The “Where do I Start?” guide for entrepreneur hopefuls

I launched my first business in 2001. I was pregnant with my first child and thought I could sell quilts on the internet using a Geocities site.

I called it “Sweet Pea Blankets” and while I didn’t sell any quilts, the (not small!) endeavor put me on the web design path. I learned my first strings of code and how to turn a fancy font into a .gif so others without the font installed on their computers could see it. It felt like a major breakthrough!

Sweet Pea Blankets also taught me important lessons about market research, business plans, marketing, and federal and state tax IDs. By the time the next big idea came along the following year, I was able to launch successfully and exceeded revenue goals within the first three years.

Starting your own small business can be an exciting and fulfilling journey. Whether you’re pursuing a passion or a market opportunity, the process can seem overwhelming at first. But with careful planning and the right steps, you can turn your business idea into a reality. Here’s an easy-to-follow guide to get you started:

1. Idea and Research:

  • Identify Your Niche: Start by brainstorming your business idea. What product or service will you offer? What problem will it solve?
  • Market Research: Research your target audience, competitors, and industry trends. Understand your potential customers’ needs and preferences. Not sure how to start researching? Here are some tools to help get you started.

2. Business Plan:

  • Write a Business Plan: This can be an overwhelming step, but here are some free templates to get you started.
  • Define Your Goals: Clearly outline your business objectives, both short-term and long-term. This will guide your decision-making.
  • Business Model: Describe how your business will operate. Will you sell products, offer services, or a combination of both?
  • Marketing Strategy: Detail how you’ll attract and retain customers. Consider branding, pricing, and promotion.

3. Legal Structure and Registration:

  • Choose a Business Structure: Decide whether you’ll be a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or corporation. Each has different legal and tax implications, I recommend consulting with a good accountant in your area to ensure you follow best practices for your state/province/country.
  • Register Your Business: Register your business name and structure with the appropriate government authorities. Obtain any necessary licenses or permits.

4. Finances:

  • Create a Budget: Estimate your startup costs, ongoing expenses, and potential revenue. This will help you manage your finances and secure loans if needed.
  • Open a Business Bank Account: Keep your business finances separate from personal finances by opening a dedicated business bank account.
  • Consider Budgeting SoftwareDepending on your type of business, good budgeting/scheduling software can not only help you track expenses and revenue, but help you onboard and off-board clients, help you keep track of contracts, and help you process and deliver invoices and quote requests. In addition to the well-known Quickbooks, check out Jobber, Honeybook, and Dubsado.

5. Branding and Online Presence:

  • Choose a Name and Logo: Select a memorable business name and design a simple logo that represents your brand. Tip! Be sure to do a through search on your desired name to make sure it’s not confusingly similar to a competitor’s and to ensure it’s not already taken.
  • Build a Website: Create a professional website that showcases your products or services. Include essential information like contact details and your story. If you need e-commerce services, research the prices and features of different shopping cart solutions such as Shopify, WooCommerce, and Ecwid.
  • Social Media: Establish a presence on social media platforms that your target audience uses. Share engaging content and connect with potential customers. Tip! You do not need to sign up for every single social media platform. Sign up for ONLY the account(s) you can commit to using regularly. No social media is better than dusty, unused business accounts with old posts about expired deals.

6. Product/Service Development:

  • Refine Your Offering: Polish your product or service based on customer feedback and market research. Aim for quality and value.
  • Pricing: Determine the pricing strategy that aligns with your costs and the perceived value of your offering. Don’t forget to keep track of your hours and all operational costs, that may include electricity, ink, internet service, phone service, packaging materials, shipping, equipment maintenance, and fuel. A good accountant can help you figure out tax breaks for depreciation on things like business vehicles and computers.

7. Sales and Marketing:

  • Networking: Build relationships within your industry and community. Attend events, join relevant groups, and connect with potential customers. Caution! Watch your bottom line here. If attending conferences isn’t resulting in sales or clients, limit how many you attend.
  • Digital Marketing: Utilize online platforms like social media, content marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) to reach a wider audience. Again, make sure you are only utilizing platform you can commit to using regularly.

8. Operations and Growth:

  • Day-to-Day Operations: Establish efficient processes for delivering your product or service. Customer satisfaction is key.
  • Customer Feedback: Encourage feedback from customers to continuously improve your offering. It can be tempting to lash out when negative feedback comes in. Learn from it or, if the customer or client is irrational (they can be!) disregard and move on, committing to better products and services in the future.
  • Scale Gradually: As your business gains traction, consider expansion strategies like hiring assistants and employees, introducing new products, or entering new markets.

Starting a small business requires dedication, perseverance, and a willingness to learn (and it can test your mental health sometimes!). While challenges may arise, every step forward brings you closer to achieving your entrepreneurial dreams. With the right planning and a proactive approach, your small business can thrive and make a positive impact.