Thinking of starting your own business -- from home or otherwise? As creative or new as your idea might be, there are some proven business fundamentals that can help you get started and get things running smoothly.
For an overview of some "musts," we turned to Fred Glave, vice chairman of the Washington, D.C. chapter of SCORE, an organization that provides advice, support and counseling to small business owners. Glave passed along the following tips:
Be passionate about what you want to do. The ideal small business owner needs to be able to motivate themselves to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to succeed if necessary. Those whose main motivations are to "be their own boss" or make $1 million before age 35 might not have what it takes to see things through, Glave says.
The idea process shouldn't be all in your head, insists Glave. Look for validation by reaching out to potential customers to see what they think. You should also speak with other successful small business owners to benefit from their experience -- though you should be careful about sharing information with current or likely competitors.
Once your idea is ready, says Glave, you need a written business plan that explores questions such as: What type of business do you want to run? Where will you operate from? Who will your customers be? Do you have the financial resources to support a business beyond the planning steps? If not, how much will you need and where will you get it?
Once your plan is finished, Glave says, it's time to put it into motion -- which can mean hiring, seeking funding, securing a place to work, and more. It can be a lot, which is why Glave encourages entrepreneurs to "eat the elephant one bite at a time." Taking small steps one at a time that move you closer to opening the doors will help you develop your plan without getting overwhelmed.
Eventually, it's likely that you'll need outside money -- your business plan should include information about how much. If you need a loan, local banks are traditional sources for small business funding; the U.S. government's Small Business Administration, as well as state and local small business offices, can offer further support.
When you're up and running, says Glave, remain focused on details as well as the big picture. Keep meticulous books, checking your cash balance -- especially if you start operations running a loss -- monthly or, better, weekly. "Cash is king," he adds: Keep track of every dollar spent, letting your finances dictate management decisions.
If you need to hire, be willing to take on experienced people who can challenge you professionally, Glave says. You won't know everything, so you'll need people around who can question and analyze your decisions with confidence. This will help you make better business decisions and learn from the experience of others.
As your business grows, says Glave, you should be prepared and paranoid: Prepared to feel a little uncomfortable as your business and your staff present you with new challenges and opportunities, and paranoid because you should always be watching your competition and looking for new ways to evolve your business.