Photo: Andrew Neel
Starting a business is a lot like starting a family. It’s an incredibly rewarding, life-changing decision—but it’s not without bumps in the road. And the best way to anticipate the highs and lows of entrepreneurship is to know what to expect.
Any good business owner can tell you that starting your business involves months, if not years, of careful planning. From coming up with the concept of setting your budget to assembling the team and tools you need to make your venture a success, you’ll be spending a lot of time deliberating.
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And if you’re doing all of this while juggling the responsibilities of your personal life? That’s like having two jobs at once—neither of which pays very well, at least to start. Therefore, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into.
If you’re considering opening up a business, start by asking yourself these important questions:
Do You Have an Idea for a Business?
This may seem like a given, but starting a business doesn’t always mean coming up with a brand new concept. Some business owners start a company by franchising an existing enterprise. Others link up with peers who have already done the groundwork.
If you have an idea for a brand new business, that’s great. But it’s going to take a lot of work to move it from an idea to a reality. Whether you’re ready to fully commit to your freelance side hustle or you’re hoping to manufacture a whole new product, a good idea with real potential is the first step.
Why Is Now the Time to Start Your Business?
There are many factors that affect the success, or failure, of a new business. But no factor is more important, and yet more overlooked, than timing.
Bill Gross of Idealab, a startup studio in California, famously demonstrated that the timing of a business—when the business started in relation to shifting economic or political factors—accounts for 42 percent of the difference between success and failure. “Ideas” account for just 28 percent.
Ask yourself why you want to start this business now. What needs will your business solve, either in your community or for a certain customer? Additionally, why is now the best time for you, as a person, parent and/or partner?
How Will This Impact Other Areas of Your Life?
Starting and running a business doesn’t happen in a vacuum: The time and effort you spend on this will take away from other areas of your life. If you’re also a parent, consider whether your business will take you away from your children and how that will impact their lives.
Assess what relationships or responsibilities you hold dear or consider crucial to your wellbeing, and plan to carve out time in each day to be present for both. Discuss your new venture with the people in your life and explain how things will change, how you plan to react accordingly, and what you expect from them as well.
Do You Have a Business Plan?
A business plan isn’t just an idea and some thoughts about how to execute it—it’s a written document that maps out your strategy for success. How will you go from Point A (a dollar and a dream) to Point B (a profitable small business that could theoretically function without your direct oversight)? A business plan maps out your vision for how.
Take the time to sit down and draw up a business plan, perhaps with the help of an accountant or lawyer. You’ll use this plan to drive your growth strategies, from hiring to investing.
Do You Have a Team in Place?
No matter what size your small business is or how big you want it to be, you’re going to want some kind of team in your corner.
If you’re planning on maintaining a sole proprietorship for the foreseeable future, you may still want to enlist the help of an accountant, lawyer, consultant, or coach—not to mention the support of the people in your lives, from your partner to your friends.
If you know from the beginning that you’ll need to hire employees to get this off the ground, who are they? Will you work with former colleagues or will you look outside your circle?
Have these people in place in time for day one.
Do You Have a Mentor?
A mentor, coach, or other figure who has been through the same trials and tribulations you have as an entrepreneur—particularly if you’re a woman, or a mother—can be immensely helpful to both your mental health the success of your business. According to one study, businesses are twice as likely to survive past five years if the owner has a mentor, and 88% of business owners with a mentor believe having one is invaluable.
Mentors can help you prepare business plans, make connections, navigate bureaucracy and simply act as a sounding board while you figure out the next step for your venture. You might find one through organizations like SCORE, or gain access to resources and advocates via Women Impacting Public Policy, among others.
Do You Have the Capital or Financing?
Outside funding for your business isn’t required, but you may need startup capital of some kind when you get going, as the costs of getting your company off the ground can rack up quickly. You might need anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars on hand when you start your business.
As a new business owner, you can apply for grants or small business microloans via a variety of lenders and organizations, such as the Small Business Administration. The SBA makes an effort to approve microloans for women, minorities, veterans and other underrepresented populations.
What Resources Do I Have at My Disposal?
When starting a business, you’re going to need more than a good idea and a great business plan. Take stock of what connections, skills, and resources you personally bring to the table, and assess the same factors when hiring employees early on in the life of the venture.
Can someone handle marketing duties? Who will be in charge of writing marketing and website copy? Assemble your crew, take stock of what you have, and begin to deploy them the best way you can.
If you’re not ready to hire, consider browsing freelancer sites such as Upwork or tapping into your LinkedIn network to find contractors.
If you have affirmative, detailed answers to all the above questions, you’re well on your way to becoming a small business owner. The only trick is to maintain your drive and enthusiasm for your business past the early startup stages. Your company will need a business plan, a good team and financing as much on Day 500 as on Day 1.
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