Are you looking for the fast track to starting your business? You want to make sure you hit all the high points but don’t get bogged down in too many fine points that lead you nowhere, right? Then read this guide, and get your business running in no time.
The following topics are covered in this guide:
- Start with a viable idea
- Determine ownership
- Get the agreement in writing
- Name the business
- Think about the initial sales forecast
- Create an initial expense budget
- Estimate starting costs
- Plan your marketing strategy
- Develop your look and feel
- Start building your website
- Think about how you’re going to get paid
- Try making a sale
- Get an insurance policy
- Build your dream team
- Think about your business’s location
- Set up your accounts
- Create the legal documents
- Start hiring
- Get funding
- Think about opening day
- Start your business
1. Start with a viable idea
Start thinking about whether your core idea makes a viable business. How do you know? Well, honestly, you don’t always. It helps to take a step back, try to be honest and objective with yourself, and ask these questions:
- Does anybody need (or want) what we’re going to be selling? How bad is the need, or how much do they want it? Think about it in common sense terms. Vigorous market research will come later.
- Will they pay for it? While they say people will beat a path to your door for a better mousetrap, that’s not always true. Think about it in your case.
- Are they paying for something else, now, already? Can we go from that to honestly believing they’ll pay for what you’re going to offer?
- How will you focus? Do you have a strategy, or are you planning to do everything for everybody?
The answers to these questions may seem obvious, but the point of this exercise is to give yourself a reality check. Essentially, you’re asking whether there’s a market for your product or service. If you’re laying out a lot of money, and especially if that’s somebody else’s money (like investors), it’s worth it to do the background research.
2. Determine ownership
There are no formulas for ownership, and it may seem awkward at first, but if you’re partnering with someone, it’s a thousand times easier to do it now than to wait until after the money starts flowing.
Determine the percentage of ownership, who does what, whose idea it was and how much that matters. There are no formulas for ownership. The closest thing to it is money spent, especially if you add in time spent (so-called sweat equity) and work that into a money value.
It’s extremely hard to value the original idea – I say the idea has very little real value, because it’s the work that matters. You have to talk through this. For now, talk about it first, and leave it to settle for tomorrow. Now that you have mulled over the potential legal issues surrounding ownership, it’s time to get concrete. Today, get a draft of the agreement in writing.
3. Get the agreement in writing
We don’t mean go to the attorney, but we do mean write down the main points of your agreement with the other people involved.
You don’t need formal legal language. That will come later (actually, Step 17). What you want is a simple, plain agreement: Percentage of ownership, money invested, time invested and who owns what.
4. Name the business
That might be just using your own name, but usually it’s more than that, including not only coming up with the ideas, but also checking them for availability, and registering the name to make it legally yours.
You don’t have to make it final, at least not yet (you will later, Step 17 again). Start with the ideas, though, and start thinking about it.
Many people misunderstand what you can and can’t do with names. You can waste a lot of time with those misunderstandings. Some people dread the forecasting, but your business won’t succeed without it. How can you estimate expenses without knowing sales? How can you estimate your initial cash needs, as part of your starting costs, without knowing sales? A lot of people think sales forecasting is some highly sophisticated scientific thing they don’t know how to do.
5. Think about the initial sales forecast
Don’t worry; back here in the real world, a sales forecast is an educated guess. How can you forecast something brand new? Break it down into pieces. Lay it out onto a spreadsheet over 12 months and make your estimates for each month.
Think about how many tables, how many stalls, how many hours? How much per each? Multiply those units by the rands per unit, and you have a sales forecast. Like your sales forecast, lay out a spreadsheet with rows on the left, months along the columns and a sum at the bottom to come up with an initial expense budget. Think about rent, utilities, marketing costs and payroll.
6. Create an initial expense budget
Note: remember to include what you’re going to pay yourself.
7. Estimate starting costs
Start this with two simple lists: Expenses you’ll incur before you start, and the things (assets) you’ll need to have. Expenses are things like legal costs, fixing up the location, setting up your website and so on. Assets are the things (inventory) you’re going to sell.
