3 Keys to creating a successful small business

Many people dream of starting a small business. The idea of being one’s own boss, in control of one’s own destiny, often goes hand in hand with the American Dream. We are an innovative, energetic, hard-working group of people, yet for many of us, the allure of starting a business ends, all too often, in utter failure. As a business consultant, I have seen some of the smartest, most successful people, at the height of their career, flop once they venture out on their own.

So how do you create a successful small business? How do you go from corporate guru to a one-man army without falling flat on your face? The short answer is that there is no short answer, but I have learned that there are some key foundational ideas and concepts that, if laid down correctly, can give you a fighting chance at preventing your dream from turning into a nightmare.

Your first idea may be the best, but it may not. That is a hard concept to swallow. When you first lay out an idea, it is born out of excitement, ambition, maybe even a little pride. For this reason, many people never look back; they never evaluate the long term implications and viability of their idea. It is their baby, of course, it will work! The key is to slow down (don’t stall but take a deep breath), fully form your idea, write it down, create steps to market it, create price points, etc. and then examine what you have created with a critical eye. No doubt this is hard, but it is important. Next, try to find a better way of building your idea: throw everything but the core concept out and rebuild. Look at different angles, different markets, and different ways of offering your product or service. Do this as many times as it takes until your idea is fully vetted and tested.

At the end of this exercise, you may end up right back at your original idea, with just a few simple, but important variations, or at least a stronger understanding and commitment to doing things exactly as you originally planned. Or, you may find a whole new perspective and avenue for your idea that you never would have thought of – either way, this exercise will prepare you for success by removing the blinders that so many new small businesses wear. Blinders that say success comes from putting my head down and plowing through until I succeed or crack my head on a brick wall. In reality, success comes by keeping your eyes wide open and your senses alert and awake. Don’t let a good idea get in the way of a better, greater idea that was just waiting to be discovered.

There is a balance to key #1: at some point, you just have to put your ideas to the test and execute your plan. Perpetual planning and refining have never created anything. Eventually, you have to risk it all and jump in. The good news is that if you really spent time on key #1, you won’t be jumping in blindly. You should have a good handle on potential roadblocks and hurdles that you need to overcome, and you should have, as part of your plan, a way to remove or go around those roadblocks and jump the hurdles.

For StartUp U, my business partner and I have refined the business in a full circle. After fully exploring multiple alternative approaches to our business model, today we decided that all the alternatives were distractions from our true core. But time was not wasted. We can move forward now and execute our plan with a few valuable add-ons and a much larger appreciation for our original idea. Most importantly, we now fully understand the battle that we will be up against. We know what we are fighting for so it is worth the fight because we believe in our idea and we have found purpose and passion in it that did not exist just a few months ago.
Now, we must execute our plan and implement what we have learned. We believe that we turned a good idea into a great idea because we were not afraid to step away and ask the hard questions. We examined every inch of our new startup, plugged the holes, and now it is time to take our dream on her maiden voyage. Of course, even the execution phase can take some time. One of the biggest lessons that we learned in evaluating our dream was that it can’t be rushed. We are anxious to get started, but realistically we know that we are at least three months out.

The final key is to take your time. Things don’t need to be perfect to launch your idea, but you do need your ducks in a row. It is important to break down your execution plan into clear and definable steps or phases. Don’t feel like you have to start with your whole plan instantly activated. I always ask my team, “What can we do today to generate some income?” Looking at a huge plan can get overwhelming and if you try to swallow it all at once, you will most likely make mistakes. Start by figuring out exactly what you can offer this moment. As revenues and momentum build, you continually implement and complex phases. My plans for both StartUp U and Common Sense Development will take three years to fully implement, but that does not mean we are not wheeling and dealing along the way. Each day, business increases because we are doing what we can with what we have, all the while walking closer and closer to our fully realized dreams.