If it’s your dream to become and entrepreneur, you’ve come to the right place. While the Internet is a wonderful resource for research, the sheer volume of information can leave you feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start. So here is your comprehensive guide of how to start a small business, step by step.
Starting a Small Business – Step 1: Talk to small business owners
When you think ‘entrepreneur’, you think Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Mark Shuttleworth and Zuckerberg. These are big names, even bigger personalities and industry giants. So it is natural for someone wanting to start their own business to be a little intimidated. This is why it’s a very good idea, once you’ve decided to start a small business, to get talking with as many small business owners as you can.
You needn’t confine your conversations to those operating businesses similar to your idea – the more people you talk to, the better idea you’ll have of the basic skills required, some of the common challenges faced by small business owners, what to look out for, how to deal with problems, and developing a network of entrepreneurs you can turn to for encouragement, advice, and guidance.
A small business owner needs to match their passion with their skill set
Once you’ve spent time talking with small business owners, you’ll have a pretty good idea that although the challenges are great and stress can run high, a successful small business is also extremely rewarding and fulfilling. What you’ll also have found is that the very successful small business owners you’ve spoken to haven’t achieved their success by accident: They will have identified their character strengths, skill sets and personal interests, and rolled them up in to a business that harnesses these strengths. And this is what you should do too before you even get started.
It doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of high school, college, a housewife, are working for a corporate, have been retrenched, aren’t ready to retire, or just want to be your own boss. Take the time to match your passion with your skill set. Do you love people and have HR experience? Do you love restoring classic cars and have experience in sales? These are clear matches, but even those that seem less obvious at first can be paired up to form a business. Successful entrepreneurship is about having a passion and living it every day. If, however, you find you’re passionate about something but lack the necessary skills or depth of knowledge, your next step is to up-skill.
Get skilled: Attend a small business course
The business environment is a highly competitive one. Even if your business idea is revolutionary and nothing like it exists on the market, it won’t stay that way for long (especially if it’s a great idea!). Secondly, a great idea is nothing unless it can be set in motion and for this to happen you need to have the right skills. This is where up-skilling comes in: It can be as simple as day to day Internet research to gain more knowledge about an industry or skill, taking on an apprenticeship or shadowing, attending a short or part-time course, to enrolling in a degree or MBA.
Here are some tips for getting started on up skilling:
- Critically assess your business idea for the skills needed to make it work. Then critically assess yourself and ask others who know you well what skills you should improve on.
- Then allocate time to develop these skills. Be realistic about what you can achieve on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Over committing yourself can lead to fatigue, burnout and a sense of defeat.
- Network. You can learn a lot from people already in the know. They’ve accumulated valuable time and experience and can help you avoid wasting time and energy in the wrong direction.
- If you’re still feeling like a qualification is needed, get researching to see what courses are available that best suit your time and wallet.
- Keep an eye on the bigger picture. If you spend all your time on up-skilling rather than getting your business off the ground, it defeats the object of up-skilling. Learn just enough to get you going, to know when you’re going wrong, and let the business and the industry inform you of where you have further skills strengths or gaps.
Write a plan for your small business
No matter what your goals are, without a plan a goal is just a dream.
- Step one is to pinpoint your business purpose. Assess why you want to start a business – do you want a business that will suit your lifestyle, give you financial independence, for additional income, to change up an industry, to sell to the highest bidder, to capitalise on an untapped market, to be your own boss, to help create jobs and uplift your community? Once you know the answer to this question you can plan your business goals accordingly.
- Step two is to get to work on a business plan. You’ll find a template for a business plan here. Writing a business plan can seem like a daunting task, but without one, you’re jeopardising your businesses chances of survival and your investment. So what is it? It’s fundamentally the blueprint for your business. And while you don’t have to have a comprehensive business plan from the start, you need at least some elements thought out and planned, and then set about modifying the blueprint as the business evolves. Your plan should summarise what you intend to sell, to whom (including how big this market is and what their profile looks like), how much it will cost you to get going and run, how much you can sell the product or service for, who your competition is (their number, strengths and weaknesses included), who you will need to help run the business and what skills they need (will they be temp, part-time, full-time, outsourced?), what your projected sales and margins are, how you intend to market your product or service, and how you plan to operate and grow.
