This guide will show you how to start a business the proper way, including some hard-learned tips from an entrepreneur.
Starting a business is hard.
I hate to break it to you, but there’s no easy way to become a successful entrepreneur. Although, that doesn’t mean starting a business isn’t the best journey you’ll ever go on.
You just need to be prepared.
In the past, I’ve started businesses in totally different niches, sold a business, and experienced my fair share of mistakes and flops. I’ve also seen some beautiful successes and learned a heck of a lot along the way.
The reality of starting and running a business is a lot more challenging than people think. It requires total dedication, passion, a great idea, some skill, and a bit of luck. All of this blends together into what we call ‘entrepreneurship’.
In this guide, I’ll run you through the reality of starting your own business. I’ll share the important steps you need to take to get your business off the ground, as well as a few tips that I’ve learned from starting a coffee shop (and more).
Ready to start a small business the right way?
Let’s dive in!
How to Start a Business: 8 Steps
First things first, let’s cover the basic steps that anyone needs to take to start a business.
- Find an Amazing Business Idea
- Create a Business Plan
- Financing Your Business
- Get All Of Your Legal Pieces in Place
- Equip Your Business
- Hire the Right Staff
- Market Your Business
- Launch Your Business (And Get to Work!)
1. Find an Amazing Business Idea
The first and most important step in starting any business is having a rock-solid idea. This is often the hardest part.
Maybe you already have an idea, but you’re not sure how to validate it. Or maybe you just have an entrepreneurial urge but have no idea how to turn this into action.
Whatever the case, there are a few basic processes that you can follow to help you come up with a great business idea. After all, your business will only be as successful as the idea you have.
Now, this is common knowledge, but the basis of any good idea for a business comes down to finding a gap in the marketplace. In the most simple terms – people have a problem, and you provide the solution to fix it.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to invent the next iPhone to come up with a great business idea. It could be something incredibly simple that already exists elsewhere – like a car wash. The trick is to understand that there are enough car owners in your area that wish they had access to a car wash, but don’t.
How to Come Up With a Great Business Idea
So, how do you come up with this genius business idea? Here are a few of the best strategies:
- Start with your interests: You’ll have the most fun running a business that you actually enjoy. You’ll probably also do better if you love what you do. The most common strategy is to think about what you love doing and look for ways to turn this into a business.
*Note: It’s incredibly important to get creative here. Just because you love cooking, it doesn’t mean you should become a cook or start a restaurant (trust me). You could start a food blog, create cooking videos, start a restaurant consultancy business, start a kitchen equipment store, or more… Don’t just think about what field you enjoy, but think about what specific tasks you enjoy doing within that field.
- Consider your strengths and weaknesses: This is something that so many business owners don’t spend enough time on. When starting a business, it’s essential that you’re honest with yourself about what you’re good at and what you’re not. Always play to your strengths, even if they are boring. You’ll have more fun being good at what you do and owning a successful business than trying to convince yourself you’re good at something when you’re not.
- Conduct market research: This is easier to do if you’re starting a local business or if you already know what niche you want to cover. Look for problems, inconveniences, and pain points that people have. See if you can provide a solution to this. You should also spend time talking to your potential customers and asking them if your business idea would be useful to them. Running questionnaires and gathering feedback is helpful.
- Copy and steal: Yes, stealing a clever business idea is perfectly legitimate. It happens everywhere. If you see a great business that you think could do well in your particular market, then you can always try to copy the idea and add your own spin to it. Never copy a business exactly, but copy the general idea and work it into your own market. Develop your own brand, and try to add your strengths and personality to make the business idea work better for you.
One final thing to add here is that every business has the same goal – to make money. Often, this will mean sacrificing your “dream” business idea for something less exciting but more profitable.
Would you rather run a business that barely breaks even, but you get to do the thing you love? Or would you rather run a boring business that makes you enough money to do the thing you love instead of working all day?
This might be a question you need to ask yourself. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but never overlook the appeal of a boring business.
I once met a man with a laser cutter and a great idea. The laser cutter practically printed money for him while he spent his days surfing. He had no real interest in laser cutter manufacturing, but he couldn’t have been more fulfilled with his business.
To inspire you, here are 10 low-cost business ideas you can start online.
2. Create a Business Plan
Next, you need a formal business plan to help you understand how everything will operate. This business plan is your roadmap to success.
There’s A LOT that goes into running a business, and you don’t want things to catch you off guard when you eventually get started. A business plan will help you tick all of the right boxes, it will make starting a business less stressful, and it will help your business operate more successfully.
