How to Start a Business: The Ultimate Guide
Starting a business is a challenging endeavor.
Consider yourself brave for thinking of taking the plunge. Not many possess the courage to forego the predictability of a desk job for a voyage rife with trials and tribulations.
Leaving the safety net of the corporate world for the unpredictability of entrepreneurship takes guts but with hard work and steadfast planning your forward-thinking and creative spirit will be rewarded.
The freedom of “being your own boss” and not adhering to a strict corporate routine is a goal worth putting yourself on the line to achieve.
The freedom of “being your own boss” is a goal worth putting yourself on the line to achieve. Click To Tweet
We are here to help you along the way.
This guide is meant to light the path along your entrepreneurial journey. As entrepreneurs ourselves, we understand the challenges first-time entrepreneurs face and we are eager to impart our many years of wisdom onto you.
Our hope is that by following the principles presented in this step-by-step guide, your path to starting a successful business will be much smoother than ours!
This post outlines the full process of starting a business.
Consult the guide regularly and come back for advice when needed. It might be a good idea to print it out for convenience.
Take a pragmatic approach and complete each and every step provided in this guide with the due care and in an exhaustive manner.
Be systematic with your approach and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and make things happen. It may sound a little boring but after all what you want is the success, right?
OK, let’s get started!
1. Business Concept
Have you already got a business idea? If yes, skip to the next section, if not then keep reading.
Every new business starts with an idea – even if it’s nothing more than emulating an existing business but simply doing it better.
Sometimes a worthwhile idea comes to the entrepreneur naturally. Sometimes it doesn’t.
So when a promising concept fails to materialize on its own accord, we must actively seek out a suitable idea and analyze it for feasibility.
Most people think that a business idea must necessarily be something revolutionary to succeed. This is simply not true.
While there are certainly benefits to bringing a unique, never-before-seen product or service to market, you need not reinvent the wheel to run a successful business.
Many successful businesses are built on well-known and common business types. Restaurants, hotels, travel agencies, law firms etc. (for some inspiration and direction on which type of business you’re best equipped to start, check out this list of the best business ideas by entrepreneur and Forbes contributor, Ryan Robinson.)
New players in these industries can enter the market with minimal innovation and still manage to become very profitable. The idea of running a “generic” business does not make it less attractive. In fact, following a model that has been proven to work provides valuable market validation that is difficult to achieve with a product/service not currently for sale.
The idea itself is not what drives success. Execution is the true key to victory.
The idea itself is not what drives #success. Execution is the true key to victory. Click To Tweet
Effective operation. Wise management. Superior customer service. Cash-flow management. These are the factors more likely to determine the fate of your venture.
No matter what the industry, there is always market share for someone prepared to do it better.
Don’t stress about revolutionizing an industry such as Uber or AirBnB. Be happy if such a concept springs to mind but don’t dwell on delusions of grandeur.
> A Simple Approach for Locking Down Idea
Finding passion in your work is the surest bet for reaching maximum efficiency. While the old axiom “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is perhaps an exaggeration there is certainly a nugget of truth in there, too.
Finding passion in your work is the surest bet for reaching maximum efficiency. Click To Tweet
There is one old truth that works always: you are maximum effective in what you love. Click To Tweet
You are usually very productive when you enjoy what you do. So, start by making a list of everything you are passionate about. We have created a table for you to streamline this process.
Use our Business Idea Ranking Table to find the best business idea based on your personal interests and expertise.
(Click the table to open it in a new tab)
Using the Business Idea Ranking Table:
- Think of things you absolutely love doing and insert them into Column 1;
- Rate each item with a rating under Columns 2, 3 and 4 and base ratings on what each column title requires. Specify how much you love doing it, how good you are at it and how much you are willing to learn and improve your expertise in that particular field.
- Calculate the ratings under all three columns and work out the average rating for each item.
- Contemplate frustrations that exist relating to each specific item. Brainstorm and analyze to discover problems to which your business might supply a solution. Enter your findings into Column 6.
- Once you have identified problems, try to come up with a solutions and place them in Column 7.
