How to Start a Successful Business 1, 2, 3 – Part 1 of 6

There probably isn’t a day that goes by, that someone doesn’t ask me how to start a new business or a freelance career. While it may come easy to many of us right-brained creative types, who have jumped in feet first into the void, it can be very intimidating and overwhelming to others. As a result, I have created a 6-part article series that will showcase three (3) important tasks and ideas per article, for your review. This is the first article of the six.

My first bit of advice to anyone starting out is this; try not to let all the steps and hurdles overwhelm you. The best thing to do is to take baby steps. Create and view a checklist and calmly take each step as it comes. It will help you stay organized and sane! This is not to say you shouldn’t learn all you can about starting a business. It is, in fact, a big step in a person’s life. However, if you overthink everything too much, it can become detrimental and may cause you to hesitate or recoil back from your goals. Everything in life carries risk, but don’t let fears of risk stop you from succeeding.

With that said… are you ready to take that entrepreneurial challenge and leap? Great! Let’s get started:

Create a Business Plan: Many people cringe at this idea, but it’s not to be feared. It is a good idea to create a business plan for a number of reasons. First, let’s clarify what a business plan really is: Ultimately, it is a very lengthy sales pitch that makes your company look good. But intrinsically, it is much more than that. It is also a fantastic way to set business goals, missions and objectives for yourself and your business. Is it life-or-death if you don’t create a business plan? Of course not. Just ask Bill Gates, who along with many other successful entrepreneurs, flew by the seat of their pants, in more innocent and forgiving times. Little did he most likely know, he would go on to become one of the richest men in the world. I don’t think the lack of a business plan stopped him in any way.

So then, why do you need a business plan? Because it’s a great way for you to stay on straight and narrow path. Do it for yourself and for your partners, if you have them. It helps keep everything and everyone organized and focused. It can also ease legal issues or business troubles, should they arise later on.

There are countless business plan template software, as well as online templates, which can assist you in writing a business plan. One very helpful piece of business software, in my opinion, is QuickBooks, which is very easy to use. Select versions of QuickBooks, such as QuickBooks Pro or Premier, have a business plan template built into the system, which works really well. If QuickBooks isn’t your thing, Microsoft also offers an online business plan system that has received favorable reviews. You can also go online and search for business plan templates and software that suite your exact needs.

Conduct Market Research & Study the Competition: This is not as hard as many people think, nor it doesn’t have to be expensive. Investing a little bit of time and elbow grease into market research can give you a clear picture of what is going on in your potential industry. Gathering information about the economic trends in your marketplace is very important to keep you ahead of the game.

Don’t have a lot of money to shell out? No problem. Just do the groundwork yourself. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or have gazillions of dollars in the bank to do this. Simply begin viewing competitor websites, and really study what they are doing. Try to view white papers, business plans, sales material, or any information they have posted on their site. If they have an Investors Center, look for financial information, which is open to the public. It’s not hard and your only cost is some time invested.

One marketing surveillance technique is to create questionnaires and send it to prospective customers or community members, within your target market. This can be very effective because the more you know about them, the better service you can provide to them. It’s also very inexpensive – even free of charge, in many cases. You can do this via the Internet, e-mail and even postal mail still works, depending on the nature of your business. Online surveying is most desired because it’s easy, accurate and costs are negligible.

You can even set up a social network page, blog or online chat venue to begin conducting your own online focus group interviews! If you can, offer participants some kind of reward for their time, such as discount coupons to an event, a free coffee at Starbucks, or something easy and inexpensive that says “thank you for participating.”

Inexpensive Ways to Market and Promote Your Business: You’re probably not a huge corporation, so you most likely need to watch your spending! With today’s business tools, marketing and promotion does not have to be expensive these days. What it does have to be is consistent. When you need to “promote on a dime,” it can be challenging. However, it also stirs up the creative juices and get’s the brain flowing with ideas. Don’t let finances be a reason not to talk to people about what you do. Having money doesn’t sell people, people sell people. Ever heard of the famous automotive product, ArmorAll? It was started in an apartment bathtub! The creator had very little money to create his product or run his business. But, what he did have was a great product, a vision and the drive to see it through. Today, that empire is worth billions.

You know about the Internet, social networking and the power of blogging. But, are you actually doing these things? Social networking and blogging are free of charge and you can’t get any cheaper than FREE! Once you truly commit to using these tools, they will change your life, especially in business. So, toss your fears aside and dive into the online social scene to help promote your business. It’s one of the most important steps you can take and you’ll be very glad you did.

I hope you found this article helpful. We will be covering the importance of creating a business website, later on in Part 3 of my article series.