Taking a long-term view and breaking up projects into manageable tasks are key.
11 min read
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In my travels, I speak to so many people who dream of starting their own business. They say they’re tired of working to make someone else’s dream come true, and they really want to take control of their life and future. I always ask them: Why don’t you just go for it? One of the most common responses I hear is that they have no idea where to even begin. I understand why they feel this way. Starting a new business is a big, overwhelming endeavor. However, if you take a long-term view and break the process up into a series of small tasks, starting a new business can feel safe and manageable.
If you’ve made the decision to move forward, where do you even begin? There are eight key actions that I suggest new entrepreneurs take early on to get their business started and to build a strong foundation.
The type of person who decides to enter into entrepreneurship is typically very creative and often has many ideas for a new business. With many great options to choose from, it is not always clear for the new entrepreneur which one they should begin with.
Select an idea that you are passionate about, that ties in with your core strengths and is economically viable. You might have to start by listing out those strengths and passions and cross checking with your ideas. If there’s something that falls into all three camps, it’s a winner. If there’s more than one idea there, narrow them down by utilizing other key factors for success such as whether you have previous experience and/or have a strong network in the chosen industry. Then you can begin.
Many people are looking for that “silver bullet” for their business idea. That perfect idea that would bring unimaginable success and wealth. The truth is that finding the absolute perfect idea will likely never happen, and you might end up thinking about building your business for 20 years without any action.
Related: How to Research Your Business Idea
During the time when I was thinking about starting an adventure travel company, I was working as a fixed income portfolio manager in the financial industry. I had a great career, but I didn’t feel connected to what I was doing. I thought about the things I was passionate about: adventure, history and storytelling. I wanted to wake up one day and have my work embody the things that I loved. However, creating a business that reflects your true passions must also be economically viable. Karen E. Spaeder provides an excellent foundation in her article on research, noting that you should utilize an extensive research process to “determine a potential market, to size up the competition, or to test the usefulness and positioning of your product or service.” For me, this process culminated in creating an adventure travel company called The Explorer’s Passage, where we would tell history’s greatest stories through travel experiences across the globe. In my research, I did not see any other company in the market conduct trips in this manner. I saw a market opportunity to provide people with the opportunity to travel in a very different way. Today, we operate these experiences all seven continents and in the Arctic. Guests from over 50 nations have joined our trips.
Almost every industry on the planet has a trade association, which can help you meet people who are already where you want to be with your business. You can find support and great contacts in these associations such as lawyers, consultants and business owners.
When I started my adventure travel business, the first thing I did was to join the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). The ATTA is the governing body of the global adventure travel industry. They are run by a travel visionary named Shannon Stowell who believes that travel should be used as a force for good in the world. Stowell is constantly asking questions of the future of our industry and promoting what he calls “positive peer pressure” to ensure we are all looking for ways to develop our individual businesses and the industry as a whole. I often tell friends and colleagues that my business would not exist today if it were not for the incredible resources that I leveraged by being a member of the ATTA. If you do a search, I am sure you will find a great industry association that can help you elevate your business too.
You now have an idea for the product or service you want to market to the world, but what are you going to call it? When I was thinking about a name for my new adventure travel company, I wanted it to be an expression of our trips. I ended up choosing The Explorer’s Passage. Anyone who knows me well knows I have a deep fascination with exploration. I particularly love reading stories about the old explorers such as Ernest Shackleton, Sir Francis Drake and Roald Amundsen. I knew I wanted the word explorer in my company name.
In the history of exploration, traveling through The Northwest Passage (a sea route in Canada that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans) was always seen as an impossible route to achieve, though it was eventually achieved by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Because my first three trips would be based on extraordinary stories in history where people had to go through a rite of passage to achieve their goal, I felt the word passage was appropriate to include in my company name. This guide gives a step by step insight into naming your business, integrating creativity, research, analysis and expert help. Find a name that strongly embodies your brand and what you are trying to sell. You may want to have a brainstorming session with friends, family or colleagues.
Related: How to Name a Business
Once you come up with the company name that you love, it’s a good idea to work with a trademark lawyer to see if anyone else has it trademarked and is utilizing it in commerce. It may be wise to trademark it to avoid potential complications down the road. Secure the related social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). Purchase the website domain name. If the .com name you have chosen is already taken, think carefully before spending thousands of dollars. Other URL versions, like .biz, can be just as effective.
At this point in your entrepreneurial journey, it is a smart idea to work with an accountant and lawyer to create your legal business entity. You will by now have realized that you are incurring some expenses to start this business, and it’s best to have them assigned to your business entity so you can benefit from the tax savings. It’s unlikely you will generate revenue in your first year, but by creating the business entity your expenses can be properly tracked. Your tax professional and lawyer can also help ensure you have the correct business type that matches your liability risk and long-term company goals.
Related: Choose Your Business Structure
It may be wise to not name the legal business entity name the same as your product or service name. You can’t predict the future, and you may end up changing your product’s name multiple times — you definitely don’t want to have to keep changing your business entity name in the process. My suggestion is to keep the legal entity name as broad as possible. For example, Jane Smith Enterprises could be your legal entity name and your business could operate in the public domain as your product/service/trademarked name through a Doing Business As (DBA). There’s plenty more information about understanding different business types and structure on Entrepreneur here.
As soon as your legal business entity is established, open a business banking account. This will make it much easier for you to track expenses and revenue while keeping your accounts clean and orderly. You can use a business credit and your business checking account to make all of your company-related payments. Consider your business needs: the potential need for a business loan, how much flexibility you might need and what accounts offer the best features for you before committing to a particular account.
Although I’ve mentioned that it’s wise to get a lawyer’s assistance with the set-up of your legal business entity, it’s also a good idea to get legal advice on your general liability or risk. This guide offers a variety of ideas around what to research, analyze and observe within your business and its market before you proceed. It’s a long list, but it’s important to proceed carefully and spend plenty of time considering any ways you or your business might be impacted by risk. This is where expert help can be especially important. Find a lawyer who has extensive experience in your business’ industry. He or she is more likely to understand the ins and outs of the risks involved in your particular industry and will therefore be better equipped to help you navigate it.
A fun and important step in your startup process is to work with a designer to create your logo and brand identity. As suggested in this guide, “Your logo is a visual representation of everything your company stands for. Think of McDonald’s golden arches or the Nike swoosh — these two impressive logos embody these companies well. But many companies still skimp on developing this key identity piece.” It’s an opportunity to really clarify your vision for your business and give it a visual form.
Related: How to Create a Logo
I’ve noticed that something amazing happens when an entrepreneur sees their finished logo for the first time. It not only energizes the entrepreneur, but it makes them feel like their endeavor is real. It provides excitement and momentum to move onto the next step in the journey. Just wait until you see your new business cards for the first time, with your name as CEO of “NewCo Inc.” It will be a very proud moment.
This is perhaps the most exciting step and one that entrepreneurs love: actually building your first product. I suggest starting your company with one or two products and/or services. You are building a new company, and you need to focus your attention and time on getting some success going with your new product offering. I see so many entrepreneurs feel that they need to start their company with a full product line to match well-established companies. They end up spreading themselves too thin, get overwhelmed and fail.
Start with a small number of products and/or services, make them better than anything in the market and deliver flawlessly. Strong customer feedback will help to power your company forward.
I hope this piece helps you on your entrepreneurial journey. Although it’s impossible for me to cover every single step in starting a new business in this single article, I hope it gives you a good understanding of the key tasks that are critical in laying a strong foundation for your business. I look forward to one day reading about your success!