How to Start a Business, According to the Pros

Whether you want to start an Etsy shop or are cookin' up the next Airbnb, you’ll benefit from these expert tips for achieving prosperous entrepreneurship.

How to start a business - guide (open board)
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Teaching people how to start a business isn't often a priority at school, but maybe it should be. For many people, starting a business is the key to long-term satisfaction at work and in life (never having to figure out how to write a resume again is just a bonus).

Running a business, whether it's a part-time side hustle or a far-reaching enterprise, means no more setting aside your professional dreams for someone else's. It takes a lot of hard work, though.

Start with these expert-approved steps for starting a business and prepare to watch your plans take flight.

Make Sure That You Really Love the Idea

Your week­ends, your wallet, and your brain will be entirely devoted to bringing this concept to life. You'll be talking about it, agonizing over it, and strategizing around it.

"Entrepreneurship isn't a get­-rich­-quick scheme," says Julia Pimsleur, the author of Million Dollar Women and Go Big Now. You have to be prepared—and motivated—for the long game. Pimsleur says that many "overnight success stories" have been at work on their projects for 10 years. That's why enthusiasm is such a critical component. "You need to pick something that you love so much you would do it whether you were paid or not," sums up Pimsleur.

Zoom Toward Failure

Even visionaries like Bill Gates and Walt Disney founded companies that collapsed before they built their empires. Assume that failure is part of the path so that the fear of it won't derail you. "You have to start somewhere," says Danielle LaPorte, the author of The Desire Map. And you have to know that when worries crop up, "the power of your drive directly relates to your ability to quiet the doubts," she says.

Start Where It's Easy

Ask yourself: What can I do right now to advance my idea? What move can I make without a lot of time or effort? Who already wants what I have? Where are they? Right from the start, think about what it would take to secure your first client or your first sale so you can begin generating revenue. And keep your eyes open for available help. "If there's a person who wants to work with you on your project, con­sider it," says LaPorte.

Find Hidden Money

Any idea requires capital. "The trick is to get money from sources without owing them a piece of the business," says Nely Galán, the author of Self-Made: Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant, and Rich in Every Way.

Invest in Expertise

A lawyer should be first on your list, especially if you're going to be dealing with intel­lectual property or fund-raising, says Pimsleur.

Once you have some capital, bring in people who complement your skill set. If you're weak with numbers, for example, hire a part-time bookkeeper; it's worth the short-term hit to your budget. "The right expert can create quantum leaps for you," says LaPorte. Galán also recommends investing in formal training: "We have no problem hiring a tutor for our kids. Why not hire one for yourself?"

Another secret ace: Hire virtual assistants—month-to-month helpers who can take care of administrative tasks so you can focus on larger priorities, says Pimsleur. Find one at Upwork.

Build an Emotional Advisory Board

"When you team up with others around goals, you reach them much faster," says Pimsleur. So round up a handful of accountability partners to provide group encour­age­ment and help keep ideas moving forward. Think: former colleagues, people from industry meet-ups, and even your entrepreneurial neighbor.

Work-share spaces are beneficial here, says Pimsleur: "When people are sharing resources, there's a nice possibility of collaboration." Most importantly, there is a sense of trust and a shared passion for working toward goals, even if those goals are unrelated. LaPorte's board grew organically out of a potluck dinner and has been meeting monthly for eight years. The moral support it provides is "just as important as financial information from an adviser," she says.

Ask and Learn

"The quickest route to success is finding someone who has already achieved it and having them teach you," says Pimsleur. The global network Entre­preneurs' Organization offers peer­-to­-peer learning. Quora, the question­-and­ answer site, has a forum popular with the tech set, featuring entrepreneurs like AOL cofounder Steve Case. Etsy even has an internal team that educates sellers.

"Most people who have built a company are very sympathetic to those starting out," says Pims­leur. Everything from YouTube tutorials to your local Chamber of Com­merce can help link you to those in­ the­ know.

Reveal Your Vision ASAP

Introduce what's called a minimum viable product (MVP) to test your concept. Don't worry about perfection—launch a prototype or a simple website, then solicit feedback.

You can also use the MVP to sell the idea to investors. "Most people need to see something to understand it," says Pimsleur. LaPorte adds, "It's better to launch in three months and feel the joy in your first 100 customers than to take six months and not have any nourishment. You need small victories along the way."

Let Your Vision Be Your Map

LaPorte suggests exploring (and repeatedly revisiting) your deepest motivation for launching your project. "This keeps you on track and allows your strategy and confi­dence to unfold naturally," she says. "And don't be afraid to say no to opportunities that could take you off course. So much of my personal success has to do with the things that I've said no to." Opinions on how to run your business will be rampant, but "trust your own instincts," says Pimsleur. "Even if someone offers a great suggestion, you're the one who's going to have to execute it."

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