Most people who work a full-time job have, at some point, think of striking out on their own. The monotony of being a sprocket in the big machine can be a real soul-sucker. For many of us, the sirens’ call of answering only to the person in the mirror, not having to attend meetings about meetings, and making one’s own schedule sounds like paradise.
But, if I may stretch the mythological metaphor a bit further, we remember what happened to the reckless mariners who heeded the sirens’ call, do we not? Shipwreck! Dashed against the reefs! Nobody wants that. So, how can we be bold and still be smart about it?
Do What You Love
While the freedom that comes with owning a business is great, success requires plenty of self-discipline and hard work. You’re going to be spending a lot of time involved with whatever you choose to do, so it’s crucial that you pick something that really makes you tick.
Make a list of the things that you’re truly passionate about. Cross off the ones you're not good at. If you love cooking, but nobody loves to eat your cooking, the public may not be ready for a restaurant with a menu based on your avant-garde culinary masterworks. However, let’s say you absolutely love designing and building birdhouses. If you find that your potential clients (people who like birdhouses, clever cats with stolen credit cards) enjoy your birdhouses, and that birds seem to like hanging out in them, then avian housing might be your calling.
Do Your Homework
Now that you’ve decided on birdhouses, you need to get some things figured out. Whether you’re bootstrapping or seeking investors, you’ll need a good business plan. How long do you think it will take for the business to become profitable? How much cash-flow do you need to get started? What potential pitfalls should you avoid?
You should also do some market research. How much will you charge for your product? What will each one cost to make? Who are your competitors? Who are your potential clients? How will you get those clients to choose your birdhouses over brand X?
Figure out your niche, or create one. The snooty old lady down the street can get a birdhouse anywhere, but one based on Frank Gehry’s Venice Beach House? Maybe that’s where you come in.
Start Scrappy, Start Now
Stop making excuses about why now isn’t the time to start. You might not have eager investors banging down your door, or a slick mobile app, an advertising budget, or maybe even business cards. So what? Start small.
How much startup capital does a small birdhouse business require, really?
Starting on a shoestring budget also minimizes your risk. Build some birdhouses. Go around the neighborhood. Visit some local gardening stores. Get out and start shaking some hands. Chances are, they’d rather deal with the friendly neighborhood birdhouse lady than some faceless, faraway company, anyway.
Make It Official
There are numerous ways you can make your business legal, and there are pros and cons to each, so it’s important to research which one fits your company best. A sole proprietorship, for example, might be OK if you have no plans for expanding your micro-modular housing empire, but makes you personally liable for all of the business’s debts.
Incorporating as an LLC is another popular option for small businesses that requires more paperwork than an SP, but it is one we here at TSE heartily endorse because it has the added advantage of limiting one’s personal liability. You should also be aware that different states have different laws regarding incorporation. Figure out how to use these to your advantage.
Maximizing Your Use of Technology
There are plenty of ways to do this, and they don’t have to cost a ton of money. Many of them are free. You can start a website fairly inexpensively, use social media to create buzz and manage your reputation, accept credit card payments on the go with your mobile device, even create an app that will allow your customers to design their own birdhouses.
You want to be careful, though, not to overdo it. Make sure that the content and updates you post are relevant, engaging, and noteworthy. Also, don’t lose sight of the fact that while technology is indispensable, a good, old-fashioned personal touch is still an excellent way to set your business apart.
And finally, good luck!