You want to make sure you prepare thoroughly before starting a business, but realize that things will almost certainly go awry. To run a successful business, you must adapt to changing situations.
Refine your idea
Define your “why.”
“In the words of Simon Sinek, ‘always start with why,'” Glenn Gutek, CEO of Awake Consulting and Coaching, told Business News Daily. “It is good to know why you are launching your business. In this process, it may be wise to differentiate between [whether] the business serves a personal why or a marketplace why. When your why is focused on meeting a need in the marketplace, the scope of your business will always be larger than a business that is designed to serve a personal need.”
Another option is to open a franchise of an established company. The concept, brand following and business model are already in place; all you need is a good location and the means to fund your operation.
Brainstorm your business name.
Regardless of which option you choose, it’s vital to understand the reasoning behind your idea. Stephanie Desaulniers, owner of Business by Dezign and former director of operations and women’s business programs at Covation Center, cautions entrepreneurs against writing a business plan or brainstorming a business name before nailing down the idea’s value.
Clarify your target customers.
Desaulniers said too often people jump into launching their business without spending time to think about who their customers will be and why would want to buy from them or hire them.
“You need to clarify why you want to work with these customers – do you have a passion for making people’s lives easier?” Desaulniers said. “Or enjoy creating art to bring color to their world? Identifying these answers helps clarify your mission. Third, you want to define how you will provide this value to your customers and how to communicate that value in a way that they are willing to pay.”
During the ideation phase, you need to iron out the major details. If the idea isn’t something you’re passionate about or if there’s not a market for your creation, it might be time to brainstorm other ideas.
Write a business plan.
Conduct market research.
Conducting thorough market research on your field and demographics of potential clientele is an important part of crafting a business plan. This involves conducting surveys, holding focus groups, and researching SEO and public data.
Market research helps you understand your target customer – their needs, preferences and behavior – as well as your industry and competitors. Many small business professionals recommend gathering demographic information and conducting a competitive analysis to better understand opportunities and limitations within your market.
The best small businesses have products or services that are differentiated from the competition. This has a significant impact on your competitive landscape and allows you to convey unique value to potential customers.
Consider an exit strategy.
It’s also a good idea to consider an exit strategy as you compile your business plan. Generating some idea of how you’ll eventually exit the business forces you to look to the future.
“Too often, new entrepreneurs are so excited about their business and so sure everyone everywhere will be a customer that they give very little, if any, time to show the plan on leaving the business,” said Josh Tolley, CEO of both Shyft Capital and Kavana.
“When you board an airplane, what is the first thing they show you? How to get off of it. When you go to a movie, what do they point out before the feature begins to play? Where the exits are. Your first week of kindergarten, they line up all the kids and teach them fire drills to exit the building. Too many times I have witnessed business leaders that don’t have three or four predetermined exit routes. This has led to lower company value and even destroyed family relationships.”
A business plan helps you figure out where your company is going, how it will overcome any potential difficulties and what you need to sustain it. When you’re ready to put pen to paper, these free templates can help.
Assess your finances.
Perform a break-even analysis.
One way you can determine how much money you need is to perform a break-even analysis. This is an essential element of financial planning that helps business owners determine when their company, product or service will be profitable.
The formula is simple:
- Fixed Costs ÷ (Average Price – Variable Costs) = Break-Even Point
Every entrepreneur should use this formula as a tool because it informs you about the minimum performance your business must achieve to avoid losing money. Furthermore, it helps you understand exactly where your profits come from, so you can set production goals accordingly.
Here are the three most common reasons to conduct a break-even analysis:
- Determine profitability. This is generally every business owner’s highest interest.
Ask yourself: How much revenue do I need to generate to cover all my expenses? Which products or services turn a profit, and which ones are sold at a loss?
- Price a product or service. When most people think about pricing, they consider how much their product costs to create and how competitors are pricing their products.
Ask yourself: What are the fixed rates, what are the variable costs, and what is the total cost? What is the cost of any physical goods? What is the cost of labor?
- Analyze the data. What volumes of goods or services do you have to sell to be profitable?
Ask yourself: How can I reduce my overall fixed costs? How can I reduce the variable costs per unit? How can I improve sales?
Watch your expenses.
Don’t overspend when starting a business. Understand the types of purchases that make sense for your business and avoid overspending on fancy new equipment that won’t help you reach your business goals. Monitor your business expenses to ensure you are staying on track.
“A lot of startups tend to spend money on unnecessary things,” said Jean Paldan, founder and CEO of Rare Form New Media. “We worked with a startup that had two employees but spent a huge amount on office space that would fit 20 people. They also leased a professional high-end printer that was more suited for a team of 100; it had key cards to track who was printing what and when. Spend as little as possible when you start, and only on the things that are essential for the business to grow and be a success. Luxuries can come when you’re established.”
Consider your funding options.
Startup capital for your business can come from various means. The best way to acquire funding for your business depends on several factors, including creditworthiness, the amount needed and available options.
- Business loans. If you need financial assistance, a commercial loan through a bank is a good starting point, although these are often difficult to secure. If you are unable to take out a bank loan, you can apply for a small business loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) or an alternative lender.
- Business grants. Business grants are similar to loans; however, they do not need to be paid back. Business grants are typically very competitive, and come with stipulations that the business must meet to be considered. When trying to secure a small business grant, look for ones that are uniquely specific to your situation. Options include minority-owned business grants, grants for women-owned businesses and government grants.
- Investors. Startups requiring significant funding upfront may want to bring on an investor. Investors can provide several million dollars or more to a fledgling company, with the expectation that the backers will have a hands-on role in running your business.
- Crowdfunding. Alternatively, you could launch an equity crowdfunding campaign to raise smaller amounts of money from multiple backers. Crowdfunding has helped numerous companies in recent years, and there are dozens of reliable crowdfunding platforms designed for different types of businesses.
You can learn more about each of these capital sources and more in our guide to startup finance options.
Editor’s note: Looking for a small business loan? Fill out the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
Choose the right business bank.
When you’re choosing a business bank, size matters. Marcus Anwar, co-founder of OhMy Canada, recommends smaller community banks because they are in tune with the local market conditions and will work with you based on your overall business profile and character.
“They’re unlike big banks that look at your credit score and will be more selective to loan money to small businesses,” Anwar said. “Not only that, but small banks want to build a personal relationship with you and ultimately help you if you run into problems and miss a payment. Another good thing about smaller banks is that decisions are made at the branch level, which can be much quicker than big banks, where decisions are made at a higher level.”
Anwar believes that you should ask yourself these questions when choosing a bank for your business:
- What is important to me?
- Do I want to build a close relationship with a bank that’s willing to help me in any way possible?
- Do I want to be just another bank account, like big banks will view me as?
Ultimately, the right bank for your business comes down to your needs. Writing down your banking needs can help narrow your focus to what you should be looking for. Schedule meetings with various banks and ask questions about how they work with small businesses to find the best bank for your business.