Sick of hearing about the many, many things you need to do to build a successful business? Here’s a few unnecessary steps you can cross off your list. Happy reading.
To start a company, you don’t need:
Most of us were raised to seek approval and follow the rules–habits that often carry over into adulthood. The thing is, these approaches don’t apply to entrepreneurship. Sure, it’s important to get outside opinions or perspectives before diving head-first into building a business, but whatever you do, don’t let other people determine your direction for you.
As Avishai Weiss, co-founder of Apartable, notes, “People are really quick to tell you that your idea will fail. It’s pretty easy to do that, so I try to take whatever useful advice they have and ignore the non-useful stuff that they say based on incomplete knowledge.”
The more unique your idea, the more resistance you’ll most likely get. But keep moving forward. Heck, if these people had waited to get permission to launch their businesses, they never would have gotten to where they are now.
2) A “how-to” manual
Opting to be an entrepreneur isn’t like taking a CPR class; no one can or should tell you exactly what to do or how to do it. While having a general roadmap or plan is good, it’s key to stay nimble during these fast-changing times where so much is transforming, thanks to the digital airspace.
As Sibyl Chavis, founder of Possibility of Today, explains, “Doing things by trial and error is one of the approaches I continually try to use in my business. I have discovered some great business insights by being open to trying new things–and most importantly, by being willing to fail and simply move on. The key is that once you find an open lane to something that works, you keep driving down that lane as quickly and as effectively as you can. If you drive down that lane and get better and better at driving, that lane will eventually point you in the direction of other open lanes.”
3) Venture capitalists
Let’s face it: money isn’t exactly falling out of the clouds these days. But pursuing financial assistance from venture capitalists can be a very challenging and unnecessary step in the business-building process.
Maciej Fita, founder of brandignity.com, notes, “Not everyone has the ability to start a business with a group of people and tap into unlimited venture capitalists for funding. Some actually have to dig into the couch cushions and under the floor mats to find money and resources to allow things to grow.”
The good news is, you rarely need as much as you think to get started. Plus, there’s something immensely gratifying and rewarding about being lean and independent. (Note: Check out The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.) So keep your costs low and really ask yourself what you need to get up and running.
Ryan Woodings, founder of MetaGeek, says, “MetaGeek began as a ‘nights and weekends’ project that I was able to fund through personal savings. We believe strongly in organic growth. About once a year we ask ourselves, ‘If we had $500K or $1M from investors, what would we do with it?’ And then we ask ourselves, ‘How much of that can we do without additional investment?’ We try to be conscious of any significant windows of opportunities that would require us to grow much faster than we can grow organically, and so far we haven’t found a significant reason to seek outside investors. MetaGeek has grown about 45% per year since 2006. This is modest growth by VC standards, but it has given us time to grow individually and as a team, so that today our team works amazingly well together. We’re producing higher quality work at a faster pace than ever before.”
4) An office
When you’re starting out, every saved dollar counts, so get creative about your work space. A coffee shop with free wifi or your garage will do just fine. As Dayson Pais, founder of Textme, says, “Whoever said, ‘an idea is everything’ didn’t get it right. It’s all about taking that idea, building it in a garage and porting it onto the streets while it’s still small so it can grow with you.”
And if a garage isn’t for you, consider sharing a space with other entrepreneurs. Joe Miller, founder of Print a Forest, advises, “Work out of a co-working space. Over the summer I worked out of Green Spaces, a coworking space for green and socially conscious startups, small businesses and freelance entrepreneurs. [It’s] as close to a utopian community and space as you could possibly work out of.”
What are you waiting for? Slap on a pair of headphones or fuzzy slippers, and get to work.
We’re not saying formal training and/or education isn’t important, but we do think the magical world of Google, entrepreneurial groups and organizations, mentors and good old-fashioned networking makes it possible to learn a lot on your own. As long as you are curious, driven and have a valuable skill set or the ability to offer something useful to others, you can become an entrepreneur.
Dwight Peters, founder of Slate & Stylus, says, “Entrepreneurship, I believe, can be learned. I study entrepreneurship by watch documentaries on successful entrepreneurs, interviewing entrepreneurs and reading books about entrepreneurship. I look at it like it’s a sport or a craft. In the same way a kid who’s an aspiring basketball player studies Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, I study successful entrepreneurs. I try to adopt the successful traits from each one I learn about and meet. And also, watch Shark Tank religiously. Shark Tank is the best!”
Saya Hillman, creator of Mac ‘n Cheese Productions, explains, “I don’t fixate on what I don’t have: any letters (PhD, CPA, CPCC, ESQ) after my name, an easy time saying no to doughnuts, an MBA, a mistake- and regret-free past, a business plan, a lot of money, ‘the answer,’ and a response other than ‘nothing’ to the question, ‘What are you certified in?’ Instead, I capitalize on what I do have…”
Regardless of your background, your ability to self-educate is key. Anthony Saladino, co-founder of Kitchen Cabinet Kings, shares, “I educate myself. In this world, knowledge is power. I spend every day learning something new, whether it has to do with my industry, the world around me, e-commerce or the Internet in general. It is critical that entrepreneurs never stop learning and constantly look to innovate and evolve themselves and their businesses. Entrepreneurs are like sharks; sharks must constantly swim in order to survive, and entrepreneurs must constantly learn to prosper.”
