Got an incredible business idea and not sure where to begin? I’m so excited you’re here!
Starting a business means you’re embarking on a path of creating an entirely new life for yourself. I’m so grateful you’re welcoming me into your journey.
Even more than that, I’m grateful to you for trusting yourself and saying, “Yes!”
Yes, you’re ready to share with the world that special gift that only you have. Yes, you’re ready to make the impact you’re meant to make. Yes, you’re ready to create a life you love.
Please, bookmark this guide and come back to it as much as you need to.
There’s a lot here, and I don’t want you to think you have to take it in all at once. Starting a business takes time, focus, commitment, and consistent action. Through this guide, I’ll be with you every step of the way.
You can do this.
Trust me: I’ve been helping creative entrepreneurs like you thrive in big and small businesses for decades. You’re here because a voice inside has been telling you, Get started.
And you’re ready to listen.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through these nine steps to starting a business:
1. Figure out your why
2. Choose a business idea
3. Name your business
4. Define your business model (a.k.a. how you’ll make money)
5. Handle the legal stuff
6. Develop a unique brand
7. Identify your target market (a.k.a find your customers)
8. Make a marketing plan
9. Stand out from your competition
Plus answers to these questions that might be holding you back:
Are you ready to start a business?
How do you get motivated and overcome resistance?
Can you start a business with no money?
Start a Business
Before we dive in too far, here’s a quick note on what starting a business is not:
- It’s not registering an LLC.
- It’s not buying a domain.
- It’s not pitching on Shark Tank.
- It’s not designing the perfect logo.
- It’s not opening a business bank account.
- It’s not signing a lease on office space.
- It’s not spending weeks researching local sales tax laws.
These might be steps you’ll take on the journey of running your business, but they’re not what being in business is all about.
Starting a business is:
- Knowing the impact you’ll have on the world.
- Naming the people your heart compels you to serve.
- Offering a product or service that delivers that impact to your people.
Keep this framework in mind with every step you take to create a business and life you love.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to get to work and start the business of your dreams!
1. Figure out Your WHY
When you start a business, you have to believe in your product or service 10,000%.
Before you do anything else for your business, take a look inside. Ask yourself: WHY are you starting this business?
The best businesses are started by people who want to make a difference. They want to solve a problem, they see a gap in the market, or are just plain ol’ inspired. The best reasons to start your business come from your heart, so listen up!
Watch this episode: The Single Most Important Factor of Any New Business
Insight to action step: Grab a notebook, and spend five to 10 minutes writing your answers to these questions: Why do you want to start this business? What difference do you want to make in the world? Whose lives do you see positively impacted by your business?
2. Choose a Business Idea
If you’re like me, you’ve got a whole lot of interests and skills — I call that being a multipassionate entrepreneur. It’s a beautiful strength to have. The challenge is wanting to turn everything into a business.
Remember: Some of your passions can be just for fun.
To figure out what kind of business to start, look at your goals. Set a financial goal for your business to get a framework for what kind of business could achieve them. Then get real — what kind of work could you do and what kinds of people could you serve day in and day out?
What kind of business do you need to become in order to meet that goal?
Then… do it! Clarity comes from engagement, not thought. You won’t know what’ll actually work until you give it a shot, so take action.
Watch this episode: How to Find Your Niche When You Want to Do All the Things
Insight to action step: Grab a notebook, and answer these questions to help you find a niche:
- What are your financial goals for your business?
- What would you have to do to achieve those goals with each business idea you’re considering?
- Get real with yourself — when you think about working on it day in and day out, which of your ideas makes you want to stick a fork in your eye, and which make your heart light up?
- Think about the people you would serve. What kinds of people do you feel a deep, heart-centered connection to? How do your passions align with what they need?
3. Name Your Business
Don’t let yourself get stuck on this step! How well you’re serving people is the most important thing in your business, so don’t linger too long on the details.
A quick tip to help you name your business: If you plan to start a business based on your expertise — like writing, coaching, or speaking — stick with your name. If it’s a product- or service-based business you could sell, the name should relate to what you sell, not your name.
It’s all about being clear on what you want and where you’re going. (That’s why I’m making you do all these writing exercises.)
Watch this episode: How to Name Your Business: Should You Choose Your Name or Something Else?
