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We’ve collected 19 tips & tricks seasoned entrepreneurs have shared regarding what they wish they’d known and done before they’d started out. Learning from their experiences may save you some time and frustration. Although this blog post won’t guarantee Zuckerberg-like success, the preparation techniques it offers certainly will help.
This is perhaps the most important exercise you need to do before ever starting a business. You need to assess your ability, experience, education, knowledge, and skill relevant to running the business in mind. This is crucial to being able to run your business successfully.
Know the difference between a hobby and a business
A hobby is something you do in your spare time. For example, you may be a crochet master and think that crocheting is the perfect thing to do as a business. Realize that you will be crocheting a great deal more, and really think about whether it’s something at which you can make a decent living.
If you decide to make your beloved hobby a business, you need to get serious about it. Yes, you will be doing something you love, but you also need to take care of the business side of things, such as tracking results, marketing, planning, and bookkeeping. If you continue to approach your hobby casually and run your business like one, that’s all you will ever have.
When deciding whether to go from hobby to business, do research. Find out what other successful business owners have done to take their hobbies to the next level. Follow their lead.
Scope your industry
Or, if you’re just starting to think about entrepreneurship in general, find the best industry to fit your style and talents. When you start honing in on a specialty area, seek out counselors and talk to industry veterans. People are often willing to help – but you have to ask them.
You can also go to SCORE, the SBA, the Women’s Economic Development Agency, or many more. The Internet, your local library, the U.S. Census Bureau, business schools, industry associations, can be invaluable sources of information and contacts. For instance, you might approach business schools in your area to see if one of their marketing classes will take on your business as a test project. You could potentially get some valuable market research results at little to no cost.
Size-up the competition
Study your competition by visiting stores or locations where their products are offered. If you want to open a new restaurant, start off by creating a list of restaurants in the area. Look at the menus, pricing, and additional features (e.g., valet parking or late night bar). Then check out the customers those restaurants appeal to. Are they young college students, nearby workers, or families? Then, become a customer of the competition. Go into stealth mode by visiting its website and putting yourself on its e-mail list. Read articles written on them. Sign up for e-mail alerts about search terms of your choice on Google News, which tracks hundreds of news sources. After you study it, deconstruct it using Fagan Finder, a bare-bones but very useful research site. Plug the address into the search box. You will be able to quickly learn, for example, the other sites that link to it, which can reveal alliances, networks, suppliers, and customers. Your aim is to understand what your competition is doing so you can do it better.
Assess the Environment
The next exercise you need to do is to assess the environment where you want to set up the business to determine if it will be viable there or not.
This is especially a very important thing to do if your customers will be visiting your place of business. A lot of small business owners fail because they never really studied their location before they set up shop.
They probably thought that with their experience of the business, once they launched their products or services, they would immediately be flooded with orders, only to realize after the launch that those in the area are not their target market. For example few in the area might need their product or service, or not enough have enough disposable income. The proper assessment of the business location will surely save you from making a terrible mistake setting up a shop only to find the business wouldn’t fly because the environment isn’t right.
To know if the area you want to set up your business in will be viable or not, get in touch with one or two people who are already in the business and ask them questions. The information you obtain from them should include weekly or monthly sales, to give you an idea about whether the market is big enough in that location.
Take Note Of Areas You Can Improve Upon
As you visit and patronize like businesses in that location, you should be taking note of areas in their operations and customer service where you can do better and provide greater customer satisfaction. This will quickly give you a competitive advantage in that locality and help you build your customer base.
A mentor can be a boon to an entrepreneur in a broad range of scenarios, whether he or she provides pointers on business strategy, helps you bolster your networking efforts, or acts as a confidant when your work-life balance gets out of whack. But the first thing you need to know when seeking out a mentor is what you’re looking for from the arrangement. What can your mentor do for you? Determining what type of resource you need is a crucial first step in the mentor hunt. Look within your family, friends, business community, and academic community.
Another very important thing you can do before setting up a business to know whether it will be profitable or not is to speak to people who have operated the same business before, but have folded up. You will be able to find out from them why they packed up, and the possible pitfalls in the business. This will help you to decide if you can surmount the difficulties or circumstances that led to their failure.
Do a Test Run
Try surveys, polls, and focus groups to gain insight into attitudes about your business idea. Solicit feedback cheaply by using online survey tools available through such services as Zoomerang, SurveyMonkey, and ConstantContact. The goal is to get to know your customers intimately. What turns them on? What causes them to tune out? Are they impulse buyers or do they like to deliberate over their buying decisions?
There are a lot of products that people like but don’t buy. The price might not be right, for example. Use social media, chat rooms, communities, industry groups, trade publications, blogs to find out more about what the challenges are in that industry.
Write a business plan
We’re not talking about some monstrosity but even an outline that codifies your thinking, your plan, your market, etc will be useful. By going through even a light process of planning, you’ll learn a great deal about your potential business and many of the things needed to make it a success. You’ll also be giving yourself a guide from where you are right now to where you want to be in five years.
Take your time with the business plan. This is not something to be rushed. Quantity is not what you are after, however. Really think about each section, and don’t be afraid to refine your plan as you work through it. Nothing is set in stone. As you gain more information, you should modify the plan.
Choose the right business structure
The typical structures for a start-up business include sole proprietorships, general partnerships, joint ventures, limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships and others. The decision you make now will have long-term implications, so consult with an accountant and attorney to help you select the form of ownership that is right for your type of business.
Consider funding needs
You have got to spend money to make it, as the saying goes, and in business, this maxim always holds. Make a list of all the things you need to start your business and how much they cost. This will tell you how much money you need for startup. Next, calculate your operating expenses. What equipment, tools and supplies will you need on a day-to-day basis to run your business? Once you get those numbers, you can figure out the quantity of product you’ll need to sell in order to break even—and to make a worthwhile profit.
Can you bootstrap your company? Or are you going to need a small business loan? Might an entrepreneur in the family be able to invest, or should you look for venture capital or an angel investor(s)? In order to get investors to open up their checkbooks, you’ll need to convince them that your idea is worthy and also be willing to subject yourself to increased scrutiny and give up a percentage of your company. If you decide your business can only get to the next level with the aid of a professional investor, then you need to figure out what a potential backer looks for in a budding company. Start doing your research now.
Pick a name
Naming your business can be a stressful process. You want to choose a name that will last and, if possible, will embody both your values and your company’s distinguishing characteristics. But screening long lists of names with a focus group composed of friends and family can return mixed results. Alternatively, a naming firm will ask questions to learn more about your culture and what’s unique about you – things you’ll want to communicate to consumers. And as a startup, the cost of a naming firm seems to be a colossal waste of resources. When picking a name, you may also want to consider whether you want to fit in or stand out. Although this might seem like an easy question to answer, you will need to consider how concerned you are with gaining credibility within your field, and whether an attention-seeking name lends to that purpose or not. (ChubbyBrain for example shows that we want to fit in)
Get a grasp on marketing strategies
You don’t need to be a marketing whiz, but if you’re trying to build an idea from the ground-up, you’ll need to have an accompanying marketing strategy from the ground up too. In doing so, you need to be clear on who your customers are, because you don’t have any time to waste on marketing to those who aren’t. One of the major challenges is figuring out your target market. One way to do this is through JV marketing. Another very important factor is Search Engine Optimization which helps users find your website in the first place through search engines.
Start a Blog
Believe it or not, blogging has become one of the best marketing tools on the web. From the ease of creating to the convenience of interacting with possible customers and clients, blogging has provided us a new way for promotion. Blogging has become such a successful means of marketing that there are around a hundred thousand blogs created everyday. Blogs can do wonders for your new business. They can become press, increase visibility, give a new business life, update people about the business’s doings, create easy media coverage, and allow for automatic feedback. But blogs are not easy. It takes time to research and write blog posts which are useful to your audience. And if your blog is just about shameless promotion of your products, nobody will read it.
Utilize Social Networking Sites
One of the most recent ways to promote your business is through social networking sites. Social networking sites are extremely helpful in getting your new business a little attention. Take advantage of free social networking sites such as Facebook , Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Organize Your E-mail
If you open your e-mail account and see that you have 276 messages in your inbox, 3,253 messages in your Trash, and 1,340 messages that are classified in the “Spam” folder, it may be time to clean it up. During the launch of a business, e-mails will be pouring in and it is important to keep these messages organized. Purging your e-mail inbox can help you avoid missing deadlines, frustrating your staff, and neglecting customer complaints.
Start searching for future talent
This might sound premature, but don’t forget that your business is supposed to grow someday. Keep your eyes peeled all the time for people who might fit into your organization – even if you can’t afford to pay them yet. No matter how small the internet has made the world, experts still recommend in-person networking as the No. 1 way to recruit talent. So, if you meet someone interesting or knowledgeable at a networking event, or even if you get particularly impressive service somewhere, be it a museum gift shop or helpline, ask that person a bit about themselves, what kind of business they see themselves in five years – the best people will stick in your mind when you need them.
It takes time to build a business. Keep this in mind whenever you feel anxious. Have patience and enjoy the process. Figure out how you are going to market yourself and realize that one marketing technique or one marketing campaign isn’t going to bring you instant fame and fortune. It could take some time to acquire your first customer.
Believe in yourself and work HARD
Give it your all. There is no quick road to success – it takes long hours, strategic planning and commitment. It takes a huge amount of time and effort to start a business and run it, particularly in the early stages
Know that you can do this. Make your plan and take action. Action is the key. You can have the biggest dream and make all the plans in the world, but without action, your business will not become a reality. Take a good look at everything that goes into running a business before taking the plunge. Don’t rush into it full steam ahead and expect instant results. Your business can and will be a success if you plan carefully and follow it up with good, solid action.