The Ultimate Guide to Starting Your Own Business
At any given moment there are an infinite amount of awesome ideas floating on the invisible airwaves around us. Not all ideas are equal, and what sounds like a revolutionary trillion-rand idea around a campfire after a few drinks may not be as revolutionary when you start talking to potential customers about it. You are passionate, goal-orientated and you’ve figured out your “WHY”, but before putting any money or any substantial energy behind exploring your idea further, dig deep and ask yourself these questions – Is it solving a real problem? Is it making lives better (without making others worse)? Can it be monetized? Is someone else doing it, or trying to, already? If so, can it be done better?
Step 1 – Turn your idea into a plan
Once you’ve considered your idea from every angle and bounced it off your most trusted friends and colleagues – those that tell you the truth when it’s tough – not your mom – and you still believe it is something the world needs, and you can’t think of much else besides your idea, it is time to take what’s in your head and set up a business plan. How are you going to bring that revolutionary time-saving app with all your shopping rewards cards in one place to life? How are you going to build a trampoline park with Velcro walls and ceilings and suits for hire? How are you going to start a daytime powernap nursery for working adults in the city? Every great mission comes to life with a well thought out plan and jotting down bits of info on post-it notes is not going to cut it. There’s a multitude of business plan templates available online for free, and if you are looking for added guidance and useful tools LivePlan is a great place to start.
Step 2 – Ask your intended market if they want what you’re selling
Now that you’ve put some focused energy into how you’re going to pull off the mission you’ve chosen, or that’s chosen you, the next step is checking with your intended customers if they are willing to buy what you are selling. You (and your mom) might think you have the next best thing since sliced bread, but what if customers don’t want their bread automatically buttered at purchase just yet? You have to figure out if the problem you are solving is an actual problem in the industry you are serving. Your solution must be necessary and not just nice to have. The best way to find out is to hit the ground and ask a sample group of your ideal customer the right questions, face to face. Do you currently make use of X? What do you like about X? What don’t you like about X? What do you think should change to get a better product/service than X? Would you use Y, along with the added benefits it offers? What would you be willing to pay to use Y? Would you suggest Y to your friends and colleagues?
It’s amazing what people will share with you if you approach them with sincerity, openness and the intention to improve their lives or work. It is true that the market doesn’t always know what it wants until it sees it, that is why when you have an idea that is completely new (is there such a thing?) it is so important to make sure you get some of your market to see what you offer before spending finite energy, time and money on producing your idea into a reality.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is great reading on trying and changing your service/product idea following your market’s feedback.
Step 3 – Find the best teammates to come on the adventure with you
It’s simple to build a business on your own. You don’t have to ask anyone’s opinion. You don’t need anyone’s permission to make decisions. You can follow your gut fast. You are in control of every piece. But, it’s damn hard, unnecessarily so, to build a business on your own. You don’t have anyone in the trenches with you to bounce ideas around with and whose opinion may lead you to see an opportunity from a different perspective. You have to make all the decisions on your own and if it’s the wrong decision you suffer the stress alone. If it’s the right decision that leads to a win you wouldn’t always know because you have no-one to celebrate with. You can only tackle two or three tasks at a time, because more than that on your plate will result in overwhelm and a loss of control and it takes so long because you’re doing everything on your own.
A well thought out plan means nothing if a cohesive team that can execute well together isn’t behind it with heart and soul. Out of every decision you will make for your business, choosing those you commit to building your dream with is the most important. I repeat, choosing the right team mates is the most important decision you will make for your business. Again, choose the right partners because the wrong ones will make your life hell.
You may be in a situation where you have a friend or colleague that has ventured with you and this idea from the start as co-founder, or you may need to take on partners to get your plan to turn into a product. Either way, you’ll have to open your dream up to new people to make it grow. Look for team mates that are great at things that you aren’t great at. Beware, finding those with the right skills and qualifications is easy; finding those with the right personality, drive, spirit and energy is not. Trust your gut on this one. Whether you are paying with minimal start-up funds for a service to get to the next step, or sharing equity in collaboration, listen to your body the moment you meet any prospective partner. If anything makes you feel uneasy, especially if it is something you can’t quite put your finger on, ask many more questions than you originally intended to. Just like falling in love, you will know when you’ve found the right people, your people, to adventure with. Believe me, they’ll know it too.
Step 4 – Find the right mentors and coaches to guide you through execution
Gaining wisdom from books and learning the ropes through stories and advice from the pages of those business greats that you admire from a far is a great start. But nothing lights a fire and a desire for achievement like knowing those you admire so are following your journey, invested in your story and rooting for you as your cheerleaders. Finding the right mentor and coach doesn’t happen by chance, and this step could’ve been step 1. If, at this stage of the journey, you don’t have anyone in your life with experience of value to you that can and is willing to guide you yet, now is the time to connect.
We can learn a great deal from those who’ve come before us. And we can be pushed to great lengths by those whose mission it is to coach for greatness. Each journey is different and no-one has done or will do what you are doing in the way you are doing it. The execution of your awesome idea by your cohesive team is what translates to success or mistakes. Your team looks to you for leadership and guidance. No-one is born a great leader, every great leader is made by circumstance, and your circumstance allows you to connect to leaders you admire and want to learn from, in order to become the best leader you can be. Reach out and allow yourself to be taught.
Step 5 – Work hard and smart and keep going until you’ve made yourself proud
What is a great idea worth? Absolutely nothing, zero, zilch, nada, nto, niks.
What is a great idea worth when it has a well-thought out plan, a cohesive team focused on service and quality with strong, open leadership at the helm behind it? It is worth whatever you are willing to make it, if you work hard and smart and keep going until you’ve made yourself proud.
Be prepared to adjust your plans, be open to learning about things you may never even have considered. Be courageous, reach out for help and collaboration when you need it, and follow the voice inside that encourages you to create your dreams – for you are your greatest cheerleader.
Zulé is an adventurer at heart, creative problem solver and most recently the Founder of LocumBase.com – a supportive ecosystem for freelance medical professionals and the practices and hospitals that need them. She shares her perspective as an accidental tech startup founder and the journey of triumphs and trials of making the move and building a disruptive tech service. When not building business she enjoys hiking, playing chess, falling off her surfboard, cooking breakfast and discovering new places with camera in hand.
For more on her South American Adventure see zulevuuren.com.