Don’t quit your day job just yet
“The best time to start a business is when you have a job,” says Marva Goldsmith, author of Re-Branding Yourself after Age 50. The first step is to develop an infrastructure for your venture—i.e. a business plan, customer contact systems, marketing materials, website. Use your free time after work or on the weekends to establish this foundation, so that when you are ready to make the leap, you can focus your energy on attracting clients and providing your product or services.
Be ready to readjust your game plan
“Starting a business always takes longer and costs more than you expected, so plan accordingly,” says Daniel Olszewski, director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at Wisconsin School of Business. Don’t have your mind set on one particular outcome or expectation—prepare to be flexible. This also means remaining financially flexible, by trying to keep expenses as low as possible and keeping some cash in reserve.
Distinguish yourself as an expert in your industry
Write a book, blog or newsletter that demonstrates your expertise in your industry and establishes you as a professional. When it comes time to announce a product or a new business venture, this will have helped set you apart from the pack. You’ll also have a loyal set of readers who will come to you with their needs and requests.
Step up your social networking
“You cannot ignore the power of social networking!” says Goldsmith. “Consider these vehicles as an inexpensive way to advertise your business, to obtain market research, to engage with thousands of potential clients and influencers and to begin branding yourself as an expert.” LinkedIn, the business networking site, allows you to introduce yourself, your ideas and your company to a wide web of related professionals. If LinkedIn is your interactive Roladex, consider Twitter your broadcast vehicle. Tweeting often and providing valuable content will earn you followers who are interested in your message. When you introduce your products and ideas, you will be directly reaching those in your target group.
Join the club
Find out where your target market hangs out and establish your presence among your peers. For instance, says Goldsmith, if you work in the hospitality industry, you should join an association of hotel and hospitality managers. Through conventional one-on-one networking at functions and events, you will learn more about others’ businesses and improve your product or services’ value.
Don’t underestimate the small talk
“You never know what opportunities are available through the people that you know,” Goldsmith says. “One of my first contracts came from a friend who I had worked with for years. I ran into him at my nephew’s high school jazz concert and when he asked me what I was doing I told him about my image workshops. He ended up funding four of them.”
Narrow your aim
“There’s an old marketing adage that I subscribe to that says ‘pick a niche and grow rich!’” Goldsmith says. “Many times new business owners’ believe that if you cast a wide enough net, something will fall into it, which is a very expensive way to obtain customers. You should aim at becoming a big fish in a small pond.” When you have a narrower niche, you’ll be able to understand your customer’s needs and to develop specific products and services that directly address them.