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How to Start a Small Business: 20+ Expert Tips & Small Business Ideas

Let’s get down to business! Covering everything from how to start a small business to how to grow your entrepreneurial idea into a thriving empire, here 20+ small business tips from the top experts in the biz.

Posted 2 Dec 2021
Small Business Guide

The small business market is booming. There are countless success stories of early stage startups growing into multi-billion-dollar companies – such as Uber, Facebook, WhatsApp, Airbnb, and many others. But, it’s not just the big guys (or the tech guys). According to the Census Bureau, more than 4.4 million new businesses were created in the US during 2020 — the highest total on record. And in 2021, 440,000 small businesses were created in June alone! 

While many people dream of starting a small business, there’s no doubt that it can be an incredibly complicated process. There are many tasks to consider– such as setting up your website and social media presence, creating branding and products, finding a workplace or shopfront,  building your ecommerce store, organizing sales and marketing operations, dealing with financing, legal, and so much more! But starting a small business can also be extremely rewarding – if you go about it the right way. 

If you’re ready to take the leap and get your small business idea off the ground, you’ve come to the right place! Covering everything from how to start a small business to how to grow your entrepreneurial idea into a thriving empire, we’ve rounded up some of the top experts in the biz to give you their small business tips, tricks and advice to put you on the path to success. 

Let’s get down to business!

Eytan Bensoussan

Co-founder and CEO of NorthOne

Eytan Bensoussan, co-founder and CEO of NorthOne

1. Take Risks & Make Mistakes

“When starting a new business, you’ll inevitably make mistakes or take unintentional risks. When this happens, don’t be bogged down with regret or self doubt. Often, these missteps offer great opportunities for improvement, or they might open new doors you wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. 

For example, in the early stages of NorthOne, I listened to podcasts on the startup ecosystem. On one podcast, a host sparked my curiosity, and I reached out to learn more – unaware this was one of the most important venture capitalists around – we began corresponding. The big takeaway here is that you’ll never know if someone might respond to your email if you don’t take the risk of sending it. 

It’s also important to be passionate, never stop reading and learning, and show hunger for what you’re building. Working to be the best in your space will only help your new small business. Learn about small business financial practices as best as you can – poor financial decision making can be costly, and learning from small business financial experts like Mike Michalowicz, author of Profit First, has been instrumental in my entrepreneurial journey.”

2. Hire Passionate Employees

“When hiring for your small business, make sure to hire great candidates who are passionate about what you’re building. Great employees will be instrumental to your business’s success and are worth the search. Employees you can trust, who share your passion, and who have the best interests of your business in mind are the best investment you can make.”

Ilise Benun

Founder of Marketing Mentor

Ilise Benun, Founder of Marketing Mentor

3. Focus on Your Niche & Marketing Tactics

“Focus is the key to a successful business. The sooner you can focus on your niches (who you serve) and your marketing tools and tactics (how you reach your niches) – the better.

You can have more than one niche, but you can’t be everything to everyone. If you try, you’ll do yourself more damage than good. You’ll end up simply being a blur in the eye of your most viable prospects. Instead, determine who you’re most able to serve and then position your business so that, when they find you, they say, ‘This is exactly who we need to help us.’ 

For your marketing tools and tactics, start simple and use the ones that put you in direct contact with your niches. The most effective tools and tactics are: 

  1. Strategic Networking: Finding your best prospects and meeting them in real time.
  2. Targeted Outreach: Introducing yourself in a customized way to your ideal clients and not giving up until you get their attention (which may take a while).
  3. High Quality Content Marketing: Content in any form that speaks to the needs and pain points of your ideal clients.

4. Maintain Consistent Marketing

Marketing Mentor

“One of the biggest (and easily correctable) mistakes I see is when small business owners do unfocused, haphazard, stop-start marketing. This occurs when you make a few random marketing efforts when your client projects slow down, which by then is too late. The direct result is ‘Feast or Famine Syndrome’ – no work, then lots of work, then no work again. It’s exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If you do a little bit of focused marketing every day, you can easily avoid this and have a robust pipeline of potential customers at all times.” 