Stress test your small business idea
You’ll only know the strengths and weaknesses of your business idea if you put them to the test. A stress test, by definition is simulating stressors to see how something reacts and performs. In business, these stressors can be financial, by changes in the industry and target market etc.
Ways to stress test your idea is to walk through the entire process detail by detail to find gaps or weaknesses in the processes, to pinpoint who your best and worst customers would be, to analyse your marketing campaigns and any mistakes you might make, to meet with advisors for an outside perspective, to cut costs and see how the business performs, and set ambitious goals as these will not only help you determine what your business can tolerate, but can help you keep a competitive advantage.
Starting a small business = A slow transition
Starting a business can seem like a risky move, particularly when you have a secure salary as an employee. While many entrepreneurs decide to dive straight into their new businesses by resigning from their jobs, this isn’t the only way. It’s possible to start a business of part-time while still employed. This route requires a lot of energy and discipline as you juggle responsibilities, and you must manage your expectations by understanding that a part-time business will take longer to reach its stride than a business you devote your full attention to. Many companies support employees working toward their own business goals provided it’s doesn’t impact on the hours and productivity you’re hired for, so it’s advisable to inform your employer of your intentions.
Know about legal agreements
In keeping with the transition from employee to entrepreneur, take a careful look at your terms and conditions of employment such as confidentiality clauses, non-compete clauses, and intellectual property agreements. The fastest way to end your entrepreneurial dreams is to come into conflict with the law and find yourself in court and/or bankrupt.
Have money in the bank
While many businesses can start with very little capital and run with low overheads, the rule of thumb is that a business can take up to three years to breakeven and see a return on investment capital. This means that while you may not need much to get started, you will need enough capital saved up to have working capital, kick start your cash flow, have emergency funds for repairs or purchases, and keep up with personal expenses like rent or a bond, school fees, medical aid etc.
Small business owners need to reduce personal expenses
Having said you need to have enough funds for business and personal expenses until breakeven, it’s advisable for would-be entrepreneurs to scale back their personal and business expenses as much as possible to reduce the pressure on the business. Making sacrifices to discretionary spending and scaling back on living expenses also applies to members of your family, which can cause tension and conflict. Make sure everyone understands the purpose of reducing expenses to minimise conflict and help motivate saving.
How Small Businesses Can Give Back Without Breaking The Bank
If you are not sure how to start giving back, below are some top tips on how to do just that… without breaking the bank.
As a small business owner, you might think that charitable giving is impossible on your small budget. But, this is not true. You can donate to a charity or contribute to a fundraiser, even if you have a startup or small business budget. You just have to be creative about it.
In today’s world, more and more consumers care deeply about social causes, which means that you need to seek ways to incorporate giving back into your business strategy. If you are not sure how to start giving back, below are some top tips on how to do just that… without breaking the bank.
Encourage your team to volunteer
You will see many calls from charities, such as MSF, to donate time and resources. One way to give back without breaking the bank is by encouraging your team to volunteer and offering paid time off as an incentive for them to volunteer at a charity.
You can give your employees a specific amount of time each month or quarter for volunteer work, and you will soon notice morale improving. It will also increase your community involvement and visibility in your community. You will have to ask your team which days they would prefer to volunteer, as many people might prefer the weekend over a Monday or other weekday.
Use your talents
Giving back does not always have to mean making a monetary donation. You can use the talents of the people in your business to give back to clients, or you can offer your services pro bono to charities that could use them.
For example, if you are a marketing agency, you can offer to upgrade a charity’s website or write content for their social media pages. If you are a financial business, offer a free day of accounting services to a charity that desperately needs some bookkeeping help.
Using your talents costs you nothing but can help to make a significant impact on the cause that is closest to your heart.
Set up a collection jar in the office
If you have chosen a charity, such as MSF to donate to, it can be difficult to find the funds in a small business. A simple but effective way to collect some funds is to set up a collection jar in the office for employees to contribute to.
Be sure that your collection jar is placed in a high traffic area of the office, such as in the kitchen or on the way to the coffee machine. You can make it fun by running a competition of who can donate the most and offering a prize, or you could ask those who bring in their own lunches to donate what they would have spent on purchasing a lunch that day. Be sure that your staff never feel forced into giving a large amount of money, but remind them the jar is for a good cause.
