In the first part of this series, I covered How to start a business when you have no ideas or starting point.
The best thing you can do to help guide that idea or vision into reality, is seek out the expertise of those who have walked the miles and specifically have experience accomplishing what you seek to. A great mentor can help you explore and pursue planning, financing and development ideas for your new business. From there, seeking the right investment, programs and understanding your growth plan will guide you into your early days as an entrepreneur.
This multi-part series will help you get off on the right foot:
Ask questions, seek a mentor
I can not possibly overstate how important mentorship, and curiosity have been to my professional development and as a person overall.
No matter how good you are or can be in your chosen profession or path, there will always be someone better, smarter, faster, more experienced than you.
You can either resent this and learn to despise people for it, or you can learn to harness it. Deploy humility and be grateful when those beyond your reach offer to extend a hand to help you climb.
Find people who have what you are trying to achieve. Identify those who have reached the level you’re trying to unlock. Surround yourself with success in order to learn from and absorb it.
It doesn’t have to be a Musk, Gates or Jobs, it just needs to be someone who both:
- Has a perspective and body of experience that you need to learn from and
- Has the time and interest to pay that invaluable knowledge and expertise forward
Don’t be defeated (or surprised) if you ask someone to mentor you and they decline. Be thankful they considered your request and move on. People are busy – it is likely a measure of the fact that they do care, if they are being honest with you about not being able to mentor you for whatever reason.
When you do get a line on a good mentor, be mindful that it’s much like finding the right job: it needs to be a fit on both sides and that is very much a two-way street. Finding the right fit in your mentor is just as important as finding a mentor with the right expertise to help you learn and build.
Starting a business with no money
Ahhh, the perfect “how to start a new business” catch-twenty-two. You need the business to make the money but you need the money to make the business.
I don’t think that’s entirely true – in fact, everything I’ve covered so far in this article requires exactly zero dollars, the value of your time notwithstanding.
The beginnings are relatively low cost, but if you’re still down with starting your own business by now, you’ve likely accepted that the purpose for it is not to start a website and then go straight to yacht-shopping or building a fleet of Teslas (unless your business idea is owning a Tesla dealership).
You can do a LOT digitally, online to continue to build and develop your business, including a ton of free or free trial digital tools that will help you build, manage and grow your business like Google Workplace, WordPress, Wix, Figma etc. Virtually every online tool today will let you use at either a limited capacity or time for free.
The key is planning your mix, so you don’t waste a minute of those free tools.
Here are some tips to help you maximize your ‘freemium’ time and minimize your startup expense:
- Have a tight plan on how you will use ‘freemium tools’ to avoid wasted time in a free trial period
- Make the business pay for itself; meaning, expect to use your first bit of income to invest back into the business so your success pays for new/better tools rather than paying out of pocket
- Accept that you will have to put a majority of your money back into the business to build momentum. This is why a lot of entrepreneurs say they don’t ‘take home a paycheck’ because the business requires re-investment for a long time
- Accept that investing back into the business IS investing in yourself to make the above point easier to swallow
- Save up before you jump in – you will need to be your first and only investor at the beginning, so save up as much as you can before your get started and then determine how long you can afford to run without a positive income before you have to go into emergency mode
- Have an emergency plan; specifically, know when you have to pause (never stop) progress on your business in case you have to scale back, regroup, save or generate more capital and pick it back up – never be ashamed or apologize for this
In the meantime, there are other ways to raise startup capital, but small business grants and support programs are probably the most common and accessible.
Small business grants in 2022
Discovering, understanding and learning how to apply for small business grants and programs is subject to a number of specifics based on where you live, the size and scope of your business, the industry you operate in and what your business actually produces.
That said, these are a few fundamentals that can help you get started on how to draw down on these specifics:
- Refine where your business is based more so than where you serve – for example: many online businesses serve a global customer base, but there is no global funding. You would be abblying to and seeking business funding programs based on where you are located or ‘headquartered.’
- Seek funding at the Federal/National, Provincial/State, and at the private level:
- Federal/National: Funding programs from your country government (Canada, US, Ireland)
- Provincial/State: Funding programs in your regional state, province, county etc. (Ontario, California, Co. Cork)
- Private: Funding programs offered by or in partnership with large organizations (usually that operate in your industry). (e.g. Ubisoft, Microsoft, Amazon, groups and associations)
- Consider non-profit work and partnerships – NFPs and Charities often have funding specifically to hire for services your business offers. Additionally, if you are working in/with non-profit groups, you may qualify for special pricing on business tools, subscriptions and platforms
From there, simply go down this list and do a few searches for [Country/National, Province/State/County, *Business Name*] and [small business, business, startup] [grant, loan, capital]. That should give you a good starting point.
Also, be sure to check in with your local business improvement area association (BIA) or municipal offices for leads on where and how to find small business grants and funding.
What is the definition of an entrepreneur
According to the literal Oxford definition, an entrepreneur is “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.”
While that’s true, I believe there is much more to what defines us as entrepreneurs and business owners. Entrepreneurs choose the path they (we) do because we have an insatiable need to do and make things better. We refuse to be satisfied with things ‘as they are.’ We often go against the grain and challenge every angle of business as a habitual and endless refining process.
Unfortunately, that also means that our sacrifices go well beyond monetary and the financial. It means we feel dutiful around identifying the truth and doing things ‘the right way’ which isn’t always appreciated or shared by everyone around us. It means we often have to go the extra mile to protect the integrity of those around us, while ours is constantly threatened or tested.
It sometimes means losing friends, acquaintances, clients, jobs, material items, personal time and more but we recognize the ultimate goal – the bigger picture. It means we recognize and rally around our flaws – we never ignore them.
We acknowledge, identify, adapt and rebuild. We punch through the hardest barriers and create bridges for others to cross and ladders to climb.
We are at our very best when creating amazing things that benefit others more than they benefit ourselves.
My friends, I don’t think it too flowery to posit that entrepreneurs are modern day heroes (of course, what would a hero be without a few villains mixed in).
How do I start a business from here
If you’ve made it (read) this far, then you should have a pretty clear line of process to at least get you started. To recap:
- Define what your business is, based on your:
- passion and what industry you belong in
- expertise and specialization
- saleable, most valuable skills and abilities
- Identify your path and short/medium/long term goals
- Define your niche and opportunity
- Build on and use your network
- Ask questions, be curious, seek a mentor
- Leverage ‘freemium’ heavily at startup
- Identify, seek and apply for small business grants and funding
- Never give up, stay positive and be your own hero
- Bookmark and refer to this article frequently.
I love everything about building and developing business, and I get genuinely excited for and supportive of others who do too. Please follow me on LinkedIn and let’s get connected. I’d love for us to learn from one another and share secrets. More importantly, I want to hear and celebrate your success stories.
Now go create something amazing. I’d love to hear how your new business ventures are progressing!