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Starting a business? What you need to know

Got an excellent product or service in mind? Keen to start your own business? If you’re ready to take the plunge and venture out on your own, here’s everything you need to know about starting a start-up.

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1

Map it out

So you’ve got a vision in mind, but how do you make it come to life? You need to take a few crucial steps to make sure your business not only becomes a reality but a successful one at that. In the early stages of starting a business, it’s important to get the administration out of the way and to get the creative juices flowing at the same time. Start off by fleshing out your business idea in as much detail as possible. What is it? What makes it unique? Who will benefit from your products and services? Who is your target market? Who if any will be your main competitors? How will your idea enhance people’s lives or businesses? Write it all down.

Once you’ve brainstormed, think of a business name (and URL), and register it before someone else snaps it up. Think of a name that’s memorable and that points to the product or service you’re offering. If creative writing is not one of your skills, hire a copywriter to come up with a few options. For the final part of this groundwork stage, choose a business structure that suits your idea best. Will you be a sole proprietor, a company or a not-for-profit?

2

Plan for success

We’ve all heard the saying “failing to plan is planning to fail.” When it comes to entrepreneurship, this old adage couldn’t be truer. If you’re serious about starting an efficient, profitable business, you need to take the time to create a business plan. It doesn’t need to be long and complicated, but it does need to be well thought out — after all, this plan is going to guide your actions for the next few months or possibly the next couple of years. It will be your reference point, so you want to make sure it’s a good one! There is no set format for a business plan, but it’s a good idea to cover these areas: objective, goals, strategy, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, leadership, profit, finances and future planning.

It’s really important to nail down two things: your target market and your product or service. Learn as much as you can about the needs, wants, budgets, interests and lifestyles of your potential customers. If you can, talk to 20 or 30 people who fit your target market, and ask them a bunch of questions. Once you have a good understanding of your market, redefine your business idea.

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3

Give me the money

After you’ve created a plan, the next step is to come up with the funds to implement it. In business terms, this is called “raising capital.” But before you do that, make a budget. Using a spreadsheet, write down your expenses (equipment, tools, staff, marketing, etc.), the price of your product or service and when you expect to start generating income.

Now comes the hard part: figuring out where the money will come from. If you’ve got savings stashed away, you can always invest your own money. However, most people need a little help to get their start-up off the ground. Consider approaching investors, getting a loan from your bank, taking a second job or applying for a credit card. Whatever you do, don’t get in over your head. Borrow only what you know you can pay back, even if it might take some time.

4

Work on your image

In the business world, reputation is integrity, and your image is what people will remember you by. Having an amazing idea isn’t enough; you need to create a brand consumers will trust and recognize. First, invest some time and money in developing a great logo and business card. Remember, you have to spend money to make money, so if you can afford it, enlist a designer to come up with a few high-quality logos and cards. Once those are done, turn your attention to marketing and PR (public relations). How will target customers learn about your brand? This is the time to roll up your sleeves, get creative and think of effective ways to get your customers’ attention. If you’ve got the funds, advertise in a medium that suits your company best. Online and print are the go-to options for start-ups.

5

Prepare for takeoff

So you’ve got a great product, a detailed plan, a well-defined brand, funds and a clear customer base. Guess what! It’s time to take the plunge and launch your business. Most start-ups take between three and six months to really “get off the ground,” so to speak, so be patient. It’s going to be a learning experience, and hopefully one that will be worth it in the end.

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