5. Listen to the Market

“When I started my business back in 1988, the first thing I did was listen to the market. In other words, instead of asking, ‘Who wants what I have?’ I flipped my perspective and instead asked myself, ‘What do these people need that I can help with?’ That’s the best and most organic way to find your niche and identify your most valuable services. It’s much better than racking your brain to come up with an idea out of thin air. The market will tell you what it needs – and it’s usually much smarter than we are, anyway.”

Jonathan Herrick

Co-founder of BenchmarkONE and Benchmark Email

Jonathan Herrick, co-founder of BenchmarkONE and Benchmark Email

6. Fill a Market Gap & Grow Your Customer Base

“Ensure your business is fitting a clear need in the market. It’s great to start something you’re passionate about, but passion alone doesn’t bring in sales. What you’re selling should fulfill a need so you can sustain growth.

Once you’ve identified the problem your target market is facing and created a solution, identify clear ways to grow your customer base. Start by prioritizing where you’ll be investing resources. If generating leads and sales through your website will be a priority, then you’ll want to invest in tools that will make that happen. Carve out a part of your budget for tools that assist with marketing automation, creating website forms so you can capture data of site visitors, email marketing, sales automation, and paid advertisements.

Once you have the right tools in place, measure, measure, measure! Analyze what channels are driving the most ROI and bringing in the most customers. Eliminate wasted spending and double down on the areas that will set your small business up for success long-term.”

7. Invest in Marketing

“One of the biggest pitfalls is believing that marketing is an expense. While it’s true that small businesses often have to cut corners and work with limited resources, having a sound marketing strategy can be the difference between success and failure. For example, investing early in branding, content marketing, and email marketing will give your new business a much-needed boost and set the foundation for sales to come in the door month after month. This goes hand-in-hand with not fully understanding who your target audience is. If you misinterpret who you’re selling to, you’ll waste time and money trying to acquire customers from a dry well.”

8. Focus on Your Employees & Create a Purpose-Driven Culture

“Invest early in building a purpose-driven culture. Southwest Airlines did it from day one, and it became their ultimate competitive advantage. A great culture starts by identifying your bigger purpose, creating your core values, then hiring the right people who align with those values. Be intentional about investing in your culture, and it will be the difference between starting a business and growing one successfully. 

Another mistake to avoid is not focusing on the needs of your employees. As a business owner, you have to wear a ton of hats, and it’s easy to forget that your employees are your greatest asset. They’re your brand’s biggest advocates, and you need them to feel fulfilled in their job and to ensure that their needs are being met.”

Andre Oentoro

CEO and Founder of Breadnbeyond

Andre Oentoro, CEO and Founder of Breadnbeyond

9. Develop a Business Plan & Limit Your Expenses

“Creating a small business means developing a business plan. This can help business owners to steer the direction of their future work and hold themselves accountable. But, don’t go too in-depth during the early stages of developing your business concepts or ideas – it’s always better to start with a simple business plan and grow it as needed.

Focus on essential factors, such as target market and customers, unique selling points, prices, competitor analysis, and the work needed to turn your business concept into a reality. Later on, when the business progresses and your idea moves closer to actual operations, you can expand the plan and start focusing on mission statements, estimates, etc.

When you start new operations, it’s easy to want the absolute best for your business – flashy new laptops, a swanky office, and highly-skilled teams or employees to edge out your competitors. But, this kind of front-loading often leads to unnecessary purchases that can result in your small business failing within the first few years. So, make sure to avoid any superfluous expenses, especially when you’ve just launched. Stick to only the expenses and essentials you need to run your day-to-day operations.”

