I’m a reflection junkie — I love journaling about my hopes, dreams, aspirations. I have a personal dashboard that tracks progress against my daily goals (I target an 80% success rate because perfection can be demotivating).
Needless to say, I’m a big fan of the first day of the year. I think it’s great to think about the past year and set milestones for the next one. Maybe next year will be a year of change. Maybe you’ll move to a new city or start a new relationship. Or maybe you’ve been thinking about an idea for a while, and this will be year that you start your own business!
It’s just me.
Many consumer businesses start with just one person. I love the story of Tatte Bakery in Boston, which sells incredible looking and tasting food/baked goods. If you don’t already follow @tattebakery on Instagram, I highly recommend it. “Founder Tzurit Or started Tatte Bakery & Café in 2007, baking 20 hours a day in her home kitchen and selling her delicious creations to Boston farmers’ markets.”*
I’m inspired by so many similar stories in the consumer world, but I recognize that it can be difficult to take the first step. Entrepreneurship is hard. I’ve tried it (on my own and with friends), and I left each experience with deep respect for anyone who runs a company.
Before you start thinking about crowdfunding, accelerators, and VCs, it’s important to focus on the product and on yourself.
How do I get started?
When anyone talks to me about starting a business, I walk through the following set of steps that will allow you to figure out if you and your idea have what it takes to keep going.
Note that this is most applicable to consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry — I’m referring mostly to food, beverage, or beauty products made with easily-accessible ingredients.
- Choose it: Select just one product to get started with — you might have a million ideas for a new concept, but it’s important to start with just one item. Narrow it down. This can be difficult, but it will give you a taste of the importance of prioritization. If it’s hard to decide, select the one thing that solves the most pressing need for you or your family. Be personal.
- Perfect it: At this stage, I’m just talking about the “at-home” formulation. Whether you have a beauty product or a snack bar, I recommend consumer entrepreneurs find an “ at home” recipe they love. Outsourced manufacturers or co-packers have minimum quantities and will usually require a recipe to get started. So, spend the time understanding the process and production at a small scale.
- Make it: That recipe you perfected in Step 2? Make it. Actually, make it at least once a week for three months. It will be messy and take up a lot of space in your home. Give your roommates or loved ones fair warning.
- Share it: don’t let all that product you made go to waste! Give it away to as many people as possible. Take it to work, bring it to your kid’s school, have people over to try the product, mail it to every family member, share it with your neighbors. This step has two very specific goals:
(a) Track closely how people respond to your product. Do they like it immediately? Do they need to be educated to understand the product? Do they ask about getting more?
(b) Practice being shameless about your product. Getting people to try something requires putting yourself out on a limb, which I think takes practice. This step is giving you practice for selling, which an entrepreneur never stops doing.
After you get through these first four steps, that’s when you start looking into farmers markets and local food stands. Once you know you can do it, then you think about if you can sell it.
Going forward, a solo entrepreneur’s sole focus should be on driving sales. Every action that you take should be directly linked to getting others to try (and eventually buy your product). In simple terms, you should either be making or pitching your product at all times (more on that in a future post).
What about the legal stuff?
There’s a lot of paperwork that goes along with starting a new business, and it’s different in each state. This includes the Certificate of Incorporation (or Articles of Incorporation) and Employer Identification Number (EIN), both of which you’ll need to open up a business bank account. Going one step farther, you can also choose to apply for a patent or trademark.
It’s a lot, and I think it can be a distraction, especially when it’s just one person trying to get a business off the ground. For over 90% of companies, I recommend putting the legal documentation on hold at first. First go through the steps above; then sell at small venues (i.e. farmers markets); then, incorporate the business.