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Small Business Ideas: How to Start a Small Business from Scratch

Want to launch a small business, but have no idea where to start? If you're struggling to come up with small business ideas, here are some tips to get you started.

Posted 16 Sep 2022
Small business ideas

Starting a business is exciting. But building something from scratch can also be challenging, especially if you don’t know where to start. Every great company started with a founder and an idea. But the truth is, not every great entrepreneur had a great idea to begin with.

For first-time entrepreneurs, coming up with the right idea and committing the next 3-5 years of your life to it can be quite daunting, and many entrepreneurs give up before they even begin. But, with the right tools, tips, and expert advice, you’ll be on the road to success in no time.

Ready to bring your small business ideas to life? Here’s a guide for getting started.

1. Start Now

businessman on his cell phone

The truth is, there is no wrong time to start a business. Some of the most well-known and successful companies were created during difficult economic times. The Mcdonald’s “Super Size” was developed literally a few months after the 1987 stock market crash, also known as black Monday, and was one of the most financially lucrative products McDonald’s ever launched.

Of course, launching a business in good economic times has its advantages too. People and businesses are more likely to spend money and willing to test new products or services. But starting a business in times of uncertainty can also be a strategic approach. During economic downturns, you will have more access to talent, less competition, and – most importantly – more “problems to solve” in the market.

In a nutshell, don’t worry about timing. If you want to start a business, the time is right now.

2. Ideation

So, what business to start? Some entrepreneurs know exactly what they want to do from an early age. But most founders tend to stumble upon ideas during the ideation phase. Ideation is the process of researching and evaluating concepts to develop an idea with the greatest potential to impact a meaningful customer base.

For inspiration, check out How to Get Startup Ideas by Paul Graham – an entrepreneur who has launched some of the biggest and most successful companies in the past 20 years, including Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, Coinbase, and hundreds more.

AirBnb was started by Paul Graham

Try starting the ideation process by creating a list of five to seven things about yourself, such as activities you are particularly good at or something you enjoy doing. Consider the goods and services that would benefit you personally to find out what products or services might improve your life, make you happier or more productive, or offer you more time.

Many great companies were started by founders focusing on their own problems. It’s much easier to solve a problem when you are, in fact, the very first customer. Repeat the task a second time, but this time look at it from a business perspective. Analyze the aspects of your professional life you enjoy and detest and the qualities others find appealing or repulsive. 

Finally, consider your motivation for wanting to launch a business. When you’re finished, search for a pattern to see whether there is a general need for something you enjoy or suits your skillset. The critical thing to remember is that it’s okay if you don’t come up with your big idea during the first exercise. This stage is comparable to first-draft writing and will be informal and unpolished. 

The goal here is to start understanding your strengths and weaknesses. This process will help create some mind space to begin generating ideas, assisting you in identifying your passion and possible enterprises. 

3. Brainstorming 

Team brainstorming ideas

Brainstorming is a great way to tackle specific problems and develop potential solutions. During the ideation process, try these tactics to brainstorm possible business ideas you might want to consider working on.

  • Make a list of the topics you are passionate about, then look through lists of similar businesses for inspiration.
  • Keep track of current trends or hot topics (in the media or online) that may signal fresh business trends.
  • Create an Idea Bank where you can keep track of all your commercially viable ideas. You can write down or digitize your ideas using apps, digital documents, or even phone photos.
  • Initially, make sure you brainstorm by yourself, free from outside influences and allowing your creativity to soar. After that, get inputs for creative businesses and products from your friends, family, and professional contacts.
  • No matter how absurd they may sound, list every idea. You never know when you’ll uncover a hidden gem.
  • To help you visualize your idea, draw a picture of the process you envision.
  • Consider what the market is lacking and how you might fill that void. Any issue that you or others have that is unresolved could make for a profitable business.
  • Look to other sectors for inspiration; identify their areas of weakness, and consider whether you could address those issues differently in your chosen industry.

If brainstorming produces some solid ideas, you can move on to researching, testing, and analyzing your concepts.

4. Testing

Now that you have a few ideas you think have potential and could see yourself working on, you want to do a bit of testing. Testing at this stage doesn’t mean building a prototype or MVP, as it is often called. Instead, you are just testing the viability of your initial concepts. Try these to begin seeing which ideas stand out and might be worth going deeper into:

  • From your idea bank, choose three business ideas and list their advantages and disadvantages in two separate columns. Choose one to develop further by contrasting each idea side by side.
  • Outline the features you want the good or service to have and how the market would accept it.
  • Discuss the needs and the price range with prospective customers, merchants, and distributors.
  • Consider pricing and distribution methods as you develop a business plan for how you will make money.
  • Find out which of your ideas resonates the most with friends and family.
  • Consult with professionals about the practicality of your proposals, such as other business owners, contacts in the field, attorneys, bankers, and accountants.

Narrow down your options based on the one you feel the most enthusiastic about or can start up the quickest. Lastly, ensure your prospective businesses are permitted in your area before choosing one or two possibilities for further research.

Research

Researching your concept is the next step to determine which ideas are feasible and which aren’t. Researching similar businesses is an excellent way to start, but if none already exist, attempt to find out how much potential there is in the industry and what your rivals are doing. 

