My 10 step roadmap of starting a small business

When I started my first two businesses we did a lot of planning in the beginning. (I had a business partner for both of them.) We had great product ideas and we started with lots of designs and big websites which showcased all of our products. We designed those products how we liked them and what was, from our point of view, missing in the market.
Looking back now I wish I had done a few things differently and in a different order. 

Therefore I have put together a 10 step roadmap of starting a small business. This list shows what is most important - and why - and what can wait a little bit or needs some additional thought. Every business is slightly different of course but I think overall these steps are the same for every small business. 

You might just need to add some things, like for example the legal side of setting up and registering your company which I don't want to go into in this blog post as this is different in ever country.

My 10 Step Roadmap of starting a Small Business | MNFL Design

So these are my 10 steps of starting a small business:

1. Test the product / service

So many people have great product or service ideas and just go ahead and plan the big and perfect launch. But actually they don’t know if there is a need for this product. So what I would always do now is to set yourself some time to test this product or service. I am reading a book right now called Sprint - how to solve big problems and test your ideas in just five days (by Jake Knapp and John Zeratzki) and in this book offerings are tested in a five day, very intense, sprint. Where this might be a little too short for many of us I would set a aside a time frame in order to put a little urgency on the matter. So let’s say three months for example. 
For example for the first business I started (Little Liebling) where we sold German inspired children’s wear, we first created about 15 products, I wrote a business plan, we prepared the patterns, we sourced all the fabric and accessories, we took pictures of every product, we designed a beautiful brand and we build a website. Then we started selling at local markets and later on we went to offer our products to shops. I don’t remember how long this whole process took us but I am sure it was a few months. 

Looking back now I would have done this differently. I would have taken my business idea, made a few mock up samples and gone to some markets to sell the mock ups and see what the response from the customers or potential customers would have been. I would also have gone to many different shops and told them about my idea and showed them the product to find out if they would have been interested at all. 
If something hadn’t worked, I would have tried it a different way at the next market for example. 
For example some of our products we didn’t sell a single piece of, although we loved them the most and they were super cute.

There was also a time when I was on bedrest during my pregnancy and I couldn’t do very much. I decided to design some simple jewelry for children, we took them to the next market and they sold out super quick. We never really went down that route because it did not fit too well into our children’s wear brand with German heritage. But actually we could have re-evaluated our business idea and may be adapted some things, had we tested this earlier.  
Anyway, if you do an experimental phase like this you will have some data and a lot of insights for starting the business properly. 

2. Write a company profile & financial plan

My next step would be to write a company profile. I would not write a proper long business plan with all the relevant numbers etc. yet but only a company profile as it will change and adapt over the first few months or even year of the business. The first months or year is still a huge learning curve and a development phase. 

Writing a proper business plan takes time and people can get so caught up with it, that they will never actually start their business.

In this Company profile I would include the following:

Onlyness factor: First write down your onlyness factor. So basically why are you the only person/company in your industry that provides this product or service for these people in this area who need help with what

Mission statement: Then write down your mission statement. This  needs to include the purpose of the company: who it is, what it does, who it helps and how it helps them.

Ideal customer: Determine who your ideal client or customer is. And really think about this and every detail. Write down the gender, age, occupation, family status, likes, dislikes, goals, values, biggest fears, what their problem is, how only you can solve this problem, what their needs are etc. 
Short and long-term goals: Write down your goals for the next 3 months, 1 year, 5 years, may be even 10 years. For example how much do you want to earn in your first year of business or how many products you want to sell in the first 3 months. And allow yourself to think big! Only if you think big you can actually act big and grow big. 

For more about this topic go here where I have written a whole blog post about why you should think big for your small business.

Write an action plan and a strategy: When you have tangible goals with numbers and a timeline you can determine what needs to happen in order for those goals to be achieved. Which steps do you need to take in which period of time. And what is not so important in order to reach the goal and can be dealt with later down the line.

Plan your financials: In order to start a business you need to think about some numbers as well and answer the following questions:

  • How many savings do you have?

  • When do you need to start making money?

  • How much do you need in order to cover your costs?

  • How much salary do you want to pay yourself?


Here are some mission statements as an inspiration from other companies:


3. Business name and simple branding

Most people have decided on a business name before they start their testing phase but in case you haven’t made up your mind, now is the time to do so.