The harder part is estimating how much money you need to have in the bank, to support the company through the normal drain period during the early cash-negative days.
You have to lay this out month by month, comparing your sales to your expenses, watching the way the money goes in and out. Remember, in most business-to-business settings, you have to wait to get paid.
Think about your target market. Imagine a hypothetical, ideal customer. Determine his or her age, gender, job, favourite media and family situation. It’s important to know your customer well.
8. Plan your marketing strategy
What’s your message? Can you say it in a single sentence? What if you have just one sentence that your customers will listen to? Where would you send that message? How would you reach them?
Think about your marketing strategy and implementation details. Take the time to go through a short but focused marketing plan to make sure you understand what it will take to market your business.
9. Develop your look and feel
Start developing a sense of the look and feel of your company as your buyers will see it. What will your logo look like? What sense will it have to convey? Old-fashioned? Trustworthy? Leading edge? Everybody has a brand. What will yours be? How will you get that idea across to customers and potential customers? Develop your look and feel with logos, signs, letterhead and graphic standards. These are your branding essentials, and you need to have them in place before you get much further.
10. Start building your website
Have you started your website already? Have you been thinking about it? Today’s the day to get going with that. If you’re building a Web 2.0 application or any website that’s core to your business, then you might have to settle for simply having begun by the end of the three weeks.
For most businesses, you can have a website built very quickly. Think about the basic elements of your website, and at least get a site up with basic information about you, your business, your products and your services.
These days there are some good shortcuts available: Take a look at TypePad, WordPress and blogger platforms, for example. These were built for blogging but can apply to many small sites, with little to no formatting work. Think about how your customers will pay you. If you’re going to be selling to consumers, then you probably want to establish a merchant account so you can accept credit cards.
Be warned – there are a few mistakes start-ups make when it comes to designing their websites. Find out more about them here.
11. Think about how you’re going to get paid
These days, because of the online suppliers, there are a lot more options. In the old days you had to go straight to your favourite bank, which had a detailed and time-consuming process.
These days, you have the option of setting yourself up with some web stores (like Amazon, Yahoo! and others) that can handle that part of it for you. If you’re selling to businesses, then think about invoices and credit policies for business customers. There’s no underestimating how important getting paid is.
12. Try making a sale
This is where you get to make sure that people want to buy what you’re selling. Even if you can’t make a sale, because things aren’t ready, talk somebody through it.Have you been able to make a sale yet? Maybe you should take today to peddle your goods. Even though you’re not fully established yet, lots of businesses (maybe most of them) start selling before they’re fully launched.
The selling will continue for as long as your business is open, but we wanted to include it here as well because so many businesses are born at the moment the first customer says “yes”.
13. Get an insurance policy
Take time to talk to an insurance broker and get your business insurance started. These days, you can do a lot of research or even do the whole thing online. And if not, remember the old-fashioned telephone style of finding the right people.
Talk to any insurance broker you can think of, ask some questions, and if he or she isn’t the right one, ask who else you should talk to. Find the right person by asking the wrong person who else you should talk to.
In the doing, you’ll find out what kinds of insurance are appropriate for the type of business you’re starting.
14. Build your dream team
Have you been thinking about how to build your team? Do you know the people you want to bring on? It’s time to start ironing down the team and the employees, and start the recruiting process. Depending on your specifics, you’ll probably need job descriptions, and you’ll need to place ads on the right websites.
Start thinking about your employee list. Who will you need to help you out when you actually open for business? Will it be just you and your business partner? Do you need to hire service people? Drivers? Designers?
To get started, take another look at the financial planning you did in steps 1-7, see who you can afford to hire and start looking. Most people know they’re either going to work out of their home or they know where their office will be. They’re considering the right location, how it should look, where it should be, what else is nearby, and so on.
15. Think about your business’s location
Even if it’s a home office, you’ve probably been thinking about it. Now’s the time to make sure you’re set up. Desk, computer, telephone, Internet, quiet if you need it, view or not, the whole nine yards.
For a retail shop, workshop or office space, if you haven’t done so already, start looking. It’s almost time to make a decision.
