Starting a business can be a confusing and sometimes lonely process. At Stoke, we have worked to build an arsenal of resources for entrepreneurs to find success on their journey. These tools include educational programming, a group of mentors, networking events, and a supportive community of people with diverse experience and skill sets to work near and learn from. Our staff works to ensure that we are providing value to our members and support to the small business and startup community of Denton, so we’ve put together this list of tips to help the entrepreneurial hopefuls among you.
Write a business plan. You can keep it simple and add to it overtime, but you need to have one and you should plan to revisit it regularly. Business plans are a valuable way to identify what you know and understand about your business model, and what holes and gaps exist that you still need to figure out. You can find business plan templates online that provide the framework for you. Here in Denton you can reach out to the Small Business Development Center for templates and guidance on writing a business plan. We also love using the Business Model Canvas for taking a quick, high level look at the business model.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions (and be prepared to learn a ton). One of the most important things to recognize as an entrepreneur just starting out is that you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know what business entity to select or what permits and licenses you might need. Perhaps you haven’t considered business insurance or the need to separate your personal and business banking accounts. Or possibly you have no idea where to even begin with writing a business plan or projecting your cash flow. The good news is that there are resources out there to help you! Stoke hosts monthly Lunch + Learns on a range of subjects focused on helping small businesses be successful and networking events so you can meet other entrepreneurs in the community. TWU Center for Women In Business provides advising and training opportunities for the community as well.
Find a mentor. Most entrepreneurs have failed at some point and most of them would tell you that there is no teacher like failure. While we couldn’t agree more, sometimes learning about missteps that others have made can help you avoid some major pitfalls of your own. Plus, having a mentor that has been in the trenches of starting and operating a business (whether or not it’s in the same industry as yours) to ask some of your questions, get feedback, and to provide you support and act as a sounding board is immensely valuable. Stoke has a dozen individuals with knowledge ranging from business planning and raising venture capital to marketing and big data. Stoke members get unlimited access to these mentors and benefit greatly from their knowledge. The North Branch Library also hosts a SCORE mentor each Wednesday from 9am-2pm. It’s by appointment only, so if you want to set up a meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Know the market and your target audience. Having passion for any business you start will be essential when you're working long, hard hours wearing multiple hats. But it’s also important that you have some expertise in what you are doing, know your value proposition, understand what problem you are solving, and who is likely to spend money for your goods or services. Doing research is beneficial to understanding the market size of your industry, who your competitors are, and information about your potential customers. Reference USA is a great research tool and if you have a Denton Public Library Card, you are able to access the database for free! Long time Stoke member and local marketing experts, Blue Steele Solutions, have some great resources available to help you identify your target market and think through the best ways to reach them.
Understand your skills and your limits. Burnout is a very real thing among entrepreneurs and small business owners. Many people try to wear all of the hats because they feel that they have to, they don’t trust anyone else to do the work, are limited by funds, among other reasons. While being willing to put in long hours and hard work is part of what it takes to be successful, establishing some boundaries and limitations can make all the difference in the world. Does the thought of entering receipts and keeping accurate books give you a headache? Outsource your bookkeeping! Don’t know the first thing about social media marketing but know that’s where your customer is? Hire somebody to help! By knowing what you’re great at (and what you’re not) and recognizing that maybe you shouldn’t be the one to take on every single role of running your business, you can focus your time, energy, and skills in the right places.
Remember that Stoke is here to help you and your business be successful. If you are interested in any of the resources we’ve mentioned or need conference rooms, a mailing address, or a professional and quiet place to work, email us to learn more about our memberships!