Launch a charity drive
If money and time are in short supply in your small business, you can still give back by launching a charity drive. You can collect anything from books and clothes for children, tinned food and bedding for an animal shelter or even tinned goods for a soup kitchen.
Be sure to choose a charity that everyone in your office agrees with supporting, otherwise it will be difficult to encourage everyone to take part. Take it one step further and ask your local community to contribute to your charity drive. Set up a place in your office where people can drop items off and offer them a thank you card or note so that they feel appreciated. Make posts on your social media platforms before, during and after the drive, and ensure that you share photographs of your company donating the goods to your chosen charity.
Use your voice
If you know about a cause, such as the outbreak of Ebola in the DRC in 2017, then as a business you can use your voice to make people aware of it. You can create a social media campaign for a charity or join in their advocacy, lobbying, letter writing, and other efforts.
By adding your voice to theirs, their cause becomes louder and it is likely that more people will be interested in donating to them. For example, you could set up a Facebook page for your local animal shelter and create informative posts about pet health for their followers to share. Or you could post blogs to your company website detailing the needs of a local homeless shelter and how people can help them.
You do not have to stick with monetary donations when helping a charity, although these are much appreciated. You can look for creative ways to give back without breaking the bank. As a small business, it is important to build your presence with consumers, and helping a charity is an effective way to do so.
You can encourage your team to volunteer, use your skills to help your chosen cause or you could set up a collection jar in the office. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is creative and in line with what your employees can achieve.
The Importance Of Training In A Small Business
Having happy and satisfied employees is great for business and will put you two steps ahead of your competition.
As a small business owner, you might not think that training your staff is as important as it would be in a larger company. This is where you are wrong. A small business is still a business and, in order to be successful, you will need to have staff that understand their roles and their responsibilities completely.
They should also be trained in other aspects that do not relate to their position, such as computer literacy and general administrative duties. Skills development facilitation is an effective way to ensure that your employees perform to their highest levels and feel appreciated and valued in your company.
It can help to address weaknesses
While you are not trying to make your employees feel bad about their performances, training programmes can help them (and yourself as the business owner) to address any weaknesses they might have.
By addressing these weaknesses, you can find ways to improve their skills, such as sending them on computer courses or communication courses. Training your staff also allows everyone to be elevated to the same level of competency, making for a more productive and proficient business. Any employees who feel they have weaknesses will be able to improve their skills and reach the same level as the other employees.
Employee performance will improve
If weaknesses and shortcomings are addressed during skills development facilitation courses, this will obviously help to improve your employees’ overall performance levels. You should be sure to send employees on relevant courses that are targeted to their roles and responsibilities so their departments can improve too.
Your staff might be feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed, and a training programme can help to improve their confidence and performance. Improved employee performance is a huge positive for a small business, as it will mean a faster turn-around time and projects being met on-time and within the client budget. Training your staff in their areas of expertise is a sure-fire way to boost their confidence and performance levels.
It can provide direction
If you have a department that is not operating at its full capacity, then a training programme might be the perfect tool to help this department reach its full potential and find direction. Having direction when working in a small business is vital to any employee, as it helps them to be productive and reach business goals.
You can choose from a range of skills to train your staff in, such as computer skills or office administration skills, targeting a certain department that might help with direction in their work. Skills development facilitation can also help those employees who are not sure of their roles or whose skills are too “general” to fit into one department.
If you only have a few employees, sending them on training courses can help to show them what roles and responsibilities in the company are.
Training provides consistency
Sending your employees on skills programmes will ensure that everyone who works in your business has the same level of experience and expertise. This consistency is particularly important when it comes to policies and procedures, as all employees need to be aware of the expectations and procedures within the company.
Putting all staff members through the same basic training will ensure that everyone has the same exposure to every department, which can help the office run smoothly and improve employee relations. Having consistency in your office means that everyone is operating at the same levels and that your business is able to finish projects at a much quicker rate than before the training. Be sure that you also look into more targeted courses for your different departments.
