Before you start your next business, you should consider a few of my own tenets that I have gleaned from working with numerous startup companies
over the years. There is so much more to a business than the actual day-to-day operations, and finding the right combination of ideas, skills, and people will help you
create the best small business. Take a look at the following rules of the road:
- First, it is so often said that you have to find your passion. It might sound cliche, but it is very true. If you are going to suffer the long hours and the many frustrations of starting your own business, you need to have something that is going to power you through the darkest times. If you come up with a business idea that doesn’t get your groove on, drop it and think of something else.
- Identify the narrowest niche you can and fill it completely. It doesn’t really matter what you do. What matters is what everyone else isn’t doing, and how you can complement or fill in the gaps. The narrower the niche, the better. It helps if you can explain your niche in a short sound bite too, because that is what you are going to be doing a lot of. And don’t be afraid to change to a new niche when the market shifts or as you get better at understanding what your customers need, too. You aren’t going to be running MegaCorp (at least, not yet), so being flexible is key.
- Understand your own limitations and use them to decide on the nature of the business you wish to create. For years I have had a one-person freelance writing business — not because I am anti-social, but because that is my preferred work style. You need to think through the implications of your ideas and understand what you are getting yourself into with the particular business you have in mind. One friend of mine designed her freelance business around a small staff, because that was what she was comfortable with. Different strokes….
- Building a website isn’t the same thing as building a business. While is certainly is the case that many businesses are going to have
some kind of online presence, they just begin with the website.
- If you aren’t technical, find someone who can help and treat them well. Make that: treat them extra well. When I built my first website back in the early days, I hired a kid all of 19 years of age. Now I would hire even younger: they have the skills, and they work cheaply. But sometimes you want to partner with someone with more maturity, and realize when that is needed.
- Pick domain names, corporate names, and other names to match and be easy to speak and remember. This is so important. There is a site called KnowEm.com that can help you figure out if your chosen name is available on hundreds of social networks, and even search the US Patent and Trademark Database. This is a good place to start. See the screen shot below.
- Don’t forget about email newsletter marketing. Email isn’t the flashiest mode of communication, but it is still a very powerful tool that can help spread your word and get you customers. One friend of mine built up his business big time with a weekly newsletter: over a year he had more than two thousand subscribers, and a regular business. The service provider that I use for my email newsletter charges me the grand sum of less than $5 a month.
- Speaking of monthly costs, keep your recurring costs low. It is amazing what kinds of services you can get these days for free or
nearly so in just about everything. Look at what you can get on open source sites. You can host your own blog, set up your own domain, sign up for cloud-based accounting, and a lot more for less than $500 a year, in some cases a lot less. It used to cost me $500 just to have a server sit in a rack someplace. My friend Bruce Fryer has a site called CheapBastardStartup that has links to running his 100% virtual corporation. He suggests raising $50,000 and get a product and customers and then go after the big money once you have proven your concept. But I suggest starting with
even less dough – say $5000 – and see how far you can run with your idea with that.
- Finally, don’t figure on paying yourself a salary, at least initially. My wife has her own interior design business and she is glad when she clears her monthly expenses, at least for the first couple of months. Of course, you want to eventually make some money!
Good luck with your own startup, and do feel free to share other best practices that you have come across in your travels.