/How to Start a Business: 8 Critical Steps to Success

How to Start a Business: 8 Critical Steps to Success

You can succeed in business even without any experience and with very little money. But you need to make the best decisions on a number of critical issues. Here’s some quick advice on how to make the best choices.

1-Find an awesome business idea

A great business idea is going to make a difference in the success of your business. Yet many entrepreneurs go about choosing a business idea the wrong way and end up with either a bad business or a business that isn’t well suited for them. Often, they don’t even really choose a business idea. They just drift towards it. Maybe they saw that a particular business had a lot of customers. Maybe they heard that a friend of a friend was making a lot of money in a business.

Instead, you want to choose your business idea carefully. First, you should put together a big list of business ideas that appeal to you. If you don’t start out with a big list of business ideas to consider, you are not going to end up with an awesome one.

start a business idea
A great business starts with a great idea. There are many proven and profitable ideas waiting for you.

Are there really lots of good business ideas out there? Absolutely! And many ideas require little experience or money. I started over 12 successful businesses and most of them I began with under $2,000, usually in fields that I knew nothing about. One of these businesses I later sold for $40 million.

Next, you want to carefully evaluate your favorite business ideas and decide which is the very best one for you. You want to carefully consider factors such as the potential upside of the business, the inherent risk of the business and the suitability of the business for you.

Finding an awesome business idea will go a long way to making your business a big success, so give this process the time and effort it deserves.

To help you along your search for the perfect business idea, I have put together a couple of short courses, The Best Business Ideas and How to Find a Great Business Idea. You can watch these and all the other 100+ BusinessTown courses free for 7 days.

2-Develop a competitive advantage

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs fail to truly make their business different from their competitors. They might survive, but often they end up competing on price, struggle to find customers, and suffer from low-profit margins.

It doesn’t have to be that way! A little bit of effort building a competitive advantage into your business will go a long way to making it successful.

Too many entrepreneurs try to compete head-on by being “better” than their competition. Or they simply think they will succeed by working harder and longer. That might work at school or in sports, but not in business. In business, you want to be different and avoid competing directly with the other players.

start a business competitive advantage
Being better is not enough. You have to be different to truly succeed in business.

Competitive advantage has three key components. First, you want to choose a great target market that the existing players are not servicing well. For example, if all the existing restaurants in town serve dinner and lunch, then maybe you want to serve breakfast.

Then you want to “differentiate.” Instead of opening up a bicycle store for the mass market, maybe instead you open up a bicycle store that totally focuses on high-end bicycles for the serious enthusiast.

Finally, you need to clearly and quickly communicate to your audience your competitive advantage. This starts with developing a “Unique Selling Proposition.” A few keywords that convey the core value proposition in a memorable way. The most famous USP is perhaps Federal Express’ “Absolutely, positively overnight.”

For more help see my course, How to Create Competitive Advantage. It will guide you through all three important steps: 1) finding your target market; 2) “differentiating” your business; 3) creating your “Unique Selling Proposition.”

3-Carefully create your business plan

A business plan is going to help you build a better business. Even a small, part-time business should have a business plan. If you don’t have a good business plan you will likely end up running your business in a haphazard, disorganized way.

start a business business plan
Even a one-person business needs a great business plan!

A good business plan carefully evaluates all the key factors in your situation including the market, potential customers, the competition and your strengths and weaknesses. This process then leads to an optimal strategy for your business, along with a cohesive operating plan.

A good business plan should be the central road map of your business.

My course, How to Create Your Business Plan, will take you step-by-step through creating a plan and also includes a full sample plan with financials. Remember, you can access this course and the other BusinessTown courses free for 7 days.

4-Develop compelling marketing

The big secret about marketing is that it is hard not just for new businesses, but also for existing businesses. If you try to pretend marketing isn’t hard and you decide you are going to pour all your resources into one unproven marketing direction, you could get into trouble really quickly.