There are brokers to help, and they won’t charge you because they get their commission from the landlords (which you should keep in mind as you deal with them because it’s always good to remember who’s paying). Find a broker who’ll work with you; one who listens to you about what you want and don’t want.
Today take steps to establish the location, whether it’s simply adding desks and phones in your home office or making calls to revamp a restaurant or manufacturing plant. For some people and businesses, this takes more than three weeks. Sometimes you can’t even lock in the location you want in that time. But start planning the office space in which you want to work, as this can create the most lag time.
16. Set up your accounts
With some good accounting software, you can keep track of every transaction – every cheque, each invoice you receive and those you send out.
Keep careful track of spending and invoice categories, and before you know it, you’re doing the bookkeeping. The best way to choose your new accounting software is to check with your bank so your systems will be compatible.
That will save you endless frustration with inputting records.
17. Create the legal documents
Way back in Stage 1, you got together with the others involved and wrote down your agreements on who is supposed to own how much of the business, who does what and who is putting in how much money. And you started looking at possible names for the business. Today, get it locked in by creating the legal entity online talking to an attorney or both.
Do yourself a favour, though, before you start the attorney’s meter running: Make sure you understand the basic trade-offs, so you can spend the billable attorney time making the right choices, rather than just understanding the options. We don’t recommend setting up your business without an attorney (online or not), but if you get informed first, you’ll reduce the expense.
18. Start hiring
You’re nearing the end of your three-week start-up. Just three steps left, so if you’re going to have employees, it’s time to hire them or at least begin hiring. You started the recruiting process last week, so you should have some people in mind. Don’t do job interviews without first going over a simple review of what you can and can’t say.
A lot of what would at first glance seem like common sense is technically illegal. For example, you’re not supposed to ask someone his or her age or marital status because that information can lead to the appearance or suspicion of discrimination.
19. Get funding
This is another one that depends on the details. It can be as easy as deciding to spend a few thousand rands you already have or as hard as raising millions of rands from professional investors.
Your simple start-up, involving a home office and a computer, might need nothing more than what you can get at a retailer like Dion or Makro in an afternoon.
If you have to raise more money than you have, you need to write a detailed business plan, find potential investors and do a lot more work. If you’re looking for professional investment, you almost certainly won’t get that in three weeks (although there are some rare exceptions). You can still get your business going with the money you can get quickly so that you look that much more attractive to investors.
20. Think about opening day
This should be fun: Imagine the big party, the searchlights beaming into the sky, a brass band. Well maybe not all that, but opening day is a good event to start your business marketing right.
Plan your opening day and make sure everyone knows about it. Write a press release, talk to local or trade reporters and generally let people know about your business. You want to build buzz so that when you open, people are aware of you.
You’re up and running, and in 21 steps, just as we had hoped. That makes today the first day of the rest of your business. Today you’ll want to take another day to make the sale.
21. Start your business
Focus today and see how many customers you can get in the door, figuratively or literally, depending on your business. On your first day, remember to observe what’s going right, what’s going wrong and to note what could be better.
Your business will quickly become different from what you expected, and that’s OK. The key is to record what’s different and why, and make course corrections. In the real world, your planning should become management. So review your plan vs. actual frequently, and run your business better.
Selling The Dream
When you’re starting a business, the secret to success is getting everyone — from customers to suppliers — buying into your vision.
I started a company in 2016 offering road building in residential areas for local municipalities. I realised that there is too much risk involved and I do not have the capital to purchase machinery. The overheads are also too high. I feel more comfortable supplying municipalities with commodities. I have been in sales and have good people skills and sales experience. However, I’m struggling to get a foot in the door. Manufacturers are reluctant to give me a credit advance. As a result, I had to let go of many opportunities. How do I overcome this obstacle? — Martin
I can only speak from my own experience selling to municipalities. I did it once, successfully. This is how I did it:
- I convinced the municipality to roll out public WiFi in low-income communities.
- The municipality awarded me a contract.
- With that contract in hand I shopped around to find a company that I could sub-contract. That company had to take a risk that the municipality would pay me, and I would in turn pay him. I had to take the risk that the sub-contractor wouldn’t deliver the goods.
