Starting your own small business can be intimidating. Who will buy your product or service? What prices should you set? When do you hire employees? How do you handle your taxes? How do you promote your business?
There are often more pressing questions than immediate answers, and small business consultant Barry Moltz knows this. Moltz has started three businesses, selling his last one in 1999, and he now coaches entrepreneurs and businesses on how to get started—and how to get unstuck when they face problems. He has written four books on a range of small business topics, including starting and growing your business, overcoming failure, perfecting customer service, and establishing your brand.
Moltz has plenty of tips to go around—what follows are a few bits of advice he often gives to entrepreneurs who are just getting started.
1. First ask yourself: What pain or problem does my product solve, and who am I going to target that needs to solve this pain or problem?
“Those are the first two questions, and it’s always good to see who that first paying customer going to be—that’s not your relative—someone that’s really buying because of the product or service,” Moltz said.
2. Find out what truly goes into running a business.
“A lot of people just want to provide the service and craft. They don’t realize they have to deal with all kinds of other things, like employees and taxes and cash flow,” Moltz said.
There’s a lot that goes into a successful business, and at the very least, you need to understand what those things are, from accounting to hiring to management.
3. Find a mentor.
To help you understand what is needed to run a business and to help you through any bumps in the road, Moltz suggests finding a mentor in your field or a similar one. You could meet someone at business networking events, through a local chamber of commerce, or through a website such as Score.org, where retirees connect with new entrepreneurs.
4. Solicit the support of your family.
“This really is a team sport,” Moltz said. “You need the support of your family so when things go well, you have someone to celebrate with, and when things don’t, you have someone to kind of pick you up.”
5. Let go of your mistakes.
Computer game developer Rovio Entertainment made dozens of games before it released the wildly popular Angry Birds. Moltz uses this as an example to not give up.
“You’ve got to try to figure out what went wrong, if you can learn anything from it, and then let it go and stop beating yourself up,” he said.
6. Know the difference between being a business owner and a solopreneur—and decide which one you are.
A solopreneur is an entrepreneur who operates solo, meaning that you are the entire business. Think about crafters on Etsy who make a living selling wares they create versus the owner of a local restaurant.
“You’ve really got to decide, have you just created a business or just created a job for yourself?” Moltz said. “A business is something that runs and makes you money without you being there present.”
Knowing which you are will help you adjust your expectations and better understand your business model.
7. Keep an eye on ways to grow your business, sales, and profits.
Once your business gets on the ground, you should always have a plan for the next step, even if it’s just a vague idea saved in a document on your desktop somewhere. Any growth —whether it’s in sales volume or physical space—is going to need extra time or money. Consider creative ways to get either, such as from crowd funding or by finding investors.
8. Productivity is king.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re first starting off. You may have customer demands, an inbox full of e-mails, vendors to coordinate, and employees to manage.
“We really live in a distraction-based culture,” Moltz said. “To improve productivity, think about the one or two things you have to get done in order to be successful. Do those things before you get involved in your email and your customers.”
What has been your greatest challenge as a small business owner? Leave your comments below.
Michelle Stoffel Huffman is a researcher and staff writer for Think Glink Inc. Prior to joining Think Glink, Michelle worked for the Chicago Tribune as a daily news reporter and community manager, covering local government, business, tax issues and crime. She now specializes in real estate industry news, consumer financial reporting and home design and decor. She is a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago.