In this previous post, I discussed some of the basic things to think about before starting your own business. In this post, we’ll talk a little more about some of the keys to entrepreneurial success.
If you want to go into business for yourself, the first thing you need to have is a clear focus. What is it you want to do? Do you have a product to sell? Do you have a service to offer? If you don’t know what you want to do, take the time to figure it out. This may mean meeting with a coach or a mentor, taking advantage of free small business counseling services or even taking some college courses or career workshops. After being in business for a while, your focus may change, but if you do not know what your business is about, you can hardly expect your potential customers to know. Having no focus for your business is the short road to failure.
Once you have a focus for your business, you need to develop a plan. What are you going to do? How are you going to do it? Will you quit your job and pursue this business full-time from the beginning or will you continue at your current employment while your business gets established? If you quit your job, do you have enough to live on (a business counselor will recommend a bare minimum of 6 months in savings and strongly suggest at least a year’s worth while you get going)? How will you sell your product or service? Who is your target customer? Are you selling to consumers or to other businesses?
Take the time to do the research.
Learn who and what your competition is. Research other businesses that are selling a similar product or offering a similar service, whether they have been successful or unsuccessful (sometimes you can learn even more from a failure story than a success story). Find out what equipment and resources you will need to run your business.
If you are manufacturing a product to sell, research the process and learn how it works. Even if you are contracting with a manufacturer, you need to understand how the process works and what’s involved in it. Find out if there are education, training and licensing requirements for your chosen profession.
And then learn to be decisive. Learn when it’s time to stop researching and begin making decisions. Successful business owners are decisive and don’t engage in either second guessing or pointless perfectionism. Do the necessary research, make a decision, own the decision and move forward with it. You’ll know soon enough if it was the right decision. If not, make another decision and go in a different direction.
Be financially wise
Finance is probably the number one hazard of small business. Too many business owners don’t do their homework to find out what it will really cost to start their business and what it will cost to run their business. Do you really need that high-end furniture and the latest and greatest computers and electronics? How will you pay for your start-up? According to one study nearly 60% of small business owners said they used credit cards for their start-up. This is a dangerous practice. If at all possible, try to adopt a pay-as-you-go strategy. One of the first resources you need to develop is a good accountant. If you aren’t an expert money manager, hiring someone who is might be the very best business investments you ever make. They can help you make sure your cash flow is sufficient to cover your overhead and help you to begin setting aside a cash reserve, helping you with the various employment taxes (it’s even more complicated than personal income tax).
Learn to Market
If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you need to learn the fine art of marketing. “Build it and they will come” only works in the movies. You need to be able to get your product or service out there and bring in customers. A business without marketing is like a car without wheels. It’s not going anywhere. If you can’t or don’t want to develop a love for marketing, you need to hire a good marketer, but I believe it’s critical for small business owners and entrepreneurs to be able to do at least some of their own marketing. Along with marketing, you need to learn to network–online AND in person. If you are uncomfortable in front of a crowd or making presentations, join Toastmasters or take a public speaking course. A coach can also help you learn to speak and present effectively. And yes, it can be learned. I had to do it–and if I could get over my tongue-tied shyness, so can you.
Get a Support Network
Being a solo entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to do this alone. In fact, your chances of success will increase exponentially if you don’t try to do it alone. Develop a support network. Having a good family and supportive friends is a start, but you should also develop a network in your business community. Local business development groups, Chambers of Commerce and professional associations can all be good sources of support. Being able to talk to and share with other business owners and professionals who understand the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship, who can give you advice and feedback is essential not only to the health of your business but to your personal health as well. Starting a small business can be very stressful and a strong network can help alleviate some of that stress.
When I owned a portrait studio in New Mexico, once a month I met with a group of fellow studio owners. We exchanged marketing ideas, critiqued one another’s campaigns, helped one another learn new techniques, swapped crazy client stories, celebrated successes and commiserated over flops. We were also available to back up one another in the event of an emergency or to help out when an extra set of hands were needed. We not only helped one another grow our businesses, but became great friends as well.
I also shared space for a time with the owner of a very successful DJ company. Not only were we able to cross-refer and boost one another’s businesses, but it helped to have someone to share both business ideas and expenses.
What advice would you give someone going into business? And what do you wish you knew when you started?
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