- Have an honest conversation with yourself: Starting a business is hard. You are going to make many mistakes. Things are going to go wrong that are beyond your control.
It will be very lonely at times. Self doubt is unavoidable. Are you ok with all of this? Do you have the passion and perseverance to keep going, even when things go wrong? If so fantastic, because you will likely achieve a sense of accomplishment you've never before felt. If not, this could be a rough journey.
- Figure out your value proposition: Whether you're selling a product or a service you provide, you should put some thought into what is you are offering and why it's different and better than what's already out there. This will help you materially with step #2 (and, if you find this really hard to do, will give you an indication of whether your idea has legs.)
- Find a paying customer: There are tons of lists to help you get started with a business and I'm astounded by how many jump right to a business plans, licenses, or incorporation. For the vast majority of new businesses, that's a waste of time and money.
You should spend as little money as possible on a new business until you get your first paying customer.
Most of the successful small businesses we have met say the same thing -- they had their first customer before they had a "business."
There are a lot of people out there who will try to sell you business supplies and services. Ignore them until you have money coming in the door.
- Take advantage of social networking: Reach out to your family, friends, peers and business associates. Let them know what you're up to. Tell them your pitch (your value proposition.) Ask them for help. Most of your initial sales will likely come through word of mouth and referrals, so get that network working for you. Utilize websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more exposure.
- Delight every customer: Happy customers are the greatest sales and marketing solution of all time – they can do a better job of selling a new client than you can. Keep your customers happy, absorb the cost of turning an unhappy customer to an evangelist, and when possible, over-deliver.
- Set up a website, or better, a blog to serve as your website: The Yellow Pages are so last century. Nowadays, if you want to be found, you need to be on the web. But a word of caution – you don't need to spend much money on it.
Get a free or cheap hosting option. Make sure it has the most critical information -- your value proposition and a way to contact you. One useful tip: if you put a "contact us" form on the site; you will get many more inquiries than if you just put a phone number or email address.
- Track your business income, and especially, expenses: Being organized about your finances will save a lot of time come tax time. Plus, business ownership presents many opportunities to write off expenses. You don't want to miss any for being disorganized.
- Work from home: Technology has evolved to the stage where you can be productive from anywhere. So avoid the extra costs of an office and work from home.
You can write off a percentage of your home expenses if you use the space exclusively for businesses. If you need to meet with clients, use coffee shops (ask anyone in Silicon Valley how much business gets done in Starbucks.)
- Buy used: A lot of small businesses fail – it's a harsh reality. While sad, one thing it creates is an opportunity to pick up equipment and supplies at much lower rates than buying new. You can find great stuff on sites like eBay and Craigslist.
- Get out there and talk with other small business owners: This will help you in a number of ways. One, sharing tips and tricks will make you each smarter and better.
Two, it's a great way to get referrals -- especially if you can find other business owners who offer complimentary services to yours (e.g. if you are a web developer, get to know graphic designers -- trust us, we used this technique with great success in the company that evolved to become Outright.com.)
Three, and most importantly, you're going to need a support network of people who have been in your shoes. It's great to have people you can talk to about your challenges, people who understand where you're coming from, what you're going through.
Kevin has spent more than 14 years bringing successful software applications and services to market while working for companies like Intuit, Yahoo! and eGroups.
In more than 9 years with Intuit, Kevin launched or helped drive multiple products for small businesses, including small business versions of Quicken, rental property software, a 1099 e-filing service, and the JumpUp community for entrepreneurs.