What should you include in your business plan?
- Your business name and description
- What products and services you will offer
- Your market analysis report
- Your financial plan (revenue projections, operating costs, profit potential, startup capital, etc)
- Your business model
- How your business will be structured and managed
- What your logistics and operations will look like
- Who your customers will be
- Your marketing plan and sales strategy
The more detailed your business plan is, the easier it will be to start your own business.
An essential part of creating a business plan is understanding the competitive landscape surrounding your business. You should know exactly what competitors exist, and establish a way to differentiate yourself from them. Add this to your business plan.
Another important step here is to think about the future. You’re probably itching to get your business off the ground right now, but if your business is a success, how will you grow and scale it?
Far too few entrepreneurs look years into the future before starting their business. This could slow your growth down when the moment comes.
3. Financing Your Business
This is the part a lot of entrepreneurs hate.
Unfortunately, every business needs some capital to get started. Yes, there are businesses that can be started with a lot less money than others, but you will always need some kind of capital to get going.
As the old adage says: you have to spend money to make money.
There are various ways you can finance a new business. These include:
- Bootstrapping: financing the business yourself. Use your savings, sell your car, and scrape together whatever capital you can to get started. This is great because it means you don’t owe any money to anyone.
- Borrow money privately: You could borrow money from friends, family, or any other private sources who might want to help get your business started.
- Seek an investor: You could pitch your business idea and business plan to investors. This will generally involve giving up a stake of ownership in exchange for capital.
- Take out a loan: Take out a small business loan from a bank or financial institution. Just be aware of the interest rates. You will need to present your business plan to do this.
- Seek government funding: Although this is tricky, it is possible to secure certain forms of government funding and grants. Of course, this depends on your business idea and government.
Whatever approach you take, be realistic before being optimistic. The last thing you want is to run out of money when starting a business, so make sure you have enough working capital to launch your business properly.
4. Get All Of Your Legal Pieces in Place
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of (boring) paperwork and administration involved in starting a business. This can be very time-consuming, so it’s important you understand it all before you get started.
When starting a new business, you’ll need to make sure that you cover all of your bases in terms of the legal structure of your business and making sure that everything is done the right way.
I’m no lawyer, so I can’t offer any legal advice. However, here are a few of the important steps to cover.
Structure Your Business
You’ll need to know what kind of legal structure you’ll utilize for your business. This can provide important financial and legal protection to your personal assets and your business. It’s important that you consider your business entity carefully and understand the advantages of each model.
Your business entity should depend on what kind of business you’re starting, where your business is located, and how many people are involved in your business.
While the specific names change in different areas, some common business structures include:
- Sole proprietorship
- Limited liability company (LLC)
- Corporation (C Corp)
Business Licenses and Permits
This will depend on where your business is operating and what it does. Small businesses generally require certain licenses and permits in order for them to operate legally.
You can research this, but the best option is to chat with a small business lawyer and get legal advice from them. You don’t want to miss out on any important licenses or permits.
Be sure to understand this from the get-go and factor in time into your business plan, because waiting for permits and licenses can be a lengthy process that delays your launch.
Taxes and Accounting
Trust me – you want to have squeaky clean financial records from the moment you open your business.
So many small business owners are focused on their operations, products, and customers, that they leave taxes and finances to the last minute!
You’ll need to get federal and state tax ID numbers when starting your business. You’ll also need to keep careful financial records and manage your money with absolute care. Never mix your personal and business finances.
If you are not very financially savvy, hiring an accountant will be one of the best moves your small business makes. This can save you a lot of time, money, and frustration.
If you are planning on managing your finances yourself, then invest in some decent accounting software and know what financial processes you will follow from the start.
I’d still recommend meeting with an experienced accountant at least once to help you understand the tax implications and specifics of your business operations and structure. This could avoid you getting into trouble with the IRS, and it could save you money.
Open a Business Bank Account
You’ll need a separate business bank account to run your finances. Chat to your bank or accountant about what the best account is for your business structure. All of your business payments should run through this account.
You might also want to get a business credit card. This can be useful for managing and separating business expenses.
Get Business Insurance
Many business owners overlook insurance. This can help to protect your business assets, your personal self, and it can make a big difference if something goes wrong with your business.
While business insurance varies depending on the state and what type of business you’re operating, there are a few common types of business insurance. These include:
- Liability insurance
- Umbrella insurance
- Property and auto insurance
- Business interruption insurance
- Professional liability insurance
And more. Understand the risks involved in your specific business, and look into different insurance companies and what kinds of policies they offer.
Sure, you don’t want to waste your limited small business budget on unnecessary insurance. But the right insurance policy can save you in a big way.
5. Equip Your Business
This is one of the most exciting parts of starting a business.
When I started my coffee shop, I didn’t really get excited until I started putting the tables and chairs into place. This is when your business idea starts coming to life.
Once all of the legal business and planning is out of the way, it’s time to set up your business with all of the equipment you need.
This should all be included in your business plan, so unrolling this step should be easy.
Beyond the obvious tools you need to start a business (like your coffee machine or your delivery vehicle), you will also need software like:
- Bookkeeping software
- Inventory management tools
- Marketing software
- A website
- Possibly an online store
And more. You will need to set up your business email address, order stock, order packaging, and make sure that your business has all of the equipment and tools it needs to start operations.
My advice? Don’t be afraid to spend money on your most important pieces of equipment. If your business relies heavily on certain tools, you don’t want them to let you down!
6. Hire the Right Staff
Be very careful here, as this can really make or break your business.
Unfortunately, nobody will share the same drive, passion, and determination around your small business as you do. However, you do want to find staff who are as passionate about their roles as possible.
If you need to hire employees, my advice would be to take this step as slowly and carefully as possible. Run background checks, ask them to perform job-related assessments, and spend time getting to know your candidates.
If you start your business with the wrong staff, this could have a seriously damaging effect. Especially if your staff are in a customer-facing role.
Of course, to find the right staff you need to make sure your employees are happy. As a new business, you may not be able to offer the same kind of salaries and benefits that large corporations can offer. This doesn’t mean you can’t make your business attractive to top talent.
There are many ways you can attract talented staff, such as offering profit-sharing incentives, flexible work environments, business shares, and more.
7. Market Your Business
Your new business is nearly ready to launch into the world. There’s just one problem… you need customers!
You need to be very careful in developing a marketing plan. While there’s a lot that goes into this, the most important thing is understanding your target audience. As long as you know who your target customers are, what they’re interested in, what their problems are, and where they can be found, you can target them with relevant marketing content.
Here are some detailed guides to help you out:
- Creating a small business content marketing plan
- Social media marketing plan
- Marketing a local business
- Marketing an eCommerce business
When creating your marketing strategy, you’ll need to establish what marketing channels to use. While this will differ depending on your business and audience, some of the most effective all-around channels include email, Facebook, and Instagram. LinkedIn is great for B2B marketing, YouTube is great if you can create videos, TikTok is also awesome.
Before all of these channels though, you will need to have a killer website. This is your most important online asset.
You will also need to establish your branding. This covers a business logo, your business colors, your tone of voice, and more.
Wishpond is one of the best marketing solutions for new businesses. It’s a single platform that covers all of your marketing bases. You can use it to build your website, run email campaigns, create social promotions, get graphic design, and a lot more. It’s also a lot more affordable than subscribing to different tools at once or hiring an agency.
8. Launch Your Business (And Get to Work!)
Hooray, it’s time to launch your business! The moment you’ve been waiting for.
Spoiler alert – it’s going to take a lot of work before you start hitting your targets and goals. This is when you roll your sleeves up and dive straight into the many business processes that entrepreneurs need to handle.
An important step here is to listen to your customers.
Gather feedback from your early customers, listen to their experiences with your business, and use this feedback to improve and optimize. Very few (zero) businesses have launched perfectly. It will take some adjustments before your business is operating the way you always envisioned it.
Tips for Starting a Business
We’ve covered some of the most important steps for how to start a business. These steps are important for getting your business launched and running. However, there’s a lot more that goes into running a small business than just this.
Unfortunately, the reality of starting a business is not always as glamorous as people hope for.
Here is what you need to know to start a business – some of the most important tips (from someone who has started businesses and learned from their mistakes!).
- Don’t Quit Your Day Job
- Start Small
- Be Flexible
- It Doesn’t Have to be Glamorous
- Get Involved in Every Aspect Of Your Business
- Perfect Your Product or Service
- Get Your Location Right
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
You might have big plans, but this doesn’t mean you’ll achieve them straight away. Realistically, it takes a lot of time and effort before you can start relying on your new business for a full-time income. This is the harsh reality behind starting a small business.
Most businesses don’t make a profit within their first year.
