9 steps from start-up dream to real business

9 steps from start-up dream to real business

By Rhonda Abrams, Special for USA TODAY

So, you always wanted to own your own small business? Dream of being your own boss?

But you’re stuck in a rut. You’re still in a dead-end job with a boss you hate. Or you’re sitting on your couch at 11 a.m. wondering, “What am I doing with my life?”

Well, it’s time to take action. If you want to own a business, let’s stop talking and start doing.

Now, I’m not advising you walk in to your boss and quit, not when you’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed. But you can get off your couch and start taking those first steps to turn your dream into reality.

What can you do that will move you closer to your goals but won’t jeopardize your current security?

1. Face your fears. Fear of failure holds back would-be entrepreneurs more than anything else. What are you afraid of? Likely, being flat broke. But the reality is that unless you’re launching a large manufacturing company or a high-growth start-up, you won’t need to invest huge sums of money up front. You need your living expenses, of course, so don’t quit your day job.

2. Focus. You have a gazillion great business ideas. Figure out which one has the best chance of success with the budget and time you have and focus on that. Build one business at a time.

3. Start small. You don’t have to go all in right off the bat. Before you lease an expensive yoga studio, teach classes in your home, client’s homes or use a local park. Want a food business? In many places, you may be able to start by making food in your own kitchen, then sell to local restaurants and at farmers’ markets. Check the website Forager for up-to-date cottage food laws in your state.

4. Start lean. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect. Create a minimal viable product (MVP), building only to a level that enables you to go out and get your first customers. Later, make improvements based on customer feedback. Google’s product development mantra is “Experiment, expedite, iterate.” In other words, try new things, move quickly, improve.

5. Start cheap. I once counseled a woman who wanted to start a real estate business, but felt she couldn’t launch it until she built an expensive website, costing more than $10,000. Get over it. Many of the services you need, you can even find free, such as  getting a free basic website from Weebly or Wix. You can connect with prospects using free conference sites such as SkypeGotoMeeting, Google Hangout or even FaceTime.

6. Turn off social media. Posting, tweeting, and blogging are great ways to market yourself — once you have something to market. In the meantime, they’re a time sink — giving you the impression you have a business when you just have distraction. Get out there and make your product or service and then go and sell it.

7. Beware of multilevel marketing schemes. Once you tell people you want to start a business, there’s a whole lot of people who will try to recruit you to “become an independent distributor” or “own your own business” through selling cleaning supplies, clothing, makeup, herbal remedies, essential oils, telecom services, whatever. . . . Watch out. Fewer than 1% of people in multilevel marketing schemes make money.

In these programs, you’re a customer, not a business owner, regardless of what they call you.

8. Find an SBDC consultant. Need help to launch? There’s free help. One of the best, least-known services provided by the U.S. Government to small businesses is the national network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). More  than 1,000 SBDCs provide free one-on-one counseling and low-cost training programs to small businesses. SBDC consultants are trained, dedicated professionals; most have run small businesses themselves. Find your local SBDC here.

9. Take that first step. Nothing is more empowering than actually taking action. It could be something as simple as making an appointment with an SBDC consultant, interviewing a few prospective customers to start learning more about your market or finally choosing a company name. At some point, you have to just make a decision and get on with it. Once you’ve taken one step, take another. Then another. You’ll be on your way.

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