Your New Year's Goal: Start a Business
If you made a big, career-related New Year’s resolution this year, we’re betting it’s one of three things: finding a new job, getting a big promotion at your current company, or finally venturing out on your own.
Today, in the last installment of our New Year's series, we're going to give you everything you need to know go ahead and start that business this year.
Whether you've been thinking about launching your own freelancing services or tossing around a start-up idea, here's how to take that next step—starting now.
1. Figure Out What You Want To Do—And Start Talking About It
If you're thinking about starting a venture, then you probably already have at least one or two ideas what it is you want to do. So now it's time to start talking about them!
Telling people about what you want to do accomplishes three important things: First, you have to actually articulate your idea in words. The more you do this, the better you'll get at it—ideally, you'll get to the point where you can explain it 30 seconds, or even one sentence. Saying it out loud will also help you refine your ideas and make them concrete. Second, you'll get the benefit of seeing others' reactions—do people (especially people you think would be in your target audience) receive your idea well? What parts of your pitch get people excited?
Third, talking about your idea is a great way to kickstart the boatloads of networking you're going to be doing as an entrepreneur. This is also a great time for you to start meeting other entrepreneurs, potential advisors, and others in your soon-to-be field, all of whom will be critical to your long-term success. So get out there, go to events, and start talking!
2. Take Some Baby Steps
You don't have to quit your job, launch your new business, and bring in your first batch of customers all in one day. In fact, you're going to find out pretty quickly that that's impossible. And of course, leaving your previous gig is going to be impacted by your personal and financial situation.
But if you want to start your company this year, start with a baby step this week. And one more next week. Whether it's making a connection with someone in your new field, drawing up a prototype, or bringing in a couple freelance clients, you can jump into the shallow end now—without quitting your job (yet).
3. Figure Out Your Founding Team
Before you get too far down the path of entrepreneurship, you'll want to think seriously about your team. Are you going this alone? For some businesses—for example, if you're starting a design consultancy or freelance writing career—it makes total sense. For others, particularly for more traditional tech start-ups, it's far more common to go into your new venture with one or more co-founders.
A lot of words have been written on the subject of picking co-founders, and that's because it's an important—perhaps the most important—decision for a new company. Good friends are not always good business partners, and the best business partners bring a complementary set of skills or abilities to the table. Choose wisely and don't rush it.
4. Get Your Paperwork in Order
We know, your love of filling out legal forms isn't the reason you wanted to go into business for yourself. But if you're going to start a business—get thee to a lawyer. Those papers aren't going to get any more fun to fill out, and you expose yourself to significant (unnecessary) risk if you don't get your legal ducks in a row early on.
If you have co-founders, you risk a nasty legal battle if disagreements come up—and no matter how much you think you and your partner are on the same page now, and would never act in a way that would harm the other, the horror stories here are a dime a dozen. And even if you're in business on your own, you expose yourself to personal risk if you haven't set up a separate legal business entity, should a disgruntled client decide to sue you.
So trust us on this one: Just do it. And if expense is an issue, you can look for a lawyer who specializes in start-ups; they are often selective about their clients, but many of them are willing to defer part or all of their fees to allow you time to get your business off the ground.
5. Get Your MVP Out There
And now, enough with the prep. In the start-up world, your "MVP" is your Minimum Viable Product. That means, the absolute simplest, most basic version of your product, with no bells and no whistles. Build this, and launch it as soon as possible (even if you haven't quit your job yet).
The truth is, no matter how much thought and market research you've put into your business plan or prototype, you just dont know if people will like it until you try to sell it to them. The feedback you'll get on your MVP is invaluable for figuring out the path forward that's going to help your business take off.
Part of this process, too, is finding your customers. As you're creating your MVP, ask yourself: Who do you want using it? Are the features you're building or services you're offering in line with your target audience's needs? Identify your target audience, and then figure out how you can reach them, get them excited about your product or service, and start getting their feedback.
6. Figure Out Your Business Plan and Financing
Now, we don't mean to imply here that your business plan and financing should be the last thing to do on your list. Both steps are very important, and they're ones you should be thinking about from the beginning. But truth is, until you have a testable product—and have actually tested it—your business plan is going to be shooting in the dark, and you're going to be updating it along the way.
So yes, draw up your ideas early on, and think, from the start, about how you're going to make money (and how you're going to sustain yourself until you do). Then, once you've launched your MVP, gotten feedback, and set or re-set your course—come back to your business plan and update it. And if you decide to look for outside money—whether it's a business loan or angel or venture money—start doing your homework.