Simple branding: By simple branding I mean you don’t need to design your whole brand yet, but you should always stay consistent with fonts, colors and the way you communicate.

So for example just use a simple font for your logo, I would just write down your name and not create a logo mark and submark etc yet. Then you determine 3-5 colors and use only them. And the same with typefaces, choose two more and just use those. If you design any marketing material keep it simple and stick to the same designs. Consistency is key and makes a brand memorizable. Whether this is now at an early stage or later when you have a proper brand strategy. 

4. Set up a simple website

Many people start with their social media accounts because they think it is much easier than having a website. And yes, you will see, I agree and it is important but before that you should have your own website.

And I would not have a big and extensive website yet, like a shop for all your products for example. But you need to have at least a simple landing page as your online homebase with information about your products or services, information about who you are, addressing your visitors problem and telling them why you solve it and a contact page. Like that you can direct potential customers and start driving traffic to your website, you can build trust and engagement. And you can even start an email list already which will help you later down the line. And if you want to you can also start a blog like that. A blog does not need to be in writing, these days video or a podcast is also a great way to blog. 

Last but not least: start collecting email addresses on your website! You can never do this too early as it takes time and energy. However with an email address you have direct access to your customers and can talk to them, get to know them, ask questions and eventually sell products to.

Get it up sooner rather than later. It does not need to be perfect, but it needs to be on there!  And you can go back and make changes and adapt later down the line. Remember a website is never perfect, it needs constant work and adjustment anyway. 

I would recommend using Squarespace (www.squarespace.com) which I also use for all my clients as it is much easier to set up than for example Wordpress and it offers and all in one service, which includes hosting and a beautiful template which can be adapted through a simple drag and drop system. And you can also buy your domain name through Squarespace which makes it easy as it is all in one place and easy to connect. The backend of Squarespace is very user friendly and there is no huge learning curve like for example with Wordpress. 

5. Get a professional email address

Next you need to get a professional email address. I’ve seen so many people start their small business with a “myname@gmail.com” address because they don’t want to invest in a proper business email or they don’t know how. However this is a very simple and easy step and it makes you look (and feel) immediately professional.

6. Social media

Now you can choose 1-3 social media platforms and then start posting on them. I firmly believe that you need to have a website first and then start using social media as you will have a place to direct your followers to in order to find out more about you and your product. Otherwise social media is a dead end. Everything should always point back to your website which is where you want people to go and then contact you.

For example if you are selling a dress and you post a nice picture of this dress in different locations and worn by different people on Instagram every day. You will create interest and a following so people will want to enquire more about this dress. They don’t want to scroll through and search through the whole Instagram feed to learn about the available colors, sizes, its price and where to buy it. They want to go somewhere and have all the relevant information outlined for them. And if you don’t have an online shop they can find out where to buy the dress or how to contact you. Make it as easy for your customers as possible to buy!

Before you decide on the social media platform you want to concentrate on it is helpful to look up who is on which social media platform and then concentrate on those that are important to your ideal customers. You can look at statistics for your area and you can also ask your ideal customers directly where they spend their time on. You can also look at your competitors and see where they are present mostly. 

Then depending on your available time decide on 1-3 social media platforms to concentrate on. Decide on a social media strategy. 

How many times do you want to post during the week? What do you want to post? And how you want to post it? Always ask yourself “why I am sharing what I am sharing and how is it important for my ideal customers?”
Then set aside some time to plan the content to make it relevant for your customers. And schedule your posts. You can set aside 15 minutes each time you want to post or there are great scheduling tools out there like for example Tailwind, MeetEdgar, Buffer, Later among others where you can batch your social media posting and schedule some time in advance.

By the way, another question you want to ask yourself is how much do you want to share about yourself? And about your family or hobbies and interests? How do you want to attract people on social media, just through posts about your industry and product or may be also through constantly sharing certain things about your private life in order to attract a different group of followers? Check out Jenna Kutcher regarding this for example. (http://jennakutcher.com/) She used to be a wedding photographer for example but started posting about her favorite food macaroni and cheese, her body and her dogs as well and like that she did not only have followers that were getting married and needed a photographer but also other people who might get married a few years down the line or who would have friends who needed a wedding photographer. Don’t forget you never know where your customers might be coming from. 

