Start Up

5 Things To Think About When Starting A Business

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Happy Monday!

I get asked a lot of questions about starting a new business. I love it because as soon as I hear someone’s inflection start to shift to a question-asking pitch, the professor switch flips on in my brain. I can’t help it. It’s like a Pavlovian Response...minus the drool. Ok, maybe a little drool. That’s only because I get excited for people when you with start to express your entrepreneurial tendencies.

Today I want to cover the first critical steps to getting your business idea out of your brain and into the real world.

This post is my response when you ask me what you should do FIRST when thinking about starting a business. It’s not an all inclusive answer, just the literal first things you should do. Ideally I would’ve got to you before you started soliciting advice from the near infinite places online spouting business growing advice. This would literally be the conversation I would have with someone over an adult beverage at the bar after they found out what I do.

If you did start Google’ing then you’ve probably seen that some entrepreneurs, coaches, and consultants wave their fingers in the air and proclaim that you work as hard (and as fast) as you can on getting to your Minimum Viable Product out the door. Then once you’re bought in on that idea these “experts” proceed to do a not-great job of explaining what a Minimum Viable Product is because they are only vaguely familiar with the LEAN Startup Model. (Fun fact: The LEAN idea came from Toyota factories in Japan in the 1980’s. It was designed to smooth out processes and reduce waste on auto manufacturing lines. Sorry, I thought it was fun.)  

Can’t iterate if you don’t ship, right?!

While I agree with that I tend to shy away from fancy startup buzzwords and break things down into actionable chunks that you can put into practice without needing a crash course in the Lean Startup Model. This post is about doing something today to move the needle on your business idea….today.

Ok so below are the literal first things you should do if you’re planning on giving your business a fair shake. A few these may seem administrative in nature and by extension not as sexy as other things on your to-do list but they are important. You need a solid foundation before you build literally anything and going through the motions here will force you to really think through how you want to be branded, viewed, and even how you’re going to deliver on your value proposition.  

1. There is no such thing as the perfect business name.

Seriously, I can’t tell you how many chats I’ve had over coffee where there was no forward progress being made in starting a business because of a naming issue. My advice is to pick something simple, something you like, and something that can translate to a domain name pretty easily. Then pull the trigger. Clear over clever always wins. Even come up with a few options because after you settle on a name or two you’re going to need to try to pick up your domain name. If your business name changes, after you have give your company a name, over time that’s fine, you can always add domains or run your business under a different name than your company. “Doing Business As” accounts are easy to fill out and your bank will still cash the checks - which is the important part. Also, it’s really easy to forward lots of domains to a single site so don’t worry about wondering if your audience or customers will be able to find you after a while.  

2. Get separate bank accounts ASAP.

If you think you don’t need a separate account for your business because you haven’t made any money you’re wrong. I’m willing to bet that the business you are starting is planning on making money. It can get really tricky to keep business money and personal money separate when you are a solopreneur or brand new business. The IRS doesn’t care how big or small you are, they will always find a way to get their cut. While you can get your accounts (PayPal included) set up with your personal Social Security Number you would be better off applying for an EIN number. That’s the tax identification number you’ll assign to your business name. Applying for the EIN, Employer Identification Number, is easy and you get the results right there online through the IRS website.

3. Work on your Minimum Viable Audience. (This is a big big big topic so here’s the high level overview.)

Up to this step you have an idea for a business, you have a name (even if it’s going to change) and you have set up a separate account. Now is the time to start working on your audience. Start building your little piece of the interweb because that’s where most people are going to look for you. Defining your audience, creating content, and developing relationships with your audience is critical to building relationships with people. It’s not going to happen overnight so the key here is to be as consistent as possible with what/how you share and the value you deliver to people.


