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Want to be your own boss?
Starting a business involves planning, making key financial decisions, and completing a series of legal activities.
Check out our online resources, and/or make an appointment with our Career Center staff
to discuss your options!
- Know yourself, your true motivational level, the amount of money you can risk, and what you're willing to do to be successful.
Sure, we all want to make millions of dollars. But what are you willing
to give up to reach that goal? How many hours a week will you work on
an ongoing basis? How far out of your comfort zone are you willing to
stretch? How far will your family stretch with you? To be successful,
keep your business plans in line with your personal and family goals and
- Choose the right business for you. The old formula – find a need and fill it – still works. It will always work. The key to success is finding needs that you can fill, that you want to fill, and that will produce enough income to build a profitable business.
- Be sure there really is a market for what you want to sell. One
of the biggest mistakes startups make is to assume a lot of people will
want to buy a particular product or service because the business owner
likes the ideas or knows one or two people who want the product or
service. To minimize your risk for loss, never assume there is a
Research the idea.
Talk to real potential prospects (who aren't family and friends) to
find out if what you want to sell is something they'd be interested in
buying, and if so, what they'd pay for the product or service.
- Research your competitors. No matter what type of business
you are starting or running, you will have competitors. Even if there is
no other business offering exactly what you plan to sell, there is very
likely to be other products or services your target customers are using
to satisfy their need. To be successful, you need to
research the competition
and find out as much as possible about what they sell and how they sell
it. Competitive research is something you should plan on doing on an
ongoing basis, too. If there really aren't any other competitors, it's
possible there isn't a market or a real need for what you want to sell.
- Plan to succeed. If you're not seeking investors or putting a huge sum of money into your business, you may not need an elaborate business plan,
but you still do need a plan - one that specifies your goal – your
destination – and then lays out at least a skeletal roadmap for how
you'll get to where you want to go. The plan will change as you progress
and learn more about your customers and competition, but it will still
help you stay focused and headed in the right direction. Use our
business planning worksheet to help develop that basic plan.
- Know the Operational Needs. Most people who are thinking
about starting a business focus on what they’ll sell and who they’ll
sell it too. What they often don’t consider is how the business will
actually operate. For instance, if you’re selling items, how will they
be delivered? How much customer support will be needed – either to
answer questions about the product or to respond to people whose
shipments haven’t arrived? Will you need to accept credit cards? Will
you invoice customers? Who will follow up to be sure you’re paid? Who
will build and maintain your website and social media presence? Will
you be able to
use a virtual assistant
for such tasks, or will you have to hire employees? Even if you’re
starting a small personal service business, these are issues you should
consider and plan for.
- Don't procrastinate. I've heard some people advise
would-be business owners to not move ahead with their business until
they have investigated every last detail of the business they want to
start and are absolutely sure it's all going to work and be profitable.
The problem with that approach is that it leads to procrastination. No
one ever really has all the pieces in place – even after they've started
their business. Yes, you need to research the market, have a
rudimentary plan in place, and do things like getting a tax id if
needed, register with local officials, if required, etc. But if you try
to make everything perfect before you launch, you may never get around
to starting your business at all.
- Start on a small scale before going all out. Some
people believe that entrepreneurs are risk-takers. But for the most
part, successful entrepreneurs don't like walking blindfolded on a limb.
Instead, they take controlled risks. They test an idea on a small
scale, then build on what works well, tweak what shows promise, and
discard the disasters.
- Don't fixate on mistakes or get demoralized by them. The difference between successful people and everyone else is that the successful people learn from their mistakes and move on.
They don't dwell on failure, blame the economy, curse their bad luck,
or blame other people for their fate. If the path to their goal is
blocked, they look for an alternate path or sometimes choose a
different, more attainable goal.
- Learn from others. Find mentors, join groups with
like-minded people, learn everything you can about your industry and
what it takes to get from where you are to where you want to be. Attend
industry conferences. Take training courses when they are available. Buy
courses offered by experts. You'll save a tremendous amount of trial
and error by learning from people who have been there before.
- Think of what you do AS a business. Keep track of income and expenses, keep business money separate from personal funds, find out what regulations your business needs to abide by.
- Understand the difference between working for yourself and building an ongoing business. If
you want to build a business, you need to develop systems and methods
that allow you to hire other people to DO the work of the business while
you plan it. You limit the potential for growth if you don't bring in
other people to work for you.
- Get to know investors. If the business you are starting will need investors to grow, do what you can to find out what investors are looking for
and where to find those who might invest in your kind of business.
Local angel and venture capital groups are a good place to start –
attend meetings they hold or meetings that investors are speaking at.
elevator pitch practiced so you can use it to interest investors if you get a chance.
- Put yourself out there. Ask for what you want (in a
polite way.) I started my online business by participating online on
GE's GEnie online service. When I was ready to send them a proposal to
run a small business area, I could not only talk about my credentials in
general, but point to places I was already contributing to their
service. I became one of the early content providers to America Online
because I picked up the phone and made a cold call. I wound up with a
new consulting client after I struck up a conversation with a woman
sitting next to me on an airplane. Remember, people like to do business
with people they know. Get the ball rolling, and keep it rolling by
reaching out and introducing yourself to new people.
- Embrace Digital Marketing. Even if you’re running a
local business, you need a comprehensive digital presence. At a
minimum, you need a professional-looking website, an email list that
lets you communicate with customers and prospects on a regular basis and
presence on the social media channels that your customers frequent.
While you may get many of your customers by word of mouth, referrals, or
networking, you still need a strong digital presence. The reason:
prospective customers are likely to look you up on the web before they
decide whether or not to contact you. Coupons, special offers, and
practical information sent to your email list can encourage customers
and prospects to buy from you or make repeat purchases.
- Never stop learning and trying new things. What's
profitable now, won't necessarily be profitable next year or 10 years
from now. So, don't let yourself fall into the "this is the way I've
always done things" rut. Keep your eyes and ears open for new things.
Are there newer or better ways to market your products and services? Are
customers asking for something you're not offering? Is there a
different type of customer you should be targeting? Get answers by
reading everything you can about your industry and listening to your