Insight to action step: Grab a notebook, and brainstorm what to name your business in two steps:
- Make a list of words associated with your product or service — a thesaurus or OneLook Dictionary will come in handy. Think about the objects, feelings, and ideas people associate with what you do.
- Then, use those words or other ideas they spark, and write down at least 20 potential business names. Push yourself to get to 20, even if you start getting silly — let’s be real, especially if you start getting silly! Push your creative muscles to get to something that speaks to your soul.
4. Define Your Business Model
Your business model describes how you’ll make money. You’re essentially answering this question: What are you selling? Your WHY could lead you down a trillion paths, but choose one clear business model to get started. You can always evolve or add on later.
The secret to success in business? Stop competing! Watch this MarieTV interview with Renée Mauborgne to learn how to make your competition irrelevant and be uniquely successful.
Most businesses sell products or services, or a combination of both. Here some common types of business models:
- Service: Your client pays you to do work or manage contractors who do work, like graphic design, writing, or coaching.
- Product: Your customer buys physical or digital products, like cupcakes or ebooks.
- Combination: You sell your advice or talent, which could include services like coaching or performance, and products like courses or albums.
- B2B (business to business): Your customers are other businesses.
- B2C (business to consumer): Your customers are other people.
- SaaS (software as a service): Your product is software, and customers pay a monthly fee to use it.
- Content: You publish articles, emails, or videos, and make money from advertisers and/or subscribers.
- Influencer: Advertisers pay you to create branded or sponsored content for your loyal audience, usually on social media or a blog.
- Licensing: Another business pays to use your idea, product, or technology, and you’re not involved in delivering the product or service to the consumer.
How you’ll sell your products or services can help you determine the size, shape, and feel of your business. For example, are you a one-person shop or a small-business owner? Do you work with contractors or employees? Will you need a brick-and-mortar shop or a remote team?
You might want to draw up a formal business plan, but don’t get stuck on this step. You may need a formal plan if you apply for a loan or pitch investors, but otherwise you can start a business just fine without one. If you prefer clear goals to drive your action, try these steps from Danielle LaPorte to set goals with soul instead of getting hung up on how to format an executive summary.
Insight to action step: In your notebook, outline your business model — don’t worry; this is simple and can always change later! Fill in the blanks about exactly how your business will make money:
My customers are __________________.
They are paying me to provide ___________________.
5. Handle the Legal Stuff
A lawyer can help you choose a business structure, write contracts, obtain licenses and permits, and figure out whether you need to register as an LLC.
You may not believe you can afford to hire help at first, but it could save you a ton of money by preventing catastrophes down the road. Make sure you interview lawyers before you hire them to get an idea of whether they’re a good fit and what they’ll charge.
Think of working with a lawyer or an accountant for your business like scheduling a check up with your doctor or an oil change with your mechanic. Your business deserves quality legal health, and investing in a good adviser is the first step!
You know I’m no lawyer (nor do I play one on MarieTV). So I asked my friend, B-School grad, and attorney Jo Ná Williams to answer some common legal questions about starting a business to avoid costly mistakes.
Watch this episode: 3 Common Legal Mistakes Small Business Owners Make w/ Jo Ná Williams
Here are Jo Ná’s top three bits of small business legal advice:
- Choose a business structure: A legal business structure protects your personal assets from company debts and liabilities. It puts a shield around you that doesn’t exist when you’re a contractor or sole proprietorship. The right structure depends on your life and financial situation. Talk to a lawyer and an accountant to figure out the best structure for you — most likely a C-Corp, S-Corp, or LLC.
- Create service agreements: If you don’t create a service agreement, you’re putting yourself at risk. A service agreement outlines what you offer — and what you don’t — and how much clients agree to pay. A lawyer can help you include the right disclaimers, too.
- Manage relationships: When you hire assistants, contractors, and employees you share a lot of important business and financial information. Yeah, you should absolutely trust all these people not to mishandle that info — but get it in writing! An independent contractor agreement should include a non-disclosure agreement along with service and payment agreements.
Insight to action step: This one may feel like more of a stretch if you’ve been avoiding this topic, but I want to challenge you to prioritize action. So, if you don’t have all your legal ducks in the row, what’s one step you can take right now to start making that happen? Write it down now, then commit to doing it — today.