- I found a sub-contractor.
- We deployed the WiFi.
- The municipality paid its bills.
- There was never a hint of corruption.
In retrospect I realise I was the beneficiary of a succession of benevolent miracles.
Miracle No. 1: Meeting a political leader that shared my vision and was competent.
Miracle No. 2: Getting a legitimate contract out of a municipality.
Miracle No. 3: Finding a sub-contractor I could trust, and that trusted me.
Miracle No. 4: Successfully working with the municipality to fulfil the contract.
Miracle No. 5: Getting paid by the municipality.
Miracle No. 6: Avoiding corruption.
If you believe in miracles, keep going. If you’re slightly more risk-averse (or less desperate) than I was, then rather don’t target municipalities to build your business.
You’ll note that I solved the supplier credit problem by finding a sub-contractor that trusted me. That’s the only way to do it. Not only do you have to sell the dream to the customer, you must sell the dream to the supplier. I recommend reading Shoe Dog, the story of Phil Knight and Nike.
I want to start a business, but I don’t know how to approach my local bank or investors, probably because I don’t have any experience in the business field. I am currently in a full-time job and holding on to the security of the monthly salary (which I know is wrong) but I have responsibilities. How do I break out? — Lorenzo
First, the security of a monthly salary is under-rated. Don’t be so quick to wish it away! Of course, a salary is a long-term dead-end. When you’re forced to retire at 65, you’re likely to be staring at 35 years of supporting yourself and your family relying on pension and savings alone. Assuming they don’t retrench you before age 65.
Be grateful for a salary, but be on the look-out for a way to make a living on your own terms.
That way you will learn skills that can be used after forced-retirement age, and even more important, you will be able to keep yourself busy rather than spending your old age pottering around the house in boredom and driving your significant other mad.
Forget about banks and investors. If you want to start a business, you must do it without ‘other people’s money’. Find a problem in your industry, solve that problem, get paid for solving the problem. Repeat.
Ideally find a like-minded colleague that you trust, pool your efforts and partner to find a way to make a living in your own business. Partnership massively de-risks entrepreneurship.
Related: Pay Your Dues Before Raising Capital
Alan Knott-Craig’s latest book, 13 Rules for being an Entrepreneur is now available.
What it’s about
It’s easy to be an entrepreneur. It’s also easy to fail. What’s hard is being a successful entrepreneur. For an entrepreneur, there is only one important metric of success: Money. But life is not only about making money. It’s about being happy. This book is a collection of tips and wisdom that will help you make money without forgoing happiness.
Get it now
To download the free eBook or purchase a hard copy, go to www.13rules.co.za. To browse Alan’s other books, visit bigalmanack.com/books/
5 Lessons To Follow As You Take Your Product To Market
Don’t overly complicate things when launching your business. Instead, follow this advice from a successful entrepreneur so you’ll do things right.
When launching a new business, product, or service, the most common mistake entrepreneurs make is trying to do too many things at once in the belief that going to market with “more” is better.
It isn’t. During your initial launch period, or when relaunching new products or services, “more” means additional risk. More also means unnecessary complexity, as well as additional time to market, so more capital will be required.
Below are some important things to remember as you prepare to take your product to market:
1. Don’t try to build Rome in a day
I have a good friend who raised $2 million in a very tough market to start a consumer internet business. Finding that much money to start a new business was amazing, and I congratulated him on a big win. He was ecstatic and told me he couldn’t wait to get to work on the site.
One year later, I ran into him again and asked how it was going. He sang the blues. He said he was doing terribly. In fact, he was on his way to his attorney’s office to shut the company down. They had launched a few months before but had already run out of money. I asked how that was possible, and he talked about his big vision, how his company aimed to provide everything their target customer could possibly want to buy in the category. Their goal was to be a one-stop shop. He and his team invested all their time and money building something big and comprehensive, confident their target customer wouldn’t want to go anywhere else once their website was up and running.
