The dream of starting your own business is so common that nearly everyone has their canned daydream of leaving their day jobs and starting out into the great unknown. The economic downturn pulled the curtain back on many seemingly “safe” and “stable” jobs, encouraged many to jump ship and decided to start their ventures; realizing that perhaps the devil you don’t know might be a better option for long term financial stability. Of those who made that leap of faith, many found the realities of starting their own businesses to be far different than the fantasy. Once they got beyond the obvious lifestyle shift, perhaps waking up an hour later than usual and also working in pajamas, or hopping out midday for a workout, reality soon sank in. In the new world of self-employment, the buck stops with you. Every decision is yours. Every victory and of course every failure is also yours. That alone may be too daunting for some, but for those who have not yet decided whether to embrace the opportunity to become an entrepreneur, we have laid out a blueprint that might help make that decision.
We’ve outlined the top 10 behaviors and activities that we believe are essential to sustaining the day to day, real-world requisites of starting and then running your own business.
- Capital. It almost goes without saying, but if you have no funds in reserve, you will not be positioned to sustain yourself thorough the ramp up period of a startup. Period. The amount may vary depending on your lifestyle and of course geography. Not only will you need to sustain yourself, you’ll need to invest in your startup simultaneously. So, we recommend a year of living expenses plus additional capital to pay for the essentials to jump start your business. The type of business you are starting will of course determine the costs you will need in your coffers. Talk with someone who is running a similar business to understand the realistic startup costs. Remember: nothing ever goes 100% as planned, so give yourself a financial cushion in order to pay for the course correction. An expensive mistake could stop your entire process if you do not have the funds to overcome it.
- A Vision: Most would think vision is #1 but for the purposes of being pragmatic if you have no capital to invest, vision is probably irrelevant. So, back to vision. Vision is that first step in building the framework for your business. Your vision is your end result, your product, your storefront, your polished deliverable. From there you will need to work backwards to fill in the roadmap of your startup plan. But before you do that, you need to vet your vision. Is it realistic? Do you have the skills or the network to realize this vision or would it be better suited in someone else’s hands, someone with more experience? Is your vision based on any aspect of your experience? If not, it will be imperative for you to leverage and probably pay for expert advice in the area in which you do not have a clear understanding or background. Does your vision represent more than one basic outcome? If so you will need to dissect each of the parts and determine what must come first. You don’t build 15 pizza shops in your first year, you start with one and test and learn to see what works and what doesn’t before rolling out the remaining stores. Get clear on your vision and then be prepared for it to change. What if pizza isn’t as lucrative as Chinese food? Is your objective to make pizzas or to run a food establishment that can provide financial stability and freedom?
- Assemble a Team. No one goes it alone. While you may not be able to hire a team immediately to support your startup, consider hiring freelance or contract workers to get you up and running. While you may want to go it alone and play the lone wolf, doing it all yourself is not wise. Firstly, the time it will take for one person to do the work of 5 will set you back. You have to factor in the opportunity cost of delaying your launch if you try and go it alone. Let’s say you could launch in 2 months with help and 5 without: that’s 3 whole months of potential profit you lose by trying to go it alone. Also, while I am sure you are great at eating pizza, you may not be the best at making them. You need to find experts that can make your overall product and presentation look professional. If your cousin designs your logo and does an amateur job of it think of the downstream effects every time someone sees it what impression is made of your business. What effect might that have on your profits? Spend the money and find talent to do things you don’t know how to do. Or else perhaps spend the money 2 times to have them fix the mistakes you made trying to do it yourself.
- Build a framework. Rejoice! The reality of working “9 to 5” now no longer applies to you. You will now join the ranks of those who can hop out and grab a coffee at 2pm without someone wondering where they are or what they are doing. But know this, once you take the leap and begin your startup it is imperative that you adopt a daily framework for activity. Given that all of your work now is going to be undirected and unguided, you need to create that direction for yourself. One way to aid in this task is simply by creating a basic framework which outlines what you will do and when. Some people find it helpful to assign certain tasks to certain days, kind of like a timely to do list; others prefer a more free-flowing agenda. You know yourself and know the environment that facilitates high-productivity vs. low, so outline that detail and keep it top of mind. If you know that you hate bookkeeping and that if you wait until 3pm on a Friday to do it that it won’t get done, then push it to the morning or at the beginning of the week. Know thyself but also create a framework that will support your business and its needs because early on it will be like watching an infant and require absolute dedication and vigilance.
- Gumby Joints. By that I mean, you have to accept that things are not going to go as planned and if you get stuck on a concept or a plan of attack that isn’t working you are going to lose precious time. If you have Gumby joints, or for those of you who don’t know the character Gumby (go here: http://www.gumbyworld.com/); in the meantime think of that friend of yours who goes to yoga religiously and strikes those pretzel-like poses randomly. You will need to become that person. Maybe not the annoying pretzel part, but the part that can bend around, move easily and fall into more beneficial situations. If you are hitting a brick wall with a process, you need to bend around it and find a new solution. By being rigid and inflexible you will lose time and perhaps get stuck on something that isn’t beneficial. So, flex on!
- Get a Lawyer. Hands-down one of the most important resources you will have in your process is an attorney. This resource will only be bested by a lawyer who is also an accountant. An attorney will help you set up your business structure appropriately, protect your ideas (provided they are worthy of such protections) and also advise you on certain aspects of business to help protect you from lawsuits. No matter what you are making there is always a risk of a lawsuit looming; protect yourself as much as possible up front in order to mitigate losses on the back end.
- Resilience. What does that mean exactly? I think resilience means being able to adapt to change. If you are resilient you will be able to pivot to new solutions, quickly adopt new practices and shed those that aren’t working and if worst comes to worst, pick yourself up after a failure and begin again. All great entrepreneurs are resilient. Most successful businesses were started with the learnings from a failed one.
- Timing. Even with all of the above skills in place if you do not execute at the right time you may create more problems than you solve. For example, knowing when to pivot away from a bad process is essential. How much time do you give something before you believe that it cannot work? Having the tools to measure success is one, but assessing the timing is unique to each scenario and process. You will have to become the expert in all aspects of your business in order to understand the impact of holding out too long on a bad process and how it could disrupt your business in the long run. There is no crystal ball here, but it is clear that waiting too long to stop doing something that isn’t working could be devastating.
- Naysayer Disposal. You must eliminate those people in your circle who do not believe in you. It is fair that as you begin something new you may not truly understand the direction that you will take, so there will be a natural sense of uncertainty. You do not need that compounded by the naysayers. Cut off contact with them indefinitely. If they are people that you are unfortunately stuck with then at least stave them off until your new venture has established some legs. In the meantime, keep them out of your court. You do not need their influence to pollute your process.
- Realistic Measures of Success. You must set realistic measures for success at the beginning of your venture. If you throw an unrealistic figure out into the wind and then don’t meet it that will disempower you and maybe even deter you from continuing your business. Keep it realistic. One thing we do is set daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals. This way we can celebrate the small success that invariably feed the larger ones. If you say that you want to sell 1MM units by the end of the year. That may happen, but you may not approach that goal until the month before the year mark. When your victories are so far out it is hard to keep momentum and positivity. I recommend creating small interim goals, that way not only do you get to see your progress in real time, but you all get to gage whether or not your yearly goal holds water. Maybe it isn’t 1MM after all…maybe it’s 2MM!
Most Important of all, Good Luck!
Brandon Kelly, CEO NYCVanity (www.nycvanity.com)