10. Be Open to New Opportunities

“Since I started my business more than a decade ago, I’ve learnt that to stay relevant and achieve long-term success, it’s crucial to be open to new opportunities and never stop learning. The old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” applies here – just because you open a business doesn’t mean you’re going to immediately start making money.

The key is to be open to new ideas and different approaches. Stay updated with the latest trends, adjust your plans whenever you need to, keep an eye on your competitors, and constantly nurture your target customers.”

Ivana S. Taylor

Small Business Expert at DIYMarketers

Ivana S. Taylor, Small Business Expert at DIYMarketers

11. Do Your Research & Identify Your Skill Sets

“When starting a small business, research and think through the details. First, pick a customer you want to serve. Then, identify a problem you’ve observed with this audience. Ask what they perceive to be the problem, use your expertise to diagnose the real problem, provide a solution and create an offer to solve it. Also remember that running a business is a different skill from doing that thing you love. Just because you’re a great cook, doesn’t mean you can run a profitable restaurant. These are two different skill sets.”

12. Utilize Your Strengths & Clarify Your Business Objective

“Too many business owners treat marketing like a slot machine – they pick a marketing idea, throw money and time into it, pull the handle and get nothing. Instead of this random wishful marketing, choose a marketing strategy based on your strengths. Direct marketing is ideal for the charismatic natural salesperson, content marketing is great for folks who like to teach, and advertising is the best strategy for those focused on serving customers. 

Only you can develop your business model and marketing strategy. Only you can create the sales process and funnel that’s going to deliver your ideal customer. That doesn’t mean that you must implement it – it means that you need to decide who your ideal customer is, what their problem is and how you’re going to communicate the solution. If you’re not clear on these things, the people you hire to implement your marketing won’t be able to do their best work. Read, find, follow and connect with experts to learn as much as you can. Consultants and experts can help you through this process, but don’t jump into implementation without understanding what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

Jake Lumetta

Founder and CEO of ButterCMS

Jake Lumetta, Founder and CEO of ButterCMS

13. Take it One Step at a Time

“Don’t worry about competitors. Don’t worry about trying to get press and a big bang launch. When just starting off, just focus all efforts on getting your first ten paying customers. Talk as much as possible with business prospects, people who have the problem you’re solving, and get them to pay for your solution. Once you have ten paying customers, you can focus on getting to a hundred, a thousand, or more.”

14. Enjoy the Ride

“Building a business is an adventure. There’s a limitless number of things you’ve never done before that you’ll need to figure out. Don’t worry about it ahead of time, just enjoy the ride and personal growth that comes with it. Value your time, and think of it in terms of real dollars. This helps with figuring out where your time is best spent versus outsourcing it.”

Gurpreet Singh

Founder and CEO at Pixpa

15. Be Observant & Stay Atop of Market Trends

“I believe the best thing you can do when creating or launching a new venture is to be observant and attuned to the trends in the market around you. Identify the needs of customers in the existing market, look for gaps where you can offer specialized services, and think about how you can best serve the needs and demands of customers in a way that is not currently being fulfilled. 

For example, before starting Pixpa, I was running a design agency building websites for our clients using WordPress. These websites were rather clunky and difficult to maintain, and updating them would require a lot of hand-holding on our part. It was here that we realized the potential of a DIY website builder with an easy-to-use interface and modern design aesthetics. Thus, Pixpa was born. By paying attention to market trends and the needs of our customers, we were able to create the perfect platform and website building solution.”

16. Start Small & Expand Gradually

“Trying to do everything at once, especially at the beginning, is a major mistake. We all have to start somewhere and it’s always better to start small and expand gradually. Trying to offer a wide range of products and services when you’re not yet equipped for it can do more harm than good. Start small and give yourself room to adapt to the market as you grow. Add more services slowly as per the needs of your customers. 

