10 Steps to Starting a Successful Business
Starting a business doesn't have to be overwhelming.
Have you ever dreamed of starting your own business? If yes, then you are not alone. Nearly 50% of employees in their 20s or 30s would like to start their own business (University of Phoenix 2014). However, according to the Wall Street Journal only 3.6% of adults under age 30 own a stake in a private company (Simon 2015). If you truly desire to start a business, what’s stopping you? Perhaps you can’t raise the money. Or maybe you just don’t know where to begin. My guess is that the process seems overwhelming!
We all get discouraged when we think of what we would need to do to launch a business. But life doesn’t happen in a quantum leap. It happens in small steps you take toward your goal every day. In this article, I will provide 10 steps to get you started on your business. Does this mean that significant success will happen in 10 easy steps? No way! One step may need to be broken into five smaller ones. It’s up to you to decide how small the steps are. All that matters is that you keep moving forward.
Step 1: Generate an Idea
Before you do anything, you need an idea. One way to develop an idea is to determine what problem you can solve and what promise you can make. The problem that my business solved was to give moms a way to work out with their kids. The promise we made was to help moms get their bodies back after they had their babies.
A lot of people worry that their idea is not unique. Maybe you feel you’d just be opening another personal training business or fitness studio. Don’t worry about competition. How many pizza places are there in your town? How many car dealerships? How many banks? There’s nothing wrong with a little competition. The trick is to figure out your secret sauce. What will make your business special?
Step 2: Discover Your Why
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Portfolio 2011), puts it this way: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” At FIT4MOM, for example, our “why” is to give women the strength for motherhood. Most companies are so busy advertising what they do that they forget to explain why they do it. Do you offer personal training? So does everyone else. Maybe the reason you’re doing it is that you are committed to helping every baby boomer feel strong. That’s a compelling why!
Step 3: Find Your Target
If you try to attract everybody, you attract nobody. Take some time to think about your ideal client. Go deep on this. Do you picture a female? What’s her name? Where does she shop? What kind of car does she drive? What are her favorite websites? Create a composite of your ideal client’s characteristics, and write those details down. Once this is complete, ask yourself, “Does the client match what I learned from steps 1 and 2?” Will your idea appeal to that person? Does your “why” resonate with her? Once you know whom you want to reach, it becomes easier to figure out how. If you know people who fit your ideal-client profile (and I hope you do), ask them for honest feedback. Would they be interested in your product or service?
Step 4: Write a Plan
This is a big one, and clearly it cannot be completed in a single sitting. To get started, you can access a variety of free business plan templates at www.score.org (SCORE 2015). Admittedly, I did not create a business plan for FIT4MOM. Years ago, I created a 75-page business plan for a health club I wanted to open; however, I allowed preparing the document to delay me from a launch. So, if you don’t want to do a full business plan, at least create a one-page plan for yourself. Here are questions to ask:
- What will you sell?
- Who is your customer?
- What will you charge?
- How will you market your business?
- What will it cost to get started?
- What will it cost to run this business?
- If you’ll need money, how will you raise it?
Step 5: Develop a Budget
Developing a budget is the step that most fitness entrepreneurs want to skip. Let’s face it: We didn’t get into this because we love spreadsheets. But creating a budget is not negotiable. You need to see if your idea will work financially. While I did not write a business plan for my business, I did create a budget. I needed to know whether I had enough cash on hand to sustain me until I started making money. I needed to determine if my ideal number of clients would bring me the profits I desired.
You might have an idea for a great studio. But if the rent is too high, you will never be profitable. Or you may work the numbers and see that the profits aren’t that exciting and that you would rather have the guaranteed income of an employee than be an owner. You can have someone help you with this modeling—but make it happen! My business mentor told me that if I could halve my revenue and double my expenses and still make money, then he would sign off on my business. It’s a lofty goal, but it’s something to consider before you commit to a new venture.
Step 6: Create a Landing Page
You may be tempted to build a big website right off the bat. That’s really not necessary. All you need is a mobile, responsive Web page to send clients to and collect email addresses from. Here are some sample landing page companies to check out:
Step 7: Find a Mentor
One reason I’m such a fan of franchising is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Most entrepreneurs fail because they make mistakes that were fully preventable. Find someone who has had success in the area of your interest, and see if that person will mentor you. Nowadays, you can have many virtual mentors. You can follow the best of the best in any area through online academies and podcasts. One place to get free assistance and reliable training is www.score.org.
Step 8: Get Legal
Multiple steps will be required to make sure that you fulfill your legal responsibilities. Begin by completing the following tasks:
- Choose your business structure (for example, a sole proprietorship versus an LLC).
- Register your business name.
- Get a tax ID.
- Register for state and local taxes.
- Apply for permits or licenses.
Step 9: Choose Your Location
Honestly, I’m hoping your location is online! Never before have there been so many ways to start a business and not have to pay for brick and mortar space. An office does not make you money. You have to pay rent and utilities every month—even if you don’t make any money. I understand that your business idea might require it. But if that’s the case, could you get a permit to work at a park, or could you create an online training program? If you choose a park, check out my IDEA article titled “Getting Permits for Outdoor Fitness.” To learn more about starting an online business, see the article “How to Make Money With Online Training.”
Step 10: Establish Your Brand
A brand is more than logos, taglines and colors. Your brand tells the world who you are. I am a huge believer in the power of branding. I may not have created a business plan, but I did hire a professional designer to create my logo and design my first flier. I want my brand to have a professional feel. Creating your own materials on a home publishing platform does not exude confidence. Brands need to convey quality, experience and personality. Many times, the brand can outlast the product!
What feeling do you want your brand to present? Are you hip and sassy, or corporate and professional? What is your communication style? Marketing agencies will charge you tens of thousands of dollars to determine this. But you don’t have to break the bank to develop a strong brand. Check out websites like www.elance.com or www.fiverr.com to find very reasonably priced professionals to help you develop your brand.
One Step at a Time
If owning a business were easy, everyone would do it. It’s pretty great to be your own boss, but it will be hard. There will be challenges. You need to approach every obstacle with fierce determination—to find a way under, over or around it. Successful entrepreneurs will tell you stories of failure and mistakes. But none of those setbacks was a reason for them not to start their business. You can do this! Just take it one small step at a time.
SCORE 2015. SCORE Association. Business plans for small business owners. Accessed Jul. 23, 2015. www.score.org/content/search/all/655,633/all/73/10650.
Simon, R. 2015. Surveys show entrepreneurial optimism in U.S. Wall Street Journal. Accessed Jul. 23, 2015. http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2015/02/03/surveys-show-entrepreneurial-optimism-in-u-s/.
University of Phoenix. 2014. Half of U.S. working adults own or want to own their own businesses, finds University of Phoenix survey. Press release. Accessed Jul. 23, 2015. www.phoenix.edu/news/releases/2014/08/university-of-phoenix-survey-finds-half-of-adults-want-own-business.html.