A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

Starting Your Own Business: The Step-By-Step Guide

Staring your own business.
Starting your own business: The definitive guide.
Are you hung up on the “idea phase” of starting your own business? Do you feel like none of your ideas are good enough–or do you have so many ideas and don’t know which one you should turn into a business? This post is for you!

First: I hear from many of you who have heard the advice that business should be about your “passion”. If I hear the words “find your passion” or “follow your passion” one more time, I’m going to stick a fork in the eye of the person who says it.

Starting your own business isn’t necessarily about “following your passion”, and you don’t have to “find your passion” before you start a business. Stop beating yourself up for not having a passion that people will pay you large sums of cash for, and follow this four-step process to starting your own business instead:

1. Figure out who your customers are.

Most aspiring business owners start from the wrong place. They start from “What do I know how to do?” or “What’s my passion?” That’s where a lot of people get stuck. They don’t know what their passion is, or how to monetize it.

I start from the opposite end. I listen to people having conversations, and my most common questions when talking to others are “What do you want?” or “What do you need?” That way, I find out what is missing in their lives, and then figure out if I can build a product or service around that.

I love watching reality TV, but I don’t expect someone to come dump 5 figures a month in my lap for me to do so! Instead, I start out looking at what customers will pay for. Then I create products and/or services that I know people want and charge people for them.

The benefit of looking at business from this perspective is that it’s not hard to find customers. You already know there is a market segment that is asking–no, begging–for this product or service. You don’t have to create a market. Just find the people who need what you have to offer and cater to them.

2. Survey some potential customers to see if they are interested in what you want to offer.

Again, this starts with the customers, not with what you want. Ask them what their thoughts are on your upcoming product or service. (This isn’t the right time to pitch them.) Ask them if they would use it. Ask them what you can do to help them make a decision.

This is your time to write down all the questions they have. “Is x included?” “Would I have to…?” You need to be able to understand what questions your customers have, then answer those questions in your website copy or when you pitch potential customers later on.

3. Once you get some “Yes” answers, sketch out what you have to offer.

Regardless of whether you’re selling a product or service, customers generally hate open-ended offers. You want to be able to offer a few packages of services or products and let them choose.

Imagine going into a restaurant and having the waiter say, “Okay, what would you like to eat tonight?” You reply, “Well, what’s good here?” The waiter says, “Everything, sir!”

At that point, you’d probably be stymied. Do you order a hamburger, a steak, or a salad? You’d also probably never come back to that restaurant again.

Now compare that to your sales process. If you’re a web designer or other service professional, you’re probably used to asking the client what they want first. That’s a good sales tactic. But then most people make the mistake of leaving it open-ended, or worse, letting the client decide what he or she wants. (Hint: Most people have no idea what they want. “Um, a website. That gets us business.”)

After you ascertain what the client is looking for generally, you pull out the menu of services that you provide. If the client wants something outside the scope of your menu, you can figure that out with him or her. But your menu sets up some “ground rules” when working with your client, and it also allows you the freedom of being able to systematize some parts of your labor later on.

Always have a menu.

4. Sign a few clients and make sure this is what you really want to do.

In some cases, you will sign some clients and then feel pulled in a totally different direction. When I started Simpli (my web hosting company), I originally planned for it to be a content management system–like WordPress is today. I developed the system myself, putting countless hours into it, and deployed it for several clients.

My clients all needed a really good web hosting company, and I had terrible experiences with web hosting in the past–including having my server, with all my data on it, stolen right out of a datacenter! I didn’t have a company I felt comfortable recommending, so I started my own.

Pretty soon, the web hosting side was growing faster than my content management system side, even though I was putting 80% of my time into my development work. I could tell it was time to switch gears, so over the course of several months, I wound down my content management system business and went full-time into web hosting. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s totally fine if you get a few clients and then say “This isn’t for me.” If this happens to you, find someone you feel comfortable referring your clients to and then refer them out. Then do something else. That isn’t “failure” at all. In fact, be proud of yourself for taking the step most people don’t have the guts to take: starting your own business!

A Totally Different Way of Looking at Business

This procedure is totally different from the way most people start businesses. Most people start with “I”. “I can do web design.” “I know how to knit.”

I challenge you, instead, to start with “You.” Who are your customers? What do they want or need in their lives? How can you help them achieve their goals?

Starting your business from what customers want or need will not only free you from the burden of discovering your “passion”, but it will also help you grow your business exponentially faster. Look around–the answers to which business you should start are right around you, in the conversations of others.

What do you wish you would have known when you were starting your own business? What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners? Feel free to share in the comments!

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After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

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