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An Entrepreneurial Quick Start Guide

Posted by Seth Elliott On March - 16 - 2010

Quick StartMany would-be entrepreneurs are uncertain how to get started. Perhaps you have a strong desire to work for yourself, but you’re not sure what the next step should be. While the subject of entrepreneurship is extensive, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Here is an Entrepreneurial Quick Start Guide for those of you considering starting a business and looking for a little extra guidance.

Know Thyself

If you don’t yet know what type of business you should be starting, don’t despair. To paraphrase famous advice given to writers – commercialize what you know. The further afield you wander from your commercial competencies the larger the risk that you’re taking. Ideally, you’re entrepreneurial venture should be congruent with, or only slightly removed from, your current business expertise.

What does this mean in practice? Here’s a good exercise to help narrow your focus. You’ll need two sheets of paper and pen to complete this. Take the first sheet of paper. In the center, write your current job. Brainstorm (and write down) all the skill sets that you use in order to succeed in your current position. Once you’ve completed that, take the second sheet of paper. Once again, write your current job in the center. Now brainstorm and write all potential business products or services that relate to your current job. Use the skill set brainstorm page to help you extend your thought processes regarding potential business ideas.

Of course, you can use this process to determine a business idea based off of hobbies or other areas of expertise, as well.

Remember, the core concept here it to select a business that you know something about, ideally one where you have some actual experience. Naturally, if you have some additional pint of leverage, that’s even better. For example, if you’ve been working as a cook and your aunt let’s you know that she has access to an industrial kitchen that you can use, that would be a great point of leverage if you’re considering starting your own catering business.

Identify Successful Competitors

Once you’ve identified the type of business you want to start, it’s time to find your models. One of the best ways to model your business is to examine successful competitors. If you can determine key business success factors, you can replicate them and reduce your risk. Of course, this will require a certain amount of research.

One tip for identifying competitors that qualify for further research: examine advertising. If you service consumers, check out local and regional newspapers. If your venture is in the business-to-business space, examine appropriate trade publications. Start pulling advertisements from these publications, going back to previous issues if possible. Once you find ads that are run repeatedly, you’ve probably identified advertisements, and businesses, that are successful.

Now you have to get creative and perform your own due diligence. You need to “lift the hood” on these competitors as much as possible, in order to get a sense for their operations. One way to do this is to pose as a prospective customer. Contact the business and query them about the types of things a true customer asks. You can generally ask how long they’ve been around, the extent of their product/service offering, what new products/services are planned for the future, pricing policies, return policies, etc. If it’s feasible, you may want to order their product/service. Naturally, you want to examine any material in the public domain – particularly on the web. Certainly subscribe to any email newsletter or mailing list they offer.

Engage Engines

Now that you’ve identified your business, discovered your successful competitors and performed your modeling based due diligence, you’re ready to go. It’s time to create the go-to-market plan for your own start-up business.

Naturally, you want your product/service offering to be similar to the competitors that you modeled. After all, they’ve effectively proven market demand and shown that a successful business can be built around those offerings. In a like fashion, consider building a pricing structure, return policy and other similar concepts that are similar to theirs. Once again, you know that those policies are effective in the market place.

Marketing is a bit trickier. You believe that their advertising strategy is successful, so you’ll want to base your efforts off of that. However, you certainly can’t copy their advertising verbatim. The key here is to try and identify the key elements of their advertisements that resonate with their customer base. It may take some experimentation (is it a “Free Guarantee?’ Same Day Shipping?” “Live Person Support?” etc.), but you have a discrete set of elements to work with (as opposed to simply starting your campaign from scratch and testing everything). Furthermore, you know the right outlets (newspapers, trade magazines, etc.) to use from your earlier research.

Over time, you’ll continue to test and measure, allowing you to refine your business. You’ll adjust your product mix, policies and advertising in order to maximize profits. Hopefully, you’ll continue to grow and find more innovative and effective ways of reaching customers than your original competitors.

There is much more to being an entrepreneur than this, of course. Indeed, the Unchained Entrepreneur is filled with advice on the subject. Nonetheless, this Quick Start Guide should help provide focus, give you some specific actions and reduce your risk as a first time entrepreneur.

Those of you that have started successful companies, please chime in! What do you think of these tips? Are there other elements you would focus new entrepreneurs on as they start their journey?

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About the Author

I have spent the last 15 years advising entrepreneurs on starting and growing their businesses, as well as assisting in financing those growth efforts. I have also been an entrepreneur on several occasions myself. By writing this blog, I hope to provide actionable advice on how to achieve your goals and become more successful.
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  • http://www.actseed.com/ Bill Attinger, ActSeed CEO

    Seth, I think your post is very useful. Your first point – Know Thyself – is critical. That point alone gives the entrepreneur a head start against others who like the idea but may not have lived it as intimately. It fits me and my latest project, too (ActSeed). Actually, this whole post does. Within the ActSeed project, we help entrepreneurs focus on seven key areas of “preparatory introspection” that are designed to give each entrepreneur “a good look in the mirror” on an ongoing basis. This same profiling exercise will serve to connect them with “others who matter” as we grow the ActSeed community. So, to directly answer your final question above, I suggest seven elements that roll up into an overall question of “Are you prepared?” and should be continually interrogated by a company's management team:
    1. Is your team in place?
    2. Do you know your customers?
    3. Do you know what you're selling?
    4. Do you know your competition?
    5. What formal strategic planning & preparation have you completed?
    6. What are your greatest risks, vulnerabilities and challenges?
    7. What do you need?

    Within ActSeed, we break down each of the 7 questions even further with a 15-20 question segment. Seth, I'd really like for you to let me know what you think of our structure and if we can be helpful to your mission and goals, too!

  • http://www.actseed.com/ Bill Attinger, ActSeed CEO

    Seth, I think your post is very useful. Your first point – Know Thyself – is critical. That point alone gives the entrepreneur a head start against others who like the idea but may not have lived it as intimately. It fits me and my latest project, too (ActSeed). Actually, this whole post does. Within the ActSeed project, we help entrepreneurs focus on seven key areas of “preparatory introspection” that are designed to give each entrepreneur “a good look in the mirror” on an ongoing basis. This same profiling exercise will serve to connect them with “others who matter” as we grow the ActSeed community. So, to directly answer your final question above, I suggest seven elements that roll up into an overall question of “Are you prepared?” and should be continually interrogated by a company's management team:
    1. Is your team in place?
    2. Do you know your customers?
    3. Do you know what you're selling?
    4. Do you know your competition?
    5. What formal strategic planning & preparation have you completed?
    6. What are your greatest risks, vulnerabilities and challenges?
    7. What do you need?

    Within ActSeed, we break down each of the 7 questions even further with a 15-20 question segment. Seth, I'd really like for you to let me know what you think of our structure and if we can be helpful to your mission and goals, too!