Second Sunday Series – Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of 12 columns on Starting a Business – one every second Sunday of the month, September through August. Last week’s column dealt with burnout, while the previous weeks focused on the entrepreneur’s personal strengths and weaknesses, and self-employment as a career choice.
If you are a person who enjoys making lists, starting a business is going to be your jam – it’s just lists and steps and things that need to be done next. Somewhere in there is the actual process of running the business, but that also turns out to be on the list, broken down into little chunks to make it doable.
Starting and running a business is truly a journey of a thousand steps, followed by the next journey of a thousand steps, and a next.
Hope this doesn’t sound daunting! On the one hand, the picture I just painted may seem relentless or dull. But the truth is, knowing that the whole process is breaking down one step at a time can give entrepreneurs the courage to keep going, even when the big picture is intimidating.
Speaking of the big picture, you need that too. If you always look down and count the small steps, you may end up going in circles. For starting and operating a business, having a big vision while handling the day-to-day details is a great recipe for success.
But about those listsâ¦ what should be on the list for starting a business? Naming all the tasks would take a year of columns and still not be finished. Rather than trying to list everything, it makes sense to group the key concepts together so that you can follow a general roadmap to stay on track. Here are nine of those clusters to guide your business launch. They aren’t necessarily in order, as you’ll likely revisit each area over and over again throughout the life of your business.
Identify your goals. Do you want a side business, a business that matches your family life, something you can build and then sell? Maybe you want to work for yourself for a year or two, or maybe forever. Answering these questions may require conversations with other people or beta testing to see what’s right for you. The effort is well worth it, to make sure you are building a business that you enjoy.
Choose a product or service. If you already have an idea, your task now is to refine it. Otherwise, the first steps will involve research and exploration, to decide exactly what your business will do.
Learn the rules. Ignorance is no excuse if your business is breaking the law. This group of steps includes checking the local and state codes governing the job you choose, as well as the unspoken rules governing how that job is performed.
Make a sale. Just one, to be sure you can. If you can’t convince someone to buy what you want to sell in your business, then the idea or the seller (you) needs to be tweaked. It’s good to know before you lock in on everything else.
Create systems. This is a natural concept if you are planning a production business, but less familiar to service owners. You will need systems for everything from marketing to customer management to invoicing.
Build a team. Law, accounting, bankingâ¦ these are the big three in terms of advisers that most companies rely on. Your team will be personalized to include people who know your area of ââbusiness, people who know and support you, and people who can replace skills that you lack.
Pay attention to finances. You will need a way to track monthly sales and income, including traditional financial reports (balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement). If these are foreign concepts, this series of steps may include a course or meetings with an accountant. You will also need to set prices and establish processes to get paid, and open business bank accounts.
Work on your brand. Everything from choosing your business name and designing the product packaging to creating a social media image could fall into this category.
Make more sales. Sure! But how will you do it, and how will you do it again? Almost every other group of stages feeds into this one, especially when your business goes from start-up to ongoing operation.
Outmoded? It’s a rational response to knowing that each of these concepts involves dozens of steps. For now, take a deep breath, then identify where you are in each category related to your own business idea.
We’ll dig deeper into each area as we continue the conversation in future episodes of the Second Sunday series on starting a business.