You don’t have to go to business school to start a business. But you do need an idea, a plan, and a lot of determination. Online businesses may require less financial investment than brick-and-mortar ones, but even they entail many factors to consider.
Whether your proposed enterprise is physical or virtual, start with an in-depth market survey. You need to verify that there is a need for the product or service you plan to offer. Not that it has to be something no one has ever seen before. You can be the fifth donut store in town and still do well if you position yourself correctly.
Study your target market and see whether there are any gaps that you can fill. Perhaps the other donut stores do not offer home delivery. Or you could try some fusion flavors with other cuisines. Matcha donut, anyone?
Once you’ve confirmed a market fit, it’s all systems go — almost. Before you kick off your business venture, here are four things to square away.
1. Line Up the Right Help Beforehand
Any sensible entrepreneur knows they won’t be able to handle every aspect of a business alone. Instead of making the futile attempt, think about the help you’ll need before you launch. Some of this assistance may be technological in nature; other times it will involve well-vetted service providers.
For example, you’ll doubtless be sending out email campaigns to drum up business, but don’t send out mass emails the old-fashioned way. Instead of forwarding an email to all your contacts, use an integrated email service. Not only will you be able to easily drag and drop graphics and links, but you can also track engagement. You’ll be able to see how many people opened your email and which links were clicked the most.
It’s equally doubtless that you’ll need to mind your new venture’s finances, so think about how you’ll do this. If you’re not a number-crunching whiz, consider engaging a firm that handles accounting for startups. Experienced service providers can keep your books, file your taxes, and provide financial advice. Some such firms can even guide you through fundraising rounds.
2. Create an Online Presence
Even if your new business is solidly brick-and-mortar, you’ll need an online presence. Your business should be ready for the virtual world and create a powerful image online. Starting with your business name and tagline, brainstorm ideas that are apt to resonate with potential clients and be easy to remember. Websites and social media accounts should also be readily findable and simple to navigate. Avoid using hard-to-spell names and complicated terms.
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of selecting an overly focused name, which restricts them when they want to expand. For instance, think twice about calling your salon The Nail Bar if you also — or later plan to — offer lash extensions and waxing services.
When you have narrowed down a few names for your business, check to see whether those Web domains are available. Ditto for social media channels. Try to keep your account handles as consistent as possible. That way your business will be easy to find whether someone is an avid Instagram user or one of the Twitterati.
3. Start With a Well-Conceived Bang
Once your homework is done, it’s time to unveil your masterpiece. Launch your business in a way that attracts your target market. To create a good first impression, make sure you go through the launch plan thoroughly. Don’t be in a rush to have a grand opening for your café when you are still figuring out all the options on your state-of-the-art espresso machine.
Your first series of announcements should be like teasers. Give your audience small bits of info and make them want more. Messaging should be concise but powerful enough to generate a buzz.
Collaborating with influencers is also a good way to attract potential customers. If you are inaugurating a physical store, invite diverse members from the local community. Don’t forget to hire additional help to cater to the extra customers that day. Have samples, freebies, and special promotions ready to go.
4. Work With Others — Including Your Customers
Don’t disregard all dissatisfied customers as being entitled or demanding. Their attitude may be wrong, but their complaints may be right. Listen, learn, and improve. Develop a feedback system where customers share both their negative and positive comments and then respond to their feedback promptly. Consider your customers your collaborators; by heeding their feedback, you gain the opportunity to grow.
As your business grows, however, don’t hesitate to reach out if you feel burned out — physically, emotionally, or financially. While family and friends can provide moral support, you’ll also need expert advice regarding business matters. It’s a great investment to regularly attend networking events and seminars to learn from experts in your field.
And don’t forget potential financial partners. Depending on your business goals, you’ll need funds to reach your milestones. Understand the basics of crowdfunding, finding investors, and accessing alternatives to bank loans. This way you have funding options when the need arises.
Remember Why You Started
A new business, like a new journey, can be both exciting and scary at the same time. Try new routes, but remain on course. Being your own boss can be very liberating. However, it can also be much more work than a 9-to-5 job, especially in the beginning. Always keep an eye on your business plan.
Visualize where you want to go and keep moving, even if your progress seems slow at times. With a solid business idea and a great support system, you can make your entrepreneurial dreams come true.