Having a business idea is one thing. Embarking on the path that will transform your fledgling idea into a business can be quite another. While ideas are the currency of our times, it's also true that ideas are a dime a dozen. It's what you do with your startup ideas that will mean the difference between daydreaming and starting a business.
Flesh Out Your Vision
It's important to do some long-range planning at the start, and understand your vision for the business you hope your idea will eventually grow into. In other words, what does success look like to you? While many people equate money with success, in the long run, success is defined by a lot more than merely financial reward.
"Before chasing the money, take a step back and think about how running this business will fit with the rest of your life," advises Dave Labowitz, a four-time, venture-capital-backed startup executive turned business coach. "Is the business fulfilling on an emotional and/or spiritual level? If not, will you get bored over time? Will you have enough time to fill those needs outside of work? What kind of hours and/or travel will the business demand? How will that fit with your familial and social commitments? Will you be able to balance both? Or will the business consume more than you're willing to give?"
Profit is just one key indicator of success. "The happiest entrepreneurs I know are those who feel their business purpose gives them fulfillment on more than just a financial level," Labowitz says. "The mission keeps pulling them forward, with the money being a side benefit."
Business coach and consultant Anna Lundberg agrees that the new entrepreneur needs to have a vision and get clear on what "success" looks like.
"You want to always have this vision in mind as you build your business, however far off it may seem today," she says. "Otherwise, you might get caught up in building something that looks very different and, even if you do eventually achieve it, you'll be no better off than when you started."
Thoroughly Assess Your Idea
You're certain your idea is a good one. You may have even shared it with family and friends, who agree it's not just a good idea, and you need to start working on it immediately. But before you start, take a deeper look. Labowitz suggests asking yourself,
"I talk to a lot of people who want to start a business because they have a 'great idea' in an area of business they know nothing about," he says. "The idea may indeed be good, but not necessarily for them. Maybe they don't have the knowledge needed to engineer the product they need, or maybe they have no contacts in an industry that's heavily relationship-dependent. Or maybe the business they're interested in will take a large investment of capital that's well beyond their personal resources. While every one of these challenges is technically solvable, it's a good idea to ask if you're picking a business where the deck is already stacked against you."
Once your idea passes the accessibility test, you still need to flesh it out, test it and validate it. "What really matters is how your idea will perform in the real world," Lundberg notes. "Rather than invest time and money in something that you imagine people need, you want to put your idea out into the world as soon as possible and test it with potential customers or clients. Spend some time mapping out what the business model would look like so that you can see if the idea really 'has legs.'"
Lundberg suggests asking yourself the following questions:
- What problem are you solving?
- What kind of customer or client has that problem?
- How will you solve that problem?
- What products and services will you offer?
- What makes you a credible person to provide that solution?
- How will you stand out in a crowded market?
- How will you generate an income?
Write Up an Ideal Customer Avatar
You know what problem your customer has and how you'll solve it. Before leaping to develop a marketing campaign, however, you need to know who your ideal customer is. While you may know your target market, Labowitz points out that figuring out your market demographics is more of a sociological exercise.
"You can't connect to a market," he says. "Connection is psychology, not sociology. When you try to address an entire market it will dilute what you're trying to say."
The solution? Take the time to build a detailed bio of your ideal customer avatar, Labowitz advises. This is the person whose pain point your business will solve with its products and services.
He suggests that you name your avatar, and ask questions such as the following to help you fill out your avatar's bio:
- How old is she?
- What does she do professionally?
- How many kids does she have?
- What town does she live in?
- Does she own or rent?
- What kind of car does she drive?
- Which podcasts does she listen to?
- Which influencers does she follow?
- What are her favorite shows?
Your marketing messages should be directed at your ideal customer avatar. "When a prospect similar to your avatar reads your content, your message will land squarely," Labowitz says. "These are the customers you'll want the most because they look a lot like your customer avatar."
Build Your Audience
Your marketing plan needs to include a commitment to building your audience. Lundberg puts it this way: "You can't just put up a website one day and expect the money to come pouring in. You need to build an audience, one that consists of prospects who need and value what you can provide and who come to know, like, and trust you over time so that they eventually are ready to buy from you."
While this may sound simple, getting a potential customer to the point where they're ready to buy from you might take months, if not years. Lundberg recommends designing a content strategy that includes who you're targeting, what kind of content you will create, and when and where you'll distribute it. Once you've developed this content strategy, it's key to create and distribute your content according to this strategy consistently over time.
Commit to the Long Haul
Building a business takes time, so you need to be in it for the long run. Lundberg notes that focusing on the short term can lead entrepreneurs to give up before giving their work enough time to make an impact.
By committing to the long haul, you'll be able to sustain what you're doing for long enough to make a difference. "Focus on the bigger picture of what you're working toward, your long-term brand-building strategy, and don't get distracted with those individual metrics or short-term ups and downs," she advises.
Develop a Growth Mindset
Labowitz recommends entrepreneurs watch Carol Dweck's TED talk on "mindset" and make a commitment to a growth mindset. "No matter how brilliant you are and how well you execute, your entrepreneurial journey will be full of ups and downs," he says. "The ups are easy for everyone, so it's how you deal with the downs that will make the biggest difference in your business. Think about all the valuable lessons you've learned. Think about all the adversity you've overcome." By developing a growth mindset, you'll learn to question the "negatives" in your life and see that they're often not really negatives.
Having a great startup idea buzzing in your head is one thing, but actually turning it into a full-fledged business can be quite another. By planning your approach and maintaining your momentum once you've started, you can smooth out some of the inevitable bumps along your entrepreneurial path.