In order to keep your business operating, you will probably have to reinvest your revenue into the business during the beginning stages. Yes, this differs with each business and situation, but it’s something that remains generally true for most businesses.
The best approach is usually to continue working your 9 to 5 while running your business between this. This can be a tough pill to swallow, but realistically, it can take a long time before your business starts hitting your profit targets.
Dream big, but start small.
No matter how big your plans are, start by kicking off your business simply. You can always grow this as your demand increases, which is much easier (and more rewarding) than trying to start too large of a business.
Starting small lets you make mistakes (which you will do), learn different processes, and try new things.
Running a business is all about the journey of growth – it’s not about achieving your business goals from day one.
This might sound a bit contradictory to having a watertight business idea and plan. Yes, this is important, but it’s equally important to adjust your business as you need to. Flexibility is key for any successful entrepreneur.
When I started my coffee shop, I had a vision of basing my business around freshly brewed coffee and pastries. Well, six months into running my business and my main revenue source came from pizza deliveries. Soon my business became known as a pizza place before a coffee shop. And this was ok because I was able to adjust to what my customers wanted and make more revenue from it.
No matter how in love you are with your original idea, always be open to experimenting and changing your idea as you discover how your customers respond to your business. This is where some of the best business ideas actually come from.
Take AeroPress for example – the coffee maker company started out by selling kids’ frisbees!
It Doesn’t Have to be Glamorous
You might have an image in mind of being a relaxed entrepreneur, spending your days lounging on exotic beaches while your business quietly pours money into your bank account… I hate to break it to you, but operating a business rarely looks as glamorous as Instagram and YouTube entrepreneurs make it out to be.
Its. Hard. Work.
And when you run a business, you’re always on! Even if your business is closed, you’re thinking about it.
My image of operating a coffee shop was sitting in a comfortable corner, sipping espresso, and doing a few light admin tasks on my laptop.
Washing dishes, sweeping up after customers, paying endless bills, washing more dishes, and trying to bake a cake because our chef never pitched for work again… These are the kinds of tasks you have to deal with as a business owner.
Expect to work twice as hard as when you were employed, and definitely don’t be fooled by the glamorous Instagram entrepreneur lifestyle.
Get Involved in Every Aspect Of Your Business
This is incredibly important for any business owner.
When you get started (and you start small), try to get involved in every process. This will give you a deep knowledge of how your business operates, which is essential for growing more efficiently and solving problems.
If you’re not a tax expert, then sure, there’s no need to try to do your taxes all alone. However, understand exactly what your accountant is doing and get a grasp of the process. As a business owner, you’re always learning new skills. These skills will become incredibly valuable later on.
Some skills I learned running a coffee shop? Plumbing, bookkeeping, electrical wiring, baking, digital marketing, and painting – to name a few.
If you just dish these tasks out to other people, you’ll never really get into the heart and soul of your business. It’s all of the learning and skills involved that make being a business owner a beautiful thing.
Perfect Your Product Or Service
Keep what you do simple, and do it well. This is the basis for any successful business.
Don’t try to do too much, and don’t wear yourself thin on tasks that really don’t matter. As long as you have an excellent product or service, then your business has done most of the work towards succeeding.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant that is beautifully decorated but the food sucks? I have, and I’ll never go back to those places. This is a prime example of a business that has put too much attention on the wrong thing.
Before you even start thinking about your first customer, make sure that what you offer is as valuable as possible. At the end of the day, this is the most important factor in a long-standing successful business.
Get Your Location Right
If you’re planning to open a brick-and-mortar business, then location is everything. This is especially true for businesses that need to attract foot traffic – like bakeries or restaurants.
No matter how excited you are to get your business out into the world, wait until you find the perfect location. Even with a killer product and fool-proof business plan, a bad location for physical businesses could be your downfall.
If it’s possible for your business model, a great approach is to start online. Open an online store, and try to sell products online first. This will give you a good idea of your target market and it will let you generate some revenue and gain customer feedback before you make the big investment in a physical store.
The startup costs are a lot lower when operating an online business, so it’s always a smart route for new small businesses to take.
Knowing how to start a business the right way can be tricky. There’s a lot of planning, strategy, skill, and luck involved in business success. Although, with a solid business plan and some serious dedication, making a success of any kind of small business is totally possible.
Just be aware of the reality behind running a business, and be prepared to put in the work. With a careful and realistic plan, you could start your own small business more easily than you thought.
Enjoy the ride!