“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long University education that I never had – everyday I’m learning something new.”
– Richard Branson
An inquisitive and questioning nature is part of the entrepreneurial DNA. Anyone working on a dream is walking in that space somewhere between the known and the unknown. While we acquire knowledge and know-how, we must simultaneously take action even when information is sketchy or nonexistent. Thus we have what you might call a thirst for knowledge mixed with a healthy dose of courage and audacity. Entrepreneurs ask questions. Here are 10 common ones and some answers based on personal study and experience:
1. How do I know if my idea is any good?
Your idea could be genius incarnate but not knowing what to do with it could be stupidity personified. Countless people come up with brilliant ideas but have no idea what to do with them. If you have a new invention, consult with a qualified patent lawyer. If you wish to enter a competitive field, be prepared to complete. Many new businesses fall somewhere in between the two extremes of a wholly original idea and something already being done by a lot of people. The trick is in the execution. You should study your competition and have a firm grasp on what they’re doing. Once you get started, you’ll find yourself constantly tweaking and readjusting in order to provide something truly unique that people really need, want and appreciate.
2. How do I get funding?
If you’ve got to have a pile of money to even get started, there is something wrong with your plan. There are some exceptions, but for the most part you’ll be expected to already be operating in some capacity. Before you open a cupcake shop you’d probably want to produce cupcakes in your kitchen and work on that for a while so you know you’ve got something unique and desirable.
There are a number of avenues for acquiring capital. These include friends and family, partnerships, angel investors, small business loans, and venture capital firms. If you are not certain about your trajectory, someone else will try and decide it for you. You could then wind up in a situation you don’t want to be in. When you’ve got some experience, you can better assess what type of funding, if any, you require.
3. How do I hire good employees?
If your work ethic is high, hire people with a similar work ethic. If you are driven and passionate about your work, hire people that are driven and passionate about the same things. Look for people that value cooperation and coordination. Simply having a degree in something does automatically qualify someone in my experience. Only the RESULTS, what they P-R-O-D-U-C-E, will tell the accurate tale. Observe what people DO, rather than what they SAY. You must also hire people that can do what you cannot do personally. As you get bigger, you’ll need competent delivery, sales, marketing, HR, finance, IT, legal, executive, quality control and so on. Expect turnaround, but if you hire smartly to begin with, it will be minimal.
4. How do I market my product or service?
It depends a lot on what you do and your business model. Direct to consumer is different than business to business. Some basic online marketing strategies include an informative and intuitive website including a mobile version, a social media strategy, search engine optimization (SEO), lead generation services, and efficient use of review and referral sites and directories. You don’t have to get super sophisticated to begin with, but you should stay informed on the constantly shifting landscape of digital media. Hiring a pro who really knows what they’re doing is a good option if you’ve got the funding.
But there are also plenty of traditional marketing and public relations tactics you can and should use. Personal connections, networking events, PR events, trade events, mailings, and cold calling represent a few. Handing out your business card is of course a must. Advertising may be an option depending on your financial outlay. I would suggest targeted digital ads and establishing yourself in the marketplace before doing any broad public advertising like billboards, radio or television. No matter what, when people call in or show up at your door, they must, must, must be well taken care of by sales staff who know what they’re doing. All your marketing dollars can be wasted if you fail to follow up on leads or fail to handle them properly.
5. How do I handle financial and legal matters?
If you are not handy with bookkeeping, hire someone who is. Even if you are good at it, if you’re starting to do some business, you’ll need to assign out these functions rather soon, even if it’s just on a part time basis. You’ll want to consult with a business attorney sooner or later and look at the various types of licensing and insurance needed for your field. At the outset you may decide to just dive in and get going, and I encourage that, but for continued growth, get these basics covered.
Being bonded, licensed, insured, having fully defensible books, standard payroll, paying your taxes – neglect these and you’re creating some serious problems and distractions for yourself in the not-too-distant future. If you want to last you’ll have to take care of these points.
6. How do I manage my time efficiently?
Get up early and stay late – that’s the short answer. Compartmentalize your time and keep a tight schedule where you devote specific slots to designated functions. Then muster up enough self-discipline to follow it. Owning and operating a business – and being successful at it – is not vacation time. That said, keep a schedule that works for you, and include time for your family and doing what you love. The ethic of “work hard, play hard” is perfectly valid. I try and stay busy all the time so I’m not a big fan of sitting at home vegetating in front of the television. I do however love my sports. Entrepreneurs and successful people read more books and have more creative pursuits than those content to stick to a 40-hour work week and drink beer, play video games and loaf the rest of the time. I love my loafing time, but only after I’ve worked my a** off.
7. How do I come up with a sound business plan?
Get extremely proficient in your field. Study your competition in detail. Conduct surveys of your customer base: Find out what they are thinking, what they are doing, what their customs and habits are, what they perceive as valuable and vital and what they perceive as worthless or destructive. Get to know your customers like close friends because that is what they are.
Your business plan isn’t just a rote series of actions you present to potential investors. It’s a strategy for your future. It’s what you and your team will be doing for the next year (or until you draft a new plan), so it should contain realistic and tangible actions geared toward establishment and expansion.
Start with your goals and work it back from there. What actions are required to reach those goals? If your goal is 100, I recommend a plan for 1,000. If you think small, you’ll get small. Think big. Your strategy should flow in sequence. For example: Acquiring new offices may be impossible until you reach a certain profit level. A bigger marketing campaign could possibly follow moving into bigger offices. Hiring more people could presumably come after sales and delivery are really cranking. Even when you plan these things, you’re learning as you go, tweaking and modifying your plan in the process. Staying alert and receptive along the way is essential.
8. How can I find inspiration and motivation?
Doing something you feel passionate about is a good start. Having a clear idea of where you want to go and how you intend to get there is also vital. Uncertainty can lead to inaction. When you feel weighted down by inertia, keep pushing forward. When you feel something pushing back, push harder. You’ll get a breakthrough and then you just sort of barrel on through. Very often what is “pushing back” is not external in nature; rather, it comes from within. When you’re on the job, don’t pay it any mind. I always seek to better myself. I have to. I can’t do it any other way. But when I’m on the job, I’m not looking inward. I’m focused on the job at hand, looking to the future.
You can find inspiration and motivation in many different places: Your family, friends, teammates, the feeling of accomplishment and a job well done, a book, a song, the outdoors, your favorite team, and of course your faith. Putting some balance in your life is always an excellent approach. Get out and exercise, work with your hands, fix something that’s broken – do things that put your attention outward into the environment. Exercising and eating right means better health and more energy to tackle the day. These all add up to what I call a holistic lifestyle.
9. What references and texts are useful in starting and running a business?
I use the Hubbard administrative technology. It has provided the rock solid foundation for building and expanding all of our drug rehabilitation centers. It is a fully realized system of workable knowledge that encompasses hiring, communications, ethics, sales, marketing, finance, delivery, productivity, quality control, trouble shooting, staff morale, management, expansion, and many other facets of organization. Here are two links with more details if you’re interested in this system:
In the 21st century, it is vital to know your basics. At the same time, we’re in a constantly changing climate when it comes to marketing, social media and shifting economies. Here are some sites I have found helpful:
10. What are some quotes that can be applied to business and life?
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” – Vince Lombardi
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain
“Choose a job that you like, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius