Congratulations – you’re here because you have a bright idea. The kind that prompts you to, pause in amazement to ask yourself why nobody ever thought of this before, tidy your desk, and start searching for advice on how to turn your brainwave into a profitable business. But where should you really begin?
Building a business is one of the greatest journeys you can embark upon. You can’t expect success overnight. Behind the meteoric rise of each ‘Uber for this’ and ‘Airbnb for that’, there are rivers of sweat, oceans of tears and months of lost sleep.
The foundation of a viable business is to identify a problem and provide a good solution – or a better one than your would-be customers can currently find. You should begin by thinking through your business plan and doing your market research. Be prepared to make changes to the product and to redefine your target market in response to your findings.
Your next step is to get the infrastructure of success in place. Become an expert by studying up on specialist sector information. Get get a professional-looking website, clean up your social media, contribute to relevant discussions online and in person: you should be seen as an authority.
Select the platforms you’ll use to market your product – does it need a video demonstration, or are you the author and sage behind the next hit eBook? Then, get to grips with Google. You’ll need to produce regular, relevant content for your site to rank highly, and understand how paid ads work in order to run campaigns or instruct an agency.
Think this summary sounds simple enough? You already know the roadmap to business stardom will be peppered with potholes. Here are six tips to prepare:
1. Get to work
Success is directly proportional to the effort you put in. You’ll be competing for funding and customers with many other companies. Most will have more capital and manpower than your business might see for another decade. If you want to get on level footing, the only way is to grind. Use size to your advantage.
There’s no middle-management or bureaucracy to prevent you from experimenting with new tactics or tailoring services to a particular client’s requirements. Bonus tip? Don’t quit your day job right away. It’s incredible how much time you can free up on evenings and weekends by reducing your Netflix consumption.
“A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.” – Richard Branson
2. Network, network, network
Mingling, schmoozing, hobnobbing – it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Maybe it seems pointless, or pushes you out of your comfort zone at first, but networking is an extremely valuable use of your time. Polish your LinkedIn presence, go to business networking events, reach out to people you could learn from. Join discussion forums and contribute to them.
You could even consider applying to startup incubator programs such as TechStars, which offer a curated programme of introductions to both mentors and investors. You can’t predict when one of these contacts will offer a helping hand, but relationship building is key to securing support in your hour of need.
3. Tighten the purse strings
Startups don’t secure their founders a steady stream of income. There will be weeks when you’re flush, and months when your dreams of entrepreneurial success are eclipsed by dreams of a dinner that isn’t ramen. Without the privilege of a reliable income, life is easier to navigate when you’re equipped with budgeting smarts and a steely will. Get used to living within your means. Your salary cut will ultimately translate into a runway extension for your startup.
4. The customer is (still) king
Your brilliance and expertise can’t fund your startup by themselves! Customers put food on your table and sustain the viability of your business. Listen to what they want from you. Be prepared to tailor your offering to their needs. If you get an opportunity to deliver results for someone – seize it. You can offer them a perk no big business can match: flexibility.
5. Shortcuts leave you short-changed
If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right first time. Don’t give investors a chance to pick holes in your business proposition by spending time and money on work that needs to be re-done. Website bugs or a ‘content farm’ blog can damage the functionality of your business as well as your reputation.
Sure, you’ll get to the stage where your business is ready for a re-brand or an experienced hire brings in the knowledge to optimise your content, but there’s a difference between being keen to improve versus tolerating shoddy work. Get the best you can buy at every stage of growth.
“Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love. If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.” – Mark Cuban
6. Know your ‘why’
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But how can you cultivate this toughness? In the early stages, you may not have a co-founder or employee to share the struggle. There will be no team to carry you through phases of crippling doubt. Whether you need to adjust the feng shui of your home office, admit that breaks are crucial to your wellbeing or build opportunities to socialise with likeminded individuals into your schedule, take time to work out the foundations of your mental fortitude.
Understand your ‘why’ – the reason behind your passion that gives you a true sense of purpose. Then, work to cultivate a balance. You can’t do everything, but you can make time for family, exercise, and the little things that save your sanity. The ability to self-motivate will serve you in every area of life, whether business is your vocation or not.