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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.

How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully How to Start a Small Business From the Ground Up That Thrives How to Change Habits When You Feel Stuck in a Rut How to Measure Your Team’s Productivity Effectively

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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