If you don’t have the inspiration of an interesting or unique idea you’re NOT an entrepreneur. All entrepreneurial endeavors start with an idea – to do/make something bigger, better, faster, more efficient, or brand-new that the world has never before seen. Once you have such an idea, do you know what to do with it? The following is a list of general tools you will almost certainly need to pursue your new career as an entrepreneur. You can expand on any of these items with the use of the online search engines:
1. Industry-specific Research Tools and Resources
Once you have your brainstorm you’ll need to find out if someone else has already had a similar one or if your idea looks like one the market is craving. The best way to find this out without spending a lot of cash is to delve into the various resources that are at your disposal. Certainly, online searches are the first place to look, but don’t discount books & magazines that you can find in your local library. A good, helpful librarian is invaluable in cases where you might stumble a little with your online search terms or keywords. A librarian can help you find the volumes with competitors/products data sources and demographic info. that you might otherwise have to subscribe or purchase on your own. Some of these resources that you can access for free at the local library can be very costly to access online. Believe it or not, not EVERYTHING is accessible online for free. Depending on your product/service idea, you may also want to look up government contracting info. to see if the government is already using your idea. If you still feel that you have the next best thing since sliced bread you may want to pay a patent or copyright service to confirm that it’s not already protected by someone else.
At this point you have an idea and a direction. Now you need the most basic thing in an entrepreneur’s tool kit: MONEY. There are various resources for assistance with funding. However, without a network of contacts with ‘angel investors’ or venture capital funding sources, you will probably have to start looking closer to home. If your credit is good, credit cards and small-business loans are always an option. Many startups begin with money from family &/or friends. In many cases, depending on the field you are entering, grants can be available, especially if you qualify as a minority- or women-owned-business. In many cases, you may have to have already established a track record with your product or service, which is somewhat of a catch-22 when you’re trying to get started. In any case, you will need to perfect your ‘elevator pitch’ with modifications for friends/family vs. other types of investors. You have to stir up some interest in you and your idea(s) if you expect to get any kind of help no matter how great you think your idea is.
Aside from the necessary skills inherent in your chosen field, there are several skills that you will have to ‘get the hang of’ or master to be a successful entrepreneur. You may have some or all of them already; you may develop them by the ‘seat of your pants’, or; you may have to learn these skills as soon as possible or retain the ‘close up and personal’ intimate help from another person who will become like an appendage to you.
Public speaking and leadership skills can be acquired through group education. There are tips and techniques you can be taught to boost your understanding of how best to deal with people and present yourself, especially if you’re having trouble obtaining funding. This type of education will also help you with networking, which is an invaluable skill you will also have to develop, especially if you don’t already have much of a network. How are you going to share and promote your idea(s)/product(s)/service(s) without being able to talk to members of a network? Public speaking is one of the top five fears of people everywhere; in some cases, even more than the fear of dying. You can overcome that fear and you must to be a successful entrepreneur unless you have a partner who can speak for you.
Depending on the successful acceptance of your idea by the people who can help you make it happen, you will probably have to have or develop some selling/marketing skills. Removing any fear you may have of speaking in front of strangers is the essential first step. Selling and marketing are not the same and require different skills, but these can be learned if you’re not a natural salesman or marketing whiz.
There’s also a good chance you will be called on to perform some customer service after your product(s)/service(s) are put out there for all the world to comment on. In that case, you will not only need to know your product(s)/service(s) inside out, but you will have to display the customer rapport skills necessary to thrive in the world where most people follow the old adage, “The customer is always right.”, unless you have the funding to hire the best people to handle that for you.
4. Outside Services
I can’t stress enough the importance of a good mentor who is qualified and well-educated in your field. You should start the mentor acquisition process as soon as possible, and in many cases it may not cost you anything on the front end to get started. You may even be able to find a good mentor who just wants to help you succeed as he/she has already done that in their field. There are many forms of mentorship available and you should not be averse to spending what you can afford to acquire the services of a good mentor. Personally, I avoid those who self-proclaim themselves to be mentors or gurus – I want that label provided by others in the know – but that may make it a little more difficult to find a true mentor or guru. Look for references.
With that being said, you will almost certainly require good legal help specific to your field at some point in time. The sooner the better if you want to protect your idea(s) and your money if/when you’re considering investors or partners.
You will most likely also need some help with financial management, accounting and record-keeping.
Banking, whether online or bricks-and-mortar, will be necessary to process all those checks you’ll have coming in. But, while I advocate automated systems as much as possible, automatic banking systems can prove to be rather expensive in the long run and frequently as hard to get out of as health club memberships.
You may also need, depending on your idea(s) and direction, freelancers to help you realize you vision on the appropriate scale.
The right ‘outside services’ can help you profit and keep you out of trouble. Do your research and talk to your network. Look into mastermind groups in your area of interest/expertise, or start your own.
