Starting your own business isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s stressful and pretty much demands your complete focus. On the plus side, it can also be a fulfilling experience professionally and personally.
Here are 50 tips on how to make your business come to life:
1. Do a self-inventory.
Not everyone has what it takes to start a company. That’s not to say that your idea is not brilliant. It just means that you may not have the personality traits to handle launching a company of your own.
Before investing any time or resources, evaluate yourself and see if you have some the typical traits of an entrepreneur. Are you motivated, able to adapt and confident? Are you resilient?
2. Develop an idea.
Don’t just start a business because something is in vogue and you think commercializing it will make money. Develop a business concept that you’re passionate about related to something that you have experience with. From there, come up with a product or service that you believe can enhance the people’s lives.
3. Test the plausibility.
Once you’ve settled on an idea, figure out how you can make it become a reality. Is the product or service something that people want or need? Can you make a profit selling it? Does the product work?
4. Write a business plan.
A solid business plan will guide you going forward. It’s also needed for presenting your idea to potential investors. Your business plan should include a mission statement, a company summary, an executive summary, a service or product offerings, a description of a target market, financial projections and the cost of the operation. Learn about how to write a business plan at SBA.gov.
5. Identify your market.
Even though you may have detected some interest in your business, you need to do more homework. Assess the market, targeting the customers most likely to make a purchase. Perform a competitive assessment.
6. Determine the costs.
Do additional research and find out the standard cost factors within this industry. Not only will this help you manage your business more effectively, investors will want to know this.
7. Establish a budget.
Once you determine how much money you’ll have to work with, figure out how much it will take to develop your product or service and create a marketing plan.
8. Find the right investors.
You’re going to need some sort of funding to start off, whether from your savings, credit cards, loans, grants or venture capitalists. Find an investor who shares your passion, someone you believe you can work with.
9. Listen to investors.
Whether you like it, investors do have a say in your company. And you need to listen to their advice or suggestion. But that doesn’t mean you have to do what they tell you.
10. Set up a great support system.
You’re going to be investing a lot of time and resources into your new business venture. Be certain that your family is on board. They must be aware that this process will be challenging financially and emotionally.
11. Determine the legal structure.
Settle on which form of ownership is best for you: a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, an S corporation, a nonprofit or a cooperative. Find out more at SBA.gov.
12. Select a business name.
Decide on a name that best suits your business. Then check to see if the domain name is available online, as well as if it’s free to use in your county, state and in the country.
If your proposed business name is available, register it with the county clerk, have it trademarked at the state and federal levels and secure a domain name.
14. Take advantage of free resources.
Numerous free resources can offer advice, training and assistance. SBA.gov is a great place to look at to find local resources.
15. Determine tax obligations.
Now it’s time to wrestle with the tax obligations. In the United States, four basic types of business taxes arise: income, self-employment, taxes for employees and excise taxes.
16. Secure permits and licenses.
According to NOLO, you’ll have to pick up a federal employment identification number (unless the company is a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company without employees.) Apply for state licenses. Pick up a local tax registration certificate. File for local permits, if required, such as a conditional use permit or zoning variance.
17. Buy insurance.
Make sure that you arrange for the proper insurance for your business. This will vary according to the type of business. If you’re working from home be sure that your homeowner’s insurance covers theft or damage to business assets, as well as liability for any business-related injuries.
18. Set up the books.
Figure out if you’re using a cash or accrual system, determine the fiscal year for the business and set up a record keeping system.
19. Choose a business location.
Select a location that best fits the needs of your business, one that offers an opportunity for growth, the right level of competition and proximity to suppliers. It should also be accessible to customers.
20. Don’t worry about an office.
If you’re not making any revenue, then don’t concern yourself with an office or warehouse ust yet.
21. A patent can wait.
22. Be flexible.
Chances are that your original idea will have to be modified. Being able to pivot and adapt to create what customers want will determine if your business will fail or succeed.
23. Share your ideas with friends and family.
Your nearest and dearest will most likely be the most honest with you about your business. Don’t hesitate to seek their advice and suggestions.
24. Ignore the naysayers.
At the same time, there’s a difference between constructive criticism and someone’s quick jab projecting that your business will fail. Follow the example of French Internet mogul Xavier Niel and ignore them.
25. Don’t become angry.
If your idea is rejected by customers or investors, don’t just succumb to anger. Find out what they didn’t like, make adjustments and go back to them when you’ve made the changes. There’s the possibility that the timing was wrong as well.