- Finally, formulate a basic business concept based on the problem & solution and describe the bare bones of your idea in Column 8.
- Order your business ideas based on the ranking from Column 5 and move on to the next stages – business naming and then validation.
2. Choosing a Business Name
This step is not critical so don’t expend too much time and energy here but do try to put “a name to a face” so to speak so that you can start to form an identity and see what your potential brand might look like.
Read our article on How To Choose a Great Name For Your New Business and follow the recommendations. Select a preliminary name and use it from here on out.
Later on you’ll get the chance to reassess your name and make adjustments accordingly if need be.
At this point the name is mostly there to help you get the ball rolling and provide an extra motivational boost.
3. Talk to Potential Customers
The first step for testing the viability of your idea is to conduct market research. The simplest way to get started is by speaking with prospective clients. We’ll be diving deeper into market research later, but this stage provides valuable insight as to whether or not moving forward is worthwhile.
Determine who your target market is as get out and talk to them. Tell them about your business proposal and see what they have to say. Ask them if they would buy your product or service.
Try to gather opinions from unbiased people.
Your friends and family may unintentionally misguide you by announcing that your product or service is awesome just because they love you.
Uncover the reality by talking to people willing to tell you the truth.
Gather as much information as possible and ask a lot of open-ended questions. Based on your prospective customers’ needs you are going to evaluate and tailor your business plans. You do not want to be misguided with unreliable results.
Be as objective as possible. Don’t take things personally, this information is for your own benefit.
Pay close attention to interviewees’ reactions and keep a running tally on the number of ‘pre-orders’, or people who confidently say they would definitely buy if product/service became available.
The more excited they seem to be about your offerings the more likely your future business will prosper. As an added benefit you can acquire early bird fans for your brand! 🙂
Pro Tip: The more targeted your audience, the more valuable the feedback. Make sure you’re talking to the right people. The people you’ll be directing marking and advertising to post-launch.
Talk to people who are likely to be interested in your product or service.
For example, if your business is about creating business websites then talk to people who run a business and might be interested in launching a website. Getting feedback from students on business websites, for instance, obviously won’t deliver reliable information for you.
4. Prepare a Thorough Business Plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Think long and hard about your business plan and don’t skimp on the planning process.
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Always plan properly. Click To Tweet
Your business plan is the foundation for your business — it contains everything from your business idea to financials to marketing to employee guidelines.
Before you dive into actually building your business, you need to ensure that the business you intend to create is viable — in other words, that a market exists for it. A very plain example – you certainly don’t want to start a trendy line of bathing suits if you are located in Alaska!
You need to make sure that your business is not only geographically viable but that there are enough customers to pay for the need you intend to fulfill. (This will be partly clear for you as a result of talking to your customers, but try to elaborate on this a little more at the business planning stage.)
Or if you are planning on founding a tech start-up based in the Silicon Valley, for instance, you need to take a hard look at your competition — thousands of other start-ups exist in that particular area, so how will your start-up stand out and attract paying customers? By thinking about the answers to these questions even before you begin building your business, you will be much better informed and savvy business owner.
Your business plan is the most crucial test your business idea must pass.
Often a business plan is treated as something you are obliged to do in order to attract investors and get funding. Nothing more than a burdensome task on your to-do list.
Squash this attitude immediately.
While you literally can launch a new enterprise without a business plan, your chances for success increase dramatically. Your business plan is your roadmap to the finish line and the final test for determining whether or not your concept is feasible. A well put together plan is also more likely to attract outside capital.
Be honest in your analysis and approach business scenarios critically and with due skepticism.
An effective business plan leaves no questions unanswered.
An effective #business plan leaves no questions unanswered. Click To Tweet
Falsely convincing yourself of viability can lead to huge losses in time, money and energy.
In our vision, the business plan is a very serious test and an amazing chance to prove that your business idea is feasible.
It is kind of a battle between your business and the outside world. You team up with your business idea to prove that it’s viable and at the same time you team up with the outside world to prove that it’s not.
The winner will decide on your next step.