6. Develop a Unique Brand
Listen, most ideas are already out there. Making your brand stand out isn’t so much about what you say, but how you say it — especially in your online content.
Try these four strategies to brand your business.
- Challenge yourself to express one idea at least five ways.
- Draw on your own experience, not your research.
- While you write your content, don’t look at other people’s stuff.
- Give it a reality check: Would you say this to your BFF?
Watch this episode: How to Create Your Brand & Find Your Voice
Insight to action step: Grab a piece of copy you’ve written for your business — a sales page, an email, a tweet, anything. How can you inject a bit of story into it — even just a hint of an anecdote that makes it something only you could write?
Grow Your Business
If you’ve been following this guide step by step, you now have most of the essential planning out of the way. You’ve taken the necessary steps to start your business and now, my friend, is the fun part — growing your business.
For some new business owners, this can feel like the scariest step. What if nobody likes me??? What if nobody wants to buy what I’m selling?
Don’t worry, my love, they will. Your people are out there — you just need good marketing to find and connect with them.
The next three steps are all about helping you find the customers your business is built to serve, and showing them (with your stellar marketing) that your business is exactly what they’ve been looking for all along.
7. Create Your Ideal Customer Avatar
Not everyone is going to like you, but that’s OK! That’s just part of doing business. Some people don’t like me — and I don’t care, because they’re not my people.
The goal of your business isn’t to win a popularity contest or make you feel good about yourself. It’s to solve problems for your ideal customers or clients.
When that’s clear, marketing gets super simple. Keep the spotlight off yourself and on your customers. Get curious — to the point of being a little weird — and answer these questions:
Who are they? What problems do they experience that you can solve? The more specific you can get, the easier it’ll be to serve them and sell to them.
Watch this episode: Are You Alienating Potential Customers?
Insight to action step: To get clear on who your people are, create an Ideal Customer Avatar, a single person who represents your target market. In your notebook, answer these questions about your ideal customer:
- What do they worry about? What keeps them up at night?
- What are their greatest fears?
- What do they secretly wish was true about their life situation?
- What dream solution would they pay almost anything for?
- What will they be able to do, get, or achieve if this dream solution comes true?
8. Make a Marketing Plan
Whether you run a brick-and-mortar shop, a virtual storefront, or a one-on-one service business, both in-person and online marketing strategies will help you get more customers in the door.
A couple of tried-and-true techniques:
Online: You need to communicate with customers or clients, and an email list is a perfect way to do that. Add an opt-in gift to your website to show subscribers right away what kind of value your business offers.
In-person: Get into your community (even if you run an online business) by partnering with local businesses and community groups to offer special deals or work on projects and events together.
These are just some ideas to get you started. Determine your business goals, then outline the marketing plan you’ll use to get there.
Watch this episode: How to Get Customers: Local Business Marketing
Insight to action step: Before you can decide how to market your business, you have to know what you want to achieve. Use this free planning toolkit to get clear on your goals and action steps for the next 12 months, so you know exactly where you’re aiming with your marketing.
9. Stand out From Your Competition
I’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go as I’ve grown mine for 20 years. So how do you keep your business going and growing for the long haul?
Here are the key secrets to successful business I’ve learned over the years:
- Patience is everything. My program, B-School has helped tens of thousands of entrepreneurs over the years. But it started small — just over 200 people in the first live-round. You have to be willing to start small, learn, and put in the work to consistently improve and grow your business.
- Be boldly not for everyone. Focus on attracting your ideal customers — and repelling the rest. Knowing who you’re not for will help you attract way more of those you are for.
- Always overdeliver. Wow the pants off every customer by offering 10x the value they expect. Hint: Brilliant customer service goes a loooong way.
Watch this episode: How to Make Your Business Remarkable — Even with Tons of Competition
Insight to action step: What special touch or additional caring can you shower on your customers that they probably don’t expect? List at least five ideas, and pick one to run with first.
Refuse to Be Refused
Most information about starting a business glamorizes and simplifies what it means to be an entrepreneur. Those illusions set a lot of people up for disappointment and failure. Spoiler...
None of this is easy.
Change is often scary and uncomfortable — not just mentally, but also physically and emotionally. But I say, celebrate this discomfort. It’s a sign of your growth!
