Recently ran across a fantastic quote. It was one of those sayings that require several passes to really understand the verbal gymnastics at play: “Know what you know, and know who knows what you don’t know.” Come again?
It basically means that you have a valuable set of life experiences, and should strive for continued excellence there. After that, find others (with their own skill sets) to help you build something great. It all sounds well and good, but where should you begin?
If you’re building a business, thinking about joining the rank of entrepreneurs for the first time, but aren’t sure where to find the best resources to get started, we’re here to help. We’ve gathered our varied expertise, listened to prevailing advice, and boiled down the plethora of success stories into a few bite-sized nuggets of practical wisdom. Take a look.
Consider the time you spend reading to be an investment like any other: it’s a sacrifice for now (your time is valuable) but it will provide a big return later on. As for what to read, that will depend on the specific business you’d like to build.
- Trade Journals and related magazines are easy places to begin. I personally like to read origin stories of the companies that I respect the most. It gives me a can-do attitude when the task of creating my own business feels a little too daunting. Take a look at such publications as Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Inc for general business advice, and any publications in your niche for more specific how-to advice.
- Forums and blogs are everywhere. (Kudos to you, dear reader; you’re already doing this step.) Many businesses maintain their own user forums on their websites, where their customers can interact with representatives from the company, inquire about the development direction of a product, seek advice from fellow customers, and submit feedback and feature requests to the company. Scanning the forums related to your field will give you an invaluable overview of your target demographic, and how they view your product niche.
- Engage in Social Media. Your professional role models, whether corporate or personal, are likely to have their own presence on such sites as Facebook and Twitter. You become like whom you surround yourself with; you’ll glean habits, tips, and techniques by staying in proximity to your favorite success stories.
- There are secret repositories of all kinds of knowledge and information, hidden in just about every city. They’re all but forgotten these days. They are called (sshhhh!) libraries. These magical places should not be overlooked. As your business will require all manner of devices, screens, and connectivity, it is absolutely critical to your sanity that you unplug for a while in exchange for the tactical sensation of a good book. Every day. Trust me on this.
You may have heard it said that we have two ears and one mouth, to show that we should listen twice as much as we speak. In business, this advice remains. There are some people whose entire careers are made out of giving advice and counsel to business owners. They are there to help you, so seek them out.
- Every county has a SBDC, or Small Business Development Center. They offer classes from established professionals in their field, networking opportunities, and perhaps most importantly, free consultations for new members. While many of the resources provided by your local SBDC may be specific to brick and mortar businesses, there still will be plenty of information useful to e-commerce operations. If your local SBDC doesn’t quite have everything you need, check in with those in your neighboring counties.
- As stated above, social media can be incredibly helpful. Is there a professional in particular with whom you’d like to engage? Try sending a message via LinkedInor even Twitter. It’s less obtrusive than asking them to a lunch interview (which is not always a bad idea, either) and many such professionals wouldn’t mind “paying it forward” with some first-hand advice for new business owners.
- Networking events. I know, they sound even less fun than your neighbor’s kid’s first oboe recital. Just go- it’s not what you think. Sites like comor local small business associations will help you find like-minded individuals with whom to connect. You may be accustomed to these events when you were job searching, where the pressure is on to make the best impression, stand out in a crowd of perfectly qualified candidates, and smile till your cheeks cramp. But this time, you’re not trying to convince anyone to like you, nor to prove yourself. You’re going in order to meet with your peers, have a drink and just ask questions. You may make a connection with one of your aforementioned role models, and suddenly that lunch interview is entirely possible. Or you may talk to another newbie, and realize your businesses can benefit each other. Only one thing is certain: If you do nothing, nothing will happen.
No person is an island, and no business should “go it alone.” Granted, starting up a small business means that you’ll be wearing a lot of hats that may not be your areas of expertise, but the sooner you can partner with other businesses, the better. Outsource what should be outsourced, and delegate what can be delegated.
Let’s say you make custom guitars. You don’t need a physical storefront, since your inventory is commission-based. You’ve decided to sell online. Wise choice, grasshopper.
- Woocomerce can be your first business partnership. They do the techy stuff, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They’ll get you online, ready to interact with customers, vendors, payment gateways, and all those essential pieces of the puzzle.
- Then you could look into hiring a local (no really, I mean local) marketing firm to handle your branding, web content creation, and advertising structure. You make amazing guitars, and marketing firms make amazing marketing. Don’t spread yourself too thin by trying to be excellent at everything yourself.
- Hire a photographer. You put a lot of effort into the perfection of every detail in your guitars, and that ought to show. Sure, you can snap a few pics from your cell phone and upload them to Facebook, but don’t kid yourself. That’s an entirely different thing than a photograph that really tells the story. The better you can represent your product to the public eye, the more likely they are to see your product’s real value.
The more I dive into small business development; I keep seeing the same two “Success Factors” rising to the top. The most common traits among successful entrepreneurs are 1) pride of ownership and 2) no room for hubris. They may sound contradictory, but I think they create a harmony. One gives you the satisfaction and confidence to move forward, the other tempers the ego, allowing you to receive the best input. And input is absolutely critical.
Mistakes will most certainly be made, but not all of them have to be made by you. Building on the experiences of those who have gone before you can help you start off in the right direction, and avoid the common pitfalls on the journey. Whether you’re reading an article or talking to a local business leader, be a sponge.
Let everyone and everything inform you, but stay focused: there is no shortage of advice, and resources, and partnerships. It would be easy to be drowned by them, but the select few will help you sail. Take notes. I absolutely recommend investing in a good journal, and a good pen. The physical act of writing down your game plans, your goals, and your biggest influences can keep you afloat when the great big business world overwhelms you.