Here’s what the experts say about how to face your fears of leaving the corporate world, and when you’re really ready to launch your own business.
Step 1: Refine your idea
Here’s how to take the idea of owning your own business and turn it into a reality.
The question that halts most budding entrepreneurs in their tracks is, ‘when do I begin?’. The fact that you’re even thinking about starting a business means you’ve already begun. You’ve taken the first step by asking for help and searching for answers. There will always be challenges, no matter when you decide to start your business. To succeed, your goal is simple: Define your business concept to the best of your ability, test it out and adjust it as you discover what will work.
The greatest aspect of being an entrepreneur is that there are no rules to follow. You don’t need more experience or money to start; you can go for your dream right now. To help you get going, here are four tips.
- Define your passion in writing
If you keep an idea in your mind, that’s as far as it can develop. Writing down your concept helps you focus on how to make it a business. By clearly defining your idea, your imagination, heart and intellect can begin to work together to make it a reality.
- Keep an open mind and trust your instincts
This is not the time to judge your abilities or your experience. Tell yourself that you can and will discover how to make your dream business a reality. Find people who can help. SME owners usually enjoy sharing their experiences. Listen to them and get real-life direction, knowledge and tools that will move you forward faster.
- Buy yourself time
Pick a specific time each week when the only thing you do is work on developing your business. Don’t let anything distract you; this is your special time to go for your dream.
- Test out your idea and be willing to adjust it
You will be successful if you take action and make adjustments to your idea by analysing the information you receive. Allow your business concept to be shaped and moulded by your research, friendly suggestions and other information you gather along the way.
By simply having a dream, you have already taken the first step to achieving your goals; now, get ready for the ride of your life.
Drop all of the excuses, jump in with both feet and trust your instincts. You will uncover the resources, people and strategies you need to succeed.
Related: Steps for Testing Your Business Idea
Step 2: Get going
If you want to start a business but don’t know where to begin, don’t worry – you are not alone. Here are eight ways to take control.
- Take a stand for yourself
If you are dissatisfied with your current circumstances, admit that no one but you can fix them. It doesn’t do any good to blame the economy, your boss, your spouse or your family. Change can only occur when you make a conscious decision to make it happen.
- Identify the right business for you
Give yourself permission to explore. Be willing to look at different facets of yourself (your personality, social styles, age) and listen to your intuition. We tend to ignore intuition even though deep down we often know the truth. Ask yourself, ‘What gives me energy even when I’m tired?’ How do you know what business is ‘right’ for you? There are three common approaches to entrepreneurship:
- Do what you know. Look at work you have done for others in the past and think about how you could package those skills and offer them as your own services or products.
- Do what others do. Learn about other businesses that interest you. Once you have identified a business you like, emulate it.
- Solve a common problem. Is there a gap in the market? Is there a service or product you would like to bring to market? If you choose to do this, make sure that you become a student and gain knowledge first before you spend any money.
- Business planning improves your chances of success
Most people don’t plan, but it will help you get to market faster. A business plan will help you gain clarity, focus and confidence. A plan does not need to be more than one page. As you write down your goals, strategies and action steps, your business becomes real.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I building?
- Who will I serve?
- What is the promise I am making to my customers/clients and to myself?
- What are my objectives, strategies and action plans (steps) to achieve my goals?
- Know your target audience
Before you spend money, find out if people will actually buy your products or services. This may be the most important thing you do. You can do this by validating your market. In other words, who, exactly, will buy your products or services other than your family or friends? What is the size of your target market? Who are your customers? Is your product or service relevant to their everyday life? Why do they need it?
There is industry research available that you can uncover for free. Read industry articles with data (Google the relevant industry associations) and read Census data to learn more. However, the most important way to get this information is to ask your target market/customers directly and then listen.
- Understand your personal finances and choose the right money you need for your business
As an entrepreneur, your personal life and business life are interconnected. You are likely to be your first – and possibly only – investor. Therefore, having a detailed understanding of your personal finances, and the ability to track them, is an essential first step before seeking outside funding for your business. As you are creating your business plan, you will need to consider what type of business you are building – a lifestyle business (smaller amount of start-up funds), a franchise (moderate investment depending on the franchise), or a high-tech business (will require significant capital investment). Depending on where you fall in the continuum, you will need a different amount of money to launch and grow your business, and it does matter what kind of money you accept.
- Build a support network
You’ve made the internal commitment to your business. Now you need to cultivate a network of supporters, advisors, partners, allies and vendors. If you believe in your business, others will, too. Network locally, nationally and via social networks. Here are some networking basics:
- When attending networking events, ask others what they do and think about how you can help them. The key is to listen more than tout yourself.
