A few days ago I mentored one of Kellogg’s most highly rated and sought after courses: New Venture Discovery. One of my favorite things to do is to ideate on problems that I face, but hearing ideas and solutions to problems I haven’t encountered is just as much fun.
Last week I shared the first five steps to starting your side hustle. So you have assessed your business, and you are moving forward. What do you do next?
Ten steps to starting your own business (here’s the final five steps):
6. Market Research
Even though you conducted some preliminary research, you should consider conducting further research. Followers of Lean Startup principles may skip straight to step 7, building your MVP, but I maintain that a basic level of market research can help inform positioning, and your initial MVP. Try to validate or even invalidate early hypotheses about market needs and opportunity.
There are two main types of research: primary and secondary research. Primary research is research you conduct: surveys, interviews, focus groups. You can create surveys using free tools like Google Forms. There is an entire science around market research and best practices, while I won’t go into that level of detail, I will say: 1) try to create objective, non-leading questions, and 2) be consistent with your scale (if you are using a 5-point Likert scale, e.g., “On a scale 1-5, how likely are you to do XYZ?: “1” being “very unlikely” and 5 being “very likely” be consistent with the design of this scale throughout the survey. use this scale Secondary research is research someone else has conducted: surveys, market research, publications, articles, etc. conducted by another party
7. Build & Test Your MVP
Based on your research, define the key features you will offer in your MVP (minimum viable product). Distill these down to the most desirable, highest margin, most unique. What might you name this company? Build a simple website, app, blog, etc. that helps serve your business. You can use free tools like Launchrock to build a simple lead-generation landing page, or create a minimal eCommerce store via Shopify.
You also do not need to have highly-produced owned photography. There are beautiful images either for free, like Pexels or for a fee – I LOVE Stocksy which trust me, are much less expensive and faster options than paying for an entire photoshoot during this early phase. Two of my other favorite tools are Mailchimp for email marketing and Canva for producing streamlined graphic design assets. There are myriad other tools for landing pages, eComm platforms, and photography, but these are a couple of turnkey tools that I prefer. Run small test campaigns across digital platforms: email, search ads, paid and organic social campaigns to test copy, value proposition, branding, etc.
8. Reassess:Build, Pivot, Abandon
Based on the aggregate learnings from your research efforts, and your MVP test, how viable is this idea now? I realize at this point, you have invested even further into your project, this is your baby, still in its infancy. A pivot or abandon could raise eyebrows, you think you may be perceived as a failure by friends and family. I’ve been there. This is the time to make those early hard calls. My advice, Fail Fast. There is 0% shame in abandoning (or failing, if you want to call it that). From failure will come resilience, authenticity, and your best ideas. The faster you fail, the faster you can build something even better. What’s most important is action, and creating that muscle memory I mentioned earlier.
9. Lay the (operational) foundation
It’s time to get to work. Purchase domain names (if you haven’t already), hire a lawyer, or go through LegalZoom. There are major benefits in working with a lawyer, especially one who knows your industry. Do what suits you. Hire an accountant, I did not do this early on because, no pun intended, I didn’t want the “accountability” to someone else, making sure I was keeping my books up to date. I recommend going ahead and hiring someone. This will save you a great deal of angst and headache in the long run.
For any professional service, I highly recommend going on personal references. Lean on your personal network. File the LLC vs. start a sole proprietorship, even for the simplest of businesses, the risk of tying your personal and professional assets is not worth it. Keep it separate; separate your personal from business banking, expenses, it will all be much cleaner and easier for you (or your accountant) to manage. These are words from a now wise(r) entrepreneur.
Starting a business, whether side hustle or full-time hustle, takes a massive amount of energy, passion, and perseverance. It’s not a walk in the park. Some days are grueling, and will take sacrifices: free-time is gone, relationships put on the back-burner, fitness, hobbies, family, sleep. You will need to decide if it’s worth it, and what sacrifices make sense to you. There are only 168 hours in a week. How will you choose to spend them? Have an honest conversation with yourself, and make sure you have support in your life because it’s a hard path to take.
I am sure you have heard that said either exactly like this, or version of this advice. But seriously, you have no idea what herculean effort it takes to launch something, and to continue to nurture it. I launched Mod + Ethico while finishing up business school (while working in tech full-time). I was used to bearing a heavy load. But when you layer in your personal financial risk, and also face unexpected life changes (marriage, children, health issues)…it’s a sprint and a marathon at once. People ask how I do it, and I have said it here before, it takes sacrifice, and buy-in and support for your partner/friends/family. You cannot do it all per se, you need some help, but the hustle for me is worth it.
Contributed by Candice Collison, founder of Mod + Ethico