At Pixpa, we initially focused on providing a comprehensive portfolio-building platform to creators. This allowed us to stand out and focus our energy on offering the best possible online galleries to showcase your work with a variety of layouts and styling options. As we grew, we were able to add more features, including blogging tools, a client proofing platform, and e-commerce offerings to ultimately become an all-in-one website builder for creators and small businesses. By starting small, we were able to mark our niche and create a distinct identity.”

17. Take a Customer-Centric Approach

“The biggest lesson for me has been the importance of a customer-centric approach in business. Pixpa has a very proactive customer support team with a response time of under three minutes, and we are rated 4.9/5 on Capterra for customer service. This has helped us not just retain our existing client base, but also expand through word-of-mouth referrals. We have also built strong connections between our customer-feedback channels and product-roadmap discussions. This has helped us grow alongside our customers and their needs. Putting customers and their needs first is the biggest secret to success in business.”

Greg Moshal and Beau Bertoli

Founders of Prospa

Beau Bertoli, Founder of Prospa

18. Build a Business Plan & Map Out Your Cashflow Forecast

“Before you spend any money, jot down thoughts that will help you frame your business idea – especially if you’re planning to ask someone to invest in the business. Your business plan should address the customer problem you’re trying to solve, who the target customer is, what the current market environment looks like, and your proposed solution. You should also consider including how you will fund the business and whether you’ll need any staff or resources, along with a timeline of goals. Ask a successful business owner or mentor to review and critique your business plan, and get them to advise on any shortcomings or possible improvements to help make it better.

Most start-ups fail because they run out of cash, not because they had a bad idea. Revenue may come in slower than your spreadsheet suggests, but costs can also increase quickly. You should aim to break even within the first year to ensure you have access to enough capital to see you through the challenging periods. If you can achieve this, you’ll be well on your way to making a profit and sustaining your business in the long-run. Every dollar counts in those early days, so spend wisely.”

19. Put in the Hard Work

“Starting a business is exhausting, but no one else can drive it like you can. Be ready to work long hours for the first three years. We were working up to 80 hours a week when we started Prospa! Putting in the hard work now is likely to increase your chances of success for the future. 

If your small business idea isn’t working (which can happen), take a step back, recognize the problem and take the correct action to find a solution. As natural leaders, small business owners may often come across as being over-confident. However, to ensure your business idea thrives, it’s important to lean on people who have your back, can help you get your business running or provide constructive feedback to help you stay on track.”

20. Build a Great Team & Respect Your Employees

“Early on, we recognized the value of having the right people alongside us to support and provide guidance at every stage of the business. As Prospa’s leaders, we’ve built a great team of people by providing a collaborative, inviting, innovative and respectful environment. We celebrate our team, listen to their ideas, recognize and reward great achievements, and actively provide our people the same great experience we provide our customers. After all, it’s our people who help our business to succeed.”

Burc Tanir

CoFounder and CEO of Prisync

Prisync - Small Business guide

21. Have A Clear Mission

You should start a business with a clear mission of solving a meaningful problem. As an immediate and natural next step, you should feel directly connected to your customers or to the people in the companies you are catering to. Planning is vital for business owners, however I also believe that they can fall into the trap of over-planning which distances them from the needs of their customers and the market in general. The right degree of planning will allow you to grasp what’s happening in the market, and also signal what needs to be updated as you move forward.

22. Know Your Customers’ Pain Points

Knowing the pain points of your customers will help with all areas of your business – from marketing and sales to product development and customer support. Manually tracking competitor prices can be a terribly time-wasting job, however this error-prone task was what helped us most when we first launched our product Prisync. It also helped us to execute all the necessary go-to-market initiatives that gave us the privilege of working with hundreds of e-commerce business owners. Don’t just imagine how your product or service might help your users or customers – you have to know it for sure. 

And there you have it! The top tips for starting a small business, right from the mouths of some of the top experts in the game. If you want to brush up on more tools, tips and trends, check out these 15+ Expert Tips For Building a Strong Social Media Presence in 2021. Or, for more helpful interviews and advice from those in the know, head to our Community Stories category.

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