You've shared your idea with friends and family, and on occasion random strangers who stare at you in awe. And though you question whether their awe is actually awe or just mere politeness, they appear excited by your vision. You spend your days scouring websites similar to what you think your site could be, though never identical. Your product is unique. You have notebooks filled with sketches of potential logos and several rough drafts for a commercial that will air during the Super Bowl and change your life. You go to sleep fantasizing about a reality so close you can taste it. You're a dreamer with a plan. Except there's one thorny issue standing between your dream and reality: You have no idea where to begin.
As an established entrepreneur with two businesses under my belt, both of which I co-founded and served as their creative director, I remain a consummate dreamer. Like you, I developed big dreams long before I took the initiative to put my vision into focus. And while dreaming has its place, learning what it actually takes to start a business is the stark reality. But don't fret. I have several tips to share that will make the valuable lessons I learned the hard way more digestible.
Dreamer sensitivity aside, this is something you'll need to swallow up front. Unlike scouring the internet and sharing ideas with friends, starting a business is not synonymous with instant gratification. A burgeoning business is that extraordinary place where expertise, perseverance and a thick skin converge to realize a dream.
Prior to making the formidable decision to begin, learn your industry top to bottom. Dedicate the time and resources to attend conferences, seminars and related events. This is an opportunity to investigate the inner workings and engage with those doing what you're trying to do. The preliminary research will help you to determine whether or not you're built for what happens next.
Of course you're built for this. You've already designed your letterhead. Still, before ordering that expensive paper you must ink your vision on plain ol' paper. Craft a business plan and extrapolate a strategy and a realistic timeline for execution. The exercise of exhausting your ideas into a 30 (plus) page document will create a framework to which you will refer more than you think possible. As a dreamer, you have many great ideas. Think of your business plan as the traffic cop to the speed demon that is your mind. Your business plan will help to steady your pace.
Need help getting started? Check out these that take a lot of the guesswork out of the process.
Legal and tax considerations are paramount to deciding on a structure for your business. Consult a lawyer who specializes in your industry of choice. If resources are limited, the IRS website does a great job with simplifying what can be a daunting process. This is the most important step to establishing your business. Keep in mind, dreams can come and go but taxes are forever. Be choosy.
Register your idea, product, script and/or patent. Taking this step is one of the best things you can do and is often overlooked at the outset. Keep in mind that mistakes can be amended but it's best to examine your submissions with a fine-tooth comb before hitting send. Mistakes can be costly.
While keeping in mind your pleasant disposition, it is required that you contemplate a fighting stance. You will undoubtedly face turbulence on your journey and developing a thick skin will come in handy. As a dreamer, you've mastered best-case scenarios but it's time you anticipate obstacles and prepare for the worst. Business is where a dual personality has reverence.
Prospective investors and financial partners will expect that you have a comprehensive budget in your back pocket. In order to be taken seriously, your budget should not only exist in your back pocket, it should pour out of every compartment. I cannot stress the importance of a financial plan. Clarity is key to securing the support you'll need to carry forth your vision. That said, once you've secured an angel with deep pockets or decide to go it alone, stick closely to your budget. Financial responsibility will serve you well. The alternative can mean the end of your enterprise.
When you finally enter the market you will find that your idea is not as unique as you thought. In fact, it may very well have a twin. Don't despair. You've gotten this far for a reason. Sometimes all that's needed is a face-to-face with the competition to discover your niche. Dig deeper and adjust accordingly. We're a nation of billion-dollar industries. There's more than enough room for us all.
No one says it out loud, for fear this frowned-upon truth could undermine one's credibility or propensity to do the job. In matters of business, human connections could mean the difference between asking for a meeting and actually getting one. Who you know matters. And while you're someone who values relationships, be sure to handle them with care. Burnt bridges can be suicide to any entrepreneur.
As with many things in life, success likely occurs when small goals are met and the bigger picture is kept in perspective. Commit to the long haul and accept that all good things take time and there are no true failures, simply false starts. It is my professional opinion that while innovation is the mother of invention, optimism is the mother of longevity.
You may be a dreamer, but when considering prospective relationships, it's imperative to think like a ruthless litigator charged with defending who is quite possibly the most flawed character out there: you. Protect your self-interest at all costs. Introduce a partnership agreement from the outset and define individual roles up front. Alternatively, be the efficient manager that you are and outsource essential as well as extraneous needs. This way you will always be the queen of your domain, literally.
Here are some additional resources that helped me so much in my business and may help in yours!
Creating a business plan and strategy: Bright Hub Project Management, Strategy & Leadership
Establishing your business: Small Business Administration
Protecting your investment: Copyright Association, Writers Guild of America
Keeping track of your budget: Spreadsheet 123
Protecting your partnerships: Work for hire agreements
Crystal Granderson-Reid is a mother, writer, creative consultant and entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Brownstone Babies LLC, a boutique of creative ideas for children's products that launched the multi-ethnic doll brand, Brownstone Buddies. She simultaneously co-founded a not-for-profit, BE FREE GLOBAL, which funded creative projects for children worldwide. She currently authors the lifestyle blog www.brooklynchateau.blogspot.com.
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