When you have a great idea but aren’t an established entrepreneur, it can be hard to know when, or how, to begin to build your business. Leap too late, and you could lose out on your market opportunity. Too soon, and you find yourself unprepared for the challenges of growing and scaling something new.
Great entrepreneurs look before they leap — and make sure that they’ve set themselves up to land safely. Want to learn how to better prepare yourself to build the business of your dreams? We rounded up advice from successful entrepreneurs to learn how they tapped into their conviction, prepared themselves ahead of time, and found long-term success.
1. Set a vision for what your success looks like
In the very early stages of growing your business, you may have a million ideas that you want to execute. Be sure, though, to stick to the ones that are a part of your vision. Author and podcaster Emma Gannon left her job at Condé Nast in 2016 to grow her first side hustle, a blog into a full-time career, but it wasn’t long until she added other efforts to her workload. She soon published a book, Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew up Online, and launched a career-focused podcast, Ctrl Alt Delete, that now boasts more than four million listeners in over 100 countries. She’s also continued to build her content empire by consulting, speaking, writing, and most recently, teaching a Skillshare class.
What does Gannon credit with helping her find so much success? In two words, “tunnel vision.” If you don’t have some kind of tunnel vision, she says you’ll spend your time obsessing about what others are doing instead of getting things done yourself. “You are chipping away at your uniqueness, your identity. You are slowly forgetting what you want to do” by focusing elsewhere, she writes. “Tunnel vision your way towards your goal,” instead, she advises.
2. Establish your brand
Your inner hustler may want you to agree to every opportunity that comes your way, but that can lead to a lot of wasted time, energy and effort. Graphic designer Sarah Lawrence started growing her freelance design business by taking the opposite approach: she used the time before she officially launched to think about the kinds of work she wanted to take on; the projects that truly inspired her; and the clients she wanted to work with.
“If you have a stable income already, you can be choosy about the work you want to take on and have the ability to say no to projects that aren't aligned with your goals,” Lawrence says. She says that establishing a foundation for your brand early, before you become a full-time entrepreneur, will help you grow your business more intentionally.
3. Test your market
Before jumping into crafting a business plan, test your market: are customers in your community interested your product idea? Atlanta-based baker Alejandra Luaces used this approach to make sure that the entrepreneurial life was for her before she launched her business. She was working as an engineer when she developed a passion for baking, and started bringing in gluten-free pastries to work. Her colleagues seemed interested enough for her to consider launching a business, but before she did, she took some time to test demand and get feedback from her would-be customers.
“Before you take the leap, you have to know there’s a market. The only way to know is to push your initial product, or an MVP, out there. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be something. Confidence will always wax and wane, but make something, ask people for honest feedback, and continue iterating,” says Luaces.
In time, she perfected her product, verified vendors, and priced out ingredients, all while she had the security of her full-time engineer’s salary. After a few months, she had built a large enough fan following to leave her job behind and begin Hell Yeah Gluten Free, a pop-up turned brick and mortar bakery. In the last year, she has seen 8x growth in her business.
Don’t be afraid to self-promote
Growing your network — both your creative community IRL and your social media accounts – can help you spread the word about what your business offers when it’s time to share the news. “We know that no one will shout about things or ask us to do things if we don’t put ourselves out there,” Emma Gannon writes, so make new connections and practice your messaging — early and often.
And if you’re having a hard time accessing your self-promoter? Gannon suggests connecting with other entrepreneurs in similar fields and checking in with them on your progress. “It’s important to not undervalue yourself, and my group stops me doing that,” she says.
Want to learn more about how to build your dream career? Emma Gannon has a new class on Skillshare with more helpful tips and tricks. Check it out here.