Competitors

Study your chosen idea’s competitors, market size, profit potential, and unique selling point. Make sure your product offers something distinct compared to the competition. You should be able to determine what they are doing successfully and poorly through this competitor research.

Look at competitors on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) as you can often learn more from the customers of your competitors than you can by simply reading their websites. 

Trademarks and Patents

Getting a trademark or a patent for a new business is not a requirement. Many entrepreneurs will tell you this is, in fact, a big distraction and expense that will have little impact on your initial success. Don’t lose sight of the most important aspect of starting a business – identifying a problem worth solving. 

However, it’s still important to know what trademarks and patents are already out there, which could restrict your business idea. Spend time researching what exists so you don’t release a product infringing on someone else’s intellectual property.

Marketability

Take into account the marketability of your concept, the startup costs, and your capacity to manage the business. To this end, you can also conduct surveys to gather feedback, seek comments from other companies in the same sector, or offer free samples to potential clients to gather real-time feedback.

Skill Analysis

Think about what skills and knowledge you have that are transferable to other fields. Some valuable skills for most businesses are video production, web design, graphics designbranding, digital marketing knowledge, etc. Design-oriented founders are good at identifying, crafting, and presenting startup ideas.

But don’t worry if you can’t see how your skills line up with the business you want to start. You can always learn more by upskilling with tips, courses, tutorialscode samples, and resources readily available on Envato.

Business Outline

Business plans are dead unless you are a first-year at Harvard Business School. They take too long to create, are too wordy, and get out of date too quickly. Instead, build an outline for your business that covers all the crucial parts.

Outlines are a way to define your new business. They are easy to edit as the industry evolves and can act as a guide for building a pitch deckmarketing materials, and partnership presentations. 

When building an outline for your business, focus on these critical areas:

  • Problem – What is the specific problem you aim to solve
  • Solution – What is your unique solution to the problem
  • Business Model – How do you plan to make money with your product or service
  • Value Proposition – How is your solution different from competitors, and how does it provide value for customers
  • Partners – Who do you need to work with to deliver your product or service
  • Customers – Who are the customers that will benefit from your solution
  • Expenses – What are the costs associated with running your business
  • Resources – What other resources will you need to launch and grow your business

Download the Business Model Canvas to help outline all the essential aspects of your business, from ideas to customers, partnership resources, and finances.

Get the Business Model Canvas PDF from Strategyzer.com for free

5. MVP or Prototype

Creating the first version of your product or service is a fun exercise. But don’t take this step too early. It’s easy to get caught up in features that don’t solve the problem you aim to address. 

Start with a mockup. Whether your product is a website, a physical good, software, eCommerce, or anything else, Envato has you covered. Try Envato Elements for millions of creative assets like graphics, fonts, video templates, audio files, stock photos, and more.

Millions of Assets and Resources on Envato Elements

When you feel confident you are solving a real problem for a big enough customer base and your solution resonates with potential users, it’s time to launch a prototype or MVP. The key to launching v1 of your solution is to keep it simple. Henrick Kniberg has an excellent framework for this. He says in his popular blog post, Making Sense of MVPlook at your prototype in three stages:

  1. Testable – Make the simplest possible version of your product that allows users to test and provide feedback.
  2. Usable – Improve the product so customers feel they can actually “use” it in their lives.
  3. Lovable – Optimize the product so customers can’t live without your product.

Creating a prototype to show potential customers, distributors, and investors is an excellent way to demonstrate your proposed product without spending on full-scale production. Preparing mockups to show clients is also a good idea for design-heavy products or services without producing anything expensive.

6. Funding

Most of us have heard about startups that received millions in venture funding. This is one way to get your business off the ground. But the truth is that many businesses begin by bootstrapping. This is an approach where founders keep overhead extremely low and either self-fund the initial product development or source small investments from friends and family.

Fundraising takes a lot of time and attention, not to mention there is a cost to raising money in the form of equity dilution. Dilution occurs when you accept investment from others. It means that you are selling part of your business for a lesser amount than you might sell the entire company at a future date. These proceeds don’t go into your pocket but are instead used to grow your business.

Take time to evaluate the pros and cons of raising money from investors. If you can introduce your product into the market and begin generating revenue from customers, you’ll probably be better off postponing venture funding until you can get a better valuation.

7. Launching

After you’ve gotten your MVP in the market, started building a customer base, and made some revenue, it’s time to plan your launch. 

Research Your Market

You should be aware of the people you are aiming to reach with your products and how they might increase your chances of success.

Any prospective business owner must understand the consumer’s motives, demographics, geography, and media preferences. Knowing where and to whom you will sell your goods or services brings you closer to launching your venture.

Calculate Finances

Next, you need to calculate how much startup capital you’ll need, what your operating expenses will be, and what kind of budget you should set depending on the expected revenue of your company. This involves estimating expenditures for renting office space, buying equipment, paying for licenses, and other documentation.

Choose the Legal Business Structure

The next step is deciding whether your business will be an LLC, a partnership, a corporation, or a sole proprietorship. A sole proprietorship or an LLC may be the ideal option if you want exclusive control over the business and its operations. However, you can also negotiate similar power in a partnership agreement.

