How to start a business – the compete guide

Starting a business is one of the most pleasant initiatives in our lives. It is usually a result of the urge to do what we like for a living, pursue wellbeing or even be of use to our community. Whatever the reason, starting a business is an exciting journey and a complex one. Here you will find the complete guide, including all the essential steps and tools you need to make it a successful business. 

You have to start with the basics: define your business idea and your business model. However, what if you are not sure of what business you want to launch. What if you have a few ideas in mind but doubt in which direction to go?

In that case, start by identifying what business would you enjoy doing for a living.

1. Your sweet spot

It is about figuring out what you are good at and in what area you can excel because it results from combining your skills, expertise, and passion. The overlapping of these three areas will show your unique “sweet” spot. 

The first area is about your skills, what you are truly good at. For example, you can be good at drawing 3D shapes, being very organised, or being a good listener.

The second area is about your most relevant experiences. For example, let’s say you worked as a dog trainer or project manager in the pharmaceutical industry or have experience teaching. List any jobs or activities that have helped you accumulate knowledge and experience.

The third area is about what you are your passions. What you truly love doing. It could be that you are passionate about clothes design, looking after animals, or contributing to preserving the environment.

Once you’ve listed your skills, experiences and passions, think about where they overlap or complement. For example, you might discover that you are skilled in drawing, have worked in teaching, and are passionate about illustration. The combination of these three can be your sweet spot. And suppose you launch your business in the field of teaching illustration. In that case, you will have the odds in your favour.

2. Define your SMART goal

If you know what business you want, skip the first step and start by defining your overall business goal: what exactly do you want to do? The thing is that your business idea and dreams are motivating, but they are imprecise. Launching a business requires focus and setting a clear goal. So, translate your dream idea into a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goal (SMART).

The Specific feature calls for narrowing the scope of our goal. Try to answer questions like: What do I want to accomplish? Why is this goal important? Which resources or limits are involved? For example, compare:

Business idea: I want to teach illustration
Goal: I will launch a 3D illustration course (on and off-line) for people without any background in graphic design.

Your business goal has to be Measurable to stay focused, meet your deadlines, and feel the excitement of getting closer to reaching the finishing line. A measurable goal should address questions such as: What actions will I do? How will I know when it is accomplished?

In this example, you should define the milestones to getting your course up and running. To do that, you might need to learn how to record and speak in front of a camera, develop the content, carry out marketing surveys, etc. All these become the milestones of your business journey.

Once you define your measurements and milestones, decide if your goal is realistic and Achievable. Then, knowing what it takes, ask yourself if you can accomplish this goal? What do you need to undertake to make it happen? How realistic are the goal and the actions based on other constraints, such as financial factors, for example?

A goal is Relevant when it matters to you and is aligned with other plans. So ask yourself if this goal seems worthwhile? It is essential that you retain control over your actions and do not lose perspective. Does this match your other priorities? For example, if you have children, would starting up a business be difficult? How can you plan around it?

And finally, every business goal has to be Time-bound; have a target date so that you have a deadline to focus on and something to work towards. This part helps prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over your longer-term goals. So, define when you want to accomplish your goal.

In summary, your SMART goal would look something like this: 

I will launch a 3D illustration course (on and off-line) for people without any background in graphic design. I will dedicate time to learn about video editing, and I am confident I have the time and can put in the effort needed to be up and running within 12 months. 
3. Build the Business Model Canvas

BMC is probably the most concise, versatile and, at the same time, thorough template for business profiling. It englobes the most important pillars. And it brings all the clarity you need to get organised, get the resources required and start working on your business.

So, how do you get started? Armed with your business goal, fill in the Canvas Business Key Drivers following this sequence:

  1. Customer Segments: Who are the key customers of your business? And what are their key characteristics and needs? 
  2. Value Propositions: Why do customers buy your product or service? What is the key benefit that your business offers?
  3. Channels: How are benefits communicated to customers, how is the product or service sold or delivered, and why?
  4. Customer Relationships: What are the critical touchpoints between you and your customers? And how do you connect with them throughout their journey?
  5. Revenue Streams: How does the business earn money from various value propositions?
  6. Key Activities: What are the key things that your business strategically does to deliver this proposition?
  7. Key Resources: What are the assets (IT, talent, money, intellectual property) that a business requires to stay competitive and create value?
  8. Key Partnerships: What external entities or stakeholders are crucial to delivering the product and service to your customer? What are some of the partners to whom you have outsourced certain activities to focus on your core work?
  9. Cost Drivers: What are your business’s major cost drivers, and how are they linked to your revenue?