- No matter what group you join, be generous, help others and make introductions without charging them.
- By becoming a generous leader, you will be the first person who comes to mind when someone you’ve helped needs your service or hears of someone else who needs your service.
- Sell by creating value
Even though we purchase products and services every day, people don’t want to be ‘sold.’ Focus on serving others. The more people you serve, the more money you will make. When considering your customers or clients, ask yourself:
- What can I give them?
- How can I make them successful in their own pursuits?
- This approach can help lead you to new ways to hone your product or service and deliver more value, which your customers will appreciate.
- Get the word out
Be willing to say who you are and what you do with conviction and without apology. Embrace and use the most effective online tools (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn) available to broadcast your news. Even though social networks are essential today, don’t underestimate the power of other methods to get the word out: eg, word-of-mouth marketing, website and Internet marketing tools, public relations, blog posts, columns and articles, speeches, email, newsletters, and the old-fashioned but still essential telephone.
Step 3: Overcoming your fears
Call it what you like. Procrastination. Fear. Necessary preparation. The fact is that many new business owners fall into the trap of staying ‘busy’ without actually doing business.
Designing business cards and setting up spreadsheets are just some of the tasks that, though necessary, make it tempting to put off doing business. After all, it’s more fun to choose fonts than to make cold calls.
It’s true that starting a business requires a certain amount of preparation, or as Robert Spiegel, author of The Shoestring Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Best Home-Based Businesses, calls it, ‘pencil sharpening’. Here are ten ways to move past pencil sharpening and put those pencils to work.
- Make a list
Making lists is a common denominator in businesses that have moved forward during the start-up phase. “People take time-management classes and use various electronic tools, daily planners and software, but all these tools essentially help make lists,” says Spiegel. “Having a list is the most important way to keep procrastination away.” Keep the list in front of you so it’s always visible.
- Take baby steps
It can be overwhelming when your to-do list is changing and priorities seem to be wrestling each other, but starting with small, manageable jobs can help thwart fears and minimise anxiety. Focusing on what really matters often comes down to having discipline and a clear vision.
- Find a customer
If you don’t have customers or clients, you don’t have a business. Yet finding and committing to that first customer can be a difficult hurdle for many entrepreneurs.
- Forget perfection
It might seem ideal to have everything in place exactly as you envisioned, but perfection doesn’t pay the bills. The ideal situation would be to have high-tech office equipment, but rather than waiting, start working from a small office with little more than basic equipment – a desk and a telephone.
- Talk business
Believing in yourself and your business might sound like hokey advice, but if you don’t believe you’re truly in business, as opposed to ‘starting a business,’ how can you expect anyone else to believe it?
Change your choice of words when you’re out in the world. Talk about your company like it is a business, not like it’s about to be a business – “I’m trying to start a business” sounds noncommittal. Even if all you’ve done is print your own business cards, saying things like, “I own my own business,” or, “I have to get back to work,” will get the word out that you are serious.
- Reward yourself
On a weekly basis, ask yourself if you’ve really done anything worthy of a reward – something that will have a tangible impact on your business. Then choose your reward carefully and make it only as grand as the task completed.
- Be accountable
Find a partner, organisation or another business owner to hold you accountable. Whether you choose to buddy up with another business owner or be regularly accountable to a friend or family member, pick someone who won’t let you off the hook too easily.
- Predict the future
A sure way to determine if you are furthering your business is to look ahead. If you stay in the pencil-sharpening stage, where will your business be next week or next month? Chances are, you’ll be in debt. Guy Kawasaki, author of eight books, including The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries and How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, suggests that entrepreneurs use the following test to determine if what they are doing can be considered progress: “Would you call your spouse to tell him or her it’s done? For example, you wouldn’t call your spouse to [say] that you ordered stationery.” Do something today that makes you want to call home, and your odds of future business success increase dramatically. Or if negative motivation is more your style, picture your future if you don’t take some steps forward now.
- Remember your dream
When the going gets tough and it’s time to tackle those things outside your comfort zone, keeping your initial dream in mind might be the motivation you need. Changing goals and creating new dreams can keep your excitement as fresh as it was in the beginning.
- Do the hard stuff first
Emotion can kill a business before it even gets off the ground. Human nature dictates that we are first drawn to the things that bring us pleasure, and business tasks are no different. By getting distasteful responsibilities out of the way rather than avoiding them, we can more fully enjoy the other parts of business ownership.