There are no prerequisites on who can become an entrepreneur. You don’t need to have a degree, savings in the bank or even previous business experience. However, you do need the right mindset and the ability to plan the steps needed to make a success of your business. So how do you become a successful entrepreneur?

Building a business from the ground up can seem daunting. Talk to any entrepreneur or small business owner and they will quickly tell you that starting a business requires a lot of effort. While effort is important, you really need to know the steps and best practices needed to start and grow your business. To help you figure out where to start, we have developed this checklist which details the key considerations that will help you turn your business idea into a reality.

 

Understand the Commitment and Challenges Involved in Starting a Business

You need to appreciate the significant amount of time, resources, and energy needed to start and grow a business. We often say to first time entrepreneurs that they need to consider what they are going to give up in order to have the time particularly during the early stages of the startup process. This brings a reality check having to make clear choices on what must be sacrificed to give your business the best possible chance of succeeding.

As an entrepreneur you should be comfortable taking risks and have the grit needed to keep going when things get tough. Effective self-motivation is key. When you start a business self-awareness is important, identifying your strengths and weakness. This will help you to decide early on if you want to go it alone or bring in a cofounder. If you go it alone you can put a skills training plan in place to improve your abilities in areas such as sales & marketing or commercial acumen.

 

Define what success means for you

You need to define what you want to achieve from starting a business. At a high level it can be being your own boss, making more money, wanting a more flexible lifestyle, seeing an opportunity for a new product or service, wanting to give back through a social enterprise or feeling that you want to do something more in your work life.

You need to figure out how your business fits into your life. Are you willing to give up money to gain more free time or give up your free time to make more money? Do you want to start a sideline business, become a freelancer selling your services per hour, have a lifestyle business that allows you freedom to pursue other interests, start a business that scales up to 7 or 8 figures or even become a unicorn.

Set a financial target taking into account your survive level of income, the money you need to make from the business to survive, your thrive level of income, the revenue and profit level that you would regard as being successful and a target revenue and profit, a realistic value in between your survive and thrive targets. Do some basic calculations on the number of products or services you need to sell to meet this target. This can often be a good reality check on how realistic you are being.

Where your personal time is a key goal, define the maximum number of days or hours per day  working you want to work in the business. This could be as simple as keeping weekends free for friends and family. It can also be good to set a social target, give a percentage of profit to charity from every sale, or allocate a number of hours per week to a local community initiative. Then set some preliminary timelines. What horizon do you want to set goals for, I year, 3 years or 5 years. When do you want to secure your first sale or achieve the target revenue or profit.

Having these success metrics allows you to better define the path you need to take for your business.

Get your mindset right

Many new entrepreneurs have a good idea but fear stops us from starting or we feel overwhelmed by all the things we are expected to know. These are the stories we tell ourselves about what we are capable of achieving or what other people will expect. These limiting beliefs can take the form of perfectionism, procrastination, self-doubt, a fear of being found out (imposter syndrome) or a fear of failure.

Become conscious of your own operating system. What often separates those who achieve success from those who don’t is what they do with those thoughts when they occur. The first step is recognising what is preventing you from taking action. We need to challenge the story we tell ourselves as we often don’t see the talents that other people see in us.

Move from having a fixed mindset constantly thinking about the outcome, to a growth mindset where you focus on what you will learn from the next step in the process. Seasoned entrepreneurs know that the most important thing to do is to take that first or next step, letting urgency conquer fear. Successful entrepreneurs don’t wait for the right time, they just start and take any timing issues into account as they plan their launch.

 

Choose a product or service that people want and that you have a passion for

One of the main reasons businesses fail is because there’s no customers for their idea. So look for a pain point that you can solve, one that customers are willing to pay for. The most successful entrepreneurs have an idea that they have a connection to or a passion for, helping them to persist with it through the challenges that will come.

Don’t try to create a perfect product right way. Just get started and test product market fit by validating your idea with real customers as early as possible. Early customer feedback is also one of the best ways to help improve or refine your product or service. Every market is different but in many cases competition proves that there is demand for what you offer.

Where you have a novel product or service take the lean startup approach that aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable.

 

Spend time on the foundational work.

Many first time entrepreneurs struggle because they jump straight into selling their product or service before putting the marketing foundations in place. These foundations provide the clarity you need.

These foundations include

  1. Being clear on who your customer is and what niche you are targeting.
  2. Refining your product or service to meet the needs of your target customer.
  3. Crafting a value proposition and marketing messages that will resonate with your customers.
  4. Differentiating your offering from competitors in the eyes of the customer.
  5. Pricing and packaging in a way that makes it easy for your customer to understand your offering and to buy it.