Most of the time people don’t really know what they want or what to expect from you. In developing your audience you will get to know their pains and how you can better deliver value to them - in turn building a better product out of the gate. Another benefit to building an audience is that you will have a group of people to share your business journey with. They can’t buy if they don’t know that you exist and they won’t buy if they don’t know, like, and trust you. The trick here is that there is no perfect number for the audience. You don’t have to wait until you have an email list with thousands of people on it. Just get a few people involved in a conversation and leverage the places you already interact online. My recommendation for you is to think about your content distribution like a tree. Your website is your trunk and in the beginning pick one or two branches to really invest in - think Facebook and Instagram. You’re going to want to go where people already are and create/share content with the goal of getting people to care enough to follow you back to your site to learn more.

4. “Perfect is the enemy of good” - Voltaire.

Your business is brand new and your audience and stakeholders know that. You can’t know what works and what doesn’t if you don’t have a feedback loop. You get to having a feedback loop by actually selling something. So start (trying to) selling. Call it a Beta, give away a few for free, or just let people know it’s Version 1.0. How ever you want to handle getting your work into the hands of the people that need it is good enough - just make sure it ships! This is definitely going to take some dedicated business development work because you are making and selling first and then asking questions later. If audience development is your inbound marketing, working on your sales game is your outbound marketing. You can also start interviewing if you’re really stuck wondering how to solve the problem you’ve identified. The challenge with interviewing is that you won’t know what people actually want or get really honest answers until you ask them to take their wallets out and buy right then and there. This step has a lot of potential for decision/analysis paralysis. Up until know you are playing business. Selling something crosses the threshold of actually putting your work on the line and delivering. So don’t dwell over perfect and just get something out in the world.

4 Continued. Keep iterating and keep selling.

As you start to build a community around your brand and your work there will be more opportunities to get your stuff in the hands of people that need it. Work on building momentum and work on asking lots of questions for more feedback.

5. Get your paperwork and documentation in shape.

This may or may not happen right away, it really depends on how fast or slow you grow. When you are starting a business there are a lot of things that can pull your attention away from building a business. My advice is to focus on doing just enough business development to communicate your business’s value and to get something to market so that you get to your first payments or sales. Once you start to get a few paying customers in the door you can parlay those funds to deal with all the application and license fees your city or town will need for you to do business where you live. Check your City or Town Halls for sure but most likely you will eventually need a business certificate or permits to operate your business. After you officially exist in the eyes of the government you can go on and work on getting the appropriate insurances, etc. My approach is to get your business making money first and use that money to grow and cover the costs of being a business. It’s a little “building the plane while it’s flying” but validation is better than sunk costs in my book.

I need to reiterate that these are not the only things you should be doing when you’re starting a business. I’ve glossed over a ton but like I said, if we were having a drink at a bar and you asked me what you should be doing - this is where I’d tell you start. This list is also a great test to see if you’re as serious as you think you are when it comes to building a business. While few in number things like taking the time to build even a minimum viable website and brand presence can take some real time. If you’re really ready to try to build a business then it’s time to roll up your sleeves, solve a real problem, tell some good stories, and see if you can get someone to pay you to help them through a transformation.


Launch Your Minimum Viable Business

Have a business idea that’s been nagging at you for a while?

I mean really nagging.

I mean the kind of nagging that inspires you to go out and buy a domain name or two for your new idea. The kind of idea that has you tinkering with websites that teach you to master the arts of coding, designing and copy-writing for free. The kind of business idea that had you go out and lock down all the social media profile names and @-handles you could think to secure. The kind of idea that you’ve been talking about and “planning” to do for a few months (up to years) now.

It’s the kind of idea that energizes you and exhausts you all at the same time which means - you’ve done literally nothing or almost nothing to date. Unless, you count the friends and family that obligatorily “Liked” your Facebook Business Page because you sent them an invite that one time.

If this is you and you’re tired of being in this space then you are in the right place. In this post I’m going to help you find and launch your Minimum Viable Business.

First a definition.

I am defining a Minimum Viable Business as a business that provides just enough of a specific value so that you can identify who your customers are, sell to them, support them and learn from them to figure out if your business has legs to grow - with as few moving parts in the process as possible. It’s a process that will help you best communicate the specific and measurable value your business delivers.

For those of you that are already reading all things entrepreneur I can already hear your retorts.

