1. Refine your idea
If you're thinking about starting a business, you likely already have an idea of what you want to sell, or at least the market you want to enter. Do a quick search for existing companies in your chosen industry. Learn what current brand leaders are doing and figure out how you can do it better. If you think your business can deliver something other companies don't (or deliver the same thing, only faster and cheaper), you've got a solid idea and are ready to create a business plan. "It is good to know why you are launching your business. In this process, it may be wise to differentiate between [whether] the business serves a personal why or a marketplace why. When your why is focused on meeting a need in the marketplace, the scope of your business will always be larger than a business that is designed to serve a personal need."
Many people think they have a great idea and jump into launching their business without thinking through who their customers will be, or why these people should want to buy from or hire them," Desaulniers said.
"Second, you need to clarify why you want to work with these customers – do you have a passion for making people's lives easier? Or enjoy creating art to bring color to their world? Identifying these answers helps clarify your mission. Third, you want to define how you will provide this value to your customers and how to communicate that value in a way that they are willing to pay."
During the ideation phase, you need to iron out the major details. If the idea isn't something you're passionate about or if there's not a market for your creation, it might be time to brainstorm other ideas.
2. Write a business plan
Once you have your idea in place, you need to ask yourself a few important questions: What is the purpose of your business? Who are you selling to? What are your end goals? How will you finance your startup costs? These questions can be answered in a well-written business plan.
A lot of mistakes are made by new businesses rushing into things without pondering these aspects of the business. You need to find your target customer base. Who is going to buy your product or service? If you can't find evidence that there's a demand for your idea, then what would be the point?
Conduct market research.
Conducting thorough market researchon your field and demographics of potential clientele is an important part of crafting a business plan. This involves conducting surveys, holding focus groups, and researching SEO and public data.
Market research helps you understand your target customer – their needs, preferences and behavior – as well as your industry and competitors.
3. Assess your finances.
Starting any business has a price, so you need to determine how you're going to cover those costs. Do you have the means to fund your startup, or will you need to borrow money? If you're planning to leave your current job to focus on your business, do you have money put away to support yourself until you make a profit? It's best to find out how much your startup costs will be.
Many startups fail because they run out of money before turning a profit. It's never a bad idea to overestimate the amount of startup capital you need, as it can be a while before the business begins to bring in sustainable revenue.
Perform a break-even analysis.
One way you can determine how much money you need is to perform a break-even analysis. This is an essential element of financial planning that helps business owners determine when their company, product or service will be profitable.
The formula is simple.
- Fixed Costs / (Average Price – Variable Costs) = Break-Even Point
Every entrepreneur should use this formula as a tool because it informs you about the minimum performance your business must achieve to avoid losing money. Furthermore, it helps you understand exactly where your profits come from, so you can set production goals accordingly.
Here are the three most common reasons to conduct a break-even analysis:
- Determine profitability. This is generally every business owner's highest interest. Ask yourself: How much revenue do I need to generate to cover all my expenses? Which products or services turn a profit and which ones are sold at a loss?
- Price a product or service. When most people think about pricing, they consider how much their product costs to create and how competitors are pricing their products. Ask yourself: What are the fixed rates, what are the variable costs, and what is the total cost? What is the cost of any physical goods and what is the cost of labor?
- Analyze the data. What volumes of goods or services do you have to sell to be profitable? Ask yourself: How can I reduce my overall fixed costs? How can I reduce the variable costs per unit? How can I improve sales
4. Determine your legal business structure.
Before you can register your company, you need to decide what kind of entity it is. Your business structurelegally affects everything from how you file your taxes to your personal liability if something goes wrong.
If you own the business entirely by yourself and plan to be responsible for all debts and obligations, you can register for a sole proprietorship. Be warned that this route can directly affect your personal credit.
Alternatively, a partnership, as its name implies, means that two or more people are held personally liable as business owners. You don't have to go it alone if you can find a business partner with complementary skills to your own. It's usually a good idea to add someone into the mix to help your business flourish. If you want to separate your personal liability from your company's liability, you may want to consider forming one of several types of corporations. This makes a business a separate entity apart from its owners, and, therefore, corporations can own property, assume liability, pay taxes, enter contracts, sue and be sued like any other individual.
One of the most common structures for small businesses, however, is the limited liability corporation. This hybrid structure has the legal protections of a corporation while allowing for the tax benefits of a partnership.
5. Register with the government and Irs.
To become an officially recognized business entity, you must register with the government. Corporations will need an "articles of incorporation" document, which includes your business name, business purpose, corporate structure, stock details and other information about your company.
Otherwise, you will need to register your business name, which can be your legal name, a fictitious "doing business as" (DBA) name (if you are the sole proprietor), or the name you've come up with for your company. You may also want to take steps to trademark your business name for extra legal protection.