The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Business


The world has changed over the past few months and for many people, their work situation has changed too. Maybe now is the time to take another hard look at finally making your dream of starting a business become a reality. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding, exciting and lucrative if you do it right. Below is a step by step startup guide to get you started. Some of you may already have a business idea, but if you go through these steps, it will either confirm the merit of your idea or suggest one that might offer a better outcome. There are lots of little steps that make up the entrepreneurship journey, but below are some of the big buckets that you’ll face along the way. Your journey to becoming an entrepreneur starts now!

  1. Set goals and understand objectives and motivations. Be honest and real with yourself.
    If you’ve always wanted to be a successful entrepreneur, why do you want to create your own business? Why haven’t you before now? Are you looking for work/life balance, money, autonomy, challenge …? What has stood in your way before and what is different now? Understand your motivations and the limits or benefits they may contribute to your business’ success. Be really honest with yourself as these goals and objectives are going to come into play again and again along the way.
  2. Pick a customer to serve
    You may not realize it, but you are part of a variety of groups. Do you like photography? Cooking? Are you a dog lover? Do you play piano, tennis, hockey? Are you a new parent or a parent of a teenager or have aging parents? These are all groups that you participate in and as a member of a group, you’ll have access to talk to potential customers and test your ideas.
  3. Find an unmet market need
    Within each one of your groups, there will be a problem that members of that group face. For every problem, the solution might offer a business opportunity. Don’t forget that not all ideas are opportunities; it is key that the idea be actionable. Make a list of unmet needs for each group or customer segment.
  4. Identify early adopters
    Some members of the group will be what is called ‘early adopters’. These people are already facing the problem you’ve identified and have tried to solve it in a sub-optimal manner. They would probably LOVE a better solution and might be happy to pay for it. Can you identify these people?
  5. Conduct customer discovery interviews
    Here’s where you see if your early adopters actually have the problem you’ve identified. Unlike the old days where you waited til your idea was perfect before talking to people about it, the new “Lean Startup” suggests talking to some of these early adopters, face-to-face, to ask them about the problem you want to solve. Here’s where you really listen to what they’re telling you as you want them to challenge all of your assumptions and make sure that the problem is really a problem and that it is really solvable.
  6. Pivot or proceed
    Take note of this step because the successful entrepreneur does this a lot! In fact, it happens at every stage of the entrepreneurship journey. Every time your assumptions are disproved and replace, you pivot. If the assumptions are proved, you proceed. This simply means that you are constantly testing and adjusting. Sometimes you’re good to go; sometimes the pivot is only a few degrees and sometimes you need a wreck and rebuild.
  7. Determine the Unique Value Proposition
    What makes your solution unique? Is it better, faster, thinner, cheaper? The current thinking is that it has to be at least 10x better, faster, thinner, cheaper in order for people to consider adopting your solution. It has to have specific benefits, solving a problem or improving a situation. What features does it have? Is it easy to use and something they will not be afraid to try? Why should they buy from you? You need to have a solution that will stand out from the others before you can move forward so get this step right!
  8. Set up the Nuts and Bolts
    In this stage, you’ve basically decided that you’re going to give it a shot, and now you have to put your money where your mouth is. You’re going to figure out a name for the business, buy a URL, determine your tagline and basic branding and decide what key success metrics to measure (and how to measure them). You’re going to need a payment system and a bank account and accounting system and more. You’re going to do a video and a website and landing pages and Instagram and trademarking and analytics and all those things that turn an idea into a business.
  9. MVP – Minimum Viable Product and Rollout
    Remember when we said that you were going to start with an idea that wasn’t perfect, and that you were going to refine it along the way based on customer feedback? Here’s where you figure out the minimum that you can go to market with, and how to actually get it out there. The rule of MVPs is Ideate, Iterate, Validate and Automate. And you know that thing about the Pivot? It’s back! If you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur, you’re going to test and pivot and test and pivot. You will review financial and business models. And once you’ve figured out the product, distribution method, you’re going to give it a shot in a limited way. Test again. You’ll be able to work the kinks out on your way to the final step which is scaling. That means you can grow your business without compromising quality or profits.
  10. Keep on Learning
    If your business is earning money, you’ve done something pretty cool. You’ve followed a bunch of steps and now can consider yourself an entrepreneur. Congratulations! But don’t celebrate too long. Successful entrepreneurs keep moving forward or they stagnate. You will need to figure out how to grow in a cost-effective manner. You may need to find investors to grow. You may need to hire more employees or invest in more space. There are lots of decisions, and some of them will have to send you back to step one, where you were asked about your objectives, your motivations, your needs, etc. Maybe you wanted to make a lot of money and would work 24/7 to get there. Maybe you wanted to have a “side hustle” that would let you earn some extra cash along the way. Maybe you wanted to keep your business small to have a bit more work/life balance. You’re going to need to evaluate how and how fast to grow so that you can address those goals. But it is all doable and all part of the steps of entrepreneurship that everyone has to go through.

Whatever Step you are on, you’ll experience successes and challenges. A truly successful entrepreneur is not measured by how successful he/she is but by how many times they get up after falling. Every problem has a solution and if you remember that, you are definitely on your way to success!

If you’re interested in a more detailed explanation of each of the above Steps, and video coaching along the way, you may want to sign up for 100 Steps 2 Startup.

Wishing you the best on your journey to success.


Elisa Palter

About the Author

Elisa Palter

Elisa has co-founded and successfully exited 2 small businesses, written business cases for Harvard Business School, and was part of the team that founded a prestigious Liberal Arts College overseas. She assists select NFP organizations with their messaging and strategy, and coaches women who are looking to become entrepreneurs. Elisa is passionate about entrepreneurship and its ability to empower individuals, particularly women.

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