Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
When it comes to launching a business, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
There’s a lot that you can distract yourself with when getting a company off the ground and a seemingly never-ending list of tasks circulating in your head. There’s also a great deal of noise –things that’ll keep you busy but won’t move the needle in any way, which is often hard to evaluate as a first-time entrepreneur.
But it’s essential that you focus your attention on things that matter –aspects of your business that are pivotal to its success. Often, these things are forgotten about or pushed aside by first-time business owners.
In my 23 years in business and time spent coaching other entrepreneurs, I’ve discovered a few key steps that matter most when launching a company. With this in mind, here are eight steps that you’ll want to focus on –to get yourself off to the best start possible.
1. Understand Your Time Commitment
First things first, you’re going to want to get clear on the amount of time that you’ll need to commit to this venture. You need to be realistic here, and make sure you’re willing to devote the time and resources that will be required to get it off the ground. Even if this is just a part-time gig to supplement your income, the time commitment for starting and growing a business is tremendous and is vastly underestimated. In the beginning, you’re excited and running on adrenaline because everything is new, but that excitement will soon start to fade. What’s left will be passion and dedication –so make sure you’re committed before you even start.
2. Iron Out Your Idea
Few ideas are winners straight out of the gate. The best ideas require fine-tuning in order to refine them. Your goal is to polish that rough idea and turn it into a solid plan. So start brainstorming. What problem are you planning to solve? And more importantly, who is it for? I have sat through hundreds of pitches and I can’t tell you how many founders do not know the answers to these very basic questions. If you don’t know the answers, then start doing some preliminary market research. Start asking questions to people in your target audience to gauge interest. Discover their pain points, what is it that upsets them about a competitor’s current product or service. What issues would they like to resolve? Don’t make the mistake of trying to be everything to everyone –it’s the surest way to fail. Instead, make sure you take the time to narrow down exactly what you’re offering, and who you’re offering it to.
Related: Need a Business Idea? Here Are 55.
3. Do Your Market Research
Likewise, you’d be surprised at how many entrepreneurs dive into their business launch, without conducting any research first. Before you invest time and money into a venture, you’ll want to assess market demand and get some real-world customer validation. With a restaurant, for example, this would mean surveying the locals and the community. Next, you may want to set up a stall at a local farmer’s market. If there’s enough interest, you could then move onto a food truck to further refine your offering and gauge customer demand. Finally, you’d open up your restaurant. Assessing demand as you grow allows you to test the waters and pivot when necessary, giving you a chance to refine your product or service before you dive in.
4. Create a Memorable Business Name
Now we arrive at the fun part, coming up with a good business name. Ideally, this should be something catchy and memorable. It should also make sense, and in most cases, have something to do with your business or industry. Keep SEO in mind too –using a name that incorporates industry keywords will increase your chances of being found by customers who are conducting searches online.
Here are a few great brand names:
- Groupon: Think coupon + group
- Slack: Ironically, a program that keeps teams organized and on track
- Brandless: An e-commerce company that’s trying to communicate that “better doesn’t have to cost more”
5. Hire Legal and Accounting Help
I recommend outsourcing legal and accounting, even when you’re first starting out. These are two areas that most entrepreneurs struggle with. Many want to save money here and skip this step altogether, which is never wise. You need to ensure that you’re operating in a way that’s in compliance with the law.
An attorney can assist with structuring your business, and help you to determine whether you should incorporate or operate as an LLC. They’ll also help you register your business name and set you up with a tax ID. They can also create any agreements or contracts that you need. Likewise, if you’re forming a partnership, they’ll be able to help you create partnership agreements to help keep everyone on the same page.
You’ll also want to outsource your accounting tasks. An accountant will help you to ensure you’re remitting all of your taxes on time and can alert you to deductions and tax strategies that you’ll want to employ. They’ll also keep you updated on changing tax laws that you should know about. Lastly, a good accountant will work with a bookkeeper to make sure you’re saving cash for your tax bill. I’ve known far too many business owners who miss a deadline or skip out on paying their taxes altogether thinking they can get away with it. That’s never good business practice.
6. Establish an Online Presence
Don’t be your industry’s best-kept secret! Make sure you have an online presence so people can find you online –even if it’s just a free Wix website. Once you’ve validated your idea and started making sales you can upgrade to a fancy website. Your customers don’t need perfection, they just need a functional site with clear and concise copy on what you do and how to buy.
When it comes to social media, dabble. Don’t go all in until you have confidently validated your idea and customer base or else you risk wasting time and money. After you’ve completed step three, you’ll have a good sense as to where your ideal customer hangs out online. Go there. You don’t have to be on all the channels or everything to everyone. Be specific and intentional, otherwise, you risk creating mediocre content that doesn’t convert anyone. See more in step eight.
7. Craft Your Business Model
Next, once you’ve established your business a little more and have some revenue and proven some traction, it’s time to really roll up your sleeves with business model generation. To start, I recommend getting your hands on a copy of Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and working through the business model canvas.
The business model canvas helps you break your business down into segments like key activities, value proposition, customers segments, revenue streams, and more. It’s not about giving you more to do; instead, it helps you to simplify your tasks by allowing you to hone in on the important business functions and systems that you need to make your business profitable and consistent.
8. Promote Your Business
Most people skim over the other steps to go straight to this one. But promoting your business –without all of the other preliminary steps is a waste of time and money. While marketing is important, what’s even more important is consistency. Pick a cadence and stick to it.
Not sure where to start when promoting your business? Here’s a quick summary for you:
Create a small plan. Use Google Docs or another free tool to collect your thoughts and ideas. Start with the whole year in mind, or the next 12-months ahead of you. List when big things are happening in your business like launch dates and events. Work backward from those events to connect the dots between when you need to start promoting and how long it will take you to create the plan and content for that promotion. As a general rule, you’ll need about two months of prep time for a standard PR campaign.
Decide which channel to use. Choose one or two channels to use. If your target audience is on Pinterest, then go there and spend time mastering this platform. If they are on LinkedIn, then invest in the most thorough LinkedIn strategy you can create. But don’t do it all and certainly don’t do it everywhere. Focus your efforts. One channel at a time is enough.
Consistency is your currency. It is said that consumers need to see your message about 14 times before they decide to buy from you, so don’t give up. Get a plan in place for consistency and then make sure you stick to it.
Launching a business can be an exciting time, but you’ll want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to get yourself off to the best start possible. As long as you know what to focus on, you’ll be able to lay the groundwork necessary to get the ball rolling –and will be well on your way to creating a viable business, one that’s built to grow.