Imagine this scenario: You are taking a year to travel around the world. You have been dreaming of this adventure your entire life and the opportunity has finally arrived. Well, it’s always been here, but you have now made the decision to find the time, the money, and the courage to do it.
Starting a business is a journey. It is your trip around the world, the one you have always dreamt of. Just as the world can seem like an overwhelming place to tackle, starting your own biz can be daunting … and equally exciting, exotic, and full of rewarding surprises. The best thing you can do for yourself before beginning this voyage is to prepare.
1. Itinerary. You are not about to fly around the globe without consulting a map. Don’t start your business without one, either. This map can be as brief as a vision or mission statement or as elaborate as a full business plan; franklincovey has a good template for mission statements. Understand the market, set goals, and create a timeline with milestones. Just as you may hit Cairo, Prague, and Tahiti later than planned, you may veer from your business plan, but it is a good guide for your journey.
2. Co-pilot or fly solo? We have all had travel partners (even just for a short bus ride across town) and have learned all too quickly what works and what doesn’t in a co-pilot. Who do you need along for this ride? Do you want a business partner? Do you want your best friend or an old classmate as your ally? Are you the driver and she’s the navigator or are you both drivers? Answer these questions before embarking together.
3. Travelers checks. Who is funding this adventure? How much money do you need? Are your investors friends and family or venture capitalists? Figure out what works best for you. For ideas and info check out prosper and angelcapitaleducation.
4. Research. Before takeoff, you find out where to get the best pad thai in Phuket and what shots to get before hitting that little village outside Chennai. Do in-depth research for your business, too. Find out who your competition is, what the market demand for your product or service is, what the barriers to entry are, your strengths, your weaknesses. Research the industry.
5. Paperwork. You must do all of the administrative work to get your trip under way: You need your tickets, passport, visa, shots. Your business needs this admin attention as well. Choose a legal structure—sole proprietorship, LLC, etc. (Legalzoom is an easy and affordable resource for this). In most states, you must file a DBA form. Get an EIN # (like a social security number for your business). And open a bank account for those soon-to-be-flowing funds.
6. Accommodations. Your environment makes a difference on this voyage. Whether you’re camping or staying at the Four Seasons, you need to set yourself up properly. If you’re working at home, be sure to establish a separate workspace where you can keep files, products, and inspirations. If you’re working out of an outside office, create an organized, motivating space for yourself from the start. Get your stapler, fax line (eFax is great), and phone set up so you can focus on what you’re doing rather than how you do it.
7. Guidebooks, brochures, Web sites. How would you make this trip without iEscape and Tripadvisor? You want to check out those hotels, beaches, and museums in advance. Your potential investors and customers want to check you out too. Create a brand for your business, an identity that people will associate with your product or service. You can do this yourself or hire a designer to help you with a logo, Web site, and business cards. You are now in the business of selling your goods wherever you may travel—keep those business cards stashed and ready for action.
8. Passport. A lot of information sits in that little blue book. Who you are, where you come from, where you’ve been. An elevator speech packs the same punch. It’s a short and sweet description and pitch of your business. It says who you are, what you’re selling, and the benefit of your product or service. Just like your passport, don’t leave home without it.
9. Tour guide. You may think you have researched your way into the perfect trip, but talk to people who have traveled these roads before. Better yet, get yourself a tour guide—a mentor or role model. Find someone who has successfully achieved what you are setting out to do. It helps to have someone to emulate and, better yet, to be there for you, guiding you down the right path.
10. Locals. The best way to see a new locale is with someone who knows her way around. You ask friends and family to connect you with locals before you go, you meet people along the way. You network! Get out there to sell your product or service, find resources, partners, and customers. Network with everyone you know, everywhere you go. How about joining a tour group? Take this journey with other people with common interests, issues, curiosities, and motivations. Joining a group like Ladies Who Launch is an automatic networking tool that will ensure you hit all of the hot spots on this exciting expedition.
You are embarking on an adventure you will never forget. So keep a journal, take lots of pictures, and enjoy the ride!
By Sondra Lender, Ladies Who Launch member, Los Angeles and New York
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