did all the talking, or when he or she cut off his team members when they tried to answer questions.

Because in my mind, if that happened, it meant one of these two things: 1) the CEO is not listening to all the other smart people in the room; or 2) the CEO does not trust his team.

Both options were a recipe for failure.

Believe In Yourself!

Trying to start a small business can be incredibly difficult. We dream of the possibilities but get overwhelmed by the realities.

Know your why and believe in your abilities. Don’t try to be the best in the world or execute flawlessly. Learn and grow and keep trying.

If you do all the above things, you will be a success in whatever way you choose to define that word.

More Tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Featured photo credit: Vitaly Nikolenko via unsplash.com

More by this author

Deb Knobelman, PhD

Neuroscientist and C-Suite business executive who writes about the intersection of mindset, productivity, entrepreneurship and how to reach goals.

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Last Updated on September 23, 2020

Do What You Love and Love What You Do to Achieve More

Do What You Love and Love What You Do to Achieve More

Are you waking up each day looking for that perfect thing, activity, or job that will make your life work? Or, maybe you are looking for that perfect relationship. Once you “get” this new thing that will allow you to do what you love, you are sure that you will be happy forever.

In reality, life doesn’t work like that, and we would probably get bored if it did. There is likely no one thing, experience, or activity that will keep you feeling passionate and engaged all the time. What’s important is staying connected to what you love and continuing to grow in the process.

Here, we’ll talk about how to get started doing what you love and achieving more in life through the motivation it brings. Doing this doesn’t have to take a long time; it just takes determination and energy.

Most People Already Know Their Passion

So many people walk around in life “looking for” their passion. They look for it as if true passion is some mysterious thing that is difficult to find and runs away once you find it. However, the problem is rarely lack of passion.

Most of us already know what we love to do. We know what excites us, even if we haven’t done it for years. Instead, we focus on what we think we “must” do.

For example, maybe you love building model cars or painting pet portraits. Yet, each day you work a completely unrelated job and make no time for the activity you already know you love. The truth is you probably don’t need to find your passion; you just need to start doing what you already know you’re passionate about[1].

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No Activity Is Exciting All the Time

Even people who are living their dream lifestyle or working their dream job don’t love it all the time. Every job or lifestyle has parts of it that we won’t like.

Let’s say your dream is to become an actress, and you succeed. You may not enjoy the process of auditioning and facing rejection. You may experience moments of boredom when you practice your lines over and over again. But the overall experience is totally worth it.

Most of life is like that. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by demanding that life be perfect all the time. If things were perfect and easy, you would ultimately stop learning and growing, and life would begin to lack even more meaning in that case.

Be grateful for both the good and bad moments as they are both entirely necessary if you genuinely want to do what you love and love what you do.

Doing What You Love May Not Be Easy

Living a life you love is unlikely to be easy. If it was, you would not grow very much as a person. And, if you think about a great book or movie, the growth of the main character is what matters most.

What if the challenges you meet along your path to living a life you love were designed to make you grow as a person? You may actually start looking forward to challenges instead of dreading them. An easy life hardly ever makes a compelling story.

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If you struggle to overcome challenges, try writing them down each time you encounter one. Then, write down three ways you could tackle it. Try one, and if it doesn’t work, try another. This way, you’ll learn what does and doesn’t work for you.

How to Do What You Love

There are many small steps you can take to ensure you are making time to do the things you love. Start with these, and you’ll likely find that you’re already on the right track.

1. Choose Your Priorities Wisely

Many people claim they want to do something, yet they don’t do it. The truth is they might not really want to do it in the first place[2].

We all end up following through on what matters most to us. We make decisions moment by moment about what we need to focus on. What we choose to do is what we deem most important in our lives.

If there is something you claim you want to do but you don’t do it, try asking yourself how much you really want it or where it’s currently placed on priority list. Are there other things you want more?

Be honest with yourself: what you currently do each day is a reflection of your priorities. Recognize that you can change your priorities at any time.

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Make a list of your priorities. Really take the time to think this through. Then, ask yourself if what you are doing each day reflects them. For example, if you believe your top priority is spending more time with your family, but you consistently take on extra hours at work, you’re not really prioritizing things in the way you think you are.

If this is happening, it’s time to make a change.

2. Do One Small Thing Each Day

As stated above, doing what you love doesn’t have to mean finding that perfect job that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning. If you want to do what you love, start with one small thing each day.

Maybe you love reading a good book. Take ten minutes before bed to read.

Maybe you love swimming. Get a membership at the local YMCA, and go there for thirty minutes after work each day.

Dedicating even a short amount of time to something that brings you joy each day will improve your life overall. You may find that, over time, a career path related to what you love to do pops up. After doing the thing you love each day, you’ll be more than prepared to take it on when the opportunity arises.

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If you need help making time for your passions, check out this article to get started.

3. Prepare to Make Sacrifices

If you are an exceptionally busy person (aren’t we all?), you may have to make sacrifices in order to make space for the things you are passionate about. Maybe you take on less extra hours at the office or take thirty minutes away from another hobby in order to develop another that you enjoy.

Looking at your priority list will help you decide what can get put on the back burner and what can’t. Remember, do this thinking about what will help you feel good about how you’re spending your time. 

For example, if you love writing but rarely make time for it, consider getting up 30 minutes earlier than normal. Or instead of browsing your phone for 30 minutes before bed, you can write instead. There is always a way to find time for what you love.

Final Thoughts

If you love what you do, each day becomes a joyful adventure. If you don’t love what you are doing, life feels like a chore. The best way to achieve success is to design a life you love and live it every day.

Remember, doing something you love doesn’t have to include big gestures or time-consuming projects. Start small and grow from there.

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Featured photo credit: William Recinos via unsplash.com

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