Meg Schutte Nov 24, 2022

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in America. Did you know that in 2022 small businesses account for 99.9% of all U.S. businesses? Or that they create 1.5 million jobs every year? For anyone who wants to launch a new business and join a resourceful, entrepreneurial group that’s helping to drive the American economy -- good for you! As you put your product, service or idea out into the world, you need a firm business plan, readily accessible capital, an open mind, and tons of enthusiasm. And while making mistakes is part of running a business (there are so many unknowns and a deep learning curve), here are 6 things to focus on along the road to success.

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1. Own the BIG Idea: Food truck? Landscape business? Personal trainer? Life coach? Whatever you’re selling, really sell it. You have to be 100% behind your idea, convinced that there’s a need for it, and truly believe the potential exists to build a real fan base. There is so much competition in the marketplace, and you need to be clear about what you’re offering so customers will choose you. So put a stake in the sand and motivate others to believe in your brand: 

  • Conduct focus groups with your target audience
    • Use their feedback to make changes, refinements, improvements in your product or service
    • Be open to constructive criticism
  • Let consumers sample what you're selling
    • Offer free downloads, comp a meal, give X hours of professional services
  • Meet with mentors for input on what to do/not to do
  • Invest in advertising, marketing, and promotion to get noticed from Day One
  • Map out your story and align brand messaging on all channels
    • Website, social media, emails, direct mail, video etc.

2. Create a Solid Business Plan: This is where you put your vision on paper. Think of it as a strategic tool that will convince others that you’re on the smart track for success. You need to be very clear about the who, what, where, why and when. Define your goals, what you want to achieve, your timeframe to launch, and your projected expenses (marketing, financial, operational). Keep in mind that you most likely will need a small business loan to get started, and to qualify, banks and other financial lenders will require a business plan. If you don’t think you can write one yourself:

3. Fund Your Dream: Talk is great (and, by the way, create an irresistible elevator pitch), but you need capital to thrive. Having a robust bank account means you can focus on the day-to-day, pay the bills confidently, and infuse your business with positive energy. Money issues and no cash flow will just slow you down, if not kill off your business. There are a few ways to find the capital you need:

  • Work with investors
    • Be clear on what they will provide you
    • Establish what their role, if any, will be
  • Partner with family and friends
    • A viable avenue for sharing costs
    • But... be careful about who you go into business with
  • Crowdsource
  • Get a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan
  • Take out a small business loan from a lender
    • Compare options
    • Choose one that make sense for your business
    • Be reasonable about the debt burden you can take on

4. Budget, Budget, Budget: Once you have cash in hand, make money management a top priority. And if you’re not good at it, hire someone who is. The last thing you want to do is make financial mistakes that will cost you. Or run out of funds too early. Or run up credit card bills to tide you over. Or take out too many loans and risk high-interest rate debt. So, create a budget, stick to it, check on it often, and relax a bit knowing you’ve got all the bases covered by:

  • Reviewing financial statements regularly to track expenses
  • Not overspending unnecessarily (remember, you're in start-up mode)
    • Tech, website, marketing, staff... YES
    • Extravagant client gifts, excess travel, fancy office space... NO
  • Paying all bills on time (keep your credit in good standing)
  • Hiring an accountant to lighten your workload and your stress

 

5. Set Goals, Stay Focused, Be Flexible: Life is full of surprises and your business will ebb and flow on its way to success. Deciding on your key goals (for revenue, growth, profit, achievements, milestones, giving back), will help you make all other decisions. But try not to be rigid about them, so you can react to the marketplace, refresh your story, and keep current with what’s happening in the world (remember the pandemic?). Having goals:

  • Establishes what's most important to you and your business
  • Should be obvious to anyone you interact with (staff, freelancers, vendors, customers)
  • Reduces uncertainty
  • Keeps everyone on track
  • Frees you up to attend to the needs of your business
  • Allows room for reinvention

 

6. Never Lose Sight of Your Customers: This is simple. Your business will live or die by your customers and clientele. They’re an organic source of all that’s right about what you’re doing and what might be wrong. Pay attention to them, be available to listen, go the extra mile, and always be grateful for their business. Keep them close and keep them happy:

  • Tap them as your #1 marketers
    • Ask for reviews and share on your website
    • Encourage good word of mouth on social by engaging often
  • Reward them with a loyalty program or preferred customer discount or perks
  • Stay in touch through calls, emails, social media, customized texts
  • Always be thinking of what they need and how best you can meet that need
  • Don't underestimate your competition
    • They do not give up customers easily
    • Make sure your offering and pricing are realistic

 

7. Protect Your #1 Asset : YOU!: Launching a business is a heady prospect. The chance to be your own boss, call the shots, and create your own destiny is as exciting as it gets. But beware, it’s incredibly easy to overdo it. You’re excited, passionate, and filled with zeal, so you work longer hours, give up weekends, say yes to everything -- and end up neglecting yourself and your relationships. Burnout is real and multitasking doesn't pay the bills. Avoid an “I’ll just do it myself” mentality and reach out to others, collaborate whenever you can, and employ helpful resources. How to take care of you:

  • Create opportunities for engagement
    • Partner with local businesses to share expenses and resources
    • Barter services to save on cash
    • Take classes, listen to podcasts, attend conferences
  • Hire people smarter from you (and learn from them)
  • Take breaks, vacations, and time to refresh (the best ideas often come with downtime, even just a walk at lunch!)
  • Outsource energy-challenging tasks (tax prep, bill pay, payroll, accounting, website building, social media development, advertising, and legal services)

 

Fund Your Dream!
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Meg Schutte is a Bank of Hope Blog contributor.    

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Bank of Hope. 

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