Resources & Tips
For Small Business Start-Ups

by Leslie Godwin, MFCC

The best, and least expensive, time to give your business direction is before you start it. The next best time is right now. These tips and resources are just what you need to get started in planning your own business.

Joe's company runs specials in the local newspaper because that's what his competition does. He pulls these ads when he's sick of them (even though his prospects won't notice the ads the first 9 times they see them.)

Joe then hires a P.R. firm to create a unique image for his company, but he doesn't renew the contract with the P.R. firm because the campaign didn't bring in enough new clients (even though that wasn't the goal.)

Do you know someone like Joe? He's a fairly typical small business owner - he doesn't have a clear direction for the marketing and growth of his company, and he lacks the focus to maintain that direction over the life of the business.

The best, and least expensive, time to give your business direction is <strong >before you start it. The next best time is right now. The tips and resources below should help you take the next steps if you have an idea for starting up your own business, consulting firm, or private practice of any kind. If you're already on your own, it's not too late.

1. The Idea Phase
2. Put Together an Advisory Team
3. Do Your Market Research
4. Define Your Target Market
5. Basic Pricing Issues
6. Planning for Future Success

1. The Idea Phase
A common myth among would-be entrepreneurs is that they need a 'brilliant' idea. Actually, most successful businesses are those that are focused on what I call a "good enough" idea, to borrow from D.W. Winnicott.

What's your idea? Flesh it out a little. Find out who else is doing what you're planning, and think about how you could improve on that. Don't reinvent the wheel - tweak it.



Pay attention to whether your idea gets more interesting to you the more you spell it out and talk to people in your prospective field. Hopefully, you'll find that your initial idea was really a starting point, not an ending point. The ideas that emerge as you gain expertise and momentum on your path, and which you couldn't have thought of at the beginning, are the best ones.

Make sure your new business will allow you time for family, and to maintain your health and well-being. It's a lot harder to fit in the important aspects of life once your days are packed with business-related appointments and concerns.

2. Put Together an Advisory Team
We all need mentors, advisors, consultants or coaches of various kinds. If you consult with a lawyer, an accountant, and a business coach/consultant while you're in the planning stages, you'll prevent expensive, frustrating mistakes later on. These professionals can help you put real numbers in your business plan (as opposed to the hopeful projections I usually see,) they'll introduce you to people who can help you get your business off the ground, and they'll allow you to learn from other people's mistakes.

Depending on your plans, there might be other professionals you need to include on your initial Advisory Team.

3. Do Your Market Research
After the thrill of feeling like a pioneer wears off, you'll be glad to know that others have hacked away the dense brush to clear a path for you. I was very disappointed to find out that other people were calling themselves Coaches after I 'invented' the term. But I realized that it's not such a bad thing to get a look of recognition from people when I tell them about my work. I'm glad I don't have to launch into a PowerPoint presentation whenever someone asks, "So, what do you do?"

Some great sources of market research information are:

  • Local experts (People who love what they do enjoy talking about it with like-minded people.)
  • Trade associations (There's a huge book your reference librarian can show you that lists more trade/professional associations than you can imagine.)
  • Government reports (We all hear about ridiculous government studies that waste our tax dollars. But they occasionally study valuable issues. You've probably funded a study that can help you understand your target market better and present a stronger case for your business. Your competition (I've had great success talking with supposed competitors, both in my community as well as those across the country. In some fields it's appropriate to collaborate only with those competitors that don't directly compete for your business. This is easy to do by email.)
  • Surveys (You can get incredibly valuable information from prospective customers. If you don't know who they are, you need to go back and flesh out your idea some more.)
  • Focus Groups (I wrote some guidelines on how to conduct a focus group which I'd be glad to email you.)

4. Define Your Target Market
Review your market analysis and identify your target market. You'll get to know this portion of the population very well, if you haven't already. I recommend that clients write a description of an example (or three) of their target population as if they were beginning a novel and had to introduce the reader to an important character. What do they do? How old are they? What concerns keep them up at night? What do they value most? How do they approach shopping for products/services? Do they have young children? Elderly parents? Do they pinch pennies on themselves, but are extravagant spenders on their children and/or pets? You get the idea!

This is an ongoing relationship and you'll continue to become an expert on your target market. If you don't genuinely care about them and want to meet their needs, even anticipate them, you won't be effective in the long-term, though.

Whatever you do, DON'T pick a market that forces you to compete on price.

Resource: My article "No Niche, No Scratch: A Niche Helps You Stand Out in Your Field and Attracts Others Who Want What You Have To Offer" might be helpful when it comes to pinpointing your niche in a crowded marketplace. Email me if you'd like to read it.

5. Basic Pricing Issues
Your market research will come in handy here. Generally, newcomers to a marketplace should start in the middle of the accepted pricing structure. Occasionally, new businesses are positioned at the high-end of a niche market. Most get there by developing a reputation over many years.

Remember that repeat business is much easier and more profitable to attract than new business. How can you incorporate that basic truism into your marketing plan, customer service policies, and other interactions with existing customers?

Almost as good as repeat business are enthusiastic referrals from happy customers. What can you do to encourage and deserve that kind of referral?

And it's worth saying twice...don't ever compete on price!

6. Planning for Future Success
Schedule time in your workday to meet with advisors, staff, clients, and prospects. And schedule time off by yourself to focus on the big picture. If you have employees, you might meet for half an hour every week with them. You might take your advisors out to dinner every three to six months. You should talk to clients whenever you run into them...the same with prospects. If you don't run into them, invite some of them for coffee every month. And take time off by yourself quarterly to reflect on whether you are doing something you believe in and enjoy doing. If your business has gotten away from you and you're playing catch up most of the time, don't feel too badly. That's a very common entrepreneurial problem, but if you don't address it, you'll end up like too many of my clients...burned out and feeling trapped.

Other things to keep in mind when you're planning:

  • Keep redefining and getting to know your target market
  • Consider how to most effectively reach, and influence, your target market
  • Check to see if you are sending a clear message to your target market, and if it's delivered consistently no matter the medium. Your radio ads for the holiday season should give the same message to your core audience as your print ads last July. The content will vary, but you can't claim that your restaurant offers gourmet cuisine in a romantic setting one month, and then claim to be the cheap, fun hangout for parents with toddlers the next.

Track new referral sources, repeat business, how much clients spend per visit/order, how you got the business you enjoy doing most, and anything else you can quantify. That's the only way to make intelligent decisions until you're established and have an intuitive grasp of these figures. Even then, tracking results can help you get more useful feedback from your Advisory Team, staff members, and others involved in your business decisions.

If planning takes away your enthusiasm for your new business, and you want to ride the wave of adrenaline and avoid putting your plans on paper, you're not ready. At least not if you need to make a living from it.

Investigating and creating a solid foundation for your business should make you feel MORE enthusiastic, and stir up new and better ideas. If your business is going to last you'll need to be both passionate AND persistent. It's similar to getting pre-marital counseling. You shouldn't avoid pre-marital counseling because you're afraid you'll discover unresolvable problems in the relationship. If the marriage is going to last, you'll find that the more you know about each other, the better you feel about the prospect of spending your life with him or her.

A business is definitely a long-term commitment, and you'll probably spend more time working than you do with your family or on hobbies. So make sure you know what you're getting into before you take the leap.

 

 

Leslie Godwin, MFCC, is a Career & Life-Transition Coach specializing in helping people put their families, values, and principles first when making career and life choices. Leslie is the author of,"From Burned Out to Fired Up: A Woman's Guide to Rekindling the Passion and Meaning in Work and Life"published by Health Communications. 

 
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