Starting a business can be incredibly bittersweet. On the one hand, it is exciting to finally bring life to a passion or dream that you’ve thought about for years. On the other hand, the process is incredibly daunting, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed or feel like you are in over your head. So, my first piece of advice is to take a deep breath. You’ve come to the right place. Even clicking on this article demonstrates your desire to navigate this process the right way and to maximize your success in the long run. As a business coach, I’ve worked with many new and aspiring leaders to help them develop their business ideas in the first years and beyond. These are my recommended first steps to take as you begin the process of starting your business.
Develop a business plan
Outlining a detailed and strategic business plan is essential for any business. A business plan acts as a guide in every decision you make as a leader to grow your new company and achieve your fiscal goals.
Templates can be helpful to organize your finished product as a general framework. Still, I caution folks against following a template in the draft phase, as it is more limiting than helpful and can restrict your ability to detail the true breadth of your business model.
I recommend a 6 step process for building out a strategic business plan. To start, define your product or service. Next, describe your offering in detail, including how you will deliver this to consumers, your pricing structure, and what you believe its value to be that sets it apart from the competition. Next, move on to describe your ideal customer base, including their likely demographics, common pain points and needs, and what you feel they might have in common with one another.
With this customer description in mind, it’s time to focus on your marketing plan. Explore questions like What messages resonate most with your target base? What media do they engage most? What kinds of social opportunities do they frequent in their spare time? How does your product solve a need that they have? What kind of messaging is most impactful for them?
Next, detail your organizational structure, including identifying every position you see in a fully functional enterprise, the expectations and duties of your managerial team, and the pay associated with each class. Then, financial analysis can follow, where you build your projected income, detail your company’s financial goals once you are fully operational, and produce projections demonstrating your results at major mile-markers. Finally, explain the working capital infusions you need to move your plan from today to fully functional.
With these details on paper, now it’s time to find a template that you would like to add structure and organization to your document. Read it, proof it, share it with mentors for feedback, and as a final step, write your Executive Summary. Your Summary should be a teaser page that sparks interest in your business, much like a cover letter for a resume. It is essential if you plan to pitch investment opportunities. Explain how your company is unique and highlight your operation, including the income you expect after fully running. Remember: this is just an attention grabber, so keep it concise and engaging.
Define your mission
Your mission is crucial for new businesses that I wanted to call it out separately from the business plan. Defining your “why” may seem like a no-brainer and something you’ve thought about a lot. But outlining a simple, concise mission statement on paper is an essential first step for a new business. It offers you and your future employees structure and motivation, and it indicates to potential customers why your business will meet their needs in the best way.
Your mission statement should tell the world why you’ve started this company and the benefit you will bring to your target market. It is your whole reason for being and lets a reader know why they should care. Before you write an essay on all the reasons you’ve embarked on this business venture, a mission statement should be concise; no more than 100 words. So keep it short, catchy, and to the point.
Some mission statements from popular brands you know include:
The Coca-Cola Company: “To refresh the world in mind, body, and spirit. To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions.”
Disney: “To entertain, inform, and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling, reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds, and innovative technologies that make ours the world’s premier entertainment company.”
Warby Parker: “To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.”
Seek out mentorship
Building a networking and mentorship community will be your lifeline on this journey, especially in the early years. Running ideas by friends and family can be helpful, but fostering relationships with like-minded entrepreneurs is essential. Surround yourself with a mix of new business leaders and seasoned veterans. Seek their guidance and support; save yourself from many stomach-churning mistakes. Check in with your alma mater to see any available alumni networking groups. Local chapters of groups like Business Networking International or Rotary Club can also be great ways to form these connections and even build referrals. Facebook and LinkedIn small business support groups like Soaring Successes can be a beneficial outlet as well.
Seeking a business coach or leadership coach is also a great way to find mentorship for new and experienced entrepreneurs. But what is a business coach, and how exactly do they help? A business coach helps you set goals, identify obstacles and blind spots, develop processes to meet milestones, overcome barriers, and maintain accountability. They are professional leadership mentors well-versed in promoting growth in small and large businesses. Learn more about how a business coach can benefit your new business.
Invest in legal & accounting support
It’s easy to want to save money and try to figure out legal and financial landscapes on your own, but investing in professional support is ALWAYS worth the money. There are so many loopholes and hurdles you might miss that could end up costing you a fortune in time and money.
A lawyer can help you navigate the murky world of licenses, permits, registrations, designations, intellectual property, security compliance, worker’s compensation, and more. Are you feeling overwhelmed already? A lawyer can help make this process easier and help avoid costly mistakes. There’s nothing like needing to start a filing over because you didn’t fill something out correctly or missed an essential piece of paperwork. Even worse, you never want to realize too late that you haven’t secured yourself against something from lack of knowledge!
Hiring a good accountant, even for just the first six months to one year, can ensure that you have a complete understanding of all of your tax requirements and eliminate any surprises when it’s time to file. In addition, they can identify loopholes or credits that you’re eligible for, saving you significant money in the long term. An accountant can also give you accurate information on how much capital you’ll need to start your business.
Maintain work/life balance boundaries
Last but certainly not least, starting a business is stressful and time-consuming—there’s no way around it. No matter how prepared you are, mistakes will happen, to-do items will fall through the cracks, and things will not always unfold as you thought they should. But that’s business!
Don’t let this journey consume every aspect of your life. Respect all the stressors of the first few months and the time you spent researching, planning, pitching, penny-pinching, and brainstorming. It’s so important to reserve personal time for family, friends, and yourself. Business leaders who don’t practice good work-life balance end up experiencing burnout in the long term, negatively impacting your ability to lead and harming your relationships and health. Burnout is not an excellent way to kick things off on this new adventure.
As you start on this road, develop good boundary-setting habits from the beginning. The mission of many businesses often begins from a seed-based in your personal life, but don’t let the two merge too closely. Keep your work and personal lives separate, and be sure to dedicate appropriate time to both.
Congratulations on starting the process to achieve your entrepreneurship dreams.