Top 10 Tips and Advice for Starting a Business

When you’re thinking about starting a business, you can avoid a lot of issues by taking business startup advice and startup tips from someone who has already been in your shoes. While every startup is unique, there are some concepts that are pretty universal. Below are 9 business tips to get you off on the right foot.

 

  1. Make sure you have what it takes.
    Most successful entrepreneurs live and breathe their businesses and they are prepared to go the extra mile to make sure the business succeeds. You’ll need the drive and determination to work hard and the self-belief to deal with the anxiety and uncertainty that you’ll encounter. You’ll need to trust yourself as sometimes you’re going to go against the flow. You’re going to have to roll with the punches and not get demoralized by setbacks. You’re going to be ok taking advice and learning from others. Understand yourself BEFORE you start as it is much harder once the business is out in the world. If you’re the kind of person that likes autonomy and freedom and creating things and learning all the time, and working hard, you’ll do great; just do an honest self-assessment up front.
  2. Make sure that your business is significantly better or different or less expensive than the current alternatives.
    Some say that your idea has to be 10X better than what exists. That means that your business should be 10X faster, cheaper, lighter, or stronger in order to make people switch from what they are currently using to your product/service.  Talk to potential customers, talk to potential distribution partners, talk to potential manufacturing outlets, and do as much other research as possible. Find out what it would cost to provide your product and find out what people would actually consider paying for it. Understand what the current competitors are offering and how they offer it and what you would have to do differently to steal customers away. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!
  3. Plan ahead
    All businesses need a business plan. These days it is a simpler process than it used to be. The Lean Canvas is a 1-page plan that forces you to think through all the important parts of your business.  You can adjust, or pivot, later on but at least you’ll have a starting point. Marketing, Distribution, Manufacturing, Sales, Financing…these are all things you need to think about before you launch and using a business plan template will ensure you don’t leave anything major out. If your business is going to try to raise money at some point, you’ll need a more fulsome one, but if you’re just using it for your own purposes, it will force you to define your objectives and give you a blueprint for achieving them.
  4. Nail down the nuts and bolts.
    Businesses are more than the idea. They’re about execution. Do you need manufacturing? If so, where will you do it and what is the best price? Does that price include shipping? Do you need to warehouse your item? Where? Are you going to take credit cards? Who is going to manage your website? Your social media? Do you need an accountant? Who is going to do your invoicing and collections? Do you need customer support? If so, will it be online only or voice too?  Do you have someone doing your tech support? Do you have someone to help if your computer or phone or website go down? There are lots of great suppliers in the world; often, you can subcontract for what you need so you don’t have to have someone on salary or even retainer. Especially in the early days, lean and mean is the key.
  5. Ready, Fire, Aim.
    This is a phrase coined in the late 2000s which basically says that you should launch your business before it is perfect and let the market help you decide how to improve it. One characteristic of a successful entrepreneur is that s/he is open to constructive comments and is willing to pivot. When you launch something that is not perfect, you get valuable feedback that lets you respond to what the market ACTUALLY wants before you’ve spent lots of time (and maybe money) on a perfect plan for something the market couldn’t care less about. The other thing about launching a less than perfect business is that it forces you to take a leap of faith. If you’re waiting for perfection, there will always be one more thing that you could do better and by the time it is perfect, the window of opportunity may be closed.
  6. Test
    When you fire before perfect, the only way you can get it right is to understand what was wrong the last time. Pivots come from testing and testing and testing.  Start small and find out what worked and what didn’t.  Based on what you learn at each stage of testing, you will either move forward to the next step or take a step back and try again. Some call this the Stoplight Test. Green means you move forward; Yellow means iterate to include more features and Red tells you to drop the initial features and create a new Minimum Viable Product to test. You’re going to spend a lot of time at yellow which is actually a good thing as it means that people are excited about your product but want it to be better.
  7. Think about your long-term objectives for the business.
    If you’re just focussed on starting a start-up and don’t think about what a mature business would look like, you might miss some things that are important to consider at the start. For example, are there different, complementary skills needed to take the business to the next stage and if so, how would you divide the responsibilities? Should you form a relationship with someone with those skills now so that s/he can step in when it is time? Does the business need training manuals so that others can take over certain tasks, leaving you to focus on the bigger picture? What kind of culture do you want the business to have? It doesn’t matter if it is just you, but what if there are dozens or hundreds of employees? Do you want to have a values-laden orientation to the way you do business? Are there systems that you need to put in place now in order to grow and scale?  There are lots of great startup businesses, but if they can’t make the leap to the next stage, their potential will be limited.
  8. Ask, learn, be curious.
    You’re going to need business advice and sometimes even personal advice… a lot. Build a network from the start because, as we said at the beginning, smart, experienced people can save you a lot of effort and sometimes heartache along the way. Figure out what you need to learn and improve and make sure you either nail down those things yourself, or have access to someone who can fill in your gaps.  Use your network to meet investors, customers, manufacturers, etc. People love to be asked for their opinion on things. Tell them you’d like their advice on what they would do and most are really happy to help.
  9. Have fun.
    Steve Jobs said “Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.” It won’t all be fun. Some of it will be hard and frustrating and exhausting. But the parts that are fun make it all worthwhile: The ability to say “let’s do this” and then just do it, sometimes that same day. The feedback from a customer who LOVED your product. The exhilaration of working really hard at something and knowing it succeeded because of what YOU did.  The creative juices that flow when you have to respond to a challenge. The flexibility to build something in the way YOU want to build it. It’s fun! It is hard, so make sure you take care of yourself and your health, but enjoy it.

That’s it in a nutshell. If you start now, you’ll figure it all out along the way. No successful entrepreneur has achieved success without stumbling along the way. That’s a guarantee. So, don’t be frightened of it. Jump in and have fun.

 

Good luck!

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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