Andrew is a pawnshop owner in the Oklahoma City area and has been a small business owner several times over.
You have decided that wasting away behind a desk or on your feet at your retail job isn't going to cut it anymore. Congratulations on taking your first step. You are already ahead of the game. There are tons of people out there who are perfectly happy to sit in place and make money for someone else. Not you, you are a go-getter.
Perhaps like a lot of people in your shoes though, you do not know where to go from here. You have an idea, maybe you have flushed out some of the details, maybe you haven't. Maybe you have checked around on some numbers, maybe you haven't. Before you go any further, let me save you some time and money learning from my many mistakes.
1. You need to see if what you want to do is already being done.
Want to start a laundromat? Great! Want to start a vending business? Awesome! There are a million ways to make money out there. Not everything has to be a groundbreaking idea. You can do something that has been done before and will be done again. Not every business idea has to be Netflix or Uber. If you have an idea of a traditional business, (something you can google and find a few of near you right now) then you have a built-in advantage. Go spy on other people who are doing what you want to be doing, and succeeding. Patronize their business.
For instance, if you wanted to start a bakery, make this a perfect excuse to go to every bakery near you and see what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Even if nothing ever comes of your bakery, you will have at least found an excuse to eat cupcakes multiple times in the next few days. That is always a win.
If you are interested in starting a dog daycare, you can take your dog down to the nearest one and see what it looks like. See how much they charge. Look at their building and the kind of build-out they have done. Make sure you are taking mental notes of everything you see around you.
If you aren't near any businesses like the one you want to start, find one somewhere else in the country and just call them up. Ask as many questions as you can think of. Even if you are afraid it will come off as weird. The worst they can do is hang up. This leads me to my next point.
2. Ask all the questions.
You have heard the expression, there is no such thing as a dumb question. Well, that rings true especially in the case of opening your own business. Do not be afraid to sound dumb. You are going to sound dumb to multiple people at multiple points throughout this process. Just because you may know everything there is to know about one particular sector or industry, doesn't mean you are going to know anything about real estate, or tax law, or labor law. All of these things are going to be important and no one can expect you to be an expert in everything. When you are finding out about these things, it is important to ask every question you can think of.
3. Schedule your time.
You are going to be busy. Saying that starting your own business is stressful is an understatement. It is an incredible amount of detail. You will have to be in charge of every single aspect of your new business. Do not panic! Break everything you need to do into bite-size pieces. If you were to say to yourself "I need to buy a building, buy supplies, buy advertising, hire an accountant, buy a point of sale software, buy inventory, get licensed by the state, get licensed by the county, get any certifications I may need" it can get overwhelming real quick. It can seem like the entire world is coming down on you at once. Let's break it up.
Give yourself one week to find out all that's involved in each of the things that you need to get done before opening day. Depending on the business that could be a huge undertaking or it could be a breeze. Once you have that figured out, schedule a time for each and every one of those issues. Schedule a day to go to the municipal building and ask about licenses. Schedule a day to make an appointment with an accountant. Schedule a day to call around about the software you will need.
Before you know it you will have more done than you still have left to do.
4. Google, Google, Google.
There is a world of information on the internet on just about everything. It still amazes me how much you can find out with a simple google search. Spend time researching everything you can. Information is power. Research what you will need, research places from which you can source the things that you need. If a company is offering something that isn't exactly what you need but close, send them an email and ask them if they have exactly what you are looking for. Remember, don't be scared to sound dumb.
5. Write everything down.
The sheer volume of what you are going to have to figure out and plan for is going to be absurd. It is more than any one person can remember. Go get yourself a big notebook and just start writing everything that anyone tells you about anything related to your business. Write it all down. If you are not writing it down you are losing that piece of information, probably forever. It doesn't matter if you feel weird or not writing things down in a notebook while someone is talking to you. Do it anyway.
6. Write down a list of everyone you know who could help.
One of the most underrated resources, whenever you are starting a business, is people. You are going to need people from the get-go. You may need employees and you will need customers. Before you even get started, write down a list of people you think may at some point be a good addition to your team. It doesn't matter if you can afford to hire them right now, just write their names down. Get creative. Think of people who may share your vision and buy into what you are trying to accomplish.
Also, write down any person or organization you think may be interested in buying whatever you are selling. Anyone you may have dealt with in the past who has expressed interest in the kind of thing you are doing.
7. Congratulations, you are a salesperson now.
No matter what industry you are getting into, you are going to be a salesperson. Everything comes down to selling yourself and the products and services your company offers. If you need funding, as most startups do, you are going to have to sell your idea to investors or a bank. Once you have secured funding, you are going to have to sell your products and or services to everyone you come into contact with. The sales pitch should never stop. It is part of who you are now. Live with it.
Let's say you open a retail space, and through some unfortunate circumstances, all you have left on the shelf is one item. It is old and worn out and not exactly what anyone wants. Even so, it needs to in your mind, be the best deal out there. You need to convey that to every single person that walks in the door. Even if you don't believe it yourself.
Let's say you offer a service, and you can't afford at the beginning to go as low on price as your competitors. You need to find out why you are better than every other company out there and stick with that story until you are blue in the face. If you charge more than anyone else, then you need to have the best customer service in the industry. You need to offer rewards programs and contact your customers personally to let them know you care. You are selling your business and yourself. If you aren't selling yourself well enough someone else out there is going to sell your customers on their brand.
8. Have someone who is there for you.
This is going to be an incredibly trying time for you. That's okay. You can handle it. That doesn't, however, mean you should go it alone. You need to have one other human that you can confide in. Even if it is just to complain to. This is one of the most undervalued ideas of starting a business. You are going to lose your mind if you try and handle all this stress without an outlet.
Be it a friend or a spouse, it doesn't matter but you cannot go it alone. You have to have someone to crash into at the end of a really hard day. Someone to listen to you complain and someone to bounce ideas off of.
9. Look at the numbers.
This is the piece of advice that can save you all of the heartaches in the world. No matter how much you want to run your business, if the numbers don't add up now, they probably never will.
Let me share an example. I had a friend of mine open up a donut shop in a small town where I live. She made some incredible donuts. By far the best I had ever had. The only problem was she realized after she'd opened the business that this small town didn't have enough people to realistically support her business. After some quick math about three months in, we figure out that approximately seventy-five percent of the town's population would have to come in for donuts at least once a day in order to stay afloat. There just wasn't any way her business could survive. No matter how good the donuts were.
You have to make sure the numbers are right. There needs to be an ample number of people in your area who would be interested in your product or service. In addition, you have to make sure the market isn't already saturated with businesses like the one you want to open up. For instance, even if my friend had opened her donut shop in a more populated part of the state, she very likely would have been surrounded by competitors.
You have to look at the numbers. How many of your products are you going to have to sell to pay the rent, the payroll, the taxes and so on? You could be the best at what you do, but if you aren't in the right spot or have too much competition around you, you may never get an opportunity to showcase what it is you do.
The bottom line is you can do this. I know it seems overwhelming and that's because it is. If it were easy, literally everyone would be doing it. It is never going to be easy. That does not mean that it isn't worth it, however. Keep your head up and take it a little bit at a time. Make smart decisions and think things over and you will be making money for yourself before you know it. Good luck!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.