How to start a business

Small Business Guides

5 min read

There’s no one way to start or run a business. People have found success with thousands of different models and styles. The important thing is to set some firm goals and ground rules up front.

Why start up a business?

Got a great idea and want to turn it into a business? Awesome. Now ask yourself why.

People start new businesses all the time. Most of them won’t last more than five years. You've read these scary stats before, and yet here you are. So why are you doing this? It's important to understand why, because it will affect how you start a business.

Your motivation defines your success

It's important to understand why you want to start a business because your motives will shape your approach. Answer these questions to figure out your why:

  • What does success look like to you?

  • What will set you apart?

  • What are your business values?

Let’s work through the importance of these questions one at a time.

What does success look like to you?

Are you entering business to solve a problem? To be your own boss? To make a lot of money? Or is there something else? You need to know what defines success for you. Otherwise you won’t recognise it when you get there. Defining success will also help you:

  • set priorities
    There’ll be a lot of things competing for your attention as business gets going. By referring constantly to your goals, you can keep focused on the things that will move you closer to success.

  • measure your progress
    Once you understand what success is, you can measure your progress towards it. Are you getting closer? If not, why? This exercise will help keep you accountable.

So transport yourself into the future and imagine your business is wildly successful. What is it that makes you happy in this scenario? Could it be that:

  • your brand is a household name?

  • you’re in control of your schedule and working from home between surfing sessions?

  • your product has helped fight climate change?

  • you have piles of money to invest in new ideas?

  • you’re working shorter, smarter hours on a family business that you’re really passionate about?

Figure out what you want from this.

Decide what success looks like now, or else you won't recognise it when you get there.

What will set you apart?

There are only so many dollars to go around and you have to convince customers to spend theirs on you. Why will they do that?

It’s important to nail this down. Once you’re clear on what will give you an edge, you can focus your energy on those areas. So what will your business stand for? Maybe it’s that:

  • your products will always be affordable

  • you’ll always be available to deal with clients personally

  • you’ll always use sustainable ingredients

  • you’ll exclusively use local suppliers

There will be something you’re always trying to deliver for your customers. It’s a unique selling point that will stay solid even as you add new products and services.

You can think of this as a brand promise – a pact you make with your customers. But it’s more than just a feelgood thing. There are economic benefits to making a commitment like this.

  • You’ll get better and more efficient through repetition.

  • It’ll be easier to get repeat sales from customers who’ve come to trust you and rely on you for certain things.

  • You’ll develop a reputation for doing what you do, which will simplify marketing in the long run.

What are your business values?

You might have other ideas about what you will or won’t do in business. For example you might decide you’ll never take on debt, even if it means you can’t grow as fast. Or perhaps you’ll have social or environmental goals for your business.

Business values will set boundaries around how you go about achieving success. You don’t have to have any – you may simply want to be as profitable as possible, as quickly as you can. But if have some extra values, you should document them now, as you’re figuring out how to start your business.

Record all this and keep checking it

Once you’re clear on why you want to start a business, log it. You can create a Pinterest board, a short video, a sound recording, or even a boring old written document – just make sure you capture all this thinking.

Keep referring back to this vision regularly. It’s a great way to keep yourself honest. If you find you’re deviating from the document, ask yourself why. Is there a good reason, or have you just got distracted?

Your idea of success will change over time

You may start a business thinking success is all about earning money, but end up loving the satisfaction you get from helping your clients. You may also change your mind about what you’re willing to do to achieve success.

It’s natural for things to evolve, but you should always ask why your thinking has shifted. Is it for the right reasons? Are you in control? Or are you losing direction or focus?

It’s important to hold yourself accountable to your original vision. It can help you stay the course.

Define your ‘why’ – that’s how to start a business

It takes a lot of hard work to start up a business. You need to be clear about your motivation for jumping in. It will give you purpose and focus for the journey ahead. 

Once you've answered this, move on and: