Here’s an idea

“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? No. An idea. Resilient and highly contagious.” – Dom Cobb, Inception 

If you are truly looking to start a new business venture from scratch, then you need an idea. Ideas can come from anywhere and turn into anything. Just look at how Mark Zuckerberg stumbled upon his idea for Facebook. After having his heart broken by his university girlfriend, Zuckerberg created a website that compared his fellow female collegiates to farm animals, allowing the user to vote on which was more “hot”. Even though Zuckerberg’s knee-jerk reaction was to create something hurtful, his immature act of villainy led him on a path to create the largest social networking platform in the world. No matter where an idea originates, it can become a success as long as you allow it to grow into something it’s meant to be.

So let’s say you do have an idea. You want to buy up a bunch of abandoned mineshafts, or sell your Italian grandma’s secret spaghetti sauce, or any one of these 50 business ideas. Now what? Where do I start?

Market Research

“Business is not about who can talk the fastest. It’s about who can take the time to understand the needs of the person you are selling to.”

Mark Cuban

Market research that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars a few years ago can now be done from your laptop thanks to the universe of online services and information. 

The Google Suite offers the most valuable insights for free. Google Trends shows how frequently a search term is entered into Google’s search engine over a specified period of time. With the 3.5 billion searches that run through Google’s platform every single day, there is an eternal spring of information at your disposal.

In Mark Cuban’s “3 Essential Rules for Entrepreneurs”, Cuban talks about the importance of testing your idea on the market. “If you can’t create a benefit for your customer and you can’t show them how your product will make their life better, then you don’t have a business.” The only way to truly understand your customer (and have any chance of growing your idea) is by taking your idea from your mind to the market. Your aim is to gain a general sense of the type of customer that your product or service will serve and how your business can meet their needs.

Competition Research

Entrepreneur researching 2021 startup ideas online
Entrepreneur researching 2021 startup ideas online

It’s not enough to know the rules of the game, you have to know who you are playing against. Understanding your competitors is an equally important part of market research. The internet offers a wide database for figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of your competition and can guide you toward opportunities that aren’t being filled in the current marketplace, as well as what threats they have encountered that you can look out for. If you are looking to start up your own blog, with hopes of selling ad space to make money, databases such as SiteProfiler are a lifesaver. Just enter any URL into their search function and you are able to see important SEO metrics and insights from their website on one screen.

Create and Live Your Brand

Once you have an understanding on where you plan to fit in your industry and how you can uniquely serve your customer needs, it’s time to put a name behind your idea. Yes, it is fun to think of a catchy name and intriguing logo for your business, but that is not what branding is all about. 

Think of some of the most successful brands. For a long time, Coca-Cola was the only name in the soft drink market. Today, they are the largest beverage company in the world. They did not try to attract their audience by telling them what Coke was made of, instead they said that drinking a bottle of Coke would bring you feelings of happiness and help connect you with other people (See “Open Happiness” campaign below). 

Take a look at Apple. When they first introduced the Macintosh in their famous 1984 advertisement, Apple branded themselves as the revolutionaries who were taking down IBM’s system of technological control. Their campaign resonated with most of America who were fearful of losing their freedom and the ability to express their individuality. The Apple logo is now one of the most recognizable symbols in the world, not because everybody loves apples, but because of what the brand represents. 

Your brand is not just about marketing materials and advertising campaigns, but it represents the emotional response you wish to draw from your target audience so that they will connect with what you stand for.

Have a Plan

Entrepreneur tying out 2021 startup plan
Entrepreneur tying out 2021 startup plan

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Benjamin Franklin

Writing out a long form business plan can seem like a daunting task at first. You may think you have to have the answers to deeply complex aspects of your business, like distribution channels or advertising campaigns. But really, sitting down and writing out a few key aspects of your business into a simple one-page business plan can put you miles ahead of other entrepreneurs that just rush their ideas to market.

You want to start with defining your vision. It may sound counterproductive, but a business does not have to be all about making money. Your business could be a non-profit organization where your overarching vision is to ensure that homeless veterans have shoes to wear or create a think tank that fuses conservative and liberal ideologies. Whatever your overarching vision is, try to boil it down to a single sentence so that it is easy for you to remember why you are creating your business in the first place. A very important and often misunderstood part of any good business plan is goal setting. A basic rule of thumb is that you should create S.M.A.R.T Goals: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Relevant, Time-based.

Too often we set goals like “I want to make a million dollars by the time I’m 30,” but we don’t plan out action steps on how to make that happen. A business plan should have three sets of time-based action plans. For example, short term goals can be achieved within 12 months. Mid-term goals will take 2-3 years. And long-term goals that you attempt to reach throughout the length of your business. 

But as we all know, life does not always go according to plan. Mike Tyson said that  “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Your business plan is just your guideline, and it should be flexible enough to groove when life throws haymakers.

Mindset is Everything

Starting your business with the right mindset is the only way to ensure that you will be a success. Understanding that failure is an integral part of the process will make you mentally impenetrable for when you face failures on your path to success. The story goes that Thomas Edison failed 1,000 times before he successfully created the light bulb. When asked about it, he said, “I have not failed 1,000 times, I have simply discovered 1,000 ways to not make a lightbulb.” In every failure, there is a lesson.

Have any more tips on starting a business in 2021? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.