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If you’re reading this, you’ve likely been thinking about starting a business (or reviving one from the past.) It’s an exciting and scary venture, and when done right, it can change the trajectory of your entire life.

But where do you start? How do you create more security on an unpredictable path? We’re breaking down the process into three essential steps so you can turn your idea into a successful, self-sustaining operation.

1. Bulletproof Your Concept

You might have heard of or feared the struggles of entering a saturated market, like a coffee shop business or a beauty line, but bulletproofing your concept is how you can give a common product or service an uncommon twist.

Bulletproofing your concept happens in two steps: self-reflection and research. To guide our conversation, we’ll use a coffee shop as an example. If you live in a major city, there may be ten coffee shops within a five-block radius. You have to ask yourself a few questions:

Why am I starting another?

What will be different about my coffee shop relative to the existing ones?

What problem am I solving, or what gap am I filling in the industry?

If you can’t answer those questions, your concept isn’t bulletproof. For your audience to understand the difference between you and your competitors and invest in your business, you must be able to articulate compelling value. This is not a superficial change around aesthetics but a significant advantage your business presents to your audience consistently. How do you uniquely support, represent, or encourage your audience in ways that make them feel seen in your business? 

With self-reflection comes the data to back it up. Do research! A simple Google search is not enough. Pulling data from a diverse pool will get you to the next level of your business idea. Surveying your target consumer and determining their likes and dislikes of the current market are will give you direct access to your audience’s needs. (What do they wish there were more or less of?)

As a young entrepreneur looking to start an innovative haircare line, Briogeo, Nancy visited the Thomas Yoseloff Business Center in New York City — a free resource from the New York Public Library — and accessed industry data and research reports. She found knowledge about the market size, competitors, and even the unique propositions presented by her competition. Despite entering a saturated beauty and haircare industry, Nancy turned her idea into a multimillion-dollar (bulletproof) concept.

In addition to independent research and surveys, Nancy suggests interviewing prospective customers and investors to gain invaluable insight on how to make your company stand out, even in a saturated industry.

“Building a business plan included envisioning potential retailers, predicting future innovations, and finding a reliable and realistic financial model to forecast and assess business performance.” – Nancy Twine

2. Make It Profitable

This next step is a deeper dive into step one. You need a financial model to quantify your compelling business concept for longer-term success.

Quantifying your business means turning your well-researched idea into a profitable business over time. While most businesses don’t achieve profitability from the start, creating a path to getting there is critical.  Profitability is a sign of a healthy business – meaning you’re bringing in more revenue than you’re spending to function fully. With profitability comes the ability to self-sustain your business over the long-term. Profitability also opens the door to growth opportunities by enhancing your ability to secure business loans and investors — giving you the capital to scale your growth.

To quantify your concept, we recommend building out a business plan. For Nancy, building a business plan included envisioning potential retailers, predicting future innovations, and finding a reliable and realistic financial model to forecast and assess business performance. (Nancy’s resource recommendations include Master Plans and LivePlan.) A financial model is critical to gaining knowledge about your business’s potential for growth and scalability. You can also return to it as a reference for fundraising, bank loans, and other financial investments.

3. Grow Your Network

As a budding business and entrepreneur, you may be operating as a team of one, but this doesn’t mean you have to do it alone! Your next step is growing your network and support structure.

Start by reflecting on your natural skills, talents, and the aspects of your business you’re most passionate about.  Write down the skills you possess and have the time to dedicate to. Next, write down the skills you don’t have or don’t have time to invest in. (You might be passionate about product ideation but struggle with graphic design. Or you might be great at financial planning but find it too administrative for your time.) This list will guide you to assess where you may need to invest in third-party resources to support your plan.

Before outsourcing, audit your current network. Who is in your circle of support that can fill some of these skill and time gaps? Once you’re clear, start connecting. Reach out to old friends and colleagues or seek out support from outside of your network. Booking freelancers, consultants, or agencies can allow you to build a solid foundation for your business without the stress and financial commitment of hiring employees. 

To creatively build out your support system, spend time networking. For Nancy, attending special events and industry trade shows offered access to multiple retailers, contractors, and suppliers. Finding like-minded or skilled professionals through groups on LinkedIn and leveraging DMs on social media broadened her virtual reach and unlocked helpful contacts for her business.

While jumping in all at once is tempting, remaining intentional in your process is the key to achieving your business goals. Mastering these preliminary steps to starting a business will allow you to navigate your path to success confidently and prepare you for the next installment of your entrepreneurial journey.

Which fundamental step did you find most helpful? Where do you struggle the most? Share your experiences in the comments.