You are actually the first person whom your business plan should convince. It must clearly demonstrate to you that your business idea is a killer business idea. 🙂
It’s you who will invest time, effort and money into your future business, so it is again you who should approach this process with the most criticism.
Your business plan shall provide solid, realistic and backed evidence to demonstrate that it is actually reasonable and has the real chance of success.
When your idea sustains the battle and doubtlessly proves its viability then it deserves further effort.
If you can prove objectively that your business is viable and win the outside world on paper (or on screen), then chances are that your business will be indeed viable.
On the contrary, if your business plan will reveal that the business idea is unlikely to survive then you have the chance to stop putting further effort on it and save your time and energy.
In case the results are unfavorable, take a step back and reconsider a different business proposition.
Do this until you pass the business plan test.
Here are few great downloadable business plan templates to get you started:
There are few parts of a business plan that are of particular importance. Below we’ll discuss each of them individually.
> Business Plan: Marketing and Branding Strategy
A quality business plan almost always includes a summary section on marketing and branding strategy but bear in mind that a separate, more detailed marketing plan will need to be prepared.
Hone in on your company’s marketing and branding strategy.
You may have a fabulous company and an amazing product — but it’s useless if no one knows about your stellar offerings.
People are unlikely to come and buy from you if do not know that your business exists.
In order to optimize your company’s chances for success, you need to create a targeted and analytical marketing strategy.
Be sure to focus on your ideal customer and zoom out from there.
Where does your ideal customer live? What are their primary online activities? What do they do for fun? What do they do for a living?
By having the answers to these basic questions from the get-go, you’ll be well-equipped to create a marketing plan centered around them.
Whether it’s advertising on the sites they visit online, putting up posters at their favorite neighborhood coffee spot, or simply going door-to-door to advertise your product/service, educating yourself concerning the ins and outs of your target market is key to building a solid (and lasting) marketing strategy.
Describe your strategy comprehensively. Apply to your marketing plan the same principles you have applied to your business plan.
Base your plan on thorough research and reliable data and set clear and measurable objectives to track and achieve success.
> Business Plan: Financial Plan and Pricing Strategy
It’s imperative to create a foolproof financial plan and pricing strategy.
Stories abound of entrepreneurs so eager to launch their business that they offer their product at a deep discount in order to lure in consumers — only to find out months later that their so-called ingenious strategy doesn’t bring in enough revenue to pay the bills.
To start this process, begin by analyzing the pricing strategies of potential competitors.
Do you want to undercut the competition and charge less?
Or do you want your product/service to be perceived as better and more luxurious to set your prices higher?
Your pricing strategy is a direct result of the geographic market your business inhabits. A business based in Beverly Hills can offer pricier goods than one based in Bozeman, Montana.
Be wary of offering discounts that are too deep during the early days of your business.
Customers become too accustomed to your ultra-low prices and then, when the discount period ends and normal prices kick in, these clients flee your company for one that is more forgiving on the wallet.
There’s no doubt that discounts are an excellent marketing strategy and are a great way to bring in new customers — but be sure to think long-term and employ the strategy wisely.
> Business Plan: Online Presence
Pay a vast attention to your online presence.
Regardless of your industry, a strong online presence is of the highest importance. Try to get maximum out of it.
Your customers are online and naturally you should be there as well. Moreover, try to be in as many places online as possible.
Have a solid plan of what you are going to do with your online presence.
You need a website, social profiles, directory profiles etc. but try to go even further and feature an integrated Online Marketing Strategy.
Optimize your on-site and off-site SEO. Make your business visible everywhere.
Use every single opportunity to showcase your product or service. Each opportunity may potentially mean an additional customer which in turn will multiply into future sales via worth of mouth advertising.
Use every opportunity to showcase your product. Each opportunity may mean a new customer. Click To Tweet
Generally, business is not something where you can afford to miss or neglect an opportunity. The web is a place where most new opportunities are. Ignoring the online stuff is simply the same as saying you do not need any new business.
#Business is not something where you can afford to miss or neglect an opportunity. Click To Tweet
Your online presence is something that works for you 24/7 on cruise control.
Strong online presence is something that works for you 24/7 on cruise control. Click To Tweet
A strong online presence lets you not only directly attract customers, it also influences other facets of your business such as branding and reputation.
Apart from free stuff consider also the paid online opportunities such as Google Adwords and Social Media Ads and Sponsored Stories available from every platform (including Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram and Facebook).
These are amazing tools and provide opportunity for your business. Do not be afraid to pay to promote your product and generate leads.
However, be sure to approach each platform individually, as they are all different. You may either hire a professional for this purpose or do it yourself after reading the user guidelines and watching tutorials. The results are predominantly based on how good is your campaign configured. So, make sure you run an effective one and do not waste your budget.
Additionally, there are plenty of awesome online tools at Mill that will let you effectively create, manage and boost your online presence. Check them out below!
Website Builder – Drag and Drop website builder. No coding is required. Your website will be up and running in minutes.
SEO – Promote your business on Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Online Store – Everything you need to open your own online store.
Business Email – Put your company name in front of customers & prospects, suppliers, vendors and partners with every email you send.
Email Marketing – Email outperforms other marketing strategies, earning $43 for every $1 spent on average. It’s the most cost-effective way to gain new clients and keep existing ones coming back. Set up your Email Marketing account here.
5. Examine and Gather Resources
You need to examine and gather the resources you’ll need to create a successful business. Normally you should have everything on this topic in your business plan with concrete lists and deadlines.
Whether it’s start-up capital from family and friends, superstar employees, or simply office supplies, it’s imperative to take inventory of your company’s needs and fill them as soon as possible.
You do not want to be six months into your new endeavor and suddenly realize that you did not take note of crucial needs at your company’s inception! It may seem like a no-brainer, but many budding entrepreneurs do not realize the importance of this simple step.
6. Launch Your Business
So, you have an amazing and viable business idea that has passed all your tests and is ready to conquer the world. You’ve even gathered all your resources and are just about ready to start.
Many people stop here.
Starting a new business means leaving your comfort zone and the only way over this obstacle is to power through it.
Starting a #business is leaving your comfort zone. Only way over this is to power through it. Click To Tweet
More often than not success lies outside of your comfort zone – you won’t get there if you don’t break it.
#Success is outside of your comfort zone - break it to get it. Click To Tweet
Read our article on When It’s Time To Start Your Own Business and Get Motivated.
So, what are you waiting for?
START YOUR BUSINESS NOW!
Form your company and forge ahead!
7. Stay on Top of Emerging Industry Trends
Congratulations, now you are (perhaps) officially a business owner!
Though your business is up and running, this doesn’t mean that you can afford to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your success. Whatever industry you’re in, it is extremely important to stay on top of emerging industry trends and pass this knowledge on to your customers.
As an electronics store owner, you wouldn’t want to lose business to the more tech-savvy store up the street, right?
By staying abreast of industry happenings through continuing education, conversations with peers and mentors in the industry, and continually following industry news, you will firm up your reputation as an industry guru.
Just devoting five minutes per day to this task can have an immeasurable impact on your perception in the industry and interactions with customers.
8. Stay Abreast of Customer Needs
Staying abreast of customer needs is a key part of being a business owner.
Staying abreast of #customer needs is a key part of being a #business owner. Click To Tweet
Whether it’s a suggestion box on-site or an online form urging customers to provide ideas for improvement, your customers are your business’s lifeblood — you need to be aware of their perception of your firm at all times.
And remember, your customers are living, breathing marketing machines! Word of mouth is king for small businesses, so it’s imperative to encourage customers to spread the word about you and your firm by any means possible. (For instance, some firms have taken to offering existing customers a discount on their goods whenever they bring a new customer to the company through a referral program).
Word of mouth is king for small #businesses. Click To Tweet
In the early days of your company, it’s important to recognize the importance of the age-old saying “the customer is always right.” Whether it’s a minor complaint or a major grievance, customer satisfaction is an integral part of every business — and making sure that your customers are happy will enable your business to grow by leaps and bounds in the future.
As the saying goes, a happy customer will tell one person about their experience — whereas an unhappy customer will share their experience with ten people!
