1. Is your idea viable?
You may think you have a great idea, but will you really have enough customers to make the business thrive? You can and should think about it very carefully, but there is actually only one way to find out: test the market by selling a few, even if they are prototypes, or, in the case of a service, even if you have to do the job after hours.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that the first thing to do is to write a business plan or to register a company. It is not. The first step is to test the market by selling something.
2. Identify your market segment
Don't try to be everything to everybody. Create your ideal customer in your mind, and also clarify who you will NOT be selling to. A Mercedes Benz dealership won't sell enough if it markets to young people, and a take-away outlet next to a taxi rank won't work if it tries to sell expensive gourmet food. If you fail to segment your market, you are going to waste a lot of time and money talking to the wrong kind of customer.
3. Become an expert in your field
If you seem to know your business, customers will feel comfortable and secure doing business with you. Blog, write articles and comment on social media about your product and service. Don't just be another barista, for example, be a coffee expert. Read up about it, research it, and become a guru.
Of course, you don't have to wait until you are an expert before starting your business. Start, and grow your knowledge and reputation from day one.
4. Learn to speak “accounting”
Don't be intimidated by the terminology and language of investors, financiers and accountants. The concepts they deal with are pure common sense which anyone can understand. Google unfamiliar terms, read accounting-made-easy books, do a little course or ask friends and family.
If you leave your business in the hands of the accounting and finance experts without understanding what they do, chances are that they will clean you out, because the unscrupulous ones can.
5. From the start, always market and sell
You can do everything right, but if you do not sell, you will have no business. Don't worry if you are not a born salesman, or if you don't like selling. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more your business will thrive.
6. A strong network is invaluable
Your network of friends, family and acquaintances can play a key role in the success of your start-up. It is a rich source of referrals, new business, marketing, advice, finance and support, but it doesn't happen automatically. Entrepreneurs have to activate and build out their networks through conscious and systematic effort.
The best networkers seek out social engagements, events, and membership of associations and clubs in order to spread the word about their ventures.
Giving to your network in the form of advice, new business and referrals is also important. These are investments that can yield rich rewards for your start-up.
7. Develop an “elevator pitch” and use it often
Being able to explain what it is that your business does and why it is better than its competitors in less than a minute is a powerful marketing tool. It also helps to keep you focused on the core activities and strengths of your business so that it becomes easier for you to say no to distractions.
Write down your elevator pitch, practice it and teach it to your staff and associates.
8. Earn trust
It is difficult for start-up businesses to earn trust, because by definition the operation is unpractised and prone to many beginner mistakes. You also may have to “fake it”, pretending to be more substantial than you really are, within reason and ambit of the law, in order to win business with which you can prove your worth.
The answer to building trust lies in an approach that combines several principles, including taking care not to take on too much work, under-promising and over-delivering rather than the other way around, and quick and open communication with your clients about any mistakes.
9. Manage your cash flow
If you run out of cash, your business will die, even if you have major sales in the pipeline. Retain as much cash as you can in your business by controlling expenses, invoicing promptly and making sure your clients pay on time, and by constantly remaining aware of your bank balance and cash-flow forecast.
10. Do it right from the start
Starting a business is such an overwhelming experience that it can seem almost impossible to stick to all your industry's regulations and formal record-keeping requirements. So many more urgent issues crop up that it is easy to neglect compliance, but in the long run it is actually easier to do it right from the start. When the business really starts taking off, a compliance back-log can cause serious problems.
11. Look the part
You set the tone for your business, and if you pay scant attention to the dress code and bearing in your business, so will your staff. Dress appropriately so that you project professionalism and so that customers, suppliers and workers can see that you mean business.
12. Develop a thorough business plan
An effective business plan is not one that is written for an investor, but for yourself and your team. It is short, clear, centred around the financials and, above all, up to date with the latest developments in your business.
13. Keep your passion alive
Building a business is too difficult an undertaking for someone who is not excited by it. Losing interest, becoming bored with it, or succumbing to its tedium are all dangers to the survival of your start-up. You have to work on keeping yourself motivated so that the stresses and strains of starting up does not lead to burn-out.
If you can remain passionate about your business, you will find not only that you retain your energy during the tough start-up years, but that it also rubs off on others.
You are going to have to get used to long working hours, very few days off, lots of fighting setbacks and fixing mistakes, little money, and the word “no”. It is a marathon during which you will experience some hard falls. Get up, dust yourself off, and continue. Remember that it does get easier over time, and that the results can be the most rewarding of any career.
15. Have fun
Yes, even something as challenging as starting a business can be a joyful experience. Having fun is more of a mindset and a conscious decision than you might think.