The subject of my blog this week is inspired by conversations I have frequently with people asking for advice on starting a business. And while I'm always happy to offer my opinions when asked, I never do so without first qualifying my remarks. So, in keeping with that, let me preface the ideas in this blog by saying...I am NOT an expert. Of anything. So please, if you choose to read further, keep that in mind. My opinions are based on my personal first-hand experiences in starting and running my own businesses. But ultimately they are just what I claim them to be--my opinions.
So what do you need to start a business? Well obviously first you need a good idea for a product or service that you think people will pay money for. And then you need to be passionate about it. Starting with an idea just because someone else is doing well with it and you're having a jump on the bandwagon-type moment isn't good enough. It has to be something you believe in and enjoy doing. Because if you don't love it in the beginning, there is zero chance for longevity. The beginning is where you love it the most, and even then your desire to own your own business WILL be tested.
You also need a great support system. If your entire family and all your close friends think it's a terrible idea and are totally against you doing it, it's going to be an uphill battle. Don't misunderstand me--I'm not saying you shouldn't try just because others don't want you to. But just know that the 16 hour days you're going to be spending at the shop or the office or wherever are going to affect your home life. And the lives of your entire family. So if they're not supportive, it can make things enormously difficult.
Next you're going to need a solid form of financing. Whether you have personal money, investors, or just a very supportive banker, the importance of this step should not be overlooked. Whatever the amount of money is that you believe you need, it will almost always require more. Sometimes a lot more. Make sure you're prepared and have a plan, and a back-up plan, in case you've underestimated.
Once you have the big 3 in place, you can tackle the more abstract requirements. In no particular order, you need to:
Be brave--You're stepping outside your comfort zone and it will be scary for sure.
Be adventurous--Just because no one has ever done it before doesn't mean you can't.
Be diligent--Cross all the T's and dot all the I's. Make sure you do it right and don't cut corners-it will pay off later on.
Be honest--With your customers absolutely, but also with yourself. There's nothing wrong with stretching yourself and daring to reach for more than you've ever had before, but it's important to know your limits. Limitations are a total downer to talk about--financial, time, even physical limitations--nevertheless we all have them. And blowing past them without even checking yourself usually doesn't end well.
Be tenacious--I'd love to be able to tell you that being a business owner is all champagne and roses. It's not. Not even close. The amount of negativity that you will be subjected to can sometimes seem unending and overwhelming. Don't let that be the voice that drives you. You have to fight for it.
Be gracious--your success will be applauded by many, and resented by some. Be gracious to them all. It will be noticed.
Be humble--As your business takes off and becomes successful, remember where you started. It's easy to get so wrapped up in the rise that you start believing your own press clippings. That's usually about the time the universe will deliver to you a reality check of some kind. If you've kept in touch with your roots, and can still connect with the same passion that drove you to start the business, you'll be okay.
Be original--I can't stress this one enough. Nobody likes a copycat. Just because you're Facebook friends with someone who had a great idea, doesn't mean it's okay for you to clone it. If you can't bring an original spin to it and make it unique in some way, you're wasting your time.
Be generous--In every way you can. With your praise for your employees; with your interest in your customers; with your money when presented with the opportunity to give back to a deserving cause; with your time for your family so that they know no matter what happens, they come first; with your help for someone who is thinking of starting a business and needs some advice, however non-expert it may be. Being stingy with anything you have to offer benefits no one--least of all yourself.
Be flexible--One thing I can promise you is that no matter how great your business idea is, things never stop changing. Your customers, fads, even just the general business climate itself is a moving target. It is imperative that you always be aware and stay ahead of the curve. This will mean adapting one or more concepts of your business to meet the changing demands. Don't be so married to certain ideas that you become obsolete.
I remember hearing somewhere that the first step is always the hardest. When it comes to starting a business that's not necessarily true. It takes guts for sure to take that first step. But the next step, and the ones after that require a solid plan of attack and actually doing the work. And plenty of late nights, early mornings, and an old fashioned nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic that seems to be less and less common these days. Yes it will be hard--nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Is it worth it? To me, yes! To everyone...well that's a question for everyone. Every person is different as is every business.
I am living proof that you don't have to be an expert. You just have to be willing, and able, to try.
And try again.
So if you're thinking about starting your own business, I guarantee you there is much better advice out there for you than mine. But now you have my very non-expert two cents. And my wish for the best of luck to you!