The BMC is typically summarised on one page. However, you can dedicate an entire page to each of the key drivers in the attachment, developing them in more detail. Use post-its for the brainstorming process. By working with the BMC, you own a holistic overview of your business. When you have that overview, ask yourself if this project makes sense. It probably does because you’ve spent time developing it, and it comes from your sweet spot – what you are terrific at. 

So, now you can go ahead and make it happen.

4. SWOT

BMS does not have a dedicated section to market and competition. Instead, the analysis is indirectly included in several key drives of the Canvas, like your value offering or the channels. 

So, depending on your business nature, you might consider that the BMS does not reflect all your market nuances and competition. In that case, go for SWOT analysis. It stands for identifying your Strengths, Weaknesses, and market Opportunities and Threats. It is a technique to understand better your market and competition concerning your future offering.

5. Define your roadmap 

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”― Benjamin Franklin.

Getting organised might feel overwhelming and way too structured. But you want to find a balance between order and improvisation. Thus you can use resources optimally and get things done within a specific timeframe. Also, because when you are building a business, you are no longer a standalone, independent person to make decisions as you please. Even if you start as a freelancer or solopreneur, you depend on others’ availability to help you. So, all these efforts need to be coordinated. Therefore, once you have a clear picture of your business model, it is time to define a Roadmap. 

A Roadmap is the sequence of the significant steps needed to take a business plan from the paper to reality. It is a high-level view of activities to focus on.

The steps in a Roadmap can also be named Phases, Stages, Epics or Milestones. The two essential rules you should follow when you draw it are high level (not too much detail – you will go into detail with other tools), and the steps should be sequential. 

6. Set up an Action plan 

An action plan is one of the most down-to-earth tools to launch a business: you specify with plenty of detail what you will do to achieve your goal. And you are doing that with a solid basis, the business model you defined in the BMV and the high-level Roadmap. So, you can set actions realistically.

Use Gantt charts to represent your Action plan. And follow the path you’ve defined. You might deviate at times from the project because you run into setbacks. But with a good plan, you can reduce risk and quickly get back on track.

Many Business guides end here, as the rest of the journey represents more of running a business process than starting a business. However, I would like to give you two more tools and methods to make it a total success and sustain it for a long time.

7. Measure progress

Launching a business can deviate from a plan for two main reasons: lack of financing and resistance to change (including yours) are the most common. To counterbalance those, set up a few measures or indicators to help you assess your progress, see issues at the spot and react on time.

Two valuable indicators are:

      • Milestone or time track
      • Budget spending

Both will reveal if you are on track and if you are moving closer to your final goal. Also, entering the business world is like entering the world of numbers; you need them to make decisions. Reserve the gut feeling as a second choice. So, having data will help you big time to make prompt and correct decisions. 

The trick about measuring progress is to make it graphical and visual. So, display your charts so that you and your team or partner can see the current situation and the trend.

8. Improve

Successful business owners are always on the go, adapting to customer shifts in demand, market trends, and competitors. That does not mean that you have to lose sleep over it. That means that you have to be alert. As you measure your progress and spot customer needs, trends or changes, adapt. Launch an add on to your product or service, intensify marketing campaign, create a new service, search for new partnerships or distributors, work in increasing profitability, automate processes… Being a business owner is an exceptional experience. There is a lot at stake, but there is also a lot to win, and the journey is totally extraordinary.

9. The takeaways
      • Discover your Sweet Spot
      • Define a business goal
      • Develop the Business Model Canvas
      • Complement the BMC with SWOT
      • Draw a Roadmap
      • Detail your Action Plan
      • Measure Progress
      • Always strive to improve

 

Business kick-off