Andrew owns a pawn shop in the Oklahoma City area and has been a small business owner several times.
You’ve decided that wasting behind a desk or standing at your retail job is no longer going to be enough. Congratulations on taking your first step. You are already ahead of the game. There are tons of people who are perfectly happy to sit in your shoes and earn money for someone else. Not you, you are an entrepreneur.
Perhaps, like many people in your place, you don’t know where to go from here. You have an idea, maybe you have clarified some of the details, maybe not. Maybe you have checked some numbers, maybe not. Before continuing, let me save you some time and money by learning from my many mistakes.
1. You need to see if what you want to do is already being done.
Do you want to open a laundromat? Great! Do you want to start a vending business? Impressive! There are a million ways to earn money. Not everything has to be an innovative idea. You can do something that has been done before and will be done again. Not all business ideas have to be Netflix or Uber. If you have a traditional business idea (something you can Google and find a few near you right now), then you have a built-in edge. Go spy on other people who are doing what you want and are successful. Sponsor your business.
For example, if you want to start a bakery, make it a perfect excuse to go to all the bakeries near you and see what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Even if nothing comes out of your bakery, at least you will have found an excuse to eat cupcakes several times in the next few days. That is always a victory.
If you are interested in starting a dog daycare, you can take your dog to the nearest one and see what it looks like. See how much they charge. Look at their building and the type of construction they have done. Make sure to take mental notes of everything you see around you.
If you are not near a business like the one you want to start, find one in another part of the country and give it a call. Ask all the questions you can think of. Even if you are afraid, it will be strange. The worst thing they can do is hang up. This brings me to the next point.
2. Ask all the questions.
You’ve heard the expression, there is no such thing as a silly question. Well, that rings true especially in the case of opening your own business. Don’t be afraid to look silly. It will seem silly to several people at various points throughout this process. Just because you know everything there is to know about a particular sector or industry does not mean that you will know anything about real estate, or tax or labor laws. All of these things are going to be important and no one can expect you to be an expert on everything. When you find out about these things, it is important that you ask all the questions that come to mind.
3. Schedule your time.
You are going to be busy. To say that starting your own business is stressful is an understatement. It’s an incredible amount of detail. You will have to be in charge of all aspects of your new business. Do not panic! Divide everything you need to do into small pieces. If you were to say to yourself “I need to buy a building, buy supplies, buy advertising, hire an accountant, buy point of sale software, buy inventory, get a state license, get a county license, get any certification You can you need “it can get overwhelming really fast. It may seem like the whole world is coming at you at once. Let’s break it.
Take a week to find out everything that is involved in each of the things you need to do before opening day. Depending on the business, that could be a big company or it could be very straightforward. Once you’ve figured that out, schedule a time for each and every one of those problems. Schedule a day to go to the municipal building and ask for licenses. Schedule a day to make an appointment with an accountant. Schedule a day to call about the software you will need.
Before you know it, you will have done more than you have yet to do.
4. Google, Google, Google.
There is a world of information on the Internet about almost everything. It still amazes me how much you can find out with a simple Google search. Take the time to do all the research you can. Information is power. Research what you will need, research the places you can get the things you need from. If a business offers something that isn’t exactly what you need, but is close by, send them an email and ask if they have exactly what you’re looking for. Remember, don’t be afraid to sound silly.
5. Write everything down.
The sheer volume of what you will have to figure out and plan will be absurd. It is more than a person can remember. Get yourself a large notebook and start writing down whatever someone tells you on any topic related to your business. Write it all down. If you don’t write it down, you are losing that information, probably forever. It doesn’t matter if you feel weird or don’t jot things down in a notebook while someone is talking to you. Do it anyway.
6. Write a list of all the people you know who could help.
One of the most underrated resources, whenever a business is started, is people. You are going to need people from the beginning. You may need employees and you will need clients. Before you begin, write a list of people that you think might be a good addition to your team at some point. It doesn’t matter if you can afford to hire them right now, just write their names. Be creative. Think of people who can share your vision and accept what you are trying to achieve.
Also, write down any person or organization that you think might be interested in buying what you sell. Anyone you have dealt with in the past who has expressed an interest in the kinds of things you are doing.
7. Congratulations, you are now a seller.
No matter what industry you are getting into, you will be a salesperson. It all comes down to selling yourself and the products and services your company offers. If you need financing, like most startups, you will have to sell your idea to investors or a bank. Once you have secured funding, you will have to sell your products or services to everyone you come in contact with. The sales pitch should never stop. It is part of who you are now. Live with it.
Suppose you open a business premises, and through some unfortunate circumstances, all that is left on the shelf is one item. It’s old and worn and not exactly what everyone wants. Still, in your mind, it must be the best deal out there. You must convey that to every person who walks through the door. Even if you don’t believe it yourself.
Let’s say you offer a service, and at first you can’t afford to be priced as low as your competitors. You need to find out why it is better than any other company and continue with that story until you feel sad. If you charge more than anyone else, then you need to have the best customer service in the industry. You should offer rewards programs and communicate personally with your customers to let them know that you care. You are selling your business and yourself. If you’re not selling well enough, someone else will sell your brand to their customers.
8. Have someone available to you.
This will be an incredibly difficult time for you. It’s fine. You can handle it. However, that doesn’t mean you should go it alone. You need to have another human being that you can trust. Even if it’s just to complain. This is one of the most underrated ideas of starting a business. You’re going to lose your mind if you try to handle all this stress without a way out.
Whether you’re a friend or a spouse, it doesn’t matter, but you can’t do it alone. You have to have someone to bump into at the end of a really tough day. Someone to listen to your complaints and someone to exchange ideas with.
9. Look at the numbers.
This is the advice that can save you all the headaches in the world. No matter how much you want to run your business, if the numbers don’t add up now, they probably never will.
Let me share an example. A friend of mine opened a donut shop in a small town where I live. He made some amazing donuts. By far the best I have ever had. The only problem was that he realized, after opening the business, that this small town did not have enough people to realistically support his business. After some quick math about three months later, we estimate that roughly 75 percent of the city’s population would have to come buy donuts at least once a day to stay afloat. There was simply no way his business could survive. It doesn’t matter how good the donuts were.
You have to make sure the numbers are correct. There needs to be a large number of people in your area who are interested in your product or service. Also, you need to make sure that the market is not saturated with businesses like the one you want to open. For example, even if my friend had opened her donut shop in a more populated part of the state, chances are she would have been surrounded by competitors.
You have to look at the numbers. How many of your products will you have to sell to pay rent, payroll, taxes, etc.? You could be the best at what you do, but if you’re not in the right place or have too much competition around you, you may never get a chance to show what you do.
The bottom line is that you can do this. I know it seems overwhelming and that’s because it is. If it was easy, literally everyone would be doing it. It will never be easy. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Keep your head up and take it little by little. Make smart decisions and think things through and you’ll be making money before you know it. Good luck!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not intended as a substitute for the formal and individualized advice of a qualified professional.