Don’t quit on yourself when things get scary. Keep in mind these three tips to push past your fear and discomfort and keep moving forward when this journey gets tough.
Start Before You’re Ready
How do you know when you’re ready to start your own business? Sorry, you don’t!
You never feel ready to do the important things you’re meant to do. So you start before you’re ready.
“Starting” doesn’t mean brainstorming. Or planning. Or researching. Or taking a class. It means getting to work.
Email potential clients. Book a booth at the flea market. Publish a blog post. Pass out your business card on the subway.
That first step is scary, but if you wait until it isn’t, you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life. Action comes before the courage to act — not the other way around.
Watch this episode: Keep Stalling on Your Ideas? How to Start Before You’re Ready
Insight to action step: When you think about staring before you’re ready, what’s the one step that immediately pops into your mind and heart? Do it now!
Even better: Tell a trusted friend you’re going to do it, so they can cheer you on, hold you accountable, and celebrate your accomplishment with you.
Overcome Inner Resistance
Are you an amateur or a professional? If you want to succeed in business, you have to develop the habits of a pro. That means doing the work.
To be clear: This won’t be easy. When we try to do anything that matters, we face resistance. Fear, distractions, procrastination — they'll keep you from sharing your special gift with the world.
Show. Up. Anyway.
If you don’t show up to do a day job, you get fired. Don’t think you can be any more successful in your own business without showing up consistently.
Watch this episode: Steven Pressfield: How to Overcome Resistance & Why Talent Doesn’t Matter
Insight to action step: As Steven Pressfield says, “Put your ass where your heart wants to be.” What’s the daily work you need to do to build your business — writing, crafting, recruiting clients, sending sales emails? Spend at least 15 minutes doing that work today.
Be Resourceful (Especially If You Have No Resources)
Two major “obstacles” come up again and again when I talk to people about starting a business: lack of technical know-how and financial resources.
An easy solution for both? Google it.
Google — and its visual companion, YouTube — has helped millions of people get over the hump of not knowing how to do stuff.
It’ll also help you find FREE resources to do basically everything you need to start a business, so your financial situation is no excuse. I believe in you — and we both know everything is figureoutable, right?
Watch this episode: How to Start an Online Business with No Money or Tech Knowledge
Insight to action step: What’s one thing that’s been holding you back from launching your business? Building a website, setting up an email list, running social media accounts, onboarding new clients? Pick one thing to learn how to do today, and check it off your list.
322 Free Tools to Start a Business
There has never been an easier, more affordable time in human history to start a business.
My comprehensive guide offers 322+ FREE business tools and resources to help you plan, design, market, and manage your way to success. You have everything you need to start and grow your dream business today.
Insight to Action: Your Checklist for Starting a Business
Starting a business isn’t easy, but it can be simple.
Don’t overcomplicate it — focus on the people you serve and the difference you want to make in the world, and take consistent action each day to make it happen.
Below are all your insight-to-action steps from this guide. Crack open a fresh notebook, and commit to checking one or two off your list each week as you build your business.
Start Your Business
- Figure out your WHY. Why do you want to start this business? What difference do you want to make in the world?
- Choose a business idea. Name your financial goals, your passions, and the people you want to serve.
- Name your business. Brainstorm at least 20 potential business names.
- Define your business model. Define exactly how your business will make money by noting who your customers are and what they pay you to do.
- Handle the legal stuff. Take one step today — like contacting a lawyer or accountant — to figure out your business structure, service agreements, and legal protections.
- Develop your brand. Inject a bit of story into a piece of copy you’ve written for your business.
Grow Your Business
- Define your market. Create an Ideal Customer Avatar, a single person who represents your target market.
- Make a marketing plan. Outline your goals and action steps for the next 12 months, then create a marketing plan to achieve them.
- Set yourself apart. List at least five ways you can shower your customers with extra attention in ways they probably won’t expect.
Refuse to Be Refused
- Start before you’re ready. Take one step that immediately pops into your mind and heart when you think about how you can start before you’re ready.
- Overcome inner resistance. Spend at least 15 minutes right now doing the work that’ll build your business.
- Be resourceful. Pick one thing you need to learn how to do today to move your business forward.
You got this! Don’t forget: The world needs that special gift that only you have.