When the company got started, they were solving one problem for one target customer. It was a simple concept. But when the money came in, everyone started working on other “great ideas” and “shiny objects.” They kept building and building and building. They went from solving one problem for one very specific target customer to building a one-stop shop that did a lot of things for a lot of different people. Then they started running low on cash, so they decided to push the product out.
After the launch, they learned, much to their surprise, that about 95 percent of their users used just 5 percent of the site! And that 5 percent was the original product to solve the original problem.
So that means 95 percent of the time and money invested was essentially wasted. What can you learn from this?
2. Focus on one thing, the simplest thing
When kicking off a new product or service, put all your energy and focus into that product or service. Focus on one thing at a time. It shouldn’t be the hardest thing; it should be the simplest, what we’ll call the minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP provides the opportunity to learn the most about your customers, with the least amount of time, money and effort.
The MVP puts you in a position to go to market quickly, collect valuable feedback and not waste time building things customers don’t want. This strategy significantly mitigates your risk and helps avoid the trap my friend fell into. Remember, Amazon started just as an online bookseller.
3. Follow the 85-percent rule: Good is good enough
Striving for perfection is the enemy of any product launch. As a rule of thumb, when the new business or product is 85 percent of the way there, you’re ready to go. In my experience, the level of effort required to reach 100 percent isn’t worth the additional time and expense at this stage. You’d be much better off getting something into the market and beginning to test.
4. Be great at collecting, and learning from, feedback
Once you’ve launched, listen to and learn from your users. Develop feedback loops to learn everything you possibly can.
- What do users like and dislike about the product or service?
- What features would they like to see added to enhance their experience?
- Which features don’t work or generate little interest?
Do whatever you have to do to engage with your users. That may include offering incentives to get feedback on surveys or in focus groups, reaching out on social media, or generating outbound calls to learn more.
The hardest part of this process for many entrepreneurs is to be completely receptive to what customers tell you. Given your passion and all the time you’ve spent on the project, you may not want to hear negative feedback. You may be inclined to think the customer just doesn’t get it. But feedback is the most valuable tool you have as an entrepreneur. So listen, consider, and use what you learn to iterate, improve, or even throw out some of what you have built or planned.
5. Avoid the shiny ball syndrome
As you start developing your MVP, you must fight “feature creep” at every step. You, your team, partners, and everyone else you share your vision with will have ideas about what should be added. While many of them will sound good at the time, they are instead shiny objects that distract you.
Your job is to stay focused on one thing, get it to market and then deliver the next thing. By focusing on one thing at a time, you can get to market quickly, learn a great deal about your product or service from actual customers and make changes based on their feedback And if your launch doesn’t fly, you have significantly mitigated your risk.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Launch An Online Coaching Business
Cut through the noise and create a viral product.
Work from home? Control your own schedule? Impact people across the world with your product or service?
Internet marketing is on the rise for a reason. It gives you the ability to scale your business to a global level without forfeiting your personal freedom. Still, there’s one question that still prevents entrepreneurs from entering the online space: “Is it really possible to make a living off the internet?”
Not only is it possible, it’s lucrative when done correctly. We live in the Golden Age of internet marketing. Thanks to social media, everyone can get in front of a camera and pitch their idea to the masses. Good enough, right?
Not quite. These days a big idea will only get you started; it’s what you do to bundle and package that idea that matters. Here are the three steps you need to take to launch a profitable online business.
Flesh out your idea
Of course, before you create your product, you need an idea. Your idea must solve a specific problem that a specific group of people face. Make sure you establish that before you move forward.
Now, before you begin creating your product, you need to write your sales copy. Your sales copy (or sales video, if that’s what you prefer) should be enticing enough to take prospects from “I’m interested in this” to “I need to buy this now.”
Related: Paddy Upton: People Centred Coaching
But, why write your sales copy before creating your product? Too many entrepreneurs write copy that promises a lot but delivers next to nothing. When you write your copy before creating your product, you build the blueprint to create a product that satisfies your customers’ needs –without overpromising.
Your sales copy should address the prospect’s problem, explain how your product is the solution to that problem, and include a list of bullet points that summarise the benefits of your product. Make sure you nail the first 500 words – easily the most read section of your sales copy. Finally, always create a sense of urgency or people at home won’t be motivated to buy your product.
