Disclosure: This is a sponsored article on behalf of Armed Forces Insurance (AFI). All opinions expressed in this post are based on the author’s personal view.
Seven years ago, I started experimenting with different business ideas. Some were successful, others were not. I experienced success pretty quickly with our retail business. Once we received orders to Japan, I knew I needed to get serious about my business plans if I intended to do this full-time.
I opened my boutique with no real clue about what I was doing. Since then, our brand has traveled to customers in all 50 states and five countries. I opened my first pop-up shop in Okinawa, Japan, and my first U.S. brick-and-mortar in Jacksonville, NC last year. A lot has gone right over the past year, but a lot has gone wrong.
Here are my tried and trusted steps to starting a business:
1. Conduct market research. Take a minute and try to think of one thing that you know absolutely everybody likes. What came to mind?
It’s hard to think of something that is universally loved by all, right? We all like what we like and need different things at different times. Our buying choices are motivated by our personal thoughts and preferences. Did you catch the keyword “personal”?
Your business works the same way. It’s not a “one size fits all” solution, and there’s no such thing as an “all customers” target market. There are certain customers who will adore your product and share it with all of their friends, others not so much. Some people simply will not see the value in what you’re selling, and that’s okay. Not everyone is your customer. Because of this, it is very important to identify your ideal customer. Knowing who your ideal customer it changes everything: your product offering, how you market, pricing, branding, potential partnerships, and more.
2. Create a plan. If you’re seeking a bank loan or even a loan from a friend or relative, a business plan will give them the information they need to consider your funding request. It will also demonstrate the seriousness of your request, intent for funding, and the ability to pay it back.
There was a time when business plans were upwards of one hundred pages. Even today, ten to fifteen pages can be considered too long. I’m a big fan of the one-page business plan. Simplifying your business concept is a useful skill to have. It was Alexander Osterwalder and Eric Reis who decided that we should stop taking the long way around when it comes to business plans and product development, and instead just cut to the chase.
Osterwalder first developed the “Business Model Canvas” approach. I first learned of the model when I attended the GROWCO Conference in 2010 as a delegate of Inc. Military Entrepreneur Program. This model consists of nine building blocks, which once put together will give you the structure of a business plan without feeling intimidated by what is ahead.
3. Determine start-up cost and what you can afford. Cost is a concern in all business decisions. Whatever dollar amount you decide, go ahead and double number. Keep an eye on operating expenses, too. The key to a successful business is preparation. Before your business opens its doors, you will have bills to pay. Understanding these expenses will help you launch successfully.
4. Get ready. Once you have decided on the business details, you have a deadline for opening your business. Purchase inventory and equipment if needed, but be sure to keep a detailed inventory of your physical assets. Contact your insurance company and obtain a policy to protect your assets in the event items are damaged, lost or stolen. There is no sense in investing time and money into building a business if you are not protecting what you have built.
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5. Brand and market your business. Before you launch the business, start brainstorming ideas for the marketing, sales, and branding efforts. Good branding is necessary to succeed in business. With visual social media platforms such as Instagram growing in popularity, the shift over to visually stimulating content is no longer something that sets you apart. This type of branding content is now necessary to grow your business and reach your target market. Your brand is more than just your trademark logo, fonts and colors. Your brand is how customers associate and connect with your business. It is the character of your business. It's not what you sell, but more so how you sell it.
Because 81% of the U.S. population uses social media, having an online presence is key. Create at least two social media pages. Facebook and Instagram are a great start. Make sure all of your web pages have a cohesive feel and are regularly updated. Use your business brand colors and logo to create business cards, letterhead, and email signatures to demonstrate to customers that your business is legitimate and professional.
6. Housekeeping. When you finally have your business up and running, keep track of the day-to-day tasks that keep a business running. If you have employees, make sure you're tracking payroll, keeping up with inventory, updating the website, and regularly blogging and utilizing social media. These efforts will keep your customers engaged.
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