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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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Published on September 28, 2020

9 Essential Tips for Starting Your Own Business

9 Essential Tips for Starting Your Own Business

Starting your own business is the dream of every would-be entrepreneur. While it is a huge undertaking, the rewards of owning a business have proven to be worth it for millions of people all over the world. In this article, we will talk specifically about how to start your own business and how to make it successful.

We have all heard the statistics about the high failure rate of new businesses:[1]

  • Roughly 20% of small businesses fail within the first year.
  • Roughly 33% of small businesses fail within two years.
  • Roughly 50%of small businesses fail within five years.
  • Roughly 66% of small businesses fail within 10 years.

As these numbers suggest, starting a business and having a successful business are two vastly different things. Knowing how to start your own business the right way can mean the difference between long term success and failure.

There is an old saying that people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. There is a lot of truth to this. Starting a business is more than just coming up with a good idea and jumping in. You need to have a plan for success, and that means you have to know how to set and achieve goals.

From the time you get that (Eureka!) moment up until you open the doors, every decision you make will impact the business. So, it is important that you carefully evaluate every aspect of your business.

1. Evaluate Yourself

The cold hard truth is that good business ideas are a dime a dozen. Realistically, the chances of your idea being so unique as to be revolutionary are slim to none.

This does not mean that you should abandon it. It just means that you will need to do more than just bring it to the market. The phrase “If you build it, they will come” works better in movies than real life.

Be Honest – Doing honest self-evaluations are notoriously difficult. Humans just are not particularly good at accurately evaluating themselves.

Here is a quick little experiment you can do with any group of 10 or more people. Ask them to hold up a hand if they know how to drive a car, virtually 100% of hands go up. Then, ask them to keep their hand up if they are better than average drivers. 90-95% of hands stay up.

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So, what does this tell us?

Because it is statistically impossible that everyone is “above average”, it illustrates the phenomenon called the “Dunning-Kruger Effect,” which is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills”.[2]

Because of this Dunning-Kruger Effect, it can be helpful to consult others about what they see as our strengths and weaknesses. Just assure the person that you are interested in their actual opinion and you won’t be hurt or offended if they give it to you.

Some of the things you will want to include in your self-evaluation:

  • Are you a self-starter? Unlike being an employee, there will be no one standing over your shoulder telling you what to do or when to go to work. If you are someone who requires a lot of structure, starting your own business may not be the best option.
  • How organized are you? Planning and organizational skills are important, especially in the early stages of launching a business. Entrepreneurs that “fly by the seat of their pants” rarely succeed.
  • How do you handle risk and failure? The fact of the matter is, going into business is a risky proposition. Success is never guaranteed. Smart business people take calculated risks, but they are still risks. If you are someone for whom the thought of failure or losing money would be devastating, entrepreneurship is probably not for you.
  • How well do you get along with people? How are your communication skills? Most of us consider ourselves “people persons”, but business owners take communication to an entirely new level. When starting out, the business owner is a jack of all trades. You need to be able to interact with clients, business partners, industry partners, suppliers, staff, accountants, lawyers, regulators, and a host of others both accurately and decisively.
  • How disciplined are you? Resilience and perseverance are two of the biggest factors that will determine your success. As we stated earlier, mistakes will be made and some of them will be costly. You need to have enough resilience and perseverance to continue getting up after being knocked down. The only sure way to fail is to give up.

If you are satisfied that you have what it takes to become an entrepreneur, it’s time to move on to the next step.

2. Evaluate Your Business Idea

Again, being able to honestly evaluate your own business idea is key. However, this step is generally not as hard as the self-evaluation because the criteria used in the evaluation process is more objective than subjective.

Identify your target market – Who are the people that will be buying your product or service? For this step, it’s important to alter your mindset. Instead of thinking like a seller, start thinking like a customer.

Can you articulate answers to the following questions?

  • What is the problem addressed by your product or service?
  • How does your product or service solve that problem?
  • Why is your solution better than the competitions’?
  • Are people willing to spend money on a solution to the problem?

You will also want to gather as much information about the people in your target market as possible. At the bare minimum, you will want to know the following about your potential clientele:

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  • Age
  • Location
  • Income
  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Education
  • Marital Status
  • Ethnicity
  • Number of Children

All of this information will help tweak your product or service to better suit their needs. It is also helpful in developing a marketing strategy.

3. Evaluate the Competition

Generally, you can divide your competitors into three categories:

  • Direct competition – These are companies that offer the same products or services to the same target market as your business. You can think of Burger King and McDonald’s as direct competitors.
  • Indirect competition – These businesses will offer products and services that are similar to the ones you provide without being the same. Another type of indirect competitor can be one that markets the same product or service, just to a different clientele or market segment. Subway and McDonald’s would be indirect competitors.
  • Substitute competition – These are businesses that offer different products or services to the same clientele in the same market segment as you. An example of substitute competition for McDonald’s would be the local mom and pop diner.

Once you have identified exactly who your competitors are, you will want to gather the following information:

  • What is the range of products and services they offer?
  • Are they expanding or scaling down their business?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • What do customers see as their positive/negative attributes?
  • Can you identify any competitive advantage they have?
  • What is their pricing strategy?
  • What is their advertising/marketing strategy?

The purpose of the analysis is to identify your competition’s strengths and weaknesses to better compete.

For example, if your competitors sell largely to companies with more than 100 employees. You may decide to target smaller companies with less than 100 employees. This means that your pricing and marketing strategies will need to be more in line with what the smaller companies expect and can afford.

4. Evaluate the Financial Feasibility of the Business

In developing a financial feasibility analysis, you need to have answers to the following questions:

  • What will it cost to get your business off the ground and become profitable?
  • What initial expenses will you have?
  • What ongoing expenses will you have?
  • What is the source of your start-up capital?
  • What is the earning potential of the business, and how long will it take to achieve?
  • How will you keep the business open and pay your bills until it becomes profitable?

Once you have this information in hand, you will need to build in an extra “cushion” for all of the extra “surprise” expenses that pop up. Additionally, most people are overly optimistic when it comes to estimating the profitability of the business and the time frame needed to achieve it.

How much of a cushion do you need? No one can say for sure. Some people will tell you to double or even triple your estimates. At a bare minimum, you should add 50% to the estimates you made.

It can be disheartening to learn that your business idea really is not financially feasible, but it’s much better to make that discovery now rather than after the money is spent.

5. Have a Professional Business Plan

If you haven’t done so already, get yourself a professional business plan. When I say “professional,” I don’t mean that you need to go out and hire someone to do it. I mean that you need to know what a professional business plan looks like and take it seriously.

Too often, new entrepreneurs neglect to create a business plan in favor of flying by the seat of their pants. This is not a good strategy. Without a plan, you won’t know where you are headed.

“It can seem a daunting task when you’ve never been faced with writing a business plan before, but it’s a crucial task which will enable your venture to start and continue on a solid foundation. A business plan is also necessary when you’re looking to secure funding or investment. Essentially, a business plan is your vision for how the business will run, what you expect to achieve, and how you will achieve those things.”

-Mike Gingerich[3]

6. Use Common Sense Money Principles

Successful start-ups keep a tight rein on expenses. As an owner, you should know exactly where every penny is spent. In all businesses, expenses tend to go up over time. But in the initial stages, you can count on having more expenses than income.

In the earliest stage of being a startup owner, you will deal with an array of challenges. You have to familiarize yourself with the selected business landscape and look for options to expand the business venture while saving the operating costs.

During this time-frame, trimming the operating costs is not optional; defacto is a matter of life and death for your startup. You can’t keep moving in a specific direction. It is mandatory to drift your business towards one goal with smart planning.

7. Start With a Narrow Focus

All too often, I see new business owners get into trouble by overreaching their goals. What happens is that people take on work outside their expertise.

For example, a website designer will take on a client who wants SEO optimization in addition to the design

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Assuming that the web designer is not an expert in SEO, there are several potential problems with this scenario:

  • Pricing – Without knowing or understanding the scope of SEO that’s involved, the chances of underestimating and losing money on the project go way up.
  • Quality – They may be the greatest web designer on earth, but that’s still only half of the job. Clients rightly expect the entire project to be done right.
  • Reputation – There is no second chance for a first impression. These first projects need to be done well if you want any chance of referral business. They will also determine if your first few clients become repeat customers or not.

Remember, Amazon started out just selling books. They slowly expanded their business until you can now get virtually anything on their site.

Be like Amazon. Start with a narrow focus and expand from there.

8. Search Out and Use Specific Resources

There are a lot of free resources out there that every new business owner should take advantage of. They are a great source of information, help, and most importantly, networking opportunities. Some of these resources are general, while others are targeted to specific types of entrepreneurs. Both are worth checking out.

Here’s a partial list of resources:

  • The Chamber of Commerce – Their slogan is, “Designed for business owners, CO—is a site that connects like minds and delivers actionable insights for next-level growth.”
  • U.S. Small Business Association – They offer free business consulting services, SBA guaranteed business loans, certification for federal government contracting, and more.
  • Women’s Business Club – It is specifically for women to network and exchange ideas, but it also useful if you are marketing specifically to women.
  • BLACK ENTERPRISE – Similar to the Women’s Business Club, Black Enterprise is designed specifically for African American entrepreneurs. They bill themselves as, “The premier business, investing, and wealth-building resource for African Americans. Since 1970.”
  • Hispanic Small Business Resource GuideThis guide is filled with resources and networking opportunities for the Hispanic entrepreneur.

9. Just Do It!

Okay, I borrowed the phrase from Nike, but it’s good advice. It not only means taking concrete steps to start your business but also to get out of your own way.

A lot of entrepreneurs (and regular people) are afflicted by a condition called analysis paralysis. It is when someone overthinks about a decision too much that a choice never gets made, resulting in inaction.

If you are a perfectionist, you need to be especially careful of analysis paralysis. Perfectionists tend to wait until everything is perfect before launching their business, and many never get off the runway.

Final Thoughts

Accept that you will make mistakes, that you won’t make the right call all of the time, and that unforeseen obstacles will always pop up.

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If you are truly committed to the entrepreneurial lifestyle and your business, then take the plunge. The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to build a business that changes lives.

More Tips on How to Start Your Own Business

Featured photo credit: DISRUPTIVO via unsplash.com

Reference

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