There’s a thousand different ways to get from New York City to Los Angeles. Some ways are relatively easy while others are full of obstacles. But no matter how you get there, you still have to cross the Mississippi and scale the Rockies.
Similarly, there’s no such thing as a set path to entrepreneurial success. But you do need to be headed in the right direction.
Some overnight successes take just a few years, while other entrepreneurs run in circles for decades. Before you can find success, there are certain things that you need to do and a certain order in which you need to do them.
Follow these 61 steps for the most obstacle-free path to becoming a successful young entrepreneur.
Have an Idea
“To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart.”
Founder of IBM·
- Come up with your idea.
The first thing you need is a problem that you’re passionate about solving. Then build a business on top of that solution.
- Package your idea as a service if you can.
Services are easier to start because you can make money right away. Products require extensive research, product development, manufacturing, and distribution. Then when you sell it, it might be months before you get paid. However, products are easier to scale. Start as a service then expand into a product.
Know the Ropes
“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ‘em, ‘Certainly, I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”
26th U.S. President·
- Google your business idea.
To find other people and businesses doing what you want to do. Write down those keywords because that’s how people will find your business.
- Question why it hasn’t been done before.
If you can’t find anyone, you have a first-mover advantage. But you need to ask yourself why no one else is doing it. Find the answer to that question before you move forward.
- Learn from your competitors.
If you find competitors, you’ll be able to learn from them. Take a look at every detail of their business and, if you want to be bold, call them up and ask questions.
- Find a mentor.
A good mentor will save you years-worth of mistakes. Contact the leader in your field and see if they’ll mentor you. You might have to start that relationship by doing something for them.
- Fly solo or recruit a team.
It’s best to start by yourself. But if you need a team, you’ll have to compensate them fairly with ownership in the company. Then set roles and expectations for those roles.
Plan Your Success
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
34th U.S. President·
- Determine the problem you’re solving.
This is the most important thing to know about your business. Everything you do from here on out will work towards solving this problem.
- Figure out exactly what you’re selling.
You’re getting paid for your product or service, but that’s not what you’re selling. You need to sell the benefits to what you’re offering. Sell them on how you can solve their problem.
- Research your service or develop your product.
Find out how other companies are providing their product or service. Learn from their business and everything that they’re doing. Then replicate their success.
- Calculate your startup costs.
You need to know exactly how much you need to get started. Once you have a number written down, double it. You will have unexpected expenses.
- Settle on your pricing.
One way to price is to determine your total costs per unit. Then simply mark it up. A better way to price is to figure out the real value to your customers and price it accordingly.
Market Your Business
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
Wealthiest Man in the World·
- Select a niche target market.
The smaller your target market, the more easily you’ll be able to find and reach them. Choose the absolute best customer and only appeal to that type of person.
- Name your company.
Use a brandable name like Google if you’re trying to appeal to consumers (B2C). Use a generic name like International Business Machines (IBM) if your target market is other businesses (B2B).
- Tagline your company.
Once you have the name, craft a tagline or catchphrase that sums up and explains the key benefits to your company. “Just do it.”
- Establish a brand message.
What do you want your customers to think of when they hear about or see your company? That message should be woven into everything that represents your business. It’s called a brand.
- Choose your company colors.
Research the psychology of colors to determine which colors will best represent your brand. Blue is popular for businesses because it’s gender neutral and it signifies trust. Red is used a lot by restaurants because it attracts the eye more than any other color.
- Get a logo.
Unless you’re a graphic designer, your logo is the first thing you should outsource for your business. Considering the software to make a professional logo costs $700, 99designs (aff link) is a relatively inexpensive way to get a great logo.
Reach Your Customers
“One can get anything if he is willing to help enough others get what they want.”
Author and Motivational Speaker·
- Get business cards.
You need business cards. Learn how to design effective business cards and get high-quality, cheap cards from GotPrint. I got 1,000 business cards for $18. If you go with a local printer, they’ll charge about $80 for 250 business cards.
- Sharpen your elevator pitch.
