Some people are content with waking up early to commute to their dead-end job, sitting in a cubicle for 8+ hours every day, and living for the weekends. And when Sunday evening comes around, they’re fine starting the mind-numbing process over again early the next morning.
For others, that life simply doesn’t cut it. People with entrepreneurial spirits don’t want to spend their lives working for someone else and having their days dictated by others. They want to be in charge of their own future. If you’ve had your own startup idea ruminating in the back of your mind, it’s time you finally act on it and start creating the life you want to lead.
Taking that first step can be scary, but it shouldn’t feel impossible. If you want to take control of your own life and actually act on your killer business idea, here’s where you should start.
Initial Research Is Key
Before you start pitching investors or picking out the furniture for your new office, you need to do a lot of research—and I mean a lot. Business plans are essential to understand every important aspect of your startup idea. Your business plan should outline what you want your business to grow into and accomplish in the first five or so years. Don’t plan further out than that since many businesses need to pivot once established. Having that plan in your back pocket, guiding your business decisions will be crucial in those initial days when you’re still trying to figure out what your business looks like.
Part of your initial research should be actually finding out if your idea is worth pursuing. Sure, you think it’s a good idea, but does it actually solve a problem that your potential customers have? How does your product work? Why is it so valuable to your target audience?
You also need to take a thorough look at the market you’ll be working in. Is there a demand for your product or service? Or is the industry already saturated with big hitters? If you’re thinking about making a Facebook-Esque social platform instead of a niche social community, you’re going to be up against some big competition. Research what people you’re targeting (age, gender, geographic location, income bracket, etc.) and use that demographic to guide your research.
Don’t Forget About Marketing
As you start to figure out what your product or service is, you’ll also need to have a plan on how to market and get the word out about your new product. If you have the resources to hire a marketing or PR agency that specializes in working with startups, do it. But you can still have a successful product launch if you put some time and effort into lead generation—aka creating new interest in your product or service. Depending on your business and the overall industry, you may focus on different marketing techniques, but some of the basics you’ll most likely use at some point include:
- Content marketing
- Email marketing
- Search engine optimization
- Social media marketing
- Pay-per-click advertising
- Print advertising
- Television ads
Once your business is up and running, you’ll have to decide whether it makes more sense to keep your marketing in-house (hiring your own marketing employees whose only job is to market your business) or hire an agency (outsourcing to marketing specialists who work with multiple clients). That’s probably a few years down the road from now, but marketing your business should always be a big part of your overall strategy.
Establish Your Online Presence
It’s extremely easy to be a perfectionist when it comes to announcing your new business to the world. It’s your baby, so why shouldn’t everything be completely perfect right off the bat? But the more you wait to announce your product to the world, the longer it’s going to take to build up brand awareness, get people talking, and snag future customers.
Your website doesn’t have to be perfect, your social media accounts don’t have to explode overnight, and you can launch your site with just a few products to start. The most important thing is that you actually start. The longer you can generate buzz and get the word out about your business, the more leads you’ll generate and the more people will recognize your brand.
Make Sure Your Financial Bases Are Covered
Finances will always be a huge factor when starting your business—startups can cost a lot of money to get off the ground. That being said, you don’t need to have buckets of money and financial capital ready to start your startup. It’s actually better that you don’t! Scrappy startups actually are more successful than ones who have money to burn—you know how to do more with less and will use every dollar to your advantage. And that lean mindset will get your business much further than those with that extra cash.
Part of your initial business plan should include a funding section. You need to outline how much money you expect to need in the next six months, one year, and several years. Show exactly where that money will be going until you start receiving substantial revenue. If you’re going to show your business plan to investors, make sure you include sections for:
- Financial projections
- Balance sheets
- Sales forecast
- Break-even analysis
You also need to be prepared to go without a paycheck for a while. Instead of renting a trendy office, you’ll most likely have to operate out of your own home, your college dorm, or your parent’s basement. It’s not glamorous in the least bit—but you’ll save money in the long run.
Network, Network, Network
Whether we like it or not, it’s all about who you know. The connections you make—both personal and professional—can provide countless future opportunities. Starting your own business is the perfect time to reach out to your network for help, advice, funding, and to spread the word about your venture.
Ideally, you should have been cultivating your network over the years instead of cold calling people asking for favors. One of the big mistakes young entrepreneurs do when networking is making it all about themselves. They are only looking for future connections that will benefit them. No one wants to be around people who are only interested in themselves and their own success.
You reap what you sow—and networking is a two-way street. You should invest just as much time helping others succeed as you do your own business. Because who knows, maybe the young college student looking to pick your brain over a cup of coffee will start a successful business themselves down the line. You’ll be glad you made a positive connection with them and it may open up helpful doors as well.
Be Ready For Curveballs
Success isn’t linear. At the beginning of your startup journey, be prepared for more bad days than good ones, more late nights than early bedtimes, and more rejection than you experienced all throughout high school. You’ve heard the statistic that 71 percent of businesses fail within 10 years—but that shouldn’t scare you. It should make you even more determined than ever to become one of the 29 percent that succeeds.
Getting your startup idea off the ground doesn’t require an MBA or VC backing (although those are always welcome). At the end of the day, what’s really going to make your business succeed is your mindset. You’re going to have to give it 110 percent.
And even then, it might sink like the Titanic. So you’ll pivot, get back on the horse, and keep trying. Because you believe in yourself and your idea, and because you can’t think of anything worse than being stuck in a cubicle all day, helping someone else’s dream instead of your own. Good luck with your new venture!