After a nearly 40-year decline in the number of new businesses opening across the country, entrepreneurship is finally experiencing a resurgence in popularity. More than half a million new businesses sprang up in 2014, representing a growth rate of 0.31 percent.
As a new founder myself, I can attest to the fact that starting a new business is no easy feat. Movies and TV shows like “The Social Network” and “Betas” glamorize startup life, but there’s a major learning curve — no matter how prepared you may be.
Between developing the concept for our app and securing funding, I learned several valuable lessons that any new business owner can apply to make that learning curve feel a little less steep.
1. Define your market
Your first step toward starting a new business should be educating yourself on your industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great place to start to gauge the size of your market. Another good trick is to search for infographics related to your sector. You may uncover recent numbers embedded in the graphics, as well as the sources the creators used to find those numbers.
2. Customize your pitch
If you haven’t crystallized your startup idea and business plan into a succinct presentation, it’s time to start working on your pitch decks. Pitch decks are similar to 10-minute videos without the motion: They need to tell a compelling story, or people will change the channel.
It’s a good idea to create two decks: one for potential investors and one for possible partners and others who aren’t investors. Your investor deck should include key details regarding your business strategy, while your partner deck should function more like a marketing piece. (Include all the reasons you’re going to succeed without divulging exactly how you plan to do it.)
Set aside time at least once a month to update both decks. I look at our decks when I’m preparing for our biweekly leadership meeting. It’s the perfect opportunity to ensure our team is driving toward our long-term vision.
3. Budget for legal fees
You probably hired a lawyer to handle your business formation paperwork, but you may not know what you’ll actually spend on legal fees during the initial business launch.
Contracts, employment documents, and handbooks will require legal review. At a minimum, you should earmark $20,000 to $30,000 for legal expenses — more if you have any intellectual property and plan to file for trademarks or patents.
Finding the right attorney is more than a financial consideration. Look for someone who believes in what you’re doing and is willing to help you through the early days of your business. If it’s just a transactional relationship, your phone calls and email questions will add up quickly.
The right person will treat your relationship as an investment in the future. Map out the services you’ll need over the next 12 to 24 months, and come to an agreement on what is — and what isn’t — billable.
4. Invest time in networking
When you’re first getting your business off the ground, it’s tempting to lock yourself in a room and stare at your computer around the clock. However, it’s important to remember that you won’t reach your business goals without the right network of people.
Throughout most of my career, I focused on people in my industry or people who were potential clients. But when I launched my business, I started reaching out to old contacts and friends of friends — anyone who was willing to listen. Many of the great connections we made came from people who seemingly had little to offer our business.
I suggest blocking off 30 minutes at least twice per week to peruse LinkedIn for local meetups and events, congratulate people on their new jobs, and share helpful content. Don’t be shy about connecting with people in the local community who’ve had success — even if they don’t work in your sector. Most business people love to network and help others blossom.
5. Be a servant, not a master
The best things in life come from serving others, not commanding them. Surround yourself with great people, and empower them to do great things. Eliminate potential barriers, supply required resources, and offer support when they need it. If your team members feel confident that you have their backs, they’ll be inspired to overcome occasional setbacks on their way to exceptional achievements.
Forecasting, preparation, and industry knowledge all factor into how quickly your new business will grow, but your teammates and their execution oftentimes make the difference between surviving and thriving. If you focus on empowering the people around you, you’ll be amazed at how far they’re willing to go to help your business succeed.