It gives you an edge on the competition
Human capital and skills can help a small business to get an edge on the competition. This is especially true if your entire workforce has been trained in their fields and has received the same training across the board.
Having an edge on the competition is not only beneficial to you as the business owner, but will help your staff to have a sense of pride in their work and can even help to retain your talented employees. Being able to outdo your competitors relies heavily on the abilities of your employees, which means that you should take your training programmes seriously. If you want to be a success, put the needs of your staff first and see how quickly your business improves.
Happy employees means better business
Sending your employees on training programmes can help immensely with job performance, employee retention, office consistency and addressing any weaknesses there might be. Your employees will feel valued and respected, which, in turn, will improve their loyalty to your company and help with quicker turnaround times.
What Presentation Skills Do Small Business Owners Need?
Presentations are vital to small business owners who want to attract and retain new clients, so if you are looking to improve your skills in the area, read on below for some simple presentation tips and a list of presentation skills that every business owner should have.
Being a small business owner means that you need to be confident in yourself and in your abilities. But, when it comes to business presentations, this confidence often fizzles out and is replaced with nerves and anxiety. Presentations are vital to small business owners who want to attract and retain new clients, so if you are looking to improve your skills in the area, read on below for some simple presentation tips and a list of presentation skills that every business owner should have.
The ability to think strategically
Rather than thinking of your presentation as a simple set of Powerpoint slides, you should think of it as part of your marketing efforts. This means that you will need to have the ability to think strategically about your presentation.
Every time you prepare your presentation, you should have this structure in mind before you go up to speak:
- What do I want people to remember at the end of my presentation?
- What is the next step my audience should take once I am finished?
- How can I gain my audience’s trust?
Gaining your audience’s trust is vital to the success of any presentation, as it allows them to immerse themselves in the presentation, which makes it easier for you to create a cohesive marketing strategy based off of this presentation. You already know your ideas will be accepted and appreciated.
Control over body language
Being able to control your body language in a stressful situation is key to any presentation success. Many presentation tips include taking a deep breath before going onto the stage, to quell any nerves, and practising in front of a mirror for a week before the big day to see if you have any nervous tics that you need to control.
Nervous tics can include anything from playing with your hair, tapping your fingers on a nearby surface, crossing and uncrossing your arms and other such anxious movements. If you are giving a presentation, these tics can become distracting to the audience, so you need to be able to control your body language in order to appear calm, cool and collected in front of your audience.
Strong communication skills
Standing up in front of a group of people can be nerve-wracking and this can lead you to forget your speech and fumble over your words, leading to a disappointing presentation. You will need to build up your communication skills by practising your speech or presentation regularly before you step up on stage, so be sure that you have clearly outlined notes to read from.
However, there is a bit more to it than simply memorising a script. In order to remember your material and make it ‘flow’ naturally, you will need to understand the information you are trying to communicate, including the following:
- The information you want to cover in your presentation, including statistics
- The flow or sequence of the material you are speaking on
- The goal of the presentation
- Any questions your audience might ask
Understanding the material will help you to remember it and explain it to anyone who might have questions. Speak as though you are speaking to a friend and you will find that your presentation builds a natural flow all on its own.
A charismatic presence
While this is more of a personality trait, having a presence is vital to the success of any client or conference presentation. Building your presence before your presentation will ensure that it is a success and that you leave your audience satisfied and their interests in your company piqued.
Having a charismatic presence means that you are able to express vision and give people a reason to be inspired by your presentation. You can achieve this by speaking about your success in terms that are transferable to others, such as providing tips on how to start your own business or providing relatable advice for entrepreneurs who have hit a rough patch in their business. Be sure that you do not use too much jargon, as this will diminish your presence and make you seem un-relatable.
Presentation tips for success
There is nothing more embarrassing than falling up or down the stairs so it is important that you know your venue before you set up your presentation. Ask the venue owners if you can have some time a day or two before you are presenting so you can familiarise yourself with the entrances, exits, where the podium is and how the sound and projector system works.
Too many people use slides to read their presentation off of rather than using them to augment their speech. When you put slides together, think like an artist and use them to show graphs, visuals and key points rather than having your entire speech on them, word for word. Your audience will appreciate a visually creative display rather than a boring slideshow with of your notes.
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