26. Deliver the product or service fast.
Your business is a work in progress and if you launch your product or service quickly, you will be able to build a community of customers who can provide valuable feedback that can help you improve the offerings. In the words of LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, “If you’re not embarrassed by your first product release, you’ve released too late
27. Offer new products or services.
If you already have customers, be sure to hold on to them by providing new products or services.
28. Be patient.
Always keep in mind that success won’t happen overnight. It’s going to take some time before you make a profit.
29. Overdeliver at first.
Once you land a new client, be sure to go above and beyond the call of duty for at least the first month. You’ll have this customer hooked from then on.
30. Blog all the time.
Don’t be ashamed to share both your triumphs and struggles. Customers will enjoy your honesty.
31. Avoid fights with partners
If you have disagreements with partners, then sever ties as soon as possible. In-house bickering will prevent you from focusing on growing the business.
32. Don’t worry about dilution.
So an investor has required a stake in the company. Recognize the fact that eventually at one point or another you’ll have to give up some control of the business. Accept it and move on.
33. Hire a copywriter.
Unless you’re an excellent writer, hire a copywriter to compose emails for highly targeted customers. A copywriter will also prove handy for press releases and other pieces to spread brand awareness or provide business updates.
34. Prepare for meetings.
When preparing for a meeting with a client, read up on everything that’s available, steeping yourself in information about the industry, that firm’s employees and its competition.
35. Don’t fear the competition.
Don’t bad-mouth the competition when talking to investors or customers. There’s no need to become an object of pity. In fact, talking in this manner might even point customers to a competitor who may offer a product or service that you don’t. Remember, when competition exists, there’s a market for your business. Use that knowledge as inspiration to outperform a rival.
36. Benefit from word-of-mouth.
Nothing beats some good old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing. Let friends, family members and influencers in your field spread the word about your product or service.
Don’t be afraid to get out there and show your face to the public, whether at a conference or just being out and about with friend on a Friday night. But try to stay local because travel can dwindle your budget.
38. Provide outstanding customer service.
Interacting with people is a big part of the job. Your business may gain new customers because you made them feel important. For example, Zappos wasn’t the first online store to sell shoes, but the company perfected its customer-service department and won over shoppers.
39. Be sure your website functions.
Potential customers want to know as much about your business as possible and they should be able to quickly access that kind of information on your website.
40. Don’t be overly concerned by the economy.
Some of the best businesses have launched during a recession. In fact, half of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 2009 were founded during such times, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
41. Make sure clients pay their bills.
Always be certain to receive payment for your products or services. Instead of being taken advantage of of, establish a time frame for payment. It also wouldn’t hurt to accept credit cards and have an online payment system set up.
42. Find the right employees.
Hire the right people for the job. Even though it’s your business, you won’t be skilled at every task, which is why you need qualified people to complete the work.
43. Assign responsibilities.
Eelegate attainable tasks to employees. This is all about effective management.
44. Know that honesty is the best policy.
If any issues with employees emerge, be sure that they are addressed. No one enjoys being talked about behind their back.
45. Remember that opposites attract.
Hire people with skills and personalities that are the opposite to yours. They’ll challenge you and will bring different skills and talents to the business that you don’t.
46. Say goodbye to your social life.
You’re going to spend a lot of time devoted to the business. Even if you plan a night out, you may leave early because a lightbulb just went off. Hopefully those closest in your life will understand.
47. Recognize that you’ll be the final person to be paid.
As the CEO, you’re the last to collect a check. That’s just how it works until there’s adequate revenue.
48. Arrive at a useful definition of success.
Just because your business hasn’t made you a millionaire (yet) doesn’t mean that your enterprise is a failure. If you’re able to make some sort of profit doing something that you’re passionate about, isn’t that a success story?
49. Realize when it’s time to move on.
Failure is inevitable. If things aren’t working out and you’ve done all you can, then put aside your pride and close up shop. Something like this is not easy to accept. But it’s for the best.
50. Don’t just rely on the advice of others.
Despite my offering up all of these tips for you, perhaps the most important piece of advice is something learned the hard way: While many people may offer a startup assiistance, recognize that in the end you’re the person running the show and the one responsible for the company’s success and failure. If you understand what worked and what didn’t, you’ll burnish the skills and knowledge to run your business.
BY JOHN RAMPTON
AFRICA WORLD MAGAZINE