5. Product/Concept Development and Manufacturing
Whether your product is a physical one, such as a ‘better mouse trap’, or a virtual electronic product, such as an e-book, you will probably need some help in creating and producing the final prototype and then mass-producing it. Even with a new e-book, do you know how to set it up on a website? Do you know how to code your great idea? With physical products, the use of 3D printers has become a fast and convenient way to produce a prototype of most products or components, including those with moving parts. Is your product design an electronic device? Do you know what it would take to mass produce it in a manufacturing plant? What if you have come up with a new service that nobody’s ever thought of before. Your service could be the next Domino’s pizza. But it’s not likely to happen right away if you don’t know anything about franchising. Use your network and your industry-specific research tools and resources to find the people who can assist you in this area. If you’re putting a budget together to present to funding sources, you will probably need to take care of this area before you even start creating such presentations.
Now that you are on your way to creating a company, there are a number of tools you will need to make your company a viable, day-to-day efficient, productive entity. Even if you’ve started up your company in your garage, these are most of the tools you will need, some of which you may already have: Equipment; Computers, printers, copiers (&/or scanners) are all essential pieces of office equipment. If you are purchasing new, look for mainstream equipment that has a good warranty with on-site tech./repair service. You don’t want to be spending your valuable time tinkering with equipment problems. You also want to network everything together as much as possible while maintaining the highest security you can afford.
Communications; A versatile, reliable, expandable telephone system is an absolute necessity if you’re going to be anything more than a one-man, sole proprietor business. There are several good choices available for VOIP systems if your broadband service is fast with little or no latency, so you’re not tied to a land line even in a multi-person office. You will also want to invest in a good contact manager program (avoid proprietary programs that may be bundled with phone systems where possible) that can be shared among your staff members. ‘Smartphones’ are a necessity if you &/or your staff are going to be ‘in the field’ with any regularity.
Software; there may be industry- or field-specific software for your endeavor. You will also most likely need an ‘office suite’ of sorts for basic word-processing and spreadsheet work, and possibly presentation production. There are free office suites available in lieu of some paid suites with which you may already be familiar. You may also find a need for bookkeeping, project management and time management software, but these usually come with a tougher learning curve than you may be used to. Be sure to invest in a secure data backup system as well, whether Internet or cloud-based or through equipment at your location. Remember though, clouds don’t burn.
Since you’re all set up as a ‘going concern’ now, with a product or service to peddle, how do you get the word out to potential buyers/clients/customers? Have you thought of a marketing plan? Who can help you with the marketing and automate it as much as possible? If you’re marketing is successful, who will tally the sales, call on customers, perform the service, etc. Online marketing has become very inexpensive compared to offline marketing, but they are both still necessary to ‘blitz’ the media and get your product(s) or service(s) ‘out there’ where people will be aware of them. Look into e-mail list managers and autoresponders if you’re going to mount an online campaign. The cheapest way (in money, not necessarily time) to get started marketing and testing is online, particularly with social media. If you aren’t as savvy at the various forms of social media then hire a firm that can take care of this for you. Do your research. Even if your product or service is very B2B within a specific industry niche, you can still use social media to create a ‘buzz’ and collect feedback as well as cover customer service issues. Try looking into mobile apps for an eye-opener. Social media also allows for easy collaboration and even management and there are social media tools whereby you can monitor and even manage your reputation as well as your brand’s reputation.
8. Sales and Payment Acceptance
YAY! You’ve made your first sale or acquired your first customer. Now what do you do? If your business is based online, then you will probably want to look into shopping carts and/or CPC & CPM revenue if you haven’t already. Make it as easy as possible for your clients/customers to pay you and for yourself to be able to accept their payments and to make refunds when necessary. A service such as PayPal is a great way to get started if you’re not yet in a position to accept credit cards as a merchant. If your services are performed in the field, there are card scanners that attach to your smartphone and app’s that will allow you to process credit cards away from your office. (Refer back to items #4 and #6 above.)
9. Internal Characteristics
These may be the most important tools for an entrepreneur to possess. The average person can be an entrepreneur, but they are more likely to succeed if they possess theses characteristics. They are not, however, all necessarily innate and most of them can be learned, although many are much harder to learn if you are not taught or shown them through example at an early age. Yet it is possible for a person to be born with some or more of them. Imagination and creativity, drive, passion, optimism and tenacity are more easily brought to the surface if you have those tendencies genetically. But they all can be learned and all are essential qualities of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs must love business, love success and love money (hopefully as a tool for doing good). But successful entrepreneurs must have a work ethic that drives them to be hardworking, committed, analytical and decisive. They must also be, and believe they are, capable, competent and responsible – willing to accept the consequences of their actions, good or bad, no matter what niche they occupy. And you cannot be shy and be a successful entrepreneur. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Finally, successful entrepreneurs seem to always be on a quest to learn. They are almost never satisfied with ‘resting on their laurels’, but are constantly looking to do something new &/or improved. As such, they are almost always contributing to the greater good in some fashion or other. You do not have to have much of a formal education in order to become a great entrepreneur. Some of our best & brightest have been high school or college dropouts. But they usually dropped out because they were not learning enough, or learning fast enough, about their chosen entrepreneurial field. Start learning more about your chosen field immediately. Begin your reading list right now and fill it, not only with information about the items on the above list and your chosen field, but with inspiration reinforcing the what if’s, why’s and how’s of your quest for entrepreneurial success. Improve yourself! Let me know if you need help discovering the ways you can do this.