You might be thinking that this sounds an awful lot like getting to some kind of minimum viable product. Well, if you’re thinking that, you’re partially correct. The minimum viable product life of sitting through Steve Blank like presentations, LEAN Launchpad Accelerators and the waves of endless build-learn-iterate spreadsheets is not something I’ll be subjecting you to. With the Minimum Viable Business process it’s not only about the gathering validated learning, it’s also about getting clear about why you’re building this business, identifying the real benefits your customers will receive and building the systems to keep doing it.

So, here is an easy to follow outline of the Minimum Viable Business process that you can start using today to help bring to life what’s been swimming in your brain for a while.

1. I hate to do this but I am going to start by referencing Simon Sinek’s work about getting to your why.

I know, every business blog does this but it’s because his work is so on the nose. Your core beliefs are going to guide and influence every decision you make. Your motivation for building this business is also going to seep through every conversation you have about your business. If you aren’t authentic about your purpose and what you believe in then it’ll be really hard to convince people to trust you enough to give you money to solve their problems. It sounds super cliche but people really don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. You need to as honestly as possible get to these why’s:

  • Why are you starting this business?

  • Why is this problem worth solving?

  • Why are you best suited to solve your customer’s problem?

  • Why should anyone care about what you’re doing?

  • Why is what you believe in important? (For you and your business.)

If you answer these honestly (I recommend going a few why’s deep on each answer) you can start to see that you have the beginnings of a pitch for your business. The kind of pitch that people would be willing to listen to because it’s compelling and honest - not just a list of features.

2. Getting really clear on your target market is next on the list.

What does the ideal customer look like for your Minimum Viable Business? The more specific the better. There are lots of resources that go to great lengths to help you identify your target market but to keep you from spinning off into days/weeks/months of more stuff to learn and keep you distracted I want you to just answer this one question:

What is the smallest and most narrow group of people that exist that would get the most amount of value out of you and your business?

Let’s say you’re thinking about being a real estate professional and have just passed your licensing exam. You’re thinking about targeting brand new parents. If your description of your ideal customer stops there then it’s time to roll up your sleeves.  I want you to go deep on “new parent” ideas. How new? Do they have any other kids? What kind of places are they coming from? Is this a first home purchase for them? Are they Millenials? If I were thinking about the market for new parents and real estate I would going until I have something like this:  

I specialize in helping Millennial first time parents get out of the rentals (or parent’s basements) their new families have out grown and into their perfect first homes, not necessarily their forever homes. These first time parents are 30-something professionals that care more about the school system than they do about their morning commute and are looking to move out of a city/metro neighborhood and into a suburb. As a 30-something professional they probably have student loans they’re dealing with and are earning somewhere between $60,000 - $85,000/yr with possibly less than stellar credit.

Of course you can keep going and I encourage you to. The more specific you can be about who you serve best the better you can fit your why to them. When you’re doing this you’re also not spending time “researching” all the ways you can reach the Millennial market. That means you can allocate that extra time to getting in front of the people you most want to serve and (because of your why) delivering more value than any other real estate professional can for them.

3. What is the real value you’re delivering?

For this step we are skipping clean over the part about the mechanism by which you deliver value and going straight into what life looks like for your customer after they buy your stuff. The reason for the skip is that everyone’s delivery is going to be a little different depending on the types of products and services you are selling. You should be able to not only imagine but describe the value your business brings to people. Are you saving them time? Helping them land their dream job? Allowing them to do their work faster? Giving them confidence in their style? Your Minimum Viable Business should be focusing in on one really specific problem that your business solves in a specific way. Think about any home DIY project that requires a hole in the wall. If I have to go to the hardware store to buy a drill, it’s not because I need a drill (want maybe) it’s because I need a hole in the wall. What’s the “hole in the wall” your business leaves people with after they buy from you? Do your best to quantify this value as well.

4. What’s your secret sauce?

Secret sauce is also known as competitive advantage. The heart of this questions lies in getting to what it is that you do that is better or that matters more than any of your potential competitors. No, having great customer service or “working harder than the competition” are NOT competitive advantages. We are looking for the specific stuff that makes you better.

