Every 30 days, more than half a million new businesses launch. Yet within a decade, all but an estimated 4 percent of those new startups will have closed their doors. Still, want to start a business?
Why is this? What sets that slim 4 percent of startup companies apart from the rest? Most importantly, what can you do to be sure you are still standing, surviving and thriving, a decade from now?
Step 1: Start a Business Small
Learning how to start a business is exciting. There is absolutely no arguing this fact. But it can be so exciting that your eyes get bigger than your wallet. Nothing but the best of the best will do for your startup.
This may translate to mean taking out more credit than you need or can easily pay back. It may mean failing to track receivables to be sure you have sufficient cash flow coming in to meet your monthly obligations. It might show up as dropping far too much of your startup cash on a single item, such as a complicated, multi-page website when a simple site would do just fine.
Smart start-ups conserve available cash, knowing that pennies saved now can pile up into dollars to invest in business growth later.
Step 2: Follow Your Business Plan
A business plan is basically like a roadmap for your startup. When you get lost, you can consult your business plan to pick up the trail again. When you have a new opportunity, you can look at your plan for guidance about when and how to address it.
Even a poor business plan is better than having no business plan at all because at least you have tried to sketch out how your start-up will respond to different business scenarios. You have at least demonstrated that you take your own business goals seriously enough to take the time to create a plan for how to achieve those goals.
As a bonus, investors and creditors will be more inclined to work with you if you can show that you have a solid business model in place.
Step 3: Choose a Great Brand Name
If you have ever noticed the small symbols behind many of the best-known brand names, you may have wondered what they are for and how they got there. Those symbols stand for copyright and trademark protection. In other words, the brand is protecting its unique brand name and its exclusive right to use that brand name to market its products or services.
This is critical because, to customers and prospects, your brand name IS your company’s products or services. If they don’t know you, they will look first to your brand reputation to decide if they want to purchase from you or another company.
The key when choosing a brand name for your start-up is to find something unique that can’t be easily confused with any other brand out there. Make your brand name short, memorable, easy to pronounce, catchy and clearly yours
Step 4: Build a Firm Foundation
So much of building a successful startup business is about getting the basics right. In other words, as you are learning how to start a business, you should aim to build a firm foundation that will support any level of future growth you can envision.
You can start by hiring a certified public accountant (CPA) to do your monthly books and prepare your annual tax returns. You should also consult a legal professional about the best business structure for your new company.
Step 5. Define, Dominate, Repeat
When you are a brand new business, everyone you see can look like a potential customer. But this will cause you to spread yourself too thin trying to be all things to all prospects.
A better strategy is to identify who your “ideal customer” is and market directly to them. Once you can show dominance in that small pool of prospects, you can use the same model to expand, again and again, growing your business as you do so.
Step 6: Focus on Your Company Culture (Even When it is Just You!)
The culture of your company will absolutely trickle down from the top into the trenches. How you treat peers and direct reports, vendors and customers, how you handle disputes and broker deals, what your long-term vision and goals are, and how you communicate them – all of these make up your corporate culture.
In time, your internal company culture can evolve into your external company reputation. So you want to spend sufficient time and energy crafting a mission, vision, and values that accurately represent what your company is all about.
Step 7: Aim to Offer Great Products or Services
You can have the catchiest, funniest, or most informative advertising and marketing campaign (even one that wins awards), but if your products or services can’t back up its promises, you have just wasted your budget….and likely damaged your company’s reputation.
When approaching marketing from a strategic perspective, aim to first create truly great products or services. This will make your marketing easier and more effective and ensure any investment is well spent.
Step 8. Start From Where You Are
Finally, it is always easy to assume that your business would grow more rapidly or get more media attention and new customers if you relocated somewhere else or decided to change your business strategy to something different.
But the truth is if you can’t succeed where you are, with what you have and what you know now, it is not likely you will be able to succeed by changing any of it.
While there are as many business success stories as there are entrepreneurs to tell them, these eight steps can get you off on the right track. By starting small and simple, doing the basics right, and aiming for uniqueness and high quality, you give your company its best chance of surviving its start-up years and thriving in the future.