Are you daydreaming of being your own boss? Whether entrepreneurs are manifesting their business plans by securing financing, drumming up marketing plans, and expanding their network by meeting colleagues at professional mixers, these hustlers are pursuing their passions — and making bank at the same time.
It’s an idealized career path, but the truth remains: Starting your own business takes a lot of work. And the beginning is oftentimes the hardest.
Whether you’re thinking of being an Army of One solopreneur or creating an enterprise with a team of employees, the steps to starting a small business are the same. Here’s a handful of our best tips on launching your small business venture:
Create a Road Map
If you want to start a successful business, you’ll need a business plan. Per the Small Business Association (SBA), a business plan should have the following:
- Executive Summary: This includes your company’s mission statement, the product or service it offers, and basic “about me” about the owner (that’s you), plus any partners and leadership team members.
- Company Description: Aka the nitty-gritty about what your small business offers, what problems it seeks to solve, and your target audience or customer base.
- Market Analysis: How are your competitors performing, and how will your company stack up against the competition? What is working well for your competitors, and how can you differentiate yourself and do better?
- Organization and Management: Who are the leaders on your team, and how will your business be structured? Who reports to whom? You might also want to include how your business will be formed — sole proprietorship, LLC, or partnership.
- Marketing Plan: What’s your marketing strategy to attract and keep your customers coming back for more? What tactics will you employ to boost brand visibility, earn sales, and foster loyalty from your clientele?
- Funding Requests: How much funding will you need, when you need it by, and how do you plan on securing these funds? This section also includes how you plan on using the money.
- Financial Forecasts: As the heart of a successful business is generating revenue. If you’re venturing out on your own for the first time, how can you predict how much you’ll be earning? It’s a tricky endeavor, and you can look at competitors’ track records. If you have experienced in a given field, look at your own past successes as reference.
Visualize Your Goals
If you can use visualization exercises to turn your financial goals into a reality, why can’t you do the same with your business ones? Whether by way of a tangible vision board or using Pinterest, envision what you’d like your business to look like. What do you hope to achieve within six months, or in the next year? Don’t be afraid to dream big!
Build Your Tribe
Now that I’m four years into running my own freelancing business as a personal finance writer, content marketer, and brand storyteller, I’ve learned to lean on my community. My support group comprised of fellow writers — to help each other find jobs and even commiserate over shared conundrums and woes.
There are a lot of unexpected challenges that come with running your own business, no matter what stage in the game, or how large your company. Having trusted colleagues who share the same struggles — whether it’s trying to figure out how much to charge, or how to best recover from burnout or maintain a work-life balance — will keep you afloat.
If you’re not sure where to meet fellow business owners, attend a professional mixer in your area. You can also check out Freelancer Union Spark meetups, which happen the first Wednesday of each month. Besides meeting fellow solopreneurs, Spark meetups cover timely and relevant topics for those just striking out on their own.
There’s also Creative Mornings breakfast series, which offers free morning noms and inspiring talks for entrepreneurs in creative industries.
You can also scour Facebook for freelancing and small business owner groups. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is from freelancing pals I’ve met online. Virtual camaraderie for the win!
Consider finding a mentor to show you the entrepreneurial ropes and light the way in a number of ways. SCORE -— a program through the SBA — pairs entrepreneurs with coaches. These coaches are usually seasoned small business owners with years of experience. It’s absolutely free, and you can typically meet with a mentor in real life. What’s more, SCORE offers free or low-cost workshops for those keen on kick-starting their own business.
There’s also MicroMentor — a free program that matches budding business owners with mentors.
Consider Financing Options
If you’re running a freelancing business, and offer your services as a content marketer, software developer, or graphic designer, you might not need a lot of money or equipment to get started. However, for businesses that require greater capital for equipment, inventory, or manpower, you’ll want to look into ways to finance your business. Some common ways to finance your small business venture include:
- Bootstrapping: When you bootstrap, you run a lean operation at first and use your own money. Once you start generating a profit, you can pour more money into your business.
- Traditional Lender: Whether by way of a small business loan or through a bank or credit union, you can receive a small business loan to start your business. Note that you’ll need solid credit file to get approved for a loan with the most favorable terms and conditions.
- Grants: Unlike loans, a small business grant is essentially free money. However, competition for these grants can be steep, and many of them come with requirements you must fulfill to apply for a grant. It certainly couldn’t hurt to probe around and see what’s out there!
- Friends and Family: The benefits of getting a loan from friends and family is that they might offer you a lower interest rate than if you borrowed from a traditional lender like a bank. If you intend on getting money from family and friends, make it official. Draft a written agreement, and to spell out the terms and conditions on paper.
- P2P Financing: P2P or peer-to-peer, financing cuts out the middleman — the bank — so you receive a loan directly from individual investors. While solid credit nets you the lowest interest rates, you can most likely get a loan with a decent rate. Plus, because you can borrow money through an online platform, it makes it quicker and easier to loan money. Of course, you’ll want to mind the terms, interest rates, and fees.
- Crowdsourcing: There’s no shortage of crowdfunding sites to raise money for your business. Besides Kickstarter and Indiegogo, you can check out sites specifically geared toward entrepreneurs and innovation, such as RocketHub and CircleUp.
Remember: The most difficult part is taking the first steps. Ready to roll up your sleeves and get crackin’?