People always ask me, “Well, what if I’m not a good writer?” That’s OK. Just say your pitch out loud, record it and send it to an online transcribing service. For a relatively inexpensive price, you’ll get your sales copy written out for you. Just review it, copy it and paste it to your website and boom – there’s your sales copy!
Build the “know, love and trust” factor
Most people believe you need to sell prospects first, then deliver results. But, what if you flip it? It’s much easier to sell someone once they know, love and trust you as an authority in your space, rather than selling them on your product before they even know if you can deliver the results you’re promising.
That’s why the most successful internet marketers – including myself – give away boatloads of free content via blogs and videos. Granted, the stuff we give away for free could easily be packaged together into a high-priced course, but that would be short-sighted. You don’t want prospects to buy from you once and move on – you want them to become long-term paying clients.
See, you deliver free quality content to your prospects, then they take it and implement it into their businesses. They start to see results in advance, which leads them to trust you more and more. Soon, they begin to crave more knowledge from you, and their willingness to pay for your products and services increases.
Eventually those prospects become your most loyal clients. They buy your front-end products, your upsells and your flagship products – all of which I’ll get to in just a second. But, before you get that far, make sure your prospects know, love and trust you before you worry about selling them anything.
Create your front-end product and upsells
Once your copy is written and you’re building the know, love and trust factor, your next move is to create a front-end product – a product that’s easy to sell. This could be an ebook, a membership site or a course that comes with follow-along videos.
Now, you might be tempted to charge a high price for that product. Here’s the thing: Most of the money is made on the back end. I’ll talk more about this in a second, but for now just remember that the front-end product is not the final product you’re really trying to sell them. I – along with many of my fellow internet marketers – don’t mind breaking even or losing money on front-end products because I know I’ll more than make my money back with my flagship product.
Instead, your aim should be to use that front-end product to upsell them instead. So, after they purchase your front-end product, offer them three different upsells. An upsell is a higher-priced product or service you offer a customer after they’ve bought something from you. These upsells should be done-for-you, and they should enhance the front-end product by making it easier to understand or more efficient at getting results.
Why are upsells so important? Besides adding value to your front-end product, you’ll be able to recruit more affiliates to promote your business. An affiliate promotes your product to their own audience for a commission fee. If you make money through upsells, affiliates will choose to work with your business over your competitors because you can pay them higher commissions. The payoff? You get more traffic going to your webpage and ultimately more bottom line revenue.
Move them to your flagship product
That’s how you set up the front end of your online business. But, what about the back end? Remember I said that most of your money will be made on the back end and not the front end?
That’s why you need a flagship product to pitch your clients once they’re done with your front-end product. But, what in the world does a flagship product look like?
It could be high-end coaching sessions. It could be a spot in your exclusive mastermind group. It could even be a suite of software that teaches them everything they need to know about their industry. The front-end product is a way to get your clients through the door; your back-end product is the money-maker product, the one they’re more likely to buy once they’ve already purchased something from you.
I’ll give you an example. People will often find my products online. Usually when they finish using those products, they’re still hungry for more knowledge and advice. At this point, they’re considered qualified leads for my mastermind program, so we make sure they know about that programme and how to become a member of it.
That leaves you with one problem: How do you send marketing emails to every single person that buys your front-end product/upsells? It’s basically impossible, unless you’re in front of your computer screen 24/7 (which I’m sure you’re not). Fear not, because it’s actually easy to do when you use an auto-responder system to send out all those emails on your behalf.
It’s simple: When your clients purchase your front-end product, the system automatically sends them emails from you. That way, you can build a sequence where you give away even more of your best free content before sending them an offer for your flagship product. By the time they get to your flagship product, they’ll be so confident in your expertise and results that they happily pay the higher price for your higher level of service.
That’s the simple science behind converting your prospects into clients, and your clients into fiercely loyal clients. It’s how you sell your highest-priced online programmes without running into any of the typical sales objections. Follow these three steps and start building your own online business empire today.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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