Finalize Business Name & Documentation 

Your company’s name should ideally convey both the type of service or product being provided and your brand philosophy. Once you have chosen a name for your company that is distinctive, memorable, and symbolic of its goals and services, the next step is registering your firm with the relevant regulatory bodies.

Find Logo Ideas on Envato Elements

Naming your business is a fun activity, but it also can be time-consuming and overwhelming. A good way to get branding inspiration is to look at logo ideas. Check out Envato’s thousands of logo templates to help develop the perfect name for your business.

Develop A Marketing Strategy

How well you plan the marketing strategy for your new business can influence your customer relationship efforts, branding, PR, and even sales numbers. For a new business especially, positive word-of-mouth marketing is priceless. So the focus should be on sales and creating a product that people will love to share with others.

In the digital age, it’s also critical for your marketing strategy to emphasize digital marketing. This can include building an email list for your product updates, educational blog posts, and engaging customers with your brand over online platforms.

Go to Market Strategy (GTM)

The go-to-market (GTM) plan for your new business comes after the MVP. You won’t know if you’re chasing the wrong audience, are too early or late to a certain industry, or are targeting a market that’s too saturated without a comprehensive GTM plan. So you don’t want to take the chance of wasting time and money on releasing an unsuccessful product. 

When creating a GTM plan, keep the following factors into account:

  • Target Audience: Who faces the issue that your product addresses? How much are they prepared to spend on a fix? What are the annoyances and pain points you can resolve?
  • Product-Market Fit: What issues are resolved by your product?
  • Demand and Competition: Who is currently providing what you are launching? Is the product’s market size substantial, or is it already saturated?
  • Distribution: What channels will you use for marketing the good or service? A website, an app, or a distributor from a different party?

Tips to Overcome Common Business Challenges 

When starting a business, potential business owners face several common challenges besides not having the right ideas. Below are some tips on how you can tackle these challenges:

1. Eliminate the Fear 

Fear of failing is a significant obstacle that all business owners must overcome. However, there are strategies to reduce, if not eliminate, the dread.

Firstly, you must acknowledge that risks are necessary for the entrepreneurial path. Then, precisely identify and list your anxieties before beginning to work toward overcoming them. Again, having a mentor or coach to help you build an action plan for the challenging points in your business journey is another good way to fight the fear. 

Don’t be afraid of bad news when building your business. Mistakes are how you learn that something isn’t working. It’s much easier to change something in your product early on, so listen to your customers and learn what works and doesn’t work.

You can also sign up for an industry networking group or attend local business meetups for support and knowledge. Finally, being thoroughly aware of your risks, strengths, and weaknesses can help you focus on the opportunities rather than the potential drawbacks of running a business.

2. Build an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Many business owners get through all the complex processes involved in launching a business but fail to keep up their entrepreneurial characteristics. To keep yourself motivated to establish and sustain your business, these two things are essential: 

  • Your Passion: What you love to do and what you’re good at can easily become your business idea’s foundation. If you consistently remind yourself of your passion behind the venture, you’ll be much more motivated to keep at it. 
  • Your Purpose: It’s crucial never to lose sight of your goals as a business owner. Start by deciding what matters most, such as working on a more creative project or offering your talents to others. This might help you going forward even if your first few ventures are unsuccessful.

3. Collect Inspiration

Get Inspired with Envato Resources and Ideas

All businesses require creative inspiration in varying degrees. But regardless of what business you’re in, it’s easy to run out of inspiration. As such, it’s essential to always keep an eye out for inspiration.

Whether you look online or draw inspiration from the people around you, it’s important to know where to find the right stuff at the right time. From design ideas to website themes to product mockups and templates, you can always draw a steady stream of inspiration from the work of others.

4. Follow Trends

Stay prepared in the business landscape by keeping up-to-date with the latest creative trends. From website design to product conceptualization to marketing collateral and everything in between, keeping up to date with what competitors and leaders in your industry are doing is a great way to stay motivated.

5. Stand Out

Your goal is to create a business that lasts – one that endures the ups and downs of market changes, economic challenges, and competitive attacks. To accomplish this, you will need to rise above the noise in your market and beyond. Be your company’s voice at networking events, your company or personal blog, podcasts, social media, and everywhere else you can get in front of potential customers. Once your company name is cemented in popular culture, you’ll benefit from organic and viral momentum.

To Wrap Up…

Building a successful business is hard work. Don’t lose hope when you run into roadblocks – because you almost certainly will. Surround yourself with intelligent people who want to see you succeed. Leverage the tools and resources available to you. Focus on solving problems that significantly impact a large group of people. And most of all, have fun building your new business.

For some final inspiration, read the Envato Story to learn how our once tiny community of design enthusiasts blossomed into a worldwide network of resources for entrepreneurs, designers, creatives, and millions more.

Guest Author: Jeff Solomon

Jeff Solomon is the co-founder of Markup Hero, the go-to screenshot and annotation tool used by over 50,000 entrepreneurs and creatives. Try it free and see how the popular productivity tool can help you launch and grow your business.

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