If you want to start a business but don’t know where to start, don’t worry — you’re not alone. In fact, given the new economic reality of our time, more people than ever have found the “job” they thought was waiting for them doesn’t exist. Others have come to the conclusion that they would rather create work they love, constructed to fit with their own life goals. No matter what the motivation is to be your own boss, you can start today.
Here are eight tips to get you started:
- Take a stand for yourself.
If you are dissatisfied with your current circumstances, admit that no one can fix them except for you. It doesn’t do any good to blame the economy, your boss, your spouse or your family. Change can only occur when you make a conscious decision to make it happen.
- Identify the right business for you.
Give yourself permission to explore. Be willing to look at different facets of yourself (your personality, social styles, age) and listen to your intuition. We tend to ignore intuition even though deep down we often know the truth. Ask yourself “What gives me energy even when I’m tired?”
How do you know what business is “right” for you? There are three common approaches to entrepreneurship:
Do what you know: Have you been laid off or want a change? Look at work you have done for others in the past and think about how you could package those skills and offer them as your own services or products.
Do what others do: Learn about other businesses that interest you. Once you have identified a business you like, emulate it.
Solve a common problem: Is there a gap in the market? Is there a service or product you would like to bring to market? (Note: This is the highest-risk of the three approaches.) If you choose to do this, make sure that you become a student and gain knowledge first before you spend any money.
- Business planning improves your chances for success.
Most people don’t plan, but it will help you get to market faster. A business plan will help you gain clarity, focus and confidence. A plan does not need to be more than one page. As you write down your goals, strategies and action steps, your business becomes real.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What am I building?
Who will I serve?
What is the promise I am making to my customers/clients and to myself?
What are my objectives, strategies and action plans (steps) to achieve my goals?
- Know your target audience before you spend a penny.
Before you spend money, find out if people will actually buy your products or services. This may be the most important thing you do. You can do this by validating your market. In other words, who, exactly, will buy your products or services other than your family or friends? (And don’t say. “Everyone in America will want my product.” Trust me — they won’t.) What is the size of your target market? Who are your customers? Is your product or service relevant to their everyday life? Why do they need it?
There is industry research available that you can uncover for free. Read industry articles with data (Google the relevant industry associations) and read Census data to learn more. However, the most important way to get this information is to ask your target market/customers directly and then listen.
- Understand your personal finances and choose the right kind of money you need for your business.
As an entrepreneur, your personal life and business life are interconnected. You are likely to be your first — and possibly only — investor. Therefore, having a detailed understanding of your personal finances, and the ability to track them, is an essential first step before seeking outside funding for your business. This is why I recommend setting up your personal accounts in a money management system such as Mint.com to simplify this process.
As you are creating your business plan, you will need to consider what type of business you are building — a lifestyle business (smaller amount of startup funds), a franchise (moderate investment depending on the franchise) or a high-tech business (will require significant capital investment). Depending on where you fall on the continuum, you will need a different amount of money to launch and grow your business, and it does matter what kind of money you accept.
- Build a support network.
You’ve made the internal commitment to your business. Now you need to cultivate a network of supporters, advisors, partners, allies and vendors. If you believe in your business, others will too.
Network locally, nationally and via social networks. Join networks such as your local chamber of commerce or other relevant business groups. Here are some networking basics:
When attending networking events, ask others what they do and think about how you can help them. The key is to listen more than tout yourself.
No matter what group you join, be generous, help others and make introductions without charging them.
By becoming a generous leader, you will be the first person that comes to mind when someone you’ve helped needs your service or hears of someone else who needs your service.
- Sell by creating value.
Even though we purchase products and services every day, people don’t want to be “sold.” Focus on serving others. The more people you serve, the more money you will make. When considering your customers or clients, ask yourself:
What can I give them?
How can I make them successful in their own pursuits?
This approach can help lead you to new ways to hone your product or service and deliver more value, which your customers will appreciate.
- Get the word out.
Be willing to say who you are and what you do with conviction and without apology. Embrace and use the most effective online tools (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn) available to broadcast your news. Use social networks as “pointer” sites; i.e., to point to anything you think will be of interest to your fans and followers.
Even though social networks are essential today (you must use them!), don’t underestimate the power of other methods to get the word out: word-of-mouth marketing, website and internet marketing tools, public relations, blog posts, columns and articles, speeches, email, newsletters and the old-fashioned but still essential telephone.
If you take these steps, you’ll be well on your way to becoming your own boss. It’s important to remember that you are not alone. If you want to “be your own boss” but still feel stuck, reach out and connect with other entrepreneurs in a variety of ways. You may be surprised by the invaluable contacts that are right at your fingertips.