by Adam Hardy (Contributor)
Updated March 20, 2023
At one point or another, you may have had a stroke of genius: a business idea that stopped you in your tracks.
We all get them from time to time. We think about them for days or even weeks. Then we get busy with other things, and those ideas fall to the wayside.
What doesn’t happen, usually, is turning those thoughts into action — an action beyond updating our Facebook statuses with our new extravagant inventions.
But what if we took concrete steps to turn those ideas into reality?
How to Start a Business, Step by Step
There are plenty of things that can discourage budding entrepreneurs from following through with their business plans, but don’t let them bog you down. They’re hurdles, not limitations.
The current state of the economy, which has been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride since the pandemic, isn’t helping matters.
But perhaps the biggest inhibitor of starting a business is the idea of starting a business.
The best way to overcome that is to start now by breaking our large goal into piecemeal steps, according to the lectures and books by Dr. Tim Pychyl, an expert on procrastination.
He teaches that if we don’t feel like doing something now, unsurprisingly, we won’t feel like doing it tomorrow either (no matter how much we trick ourselves into believing it).
In effect, if you plan to work on your million-dollar idea, don’t simply write “Start a business” on your list of Tuesday to-dos. Instead, write something more specific like “Make a list of my top five business ideas.”
With this approach in mind, we’ve developed a step-by-step guide to help you get your business off the ground.
It’s important to remember that there is no perfect template when starting a business, so the order in which you take these steps may differ. You may have to scrap plans and start over. Or it may make sense for you to start on number four.
Despite the order, each step will at some point need to be addressed in your journey as an entrepreneur.
Step 1: Come Up With a Business Idea
There you were, on a midsummer’s stroll with your dog, when your fur baby’s back began to hunch and tail started to extend. Your stomach dropped because you knew you didn’t bring any doggy bags with you, and your neighbors definitely saw it happen.
As you scanned the area for something ― anything — to help you take care of your pup’s business, the idea for a business of a different nature occurred to you: Wouldn’t it be great if there were biodegradable pet bag dispensers with stakes that could be placed in the grass throughout the neighborhood? They would be cheap, pet friendly and environmentally friendly. How perfect!
A half-baked idea is about as far as most people get. You may have even forgotten about it by the time you finished your walk.
To ensure that you actually remember your idea, keep it in a log with other top ideas. (Having a list to come back to will help you when moving into the latter stages of research.)
Kathyrn Gratton advises going a step further: Tack up your ideas on the bathroom mirror so you have to see it every day.
Gratton is the former president of the Hagerstown, Maryland, Score chapter. Score provides free mentoring to small businesses and entrepreneurs nationwide.
“The act of writing it down makes it more real,” she says.
As you continue to flesh out your idea, consider your own expertise in the area. Do you have any insider experience, knowledge or connections? Are you passionate about this topic or field? Is your idea feasible? Who would buy this product or service?
And while you might think you’re sitting on a great invention, you need second opinions. It’s crucial to get feedback from others to refine your idea.
Gratton recommends asking that one brutally honest friend we all have. You know, the one that’s comfortable with telling you if you’ve gotten fat over the holidays.
“They are the best to run things by because you know they will tell you the truth,” she says.
Step 2: Research the Marketplace
Once you have decided to move forward with your most promising idea, you’ll need to conduct thorough market research to turn it into a promising business model. The more comprehensive the research, the better, as this stage will inform what to include in your business plan.
Now is when you answer those initial questions of feasibility.
One method that can guide your research is called the SWOT analysis. It’s an approach that will define your business idea’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
As you dig into the research, you’ll find that your idea probably isn’t novel at all. Don’t scrap your plans just because someone else has a similar business. You’ve found a threat, aka competition. Don’t be intimidated; their business will help you get a better idea of your own.
Besides looking at other businesses, you will want to suss out your target market, customer demographics, price points, suppliers and more.
Here are some great, free tools to help with your market research:
- Government data: The U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Reserve and the Bureau of Economic Analysis report on trends of U.S. consumers such as credit, demographics, income, location, spending and much more.
- Alibaba: A Chinese-based e-commerce and retail sales company, Alibaba is a powerful tool to connect with international suppliers and manufacturers.
- SizeUp: Providing comprehensive business analytics, SizeUp allows users to find customers and suppliers, compare industry competition and advertise more efficiently.
Schuyler Richardson used Alibaba when conducting market research for his e-commerce store on Amazon. He found an international supplier on the site, which helped him iron out shipping costs and price points.
“I’ve found suppliers are willing to negotiate, even on your first order,” Richardson writes in his guide to Amazon private label business. “While they may claim their [minimum order quantity] is 500 or 1,000 units, it’s entirely possible to talk them down to, say, 250 or 300 units.”