(Read our interview with Evan Aaronson, founder of MealsWithMentors.com if you’re interested in finding a mentor.)
6) An immediate paycheck
In the beginning, be willing to put in some serious time and effort–without a timely monetary return. In fact, you’ll have to spend cash without the guarantee that you’ll break even, much less be profitable.
As Gaston Javurek, founder of No One Without, shared, “My dream and vision were big, but my finances and resources were small. I started by selling my car, buying a yellow VW bus and using the difference to pay for the first run of T-shirts. I will never forget the first shirt that came out of the dryer. I still have that shirt, and it will forever remind me of where we started. No One Without has evolved and transformed immensely since that day, and we couldn’t be more honored and proud to be a part of diminishing the world’s water crisis.”
7) A gimmick
If there was going to be one rule to live by in the world of entrepreneurship, it would be to always be yourself (unless, of course, you’re a jerk, in which case you should just stay at home with this on replay). Gimmicks are exhausting and short-lived. They’re cover-ups–weak efforts to distract audiences from different types of shortcomings. By being genuine, you can earn people’s attention the right way–and keep it too.
Pace and Kyeli Smith, co-founders of The Connection Revolution, said it best when they explained, “Be authentic, even if you fear it will make you look unprofessional. People don’t want to buy from a professional image. They want to buy from a person they know, like and trust. And people don’t trust companies; people trust people. So write a blog post from your heart instead of a polished essay. Next time you get fired up about something, record a video and publish it raw, without retakes. See what happens. We bet you’ll be amazed by the response you get from your readers and customers!”
Gastón Frydlewski and Mariquel Waingarten, founders of HICKIES, reinforced this notion when they said, “Put your personality into everything you do. You have to connect and make your project something that reflects you. So be honest with yourself.”
But being transparent with your clients involves more than you being authentic; it involves providing them with some kind of product or service that can truly improve their lives, their environments or the experiences of the people they care about. As Holly Hamann, co-founder of BlogFrog, notes, “Innovation is what fuels every industry. As long as there are smart people coming up with better, faster, smaller, cheaper, or more fun ways to do things, people will pay for them. So even if you think a market is oversaturated and there isn’t room for another product, just remember, there is always room for innovation!”
A gimmick isn’t honest, nor is it innovative.
8) A clone
Newsflash: you are one person, and that’s okay, even when you’re starting a company. The key is to prioritize, pace yourself and exercise a lot.
Elizabeth Saunders, founder of Real Life E, says, “When I started my first business in 2005, I took a very loose approach to my schedule. This meant that I would sometimes take care of personal items like running errands or talking with friends during the day. But it also meant that I would end up working in the evenings and on weekends. I didn’t have a clear sense of when it was okay to stop, so I ended up feeling guilty when I wasn’t working and frustrated that I could never really take a break. My erratic schedule also had a negative impact on my personal relationships. In 2007, I decided ‘enough was enough,’ and started tracking my hours and limiting how much I worked per week and when. Through these efforts, I was able to focus during the day and then take evenings and weekends off without guilt. My other entrepreneur friends were impressed at how I managed to be so balanced, and encouraged me to start teaching others. That’s what led to me founding Real Life E.”
Natalie Lue, founder of Founder of Baggage Reclaim, notes, “There aren’t enough hours in the day, so you’ve got to manage your own expectations, slow down a bit, delegate, and ensure that you’re not spending too much time on time-sucking activities that distract you from where your efforts should be focused.”
9) A parachute
Although backup plans theoretically sound wonderful, they’re often responsible for us not trying as hard as we can to succeed. So ditch the corporate parachute and take a leap of faith. Believe in yourself, even if you’re not sure how things are going to work out.
Amy Porterfield, co-author of Facebook Marketing for Dummies, shares, “In the beginning, I doubted or second-guessed my every move. It was scary to step away from my ‘secure job’ and into the unknown. I overcame that problem by surrounding myself with people who believed in me. When I doubted my abilities, those people were there to remind me to keep moving forward. Also, Tony Robbins told me to surround myself with people who were more successful than me. When your peer group is more established than you, it pushes you to be better. Therefore, I sought support from a few mentors who had already seen the success I wanted.”
10) An exit strategy
One of the biggest benefits to becoming an entrepreneur is that you can make a living doing something that you love. When you truly enjoy your job, suddenly the entire concept of an “exit strategy” seems pretty lame. So scratch it and build the kind of business with which you want to grow old.
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