Must-follow steps for starting a successful business

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Starting your own business. It’s thrilling, exciting – full of hope and possibilities. It’s a time in your life when anything can happen – and anything will. It’s a process marked by creativity, passion, and pure, unadulterated chutzpah. And that’s an exciting thing.

But before you pop the champagne cork, there’s a heck of a lot of work to be done. Because, after all, starting your own company takes more than just a dream and a kernel of an idea. It takes capital – and plenty of it. It takes fleshed out plans, and roadmaps, and…, and…, and…. But don’t let all of those “ands” bring you down. You can do this! It’s all there – you just need to know how to organize and present it to potential investors, and your customers or clients. So, let’s take a look at some of those “ands,” so you can start your business on the right foot.

Write Your Business Plan

Starting a small business starts with a plan. And while it may sound daunting, it shouldn’t be. Business plans are fairly formulaic, and they’re designed that way for a reason: To help you understand your direction and attract investors. In general, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recommends seven segments for any business plan. They include:

  • Executive summary. It offers a brief look at what your business does and why it will succeed.
  • Company description. Gives detailed information about your company, the problems it solves and the consumers, organization(s) and/or businesses it will serve. In it, you should address any competitive advantages, experts on your team, etc. Use this space to talk to your strengths.
  • Market analysis. Provides details on your industry outlook and target market. It’s the area where you’ll outline what other businesses are doing, what their strengths are, and how you can compete for a share of the market.
  • Organization and management. In this segment, you’ll explain how your company is structured and who will run it.
  • Service or product. It gives you a space to deliver detailed information on the products and/or services you’re offering.
  • Marketing and sales. Here, you’ll address how you’ll market your business and provide details on your sales strategy.
  • Funding request. If you need funding, use this space to describe how much money you’ll need for next five years – and how you’ll use it.
  • Financial projections. Here, you’ll tell your financial story, provide well-founded projections, and balance sheets, statements, etc. (if you’re already an established business).
  • Appendix. Use this optional section to include things like résumés, licenses, permits, patents, legal documents, permits, etc.

If you’re still not sure how to start a business plan, or beginning one from scratch is more than you’d like to tackle, some document creation software offers comprehensive templates to help you along the way.

Research the Competition

Whether it’s for your business plan or your own on-going edification, understanding your competition before starting your own business – and throughout its life – is critical. Of course, you can use your favorite search engine to gather data, read trade publications, and follow them on social media, but there’s one other resource you may be overlooking: your word processing program. Depending on which you have, you may be able to perform research directly from your business plan or files. With features that help you find related subjects, and content from reliable sources, you can gain valuable information without ever leaving your document.

Claim Your Domain & Social Media Handles

Once you've finalized your company's name and gained understanding of your competition's online (and offline) presence, you can prepare to compete for business – and funding. Which means that now is the time to claim your website and email domain names. By doing so, you'll be able to begin work on your website, and communicate with clients, and potential investors from a professional email address (rather than a free online service), and begin building your electronic presence even before you've officially opened for business.

In addition to claiming your domain names, claim your social media handles. According to a study commissioned by Infosys found that "brand consistency across channels is a significant factor in consumer spend, with more than 63% of shoppers asserting that brand consistency plays a role in their spending. Additionally, 34% say a high level of brand consistency equates to a greater spend, while a lack of consistency reduces spend for 39% of consumers."

Note: Ideally, your website domain and your email domain should be the same (or as near to identical as possible), easy to remember, and not too long. And your social media handles should be the same as your company's name.

Build Your Financial Forecast

Financial forecasting is not only one of the most important steps to starting a business, but it's an on-going task that can help you understand where you are and where you're going (financially), and help inform investors' decisions, as well as your own decisions about certain aspects of your company. But while the idea of forecasting may seem overwhelming, you don't need to be a PhD in economics to do it. In fact, some spreadsheet software allows you to create financial forecasts with just a few taps of the keyboard. All you'll need to get started is some historical time- or date-based data, and your software can help you not only predict future sales, but can even go so far as to predict inventory requirements, and consumer trends.

Build Your Pitch for Capital

When you're asking investors for capital, a business plan and a dossier full of facts and figures can only go so far. Eventually, you'll have to meet in person – and that's where a good presentation can really help you shine. Yes, it will have to contain all of the important data, but it can (and should) also give you the opportunity to share your passion, your knowledge, your product and services, and all of your "reasons why."

Just don't overwhelm your audience with too much information. According to Forbes.com, a pitch deck should include no more than 20 slides, it shouldn't be "too wordy" and it should feature quality graphics and a layout that's easy to follow/understand. And that's where the right presentation software can come in handy. With templates, easy editing features, and the power to include charts, graphs, words and pictures – and manipulate them to make them look perfect – the software you choose can make all the difference.

There are many steps to opening a business – and the road from your "big idea" to your official business launch can be stressful (and a little bit bumpy) – but it just might be one of the most exciting, rewarding things you'll ever do. Of course, you may be nervous, and that's natural, but with the right tools, and support, as well as your passion and commitment, you can make your dream a reality – and not only start a business, but develop one that will grow and thrive over time.

About the author

The Microsoft 365 team is focused on sharing resources to help you start, run, and grow your business.

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The Growth Center does not constitute professional tax or financial advice. You should contact your own tax or financial professional to discuss your situation.