QUESTION: What are the steps to take when starting a business from idea through to execution?
- S. Grant
BUSINESSWISE: Starting a business can be complex and overwhelming, particularly for those new to entrepreneurship. It is no easy task. To improve the likelihood of success in your venture, take a systematic approach starting with idea generation and validation and ending with the launch. Here are seven seven essential steps to get your business off to the right start.
Step 1 - Idea Generation & Validation
You haven't said whether you have a concept or product in mind, but coming up with a business idea can be a major challenge for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Brainstorming innovative solutions to pressing problems such as crime, food safety, poverty, health care, low productivity, underperforming educational institutions or high energy costs is one way to generate business ideas.
You could also attempt to fulfil a need, improve existing products or services or invent completely new and revolutionary products.
The point is you should not limit your ideas to what is easy, common or can be quickly set up. Instead, focus on ideas that are productive, impactful and add value.
Once you have settled on the ideas you will need to validate it. This is basically testing the idea to ensure it is feasible. Validation involves data analysis and research to determine whether the concept can be created and if there is a market for it, among other considerations.
Depending on your ability and resources, you could validate the idea yourself or enlist the services of a private market research company to assist with concept testing.
The Jamaica Business Development Corporation can assist with validation at little or no cost.
Step 2 - Product Development
Develop a prototype of the product or service quickly and at an affordable cost. The purpose of a prototype is to flesh out the concept and create a tangible version of the product or service you plan to produce.
You should be able to do this yourself if your focus is on areas such as food, fashion, and furniture. However, it may not be possible to do prototypes for certain types of services, technology, creative arts, and entertainment, etc, in which case you will have to rely on the concept only at this stage.
Step 3 - Business Planning
This is what I call the 'heart' of the process. This is not the same as asking someone to prepare a business plan for you when you are seeking financing or partnerships.
It is a strategic planning and thinking process that requires your full involvement. It's where you ask yourself the tough questions, honestly evaluate your capacity to start and manage the business, and determine if and when you should move forward with the idea.
Your focus here is on the vision, viability of the business, potential for profits, resources required and strategy for success. It involves preparing financial projections — especially cash flow — identifying funding, doing a risk assessment, evaluating the competition, defining your target market, identifying all legal and regulatory requirements, human resource needs, selling and distribution strategy, branding and marketing essentials.
Because of the numerous and diverse areas you must cover, it would be best to seek assistance from a capable business adviser or an experienced accounting professional who can provide expertise and objectivity.
Step 4 - Product/Service Refinement
Because of the depth and rigour of the business planning process, it is important that you conduct a subsequent review and refinement of the products or services you plan to offer to ensure they meet the needs of the target market, and that the quality, pricing, packaging, and proposed branding, etc, is appropriate.
Step 5 - Business Registration
Once steps 1-4 are complete, it's time to register your business with the Companies Office of Jamaica and the Tax Administration Jamaica. These are statutory obligations.
Depending on the nature of the business, you may need to protect your intellectual property by registering trademarks, patents or copyrights. The Jamaica Intellectual Property Office can guide you on how to go about this.
Step 6 - Business Set-Up
This is where the real work begins. It's the business set-up stage where you open a bank account, access financing, rent office space if needed, print business cards, compile business contracts and service agreements, create a website or blog, engage suppliers and partners, purchase equipment and stationery, hire staff, and carry out the numerous other tasks required for turn-key operations.
Step 7 - Launch
New entrepreneurs sometimes think that once they open their doors to the public or put a website online customers will start pouring in. That is a fantasy. You have to make potential customers aware that you are open for business and how your offerings add value to their lives. Organise an official launch for the business that is designed to grab the attention of potential customers and create awareness and a buzz about your new venture.
It is important that set yourself a timeline for getting through the seven steps, otherwise you could be planning and preparing for years to come.
If you are committed and motivated the process should take you a few weeks to a few months. The sooner the better as entrepreneurship is about action and in business time is money. For a detailed guide on starting a business, consult Kimala Bennett's book Starting A Business In Jamaica which is available at most bookstores. Good luck!
Yaneek Page is a trainer in entrepreneurship and workforce firstname.lastname@example.org