So you've got an idea and you want to turn it into a business. Everyone you talk to thinks it's brilliant and you spend a lot of time talking about your future plans - developing the brand, the second, third, tenth product - supporting the cause you care about with your profits. Maybe you talk about becoming a billionaire and living on a Caribbean island?!
That's all great, but most people will never get going because they can't focus on the here and now - how to actually start. It's not nearly as glamorous as you would imagine - very few people get to start a business with a bank account full of money, as prepared as possible and with an amazing product.
In fact, starting a business is one of the hardest things you will ever do. You need patience, determination, passion and enthusiasm and you need to know how to respond well when things don't go your way, because they won't most of the time.
The absolute key to starting a business, however, above everything else, is to be prepared. Know everything about your new business, keep your costs low, keep thinking about how you can be more efficient, do more with less and if, at the end of all that, you've still got something that you know a lot of people like, then you've got every chance of succeeding.
Here's 5 tips to help entrepreneurs turn their business idea into reality:
1/ Find out whether your idea is as good as you think it is
So first things first, how do you know your idea is good? I mean, how do you actually know it's good? Plenty of people will spend ages talking about their idea and their plans for the next decade and it can sound exciting, compelling even, but unless you know for sure that your idea is good, then you're leaving the success of your business down to one thing - luck.
So, in reality, what have you actually done to validate your thinking? It's not enough that all your friends and family think it's cool. Firstly, they have to be nice to you and second, it's likely that they're your friends for a reason - because they like the same things you do! So, whatever they say is largely irrelevant. You need to validate your thinking, even if that means hearing hard things about your idea.
Why not create a fan page on Facebook, tell people what you're up to and see how many likes you can attract? Create a campaign across social media and see what kind of response you get. A thousand likes would be a fantastic endorsement.
Does your product have a series of great reviews that are well documented? Have you pitched your offering to a series of buyers and gained some commitments?
The best form of validation by far though, is to trial your business successfully to get a feel for how it would work. That way you can get real, impartial feedback that you can use to further develop your offering, find out what problems you're likely to encounter when you do it for real and see if you actually sell anything.
Having the ability to demonstrate that what you're doing resonates with lots of people is really powerful and it should give you the confidence to push ahead - or sufficient feedback to call it a day, before you waste time and money on something that will never go anywhere.
2/ Do your research
You have to be prepared if you want to convince potential funders/investors to back you. That means doing your research. Have you found suppliers for everything you will need to buy? Have you used this information to work out your unit costs? Once you've done this, have you looked at what might be a suitable price for the product or service? Are you then making enough profit to cover your costs? This kind of detailed research shows you've worked hard to understand the parameters of the business. More than anything though, it shows you whether or not it will be worth your while actually starting the business.
3/ Progress over perfection
You have to get the balance right between creating something that will sell and taking so long to create perfection, that you never get to actually start the business. The hardest thing to do in business is to generate sales. If you manage to do this however, other problems you may encounter are so much easier to solve. You need to work out how to get a minimum viable product to market, see if it sells and then improve it as you go.
Successful businesses are always evolving, so when starting, never spend money on something that isn't absolutely fundamental, otherwise you're wasting it - and money is so hard to come by for start-ups. I've heard so many people talk about not wanting to damage their brand - get real - you don't have a brand if you're not selling anything. Look at it another way - those that see your product when it is a shadow of your expectations will be dwarfed by those that see it in all its glory if you're successful.
Perhaps this is a manifestation of an insecurity that every entrepreneur feels - when someone criticises your business, you take it personally. Well, you'll have to get used to that - its comes with the territory - so you might as well get used to it now and give yourself a better chance of being successful.
4/ Get the detail right
So, you've researched, validated your thinking, decided on how to launch - have you thought about what happens after that? If you haven't worked out how the business will actually run once you start trading, you'll be on the back foot from the beginning. So, can you describe how your product/service will be put together, how you will get your product to the end user? What shift patterns will you operate and how will you cope when a member of staff goes on holiday? Have you figured out what rules and regulations might affect your new business? Have you spoken to other similar businesses about how they operate? You need to demonstrate that you have thought of every eventuality.
Of course this kind of thinking is much easier if you've tested your idea on a small scale first wherever possible. That will allow you to refine your own thinking - and talking about that makes you so much more credible.
5/ Make sure the numbers are realistic!
The final thing that most people fall down on is the numbers - they have to be realistic! If you're opening a pound shop in Norwich, how likely is it that you will generate £40,000 revenue in month one? Take a moment to think about what that actually means - that you will sell 40,000 items in month one. Really? Does that sound plausible? You need to give real thought to what is realistic.
You should base those numbers on fact wherever possible.
If you're opening a café, go and stand near your potential competitors and record how many customers they serve in a day and in a week. Then you can have some idea of what your potential volumes might look like and find out which hours of the day are more busy - because that will help you to plan staffing.
The same applies to costs too.
If you've researched everything thoroughly, this will give you more credibility and will help you understand whether or not you'll make money. Look at your costs - what is genuinely necessary?
Finally, remember - if you find out, in the course of working through all of this, that something really doesn't work, that's the point at which you have to be honest with yourself and back off. On the other hand, if all looks good, it's time you got on with it!