Happy customer tells one person about their experience -- an unhappy one shares it with ten… Click To Tweet
You want to establish your company as a reputable and trustworthy place of business as early in the game as possible, and that ambition starts with your customers.
9. Stay focused: Short-term and Long-term Goals
Another essential point that you probably have in your business plan, but we still want to emphasize is the importance of setting short-term and long-term goals for your business.
If your business is doing well, it might be tempting to take it easy and focus on the here and now rather than your plans down the line. But by setting goals for your business, you remain up-to-date on industry trends and are able to anticipate changes in your industry that your peers may not be able to.
Being satisfied with the state of your business is a death knell for an entrepreneur!
Being satisfied with the state of your #business is a death knell for an #entrepreneur! Click To Tweet
To stay successful — even in a tough economic climate — entrepreneurs need to continually be reevaluating the state of their business, with an eye towards the present, a few months from now, and a few years from now.
Doing so increases the chances of owning a business that will weather changes in the economy and will be a touchstone of your community for years to come.
10. Trial and Error
Here, we want to emphasize the importance of trial and error for a small business owner.
Yes, it would be great for your business to take off instantly, without having to make any corrections to your original business plan — but the chance of that happening is slim.
As an entrepreneur, taking risks is an inherent part of your job. Playing it safe is what the corporate world is for — you show up every day and collect a salary at the end of the month.
If you’re an entrepreneur, by contrast, nothing is guaranteed and you will have to fight much harder for the same salary you so effortlessly collected at your desk job.
If a particular product or service doesn’t take off immediately, don’t fret — wait a few weeks before making a decision. Consult with your friends in the industry and customers regarding thoughts on your offerings — do they think you should change anything? Do they have any ideas for a product/service that you should offer but don’t currently?
If something doesn’t end up working out, don’t despair — failure is the mother of success, after all!
If something doesn’t end up working out, don’t despair -- failure is the mother of #success! Click To Tweet
What you learned from the experience of something not working out will only make you a stronger and more informed entrepreneur and businessperson in the months and years to come.
11. Be a Stellar Salesperson
An additional point — but one that is certainly not to be overlooked! — is the importance of being a stellar salesperson.
If you’re an introvert by nature, that’s completely fine — when it comes to aspects of life not related to your business. As an entrepreneur, you must be prepared to wax poetic about your business’s offerings anytime and anywhere — whether it’s in line at the grocery store, at a birthday party, or in front of a panel of potential investors.
Practice your “elevator pitch” often — by honing in on a 30-second summary of what your business does and why it’s better than anything offered by your competitors, you’re already head and shoulders above your competition.
It’s important to realize that your next customer could be absolutely anywhere, so being “on” all the time as well as being perpetually prepared to discuss your business is an essential skill for entrepreneurs.
If you lack this essential skill, you are losing out on the opportunity to reach hundreds, if not thousands, of potential customers.
12. Make It
Whether you’re on the journey of opening your first summer lemonade stand or bootstrapping a multi-million-dollar manufacturing company, all of the entrepreneurship tips we mention above are applicable to businesses of all sizes.
Just because you are planning to open a large company does not mean you are “above” the rules that govern small business entrepreneurship!
Hard work, an awareness of your market, a willingness to experiment with different products and services, and setting short- and long-term goals for your business are the elements of success for all businesses — regardless of size!
Entrepreneurship is a path that’s sometimes terrifying and thankless, but be reassured by the reality that thousands of others have gone down the same path as you — some ultimately achieving unparalleled success!
Microsoft, Apple, Google, and many more of the companies that are an essential part of our everyday existence were born out of single ideas that eventually exploded into billion-dollar companies due to the persistent efforts of their founders.
Be comforted by the fact that the founders of these mammoth companies went through the same struggles that you are currently experiencing — and all of their heartache was worth it in the end!
You have read our guide created with a big love and we so eagerly want you to succeed. So, make sure you make it, okay?
We wish you the best of luck in your entrepreneurial endeavors!
P.S. For everything else Mill Team is always here with you! 😉
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