So, you’re thinking about starting a new business? Whether it’s to find a job that balances your work and family life or to create the next big idea- knowing where to start can be tough.
Once you’ve decided that you want to start a business the hard part is deciding what the business will be. There are literally thousands of business ideas out there. One of the most important parts of your decision will be to really think about what your goals and your core values are.
What kind of lifestyle do you want?
How much time are you able/willing to devote to it?
Do you have measures in place to help you with child care?
What hours do you want to work (9-5 or any time of the day or night)?
Are you willing to give up your weekends or holidays to devote to the business?
You are going to be spending a lot of time with your new business so you will want to make sure it is something you feel passionately about.
When I started One Tiny Suitcase it was based on a successful business model and service I had personally used while travelling. Baby Equipment Rental companies were quite common in the United States and I could see how it would be a good fit for a stay at home parent. When I got home from our vacation, I couldn’t shake the idea that this type of business was something that Calgary needed.
That’s one way to generate ideas for the type of business you want to start, by modelling it after what is working in another geographical location. But, there are lots of ways to start generating ideas:
- Improve on something that is currently on the market- There’s got to be a better way
- Follow an emerging trend ex: Eco-friendly
- Inspiration or frustration from your day to day tasks
- Using a skill you have developed or a passion of yours ex: photography
Once you have your “big idea” it’s time to do some research to see if it is viable.
Don’t be afraid to talk to “people in the know”. Have a great idea for a new baby bib design? Stop by some specialty boutiques and ask them what customers are asking for or what they would like to see. If they are already serving your potential customers they will be a great source of information.
I started asking local magazines, consignment stores and travel agents if they ever got requests for baby equipment rentals. The feedback I got was so valuable. Their answers encouraged me to keep going!
It can be hard to talk about your idea before you are up and running for fear that someone will start a similar business before you get going. Just remember, starting a business is hard work and anyone else who likes your idea would have to do just as much leg work to get it going.
Sharing your idea with friends is a great way to get feedback. Not only will your friends be a great source of support, they will be honest too. The day I told a friend about the business I was thinking of starting was nerve-wracking. I hadn’t really told my friends about my idea yet and wondered what her response would be. I said, “You know that baby equipment rental company I told you about in Hawaii? What if I started something like that in Calgary?” It was great to get her honest feedback about my idea.
Talking to other successful Entrepreneurs can be a good idea too. Don’t know anyone personally who has started a business? Do some research.
I always refer back to the story of the Entrepreneur behind the famous footwear brand ROBEEZ. Sandra Wilson was downsized out of her airline job and was looking for a business that would allow her more time to spend with her young son. She started ROBEEZ out of her basement and sold it years later for millions. Although her story might not be typical of many entrepreneurial ventures it provides some great inspiration.
Internet research is an essential part of the business planning process. You may be frustrated to find someone is already making your ‘big idea’ or that the demographic of where you live isn’t suitable for your product. You may also find that there is a gap in a market that you could fill. Using the internet, I was able to find examples of other similar businesses that proved my idea could work.
You can visit virtual stores all over the world, get statistics instantly, research trends and hot topics on news sites. Look at what is working (or appears to be working) elsewhere and see how you can tailor that to work in your area. When you are developing your business idea, the more research you can do up front, the better your odds are for success.
If, after doing some research you find evidence that may not support your business idea, you have to be willing to let it go and move on to the next idea. Getting stuck on an idea that isn’t supported by good information may mean that you waste a lot of time and potentially money.
When I started out somebody once said to me:
“You don’t necessarily want to be in a business that has NO competitors”
If no one else is doing what you want to do, make sure you ask yourself- why not? There might be good reasons why it hasn’t worked in the past. Or- maybe you will be able to tweak the idea and make it work. Analyzing your competition is part of the process.
It’s not the fun part but, you will have to take a look at your finances. Do you have some money saved up to get your business off the ground or will you need financing? If you plan to get external financing, you will usually be expected to contribute some of your personal money as well. This is a good time to ask yourself how much you are willing to risk. The rewards of entrepreneurship are great but so are the risks.
Having a supportive partner is crucial at this point. If your family relies on your income or if you will be starting your business with money from a ‘joint’ savings account, your partner will have to be on board with the level of risk too.
When I started my business, I chose my business in part because it did not require external financial assistance. Part of my ‘business idea’ was being able to run the business while still being at home with my kids. If I had to get a traditional bank loan that would have added even more pressure to an already ambitious venture. My husband and I agreed that I would withdraw $5000 from our personal line of credit to finance my start up.
Once you have an idea and you’ve done some research go back to the beginning and ask yourself what your goals are. Extra money? A challenge? An empire?
I’ve been lucky. I started my business to support my decision to stay at home with my twins. When they were young and the business was starting off slowly it was a good fit. Answering emails during naptimes and delivering orders in the evening worked. As my business grew, so did my children. Now I answer emails on my blackberry when we go to the park and deliver orders while they are in preschool.
Your overall goals will help you narrow down a business idea that works well for your lifestyle. The business will grow and you will have to make adjustments along the way. Start with a plan for the first year of two to get yourself started.
I have one very ambitious friend and fellow entrepreneur who says, “Too many people plan for what to do if their business fails but never plan for the possibility that it totally takes off and is a raging success.” She is a constant reminder of not only planning for set backs but also planning for success! Are you ready?
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