7. Refine your product/service

By now you have been in business for a little while and it is a good time to go back and look at your services or products and refine your offering. May be one of your products is not working at all and you can just eliminate it or you see a need for a new one or an addition to an existing one, then go ahead and add it. 

It is always good to ask people for feedback! Ask about a new idea you might have or a product or service they would really like to see from you. Ask about their needs, thoughts, their questions and whether they would buy it or not. In order to do that you could start a survey on social media or through your email list if you have one. You could ask a certain number of ideal customers. For example 3 existing ones and 3 that you would like to have as a customer. You will get a great amount on insights about their desires, needs and problems and it will help you to go back and look at your products to adjust them to your market. 

8. Define your processes

In order to work efficient and maximise your time you should first of all have processes in place how to handle tasks. For example when you receive an order for a product you shouldn’t be thinking about how to answer the email, how to get paid and how to send out the product each time. So set up a process for all aspects of your business!

Secondly you should always refine your existing processes and eliminate, delegate or automate.

There is never enough time in the day and this applies especially if you are a mom and run a business as well. There are so many things that need to be done and the to do list just keeps getting longer. So concentrate on the most important tasks!
Sit back and evaluate all your tasks:

  • which ones are important to reach your goals?

  • which ones take up too much time?

  • which ones are not done effectively?

  • which ones do you need to do more of?

  • which do not need to be done by you?

Some people like to go through this evaluation at the end of every week, some every month and some at the end of every quarter. Whatever you decide keep evaluating and then decide what to do with a task.

Do more of: decide which tasks are very important to drive your business forward and need to be done more of. So you need to make time for those. 
Eliminate tasks completely that are not important to reach your goals.
Delegate tasks that don’t need to be done by you in order to reach your goals: this could be giving tasks to a bookkeeper, an attorney, a graphic designer, a website designer, a social media manager, a shop assistant etc.

Automate tasks where you can: eg., having standard emails in place to answer questions or enquiries, schedule social media, have a system in place how to handle a project with clients, having a system in place to get paid, how to deliver a product when you do online sales. 

9. Write your business plan

After having worked with customers and after having refined your offerings you will have a much clearer idea about your business, its possibilities and its financials. 
You can now go and revisit your company profile and make adaptations and extensions. At this stage you might also want to decide if you need an investor and then you will definitely need a proper business plan. 

  • Rewrite your mission statement if necessary.

  • Write down a vision statement

  • redefine your product or service

  • Redefine your ideal customer

  • Define your long term goals including numbers

  • Write down your marketing and sales strategy in order to achieve those goals.

  • Write down your financial plan

The extensiveness of this business plan really depends on your business and how big you are thinking. And you might even want to get some help with this. 

10. Define your branding

You will have had some basic branding in place when you started your company initially. However although I am brand designer I would not put this at the top of my priority list anymore if I were to do my business again. 
You can move this point up a little bit on this list but it is really important to have a good understanding of your market, your target customer and your exact offering (and also your financials) when you define your brand and your branding strategy. 

I find it a lot easier to design a brand for people who have been in business for a little while and know exactly who their brand is for, what they want to achieve with it and which feeling they want to create. 
By now you might also have the finances to invest in a graphic designer and do it properly. A task that can be delegated :-)

If you want to do it yourself my free guide on how to design your own brand might help you! You can download it here. It also showcases the exact steps I take when designing for a client. 

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You can also find out here what is why branding is so important and the elements of a consistent brand identity.

https://www.mnfl-design.com/blog/2017/6/4/what-is-branding-and-why-is-branding-so-important

https://www.mnfl-design.com/blog/8-elements-of-a-brand

Last but not least and I would not add this to my list but I want to mention it: 
Consider starting a blog
This can be done through writing, a video channel or a podcast.
Because:

  • It builds trust

  • Drives more traffic to your website

  • Expands your reach

  • Positions you as an expert when talking about the ins and out about what you do

  • Helps with content for social media

  • And later on you will have an audience who will tell you about their needs, wishes and problems you can serve.

I really hope these steps will help you when you start your own business. 
And please do comment or email me with any questions you might have!

Have a great day!
Emilia


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