A typical mistake for first time entrepreneurs is to try to make their business cater to an audience that is too broad. Niching, taking an inch wide and a mile deep approach, will help you to understand your customers better, help customers to find you and you to stand out from the crowd. If your target is growth, once you have established yourself in that niche you have the opportunity to expand in horizontal or vertical niches.

For more complex businesses it can be useful to use a framework such as segmenting, targeting and positioning to clearly define your niche. You can then develop a customer persona and journey to better understand the specific touch points with your customer. For more straight forward businesses you might be able to define your niche as the problem you are solving, making that problem very specific.

Creating a value proposition, using tools such as the Value Proposition Canvas, can be a good way to create marketing messages that make people feel that you understand them. This helps you to define the problem you solve and the emotional connection with the customer, rather than trying to get customers to understand the features of your product or service. We have seen many business owners become discouraged when their business hasn’t meet their expectations, which in many cases has been due to not having these foundations in place.

 

Don’t Go Overboard on a Business Plan and avoid distractions

It’s useful to come up with a roadmap to think through the steps to launch and grow your business. At the early stages of your business spending too much time on planning can delay you from taking action. Ideas mean nothing without action, simple is better when you’re starting out.

Sometimes entrepreneurs can be found guilty of being wedded to their spreadsheets and the data, rather than getting out and speaking with customers.  Go with your gut instinct at the early stages of your business, the efforts you have put in to understand your customer gives you a good foundation for making decisions on the direction your business should take.

Work to a clear roadmap, “park” the activities that don’t need to be worked on right now. Do spend time defining your marketing strategy and put a financial model in place. Where you are seeking funding prepare a pitch deck. Try to avoid shiny object syndrome where you get distracted with new ideas without ever seeing any of them through.

Establish the right habits and routines that help you to work smart. Put a time management system in place that suits the way you work and helps you to get in flow. Review your action list to make sure you spend your time, energy, and resources in the areas that make the biggest impact.

 

Build a network: advisers, mentors, professional service providers

It is important to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Entrepreneurs with limited funding often need to take a DIY approach needing to learn new skills through training or coaching. Where funding is available you can hire people to take on those tasks or outsource the tasks that you know you aren’t good at. Regularly consider what tools and systems you need to start, build, and scale your business. What can be automated.

There will be times when it gets tough so you should develop coping mechanisms. The most important is having people you can talk to when you become anxious or frustrated. Having the support of someone who has been through the same experiences can be invaluable. Another useful approach is to have an accountability partner who helps to keep you on track with the commitments you have made.

 

Develop your skills in sales and marketing

You need to get customers to know, like and trust you. Develop your sales & marketing with this in mind. Define your route to market and dentify which of the sales and marketing strategies will work for you. Will you focus on business development, creating a network of partners, resellers or distributors.

In B2C markets your marketing will be key, while in B2B sales may take more prominence. Don’t try to use every marketing channel right away. Focus on what feels right for you. Start with 1 or 2 main marketing channels and experiment with other touch points that you know people are using. Identify where you can get early wins and build a following of people who are ready to jump when you open your doors for business. Don’t just focus on getting the sale. Focus on helping your customers succeed.

 

Track and test what is and isn’t working in your business.

Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. You will hear advice detailing the way to succeed, but go with your gut and use your customer knowledge. You can go with the traditional advice that all your competitors may also be using or do something different to everyone else in order to stand out.

As an entrepreneur you need to adapt to changing situations. You have to be comfortable with uncertainty. If areas are not working out have the strength to adjust and pivot. Don’t “kick the can down the road” instead of creating better systems for solving recurring problems.

Don’t get discouraged by rejections from customers. Customers have more choices than ever before so you need to focus on making it easy for your customers to buy. The user experience of your buying process is becoming really important, audit your user experience regularly and identify where you can improve it.

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As you can see, success is built around developing your entrepreneurial mindset and skillset, and most importantly taking action. It requires you to bring the right product or service to market that solves a customer problem, preferably one that you have a personal connection to or passion for. Putting the foundations in place that provide clarity around your business and your customers. And defining your sales and marketing strategy and messaging so that customers get to know, like and trust you, making it easy for them to buy. And finally, not spreading yourself too thinly, having a support network and getting help when you need it.

Entrepreneurship is about creating a business not just a product or a service. The entrepreneur journey can be a roller coaster. By following these steps you should make your journey a little easier.

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Starting a Business is hard – that is why The First Time Entrepreneur provides online business training that guides you through a step by step process and shares the best practices used by successful startups, giving you the clarity and confidence to start and grow your business.

Where you need additional support, we can work with you through our coaching programme or do tasks outside your comfort zone for you through our outsourcing and consultancy.

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