So You Want to Start Your Own Business

Running your own business is very much like getting a jumbo jet to take off. Like the plane which uses the most fuel during take-off and the initial climb, you have to put a huge effort into getting those first few customers. During the early days and in more challenging times, you have to keep on pushing forward because the tipping point – the point at which your business takes off – happens when you’ve got sufficient momentum. You have to stay focused, confident and resilient. So if I were starting out again, what advice would I give to myself and others setting up a new business?

1. Examine Your Heart

It may sound obvious but the first step to starting a small business is to examine whether or not this really is the right option for you. What is your WHY? The main quality you’ll need is burning desire - because running a small business isn't for the ambivalent or indifferent. You have to really, really want to be your own boss, to transform your dream from ideas into reality and to market your product or service. So take a good look inside yourself and ask yourself these three key questions:

  • Do I really want to operate independently and be the person making all the decisions and shouldering all the responsibility?
  • Am I willing to work hard and make the sacrifices starting a small business entails?
  • Do I have the self-confidence and self-discipline to enable me to persevere and make my business a success?

2. What Do You Want From Your Life?

For many of us, the reason we run our own business is because it gives us the freedom and flexibility – be that time or creativity - to live the life of our choosing. When choosing the right business model, it’s essential that you think through your personal priorities and values so that these align with your business goals and plans. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What sort of future do you want to create for yourself and your family? Where do you want to live? How much money do you want to earn? What sort of lifestyle do you want to have? Is the income potential of your dream business likely to meet your future lifestyle aspirations? What are your retirement plans?
  • What are your personal values and how will these affect your business idea?
  • Is more time with your family a key priority in which case would a business model that allows you to work more flexibly be a better option?
  • What’s your level of tolerance to risk? If your tolerance levels are fairly low or your family needs a high level of security, a low risk, low investment business model may be a better option for you.

At the risk of sounding like I’ve just come back from California, I find vision boards are a great way of helping me to conceive and visualise what I want – and making them is a lot of fun! Basically you cut out any pictures from magazines and travel brochures that represent the lifestyle and business you want, paste these onto a board or into a scrapbook and put this where you can see it on a regular basis. You can find out how to create a vision board here.

3. Do You Have The Characteristics Of An Entrepreneur?

Certain traits and attitudes make some people more suited to running a successful business than others. The seven most highly ranked qualities are perseverance, initiative, competitiveness, self-reliance, a strong desire to achieve, self-confidence, and good physical health.

If you think about it, none of these qualities are particularly surprising - you'd expect a successful entrepreneur to be self-reliant and self-confident for example. You may not have thought about the need to be physically healthy. But this is important. You can’t afford to be ill with colds and flu bugs. And you need high levels of stamina to run your own business. The characteristics ranked least necessary for business success may surprise you. They include a strong desire for money, patience, being well organised, and having a need for power.

4. What Skills And Abilities Do You Need To Become Successful?

The key skills and abilities needed to run your own business include:

  • Self-motivation and personal discipline
  • Resilience and the ability to sustain a positive mind-set
  • Business and industry knowledge
  • Financial management skills
  • Marketing skills
  • A thorough understanding of how to sell
  • Customer relations
  • A supportive network and quality contacts in your chosen field

List which other skills and abilities you’ll need for your chosen area of business. Then, together with the ones above, score these on a scale of 1-10 according to how capable you are. You should prioritise those areas where you rank lowest for training and development. Put simply, your level of business success will be determined by the level of your weakest skills. You may offer a high quality product or service, but if you don’t know how to market or sell it effectively, your business will really struggle and is more likely to fail. Likewise if you don’t monitor your cash flow. To get a free copy of my e-Book, ‘Why Cashflow Is The Key To Your Business Success,’ click here.

5. Do Your Research

You must sit down and put together a proper business plan and cash flow forecast for your idea and plan your business. Even if you aren’t asking for outside investment, you must know how much starting up your business will cost and what the running costs are. Write down everything, including the cost of light bulbs and toilet paper. This may sound silly but all these items are part of your business plan.  Be honest with yourself and, if anything, over-estimate the costs.  Once you’ve put together the figures, you may find that your idea is simply not financially viable. See my blog post, ‘Cash Is King: Ten Top Tips For Managing Your Cashflow’  for further advice.

Research the market for your product or service. Identify who is your ideal client/ customer and find a way to talk to them about your business idea. Find out – and write down - everything you can about them. Where do they buy similar services? Which factors influence their decision making? What are they looking for in a supplier? See my blog post, ‘How To Identify Your Ideal Client’ to help you define him/ her.

6. Join Industry Organisations and Networking Groups 

It’s a good idea to join industry organisations and groups before you start your business so that you meet people in your chosen field who can offer help and advice.  They may even help you to narrow your focus and clarify your particular niche or USP.  Most business owners enjoy sharing information about their business and discussing how they achieved their success. They’re usually happy to give a hand to someone who is passionate about their own industry or their services, and may even be willing to act as a business mentor.

7. Ignore The Critics 

One of my favourite sayings is “Never pay attention to those who tell you that something cannot be done or that it will never work.” These will be the same people who, once you’re successful, say they knew it would work all the time.  Likewise don’t let people who’ve never run their own business before put you off and steal your dreams. Sometimes people want to see you fail because they don’t have the courage to take the risk themselves. But in many cases family and friends simply want to protect us. Believe in yourself, focus on your goals and ignore those who have not ‘walked the talk’ before. There will be days when you do feel like throwing in the towel.  But to be successful, remember it isn’t how many times you get knocked down that’s important - it’s how many times you get up!

8. Get A Business Coach

You’d expect me to say that wouldn’t you?! Finding a business coach/ mentor to advise you on how to launch and run your business could arguably be the most important factor in making your venture successful. According to The Financial Times Guide to Business Start Ups, “20% of failed businesses would still be in business after 2.5 years if they’d sought advice at the outset.”

Click here for more information about business coaching and how to find the right coach for you.