Odds are that if you’ve been thinking about your business for a while then you’ll have thought of a few other businesses that might do what you do. Now that you’re so close to going out in the world and serving your market we need to work on what makes you, your business or your process unique.  What is special about how you deliver value? Is your secret sauce in your process? Is it the fact that you understand your market better than anyone in a specific way? Is it that you created a system that gets to some kind of result faster than your competition? Are you making life easier for your customers in a certain way by granting them access to a resource that you can get cheaper than anyone else? Thinking about these questions and questions like this will help you get to identifying and ultimately communicating your secret sauce.

5. Get selling!

This is where the rubber meets the road. Up to this point you’ve worked on getting clear about why the world needs your business, what you’re delivering and how to communicate why your customers need you. Now you need to start the sales process. Selling doesn’t have to be scary but it does have to be consistent. The best way to make it consistent is to follow some kind of process. If you’re struggling with where to start I have a simple sales process for you:

  • Prospect - You have your description of your ideal customer/target market. Now start putting together a list of people or businesses that can benefit from using what you have built.

  • Connect - This is the part where people get stuck the most. Working in your business is easy when all of your focus is on internal development, plans and processes. Connecting via email, social or even a call is one of the first times you are putting yourself out there and it can be intimidating. This is where the conversations start and value get’s exchanged.

  • Present - Presenting doesn’t have to mean that for every new client or customer you have a brand new slideshow to present. It can be the routine you use to describe how you bring value to your target market. It’s in the presentation that you’ll be able to better interact with your potential client or customer and address their specific concerns and needs.

  • Propose - Make sure that you clearly outline how what you do will specifically benefit your prospect. This can be a formal written proposal created for your prospect or even a verbal agreement that is then followed up with some kind of short form terms or receipt.

  • Close - Ask for the sale. The Minimum Viable Business model only works if you can take a prospect through your sales process so that you can get to an ask. Getting a “no” is not a bad thing, it’s a measurable outcome that you can use to help shape your business. Use the feedback you get from the ask to better inform how you are proposing to deliver value and to the types of prospects you’re asking.

  • Deliver and Support - Might seem a little obvious but at this point if you have successfully gone from prospect to client or customer you have to do your best to deliver what you promised. Your solution doesn’t have to be perfect and if you were honest with your prospects through this process they will know that but they will expect that you can deliver on what you said you can deliver. After that make sure that you check in with them to ask about their experiences, continued needs, areas from improvement, etc. The people that do business with you are going to be your best source of information as you grow out of your Minimum Viable Business and into a sustainable one.

6. Keep it simple and keep track!  

I have talked and worked with business owners who drag their feet when it comes to selling their stuff because they think their solution and brand isn’t perfect enough yet. In the Minimum Viable Business process you should worry less about your branding, your letterhead, the fonts you chose for your homepage and more on the actual work. Can you sell your idea and your solution with the current level of tools you have available.

At this point you’ve been introduced to all the concepts you need to take your idea, your passion really, off the back of the napkin and bring it to life. It’s not scary! You must be deliberate about the early choices you make though. There are lots of little cracks that can swallow your time, money and energy so you have to be careful. You can’t allow yourself to lose chunks of time to working in the business - just get it good enough so that you can communicate your why, your value and why your customer should care. Then ask!

The last little bit is to do your best to keep track of the work that you’re doing. Especially in the sales process. Your early “closing ratio” shouldn’t matter much, that’s not the point of keeping track. The point of keeping track is to help you better identify patterns. Patterns that you can use to better iterate on your product or service, patterns to help you better serve your ideal customers and patterns to help you better deliver on the heart of why you thought your business was a good idea in the first place.

My call to action for you, a challenge really, is to stop tinkering and waiting for the “right” time to start. You’ve got more going for you than you think when you frame your business as a Minimum Viable Business so just get going!

Keep it simple, keep it valuable and keep it moving!