So, what’s the solution? You want to try lots of very different types of marketing. And you want to spend as little money as possible on any one marketing campaign until it is proven to work.

Fortunately, there is a lot of marketing you can do for free.

You can build a simple, but effective, website for free. Then you can optimize it to make sure you show up in Google search results.

There are all kinds of exciting “guerilla marketing” you can do for almost no cost. Examples include posters, discount coupons and networking. They work – I’ve used them all.

You can also create your own ads for search engines or even ads on social media such as Facebook. If you can write one sentence, you can create a search engine ad. If you can upload a picture to the internet, you can create Facebook ads. The beauty about online ads is that you can test them for very little money. So, test everything – the ad copy, the offer and the audience – before you spend much money.

start a business marketing
Online ads are easy to test with small amounts of money and allow you to target a specific audience. They can even work well for very small startups.

Marketing is too important, too finicky and too different for each business to just hire an outside expert. As the business founder, you need to develop at least a basic understanding of marketing. Then either do it all yourself or hire an expert in a particular expertise, such as search engine optimization.

If you want to learn more about marketing, I suggest you start with these two courses, Create an Awesome Marketing Strategy and The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing.

5-Create financial statements and projections

Do you need to hire someone to do your accounting? No, you can almost certainly do it yourself. The key is to be organized. You need to record every single purchase and every single sale.

start a business accounting
You can do your accounting yourself. The secret is being organized and willing to learn.

You also need to create financial statements and projections. But it’s easy to learn. The most basic financial statement is the income statement. It provides a summary of your revenue, your expenses and your resulting profit over a period of time. You should also create a balance sheet and make future financial projections.

For more help, see my course, Accounting and Financial Statements, which includes templates and examples.

6-Finance your business

There’s a lot of ways to finance a small business, even a startup. But especially with a startup, you are not going to get money from a traditional bank. You will need to explore alternatives.

start a business finance business
Before looking for funds, make sure to prepare your business plan and financial statements.

You also need to be fully prepared before approaching any potential financing source, including being able to explain how much money you need, how you are going to pay it back, and why your business is going to succeed. Your background and how you present yourself will also make a big difference.

In my course, How to Finance Your Business: The Best Options, I explain how to choose among the many financing options and how to prepare for a presentation.

7-Find a great name

It drives me crazy to see business after business with a lousy name! Like anything else, if you give it serious thought and you get some expert advice, you can come up with a great name.

name start a business
A great business needs a great name! Think about your name strategically before committing to it.

Lots of people make the mistake of naming a business after themselves. For example, “Bob’s Painters.” It just doesn’t sound very professional and it could lead to people avoiding your business.

Other names may not lead to people avoiding your business, but they may not help attract them either. For example, “Belmont House Cleaners.”

But a great name will help attract people to your business and serve as a built-in advertisement for years to come. For example, I like the name that a New Orleans inspired restaurant located in Boston used: “Buttermilk & Bourbon.” This name not only shows off its Southern food and drinks, but also makes it sound like a fun place to go.

To help you find an awesome name for your business, check out my course, 7 Steps to a Perfect Business Name.

8-Choose to learn

The more you learn about starting a running a business, the more likely you will succeed. And succeed in a big way.

I can tell you that hard work and perseverance can help. But they aren’t enough. You have to make great choices on key decisions along the way. Learning can make all the difference in making those choices.

It’s hard to find the time to learn. So here’s what I suggest. Set aside just 5 minutes every day. In about 5 minutes you could watch one video from a BusinessTown course and enhance your business learning in a systematic way.

You will quickly become a smart entrepreneur with solid knowledge in all areas of business.

Click here if you want to watch BusinessTown courses for 7 days for free.

Bob Adams

Bob Adams is the founder of
BusinessTown the go-to learning platform for people starting and running their own businesses. Bob has started dozens of successful businesses, including one he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He also has an MBA from Harvard Business School.