When you are beginning a small business you often start with a vision, an idea or a dream of what you want your company to become. This product (service) is what you see as the key foundational cornerstone of your business. But a successful small business is much more than a product.
The First Thought
Sure, every small business (or any business for that matter) begins because the founders saw a need, saw a problem, and figured out a solution to the problem. It may have begun because they found a deficiency in their own lives where they really needed a certain outcome and could find nothing to meet their needs.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Along the way these founders realized there must be others with similar problems also interested in a successful solution. This is where it gets fun. These individuals turn from problem solvers to entrepreneurs. No longer are they simply working out a solution for their own needs. Now they have decided to share this solution with others. The wheels start to turn and they begin to realize they could charge a nominal fee and generate revenue on this product. This point where things get very serious.
Small Businesses Must Plan Ahead
The creation of a product which meets a need is not a business. A small business is much more than simply the product you wish to sell. This is an oft forgotten aspect of starting a new business. You as the founder of a small business will be wearing many different hats and you will be forced to consider many decisions beyond just the product you’re selling. Small businesses must plan out a road map for their future.
You must look at not only the immediate future of what you want to sell but you must also focus on where you want to be in 6 months or more. You should set out a plan (and be sure to set realistic goals and deadlines) which you will then follow as you build and grow your business.
Small Businesses Take Work
I’m sure everyone who has started a small business understands it takes an incredible amount of work to establish a successful business. Small businesses are a great starting point for growing larger companies or even building a sustainable small business. Again, it’s far more than a product. In fact, it’s more than just a product and a website.
I’d like to take some time in this article and address a short list of things you should plan on as well as work to be done when launching a small business.
Behind the Scenes
I’m going to call this group of items the “behind the scenes” items. These are things most of your customers won’t see or interact with but are vitally important for you to take care of before attempting to launch your small business.
- Legal Business Name & Incorporation Type
I plan to write a full article on this single topic as it is one of the trickiest and often more difficult items to consider when starting a new business. For brevity in this post I think it’s suffice to say, don’t forget to select an incorporation type (LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, DBA, etc…). This includes your articles of incorporation, membership shares, by-laws and more. Also be sure you have your business name filed with your required government authorities.
- Bank Accounts
This might seem obvious but I’ve seen it firsthand where a business has been created, a product released and suddenly customers are interested in purchasing and the business doesn’t have the necessary bank account to take the money! It’s almost laughable, but I assure you it happens.
- Merchant Accounts & Credit Processing
If you anticipate taking funds via credit cards, check cards, online payments (bitcoins) etc.. you need to be sure you select a merchant account, a credit card processor, or other digital payment processor. Things like setting up a PayPal account take a little bit of time and you will need to have your bank accounts and business information (EIN) handy.
The next set of items I’m going to label as “customer interface”. These are the items which the customer sees and interacts with. Important items to consider in this category are listed as follows:
- Customer Website
Again, this might feel basic and quite obvious, but don’t neglect this vitally important piece. Your website needs to be easy to navigate, simple to find, and clear in its purpose. Be sure you capture your audience’s eye and focus their attention on the appropriate things. Oh, and be sure you’re targeting the right customer (again, for another day).
- Product Delivery
Plan how you will be delivering your product to your customer. Will they be digitally downloading your product? Will you need to capture shipping information and process shipping? If you are selling digital goods will you offer a one-time download or multiple downloads? (i.e. Will you establish a membership website and customer portal?). Be sure to plan out how the customer gets what they pay for. You want this process to continue building their confidence they have chosen the right company and you want to keep them from any buyer’s remorse.
- Follow Up
What will you do after they have purchased your product? Are you going to add them to a mailing list? Will you email them additional information. Perhaps a physical card in the mail would be appropriate. Be sure to consider how you will continue to build a relationship with your customer. This is the point where a single-time customer will not only become a repeat customer but will also become a salesperson for you to their friends. This is the sweet spot.
- Support Center
Don’t blindly think every sale will be perfect and every customer a happy one. As mush as you want to believe they all know what they are purchasing and what you are providing there will always be those times when clarification is necessary or support is required. How will you handle support? Setting up a member’s area with a support desk tool is one option. Email support and phone support are also ways to support your product. Whatever you choose as most appropriate for your business, be sure it’s ready on launch day.
Whew! That is a lot of work. Starting a small business is definitely much more than a product. And there are still other things to consider. However, I don’t want anyone feeling overwhelmed so I will leave the rest for a future post. We’ll assume at this point you’ve taken care of all the above and you have just launched your website, held your grand opening, and invited your first customers into the store. Are you done?
Absolutely not. I often find myself telling people:
You can create the world’s most beautiful website, and have the most amazing product, but it will do no good if no one ever sees it.
In the next article we’ll look at what to do after you’ve launched your product. Now that you have your small business foundation started, we’ll explore how you can make it successful.
Please let me know if you have other ideas of important things to consider when building a small business. I’d love to hear from you.
Remember, we’re all in this together!