Part 3 of 5 in our entrepreneur series. This week: Starting slowly and successfully.
Thinking of quitting your day job to pursue a passion project? Just wait.
After all, some of the most successful business people in history, from Warren Buffett to Sarah Blakely, held onto their 9 to 5 lives while building their empires on the side.
And thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier to make your dreams a reality in your spare time. Tons of people out there have turned their side gigs and hobbies into careers as bloggers, make-up gurus, fashion designers, copywriters, photographers, artists, and tech moguls.
1. Start a business out of something you already prize as a hobby
There’s maintaining a hobby, and then there’s starting a business. Having a hobby is just spending a lot of time doing something you enjoying and gaining experience and skill in the process; starting a business with that hobby is achieving lift off.
In fact, turning something into your business from something you already do in your spare time is the best circumstances under which to start a venture: it shows that you’ve established some level of passion and commitment, and even if you weren’t trying to make money out of it, you’d still be knitting, baking, blogging, making art, programming, fashion designing, matchmaking, or whatever else you love doing. All of these skills, in combination with your passion, can help you achieve liftoff.
2. Start small
Once you’ve decided to start your business, either from your hobby or from a real problem that you’ve found a brilliant solution for, it’s important to start small and not overwhelm yourself by taking on too much too soon. There are plenty of small and easily manageable tasks that you can take on for yourself and your business.
Website platforms such as SquareSpace and Weebly make it easy to set up a simple and elegant website for your business; download an accounting software and open a bank account for your business to keep your books in order, and work your social networks to attract new clients. At this stage, unless you have an expressed partnership with a friend you trust, you should limit your business plan and idea to something that you can execute for yourself independently.
3. Find the best platform for your idea
Thanks to the Internet marketplace, it has never been easier to find a platform to find new clients. There’s Etsy and eBay for crafters and fashion designers, Stella&Dot for jewellery makers, Content.ly or CarbonMade for copywriters and bloggers, and Kickstarter for cool and investable ideas. Finding the right platform and setting up a store for your products is not just a great way to announce your arrival to the entrepreneurial landscape, but it also grants you a real, visible presence that will keep you motivated.
4. Start a blog
A blog is a wonderful, magical, transformative antidote to the daily rigours of business. It both is and isn’t work: it’s more of a safe space in which you can write your own adventure, release stress by venting about pressing problems (with care and diligence, of course), really allow your customers to get to know you, and also give updates on your business.
It can help keep your mind on track, remind you to stay motivated, and show you just how much you’ve learned after enough time. It can also be whatever you want it to be, depending on your business. You can host it on Tumblr and reblog images that inspire you and answer questions from readers, or you can add a new page on your website, a blank canvas which you can customize for yourself and build your own reputation as an expert or influencer.
5. Give yourself enough time
Often, when a new entrepreneur has a brilliant idea and decides to run with it, they feel the need to go full speed ahead, get a business license, start involving programmers, taking out loans and talking about their ideas as if it were a done deal. However, this is the road to a quick burn-out: too much thinking, too much talking, too much boasting; not enough careful planning and small, incremental doing. It takes years to gain credibility, especially for those who don’t come from a business background.
Not only that, it takes rejection after rejection. Sarah Blakely famously started her business with a pair of control-top pantyhose with the feet cut out and it was only after months and months of cold-calling and visiting hosiery factories before one of them agreed to make the product. She kept her job for two years before finally quitting her day job (this was soon after Oprah named Spanx as one of her “Favourite Things”). True success comes in small victories, spread out over unreliable lengths of time.
6. Keep a dedicated workspace
A home office, studio, or crafting corner will help motivate you every day to do your thing. After all, how much work can you really get done on your couch, dining table or bed?
7. Talk to many people, but include a diverse array of people
Even if you’re totally certain of your skills and aesthetic ability, sure that your solution can revolutionize a household product or industry, the best thing you can do is get a second, third, fourth, hundredth, opinion. Don’t just talk to your friends, cast a wide net: talk to your neighborhood barista, your stylist, the parents you see at school when you pick up your kids, if you have kids. Attach surveys with every product that you sell for suggestions on how to improve your product or streamline your service. All this feedback will help you finesse your business or product and reinforce your faith in yourself.
8. Learn to do as much as you can by yourself
Entrepreneurs need to know a lot of different skills to be able to run a business efficiently: basic programming, patent drafting, business marketing, some accounting, and later, project management. Particularly for people who are launching their own business without a lot of financial backing, the more skills you need to hire someone else for is a huge added expense (think of how much you would have to pay for a real web developer to get your site off the ground, or a patent lawyer to walk you through the patent claims). Not only is it more useful to be able to handle tasks on your own and do this on your own schedule, it’s a huge money saver.
9. Keep the risks low for as long as you can
Come up with a clear business plan and be ready to devote some of your savings for your venture, as costs can build up quickly and clients may be slow to present themselves at first. The more you invest in your own idea, the more you risk losing, so keep the stakes low for yourself and scale up as your returns begin to increase.
10. Patent your idea as soon as you’re certain you want to go through with it
If you have a genius idea or solution to a common problem, the best thing you can do when you decide to go through with executing your idea is to make sure nobody has the same idea as you and file a patent. This may not always be the case, but it is the standard in the industry. At least checking out patents will protect you from spending a ton of money and potentially stepping on other people’s intellectual property later.