Before you start networking, you need to know what you’re going to say when someone asks, “What do you do?” Your response should be a 60-second elevator pitch.
- Attend a local entrepreneurship networking event.
The first group of people that you should meet is your local entrepreneurs. These people will introduce you to other important people in the business community. Find a local entrepreneurship networking event on Meetup.
- Choose the best way to contact potential customers.
Advertize to your customers how they want to be advertized to. Choose between meeting them face-to-face, cold-calling, email, direct mail, posters or flyers, online job postings, or driving traffic to your website.
- Nail down your sales pitch.
Once you know how you’re going to reach them, you have to figure out what to say. Use the golden structure for getting someone to purchase no matter what channel you choose.
- Make your marketing materials.
Now you need to create your marketing materials. Maybe it’s print advertising, a sales pitch script, a sales page, or a sales video.
“The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”
Founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese’s·
- Create a system for fulfilling orders.
Before you launch, you need to know how you’re going to supply what you sell. Gather your initial inventory or set a process for providing the service.
- Get a way to accept payments.
Cash-only doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to be able to accept checks and credit cards. Use Square if you’re accepting credit cards in person. Use Shopify (aff link) or WP e-Commerce (if WordPress) as your online shopping cart.
- Launch your business offline.
If your business is primarily offline, start by recruiting customers from your neighborhood or local community. You can do this with flyers, press releases, partnerships, or good ol’ fashion phone calls.
- Launch your website or blog.
If you’re launching an online service, all you need is a WordPress website with your About, Contact, Services, and Portfolio pages. If you’re launching a product, launch it through targeted press or affiliates. If you’re launching a blog, soft launch it with five articles and do a big launch once you have 20. To find more details about this process, check out Click 3.
Get it Done
“An entrepreneur tends to bite off a little more than he can chew hoping he’ll quickly learn how to chew it.”
Former Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget·
- Set SMART goals.
Your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Set one-year, six-month, three-month, and one-month goals.
- Establish weekly and daily tasks.
From your goals, set weekly and daily tasks based on the projects you need to get done in the order you need to do them.
- Get a planner.
At the beginning of the week, set a to-do list for every day. Write that to-do list in your planner so you can open it up in the morning and know exactly what you need to get done.
- Start a business idea notebook.
Designate a notebook for all of your miscellaneous business thoughts. Take it everywhere to collect all of your ideas in one place.
- Land a customer.
To land your first customer, start by bidding on a job or making an offer. If you win the bid, set expectations for your client. Negotiate the terms of the contract. Sign the contract. Bam, you’re hired.
- Provide the service or deliver the product.
Have a repeatable system for delivering the service that you can easily train to future employees. If you sell a product, set a process for delivering that product as efficiently as possible.
- Focus on productivity.
Keep in mind that you’re only making money for the time that you’re producing or selling something. Schedule an hour in the morning for phone calls and an hour at night for emails. Then you have the heart of the day to focus on the heart of your business.
- Organize and track your business.
FreshBooks (aff link) lets you easily create projects, track time for individual projects, professionally invoice your customers, and pay your staff.
- Be remarkable.
According to NOP World, 93% of customers identified word of mouth as the best, most reliable source of information they use to make purchasing decisions. Encourage word of mouth from your customers by being interesting, providing referral incentives, and making yourself sharable.
Find Your Fortune
“The greatest reward in becoming a millionaire is not the amount of money that you earn. It is the kind of person that you have to become to become a millionaire in the first place.”
Entrepreneur, Author, and Speaker·
- Design your business for cash flow.
As an entrepreneur, sometimes you’ll get paid before you do the work and other times you’ll have to wait months to get paid, if at all. Establish a payment policy to get paid as soon as possible.
- Collect your money.
If you’re selling in person, you can accept cash or take credit cards with Square. Otherwise you’ll have to invoice your client with flexible payment terms. FreshBooks (aff link) lets you easily send a professional invoice via snail mail or email.
- Track your earnings.
In the beginning, you should track your revenues and expenses in a simple Excel spreadsheet. Or you can use FreshBooks (aff link) to track every dollar and run reports on your earnings. If you haven’t noticed, FreshBooks is pretty much the greatest tool out there for entrepreneurs.
- Reinvest or pay yourself.
Once your business becomes profitable, you have to decide if you want to reinvest that money to grow, or you can pay yourself and stay flat.
- Find an investor if you need one.
Only on rare occasions should you look for an investor. Good investors only invest in companies that have already made money and are looking for cash to make big moves.
Legal Mumbo Jumbo
“Leadership is doing what is right when no one is watching.”
Entrepreneur and Author·
- Get your vendor’s license.
If you’re selling a product in person, you’ll need a vendor’s license. They cost about $25 and you get them from your local government.
- File a provisional application for patent.
If you have an invention you want to protect, start by filling a provisional application for patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
- Reserve your trade name.
Your trade name is your business name. It’s also known as, “Doing business as…” If you’re going to register your company, first you need to reserve your trade name.
- Register your Limited Liability Company (LLC).
To become a bona fide company, you need to register your business with your state’s Secretary of State. Most states let you do this online and charge an average of $25-$100.
- Get your Employer Identification Number (EIN).
Your EIN is like a social security number for your company. They’re free and you can get yours at IRS.gov.
- Set up a business bank account.
Every entrepreneur needs a business bank account. Most banks require that you have an LLC and an EIN. Always separate your personal expenses from your business expenses by using your business credit or debit card.
- Figure out if you need insurance.
Most entrepreneurs won’t need additional insurance. But if you’re operating in a hazardous work environment or have lots of expensive equipment, it’s worth the extra $100 per month to pick up general liability insurance.
- Set aside money for taxes.
Keep 25-30% of your profits in your business savings account to pay taxes at the end of the year.
- Schedule meetings with a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a small business lawyer.
Eventually you’ll need to hire a CPA and/or a small business lawyer. It’s best to start cultivating these relationships early on so maybe one day they’ll give you a deal. Plus, the first meeting should be free. Take advantage of it.
“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”
A Student in an Entrepreneurship Class·
- Become more efficient.
The easiest way to grow your business is to become more efficient. This reduces your costs and increases your profit margins. The best two ways to become more efficient are to develop better systems or buy better equipment.
- Boost your marketing.
Another way to grow is to get more customers. You do that by boosting your marketing. Offer a referral program, pay for advertising, send out direct mail, make sales calls, or find a creative way to reach more potential customers.
- Complement your product line or service offering.
A third way to grow is to sell more to existing customers. Do that by developing and offering complementary products and services.
- Outsource to independent contractors.
Before you hire employees, get your feet wet by hiring independent contractors. Legally, they’re a lot less complicated than employees. But they won’t be loyal to you and your business unless you give them a full-time position.
- Hire employees.
Once you’re up to speed with hiring practices, bring a few smart employees onboard. Start by asking your independent contractors if they’d like a more permanent position. Then ask for employee referrals, look on job boards, and reach out to your local school systems.
- Find space to work.
As you bring workers in-house, you’ll need to move your business out of your house. Office space usually costs about $25-$45 per square foot per year. Warehouses generally cost $3-$10 per square foot per year. If you want to open a store, retail space costs $10-$100 per square foot per year.
- Hire managers.
After you’re moved in and your employees are self-sufficient, it’s time to find a manager or two. Start by promoting within if you have good candidates. This will let you step out of the business and into the “entrepreneur” role.
- Sell the business.
If you want to get out of the business completely, it’s time to sell. Assuming you built a business with recurring revenue, it’ll be worth one-to-three years’ revenue. Post your business for sale on Craigslist and industry forums. That’s where other entrepreneurs are looking to acquire.
- Take a vacation.
Either that or dive into another venture.
- Give back.
Most people only consider non-profits when they think of charitable giving, but I want to give back to entrepreneurs. Give your fortune to whoever you want. Just make sure it’s someone or something that deserves it.
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