Launching a startup isn’t as hard as it seems.
Ok, time to make a distinction (or three).
First, launching a startup is different than running a startup. Launching is the first step, while running is the next 10,000 steps.
Second, being in business is different than being a business. Being in business means that you’re making money but you have to be there for it to make money, while being a business means that it can make money even if you sleep in a little bit on Monday.
The final distinction I want to make is the one between completely ready and ready enough. When it comes to launching a startup, being completely ready will almost guarantee you’re ready for the wrong things. More on that in a minute.
One of the very best pieces of business advice I’ve ever received is pretty simple: Keep it simple.
And that’s what we’ll do here. Ready? Let’s go.
Step #1: Map out your entire idea.
That’s right, all of it.
Use a whiteboard, notepad, mind map, or whatever tool that matches the way your brain thinks. Paint yourself a picture of what your future business will do.
Think about what problem you think you’ll solve, the ways you think you’ll solve it, and the things you’ll need to provide those solutions. Approach this like a brainstorming session. Put everything on the table, and don’t curate your thoughts.
At the end of this little exercise, you’ll likely have a lot of stuff. That’s good.
Now move to the next step.
Step #2: Pick a solution.
You might have a lot of “solutions” to choose from, and it might seem as if you need to provide multiple solutions at once to make it work. That’s usually not true, especially when you’re working on a brand new idea.
Look at all your proposed solutions. Highlight the ones that aren’t essential, but don’t cross them out unless they’re just really bad ideas. I used to eliminate ideas that were feasible but not essential. They were lost forever, which sucked because there were times down the road when I’d want to review old notes for old ideas. So keep the ideas, just highlight them to show that you won’t pursue them right away.
What you’re looking for is a simple solution that you can pitch to potential customers.
It has to be simple, something you can deliver on in case one of those potential customers says YES!
Pick one. The rest can wait.
Step #3: List out your potential customers and clients.
Approach this the same way you approached Step #1. Just let this list flow, even if you think you know who you want to sell to.
Once you’ve done that, then I bet you can guess the next step!
Step #4: Pick one of those potential customers and clients to chase after.
The others will always be there.
Pick one, and move on.
Step #5: Start conversations with many, many people.
So you’ve got your one potential solution, and you’ve got your one target customer.
Now is the time to start a bunch of conversations with people both in and out of your target customer demographic. Tell your family, your friends, and strangers what you’re doing. Ask them if they know anyone who could benefit from your idea, and ask for an introduction.
And of course, try to hunt down people who fit your idea of your potential customer.
The most important aspect of this step is to approach people with your one solution first. You can have your other solutions in the back of your mind, but lead with your primary solution. Here’s why: you’re testing things, and it’s tougher to know “what works” when you’re throwing a million things at people.
Keep it simple, remember?
Step #6: Deliver if they say YES, regroup if they say NO.
By “they,” I’m talking about your potential customers.
Let’s say that one of your conversations led to a sale–someone said YES. First, congratulations! Cherish that moment, then turn all your focus to delivering on your promise.
But what if nobody is buying what you’re selling?
First, it’s ok! This is entrepreneurship, and you’re not going to get everything right the first time. If people are saying NO, then go back to the drawing board.
Tactically, this is why it’s so important that you pitched one solution to one type of customer.
People are saying NO, so you have to make an adjustment. Pick one thing to change: either your solution or your target customer. Then repeat the Step #5.
Step #7 and beyond: Find a way to consistently deliver.
Now you’re in business, and it’s time to start building into a business that can consistently deliver on its promises.
That’s a whole other topic that is beyond the scope of this piece, but I don’t want to just leave you hanging. So here are a small handful of things to think about once you’re at this stage.
Do as much as you can on your own until you can afford to bring someone else into the fold. It’s going to hurt, and that’s ok. Stick with it. But a bad move is to bring people in before you’re able to keep them.
Also, look for things that happen over and over again in your business. Once you find them, make a decision to outsource them, hire someone to do them, automate them by using software, or eliminate altogether. It’ll save you tons of time, which is the most important thing you own.
Finally, pay your taxes. Just saying.