Do you want to start a business? If Google search queries are any indication, you’re not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people search “how to start a business” every month.
It makes sense. But oddly enough, what people tend to look for varies by state.
According to data compiled by CenturyLink, while “how to start a business” is the most common small business query, “how to write a business plan” is the most popular search query in thirteen states. (Including mine, Virginia.) “What business should I start” was the third most Googled question by state, with eight.
After that, the numbers quickly dwindled. “How to get a business loan,” “how to build business credit,” and “how to come up with a business name” were the most popular searches in just one state. (Interestingly, the most popular query in New York City was “how to advertise your business.” Apparently, most New Yorkers are past the planning stage and already in the execution process.)
Since the first three searches are obviously the most important for budding entrepreneurs, let’s take a brief look at each one.
How to start a business
The most important thing first. If you want to start a business but think you’re too old, think again. A study conducted by the Census Bureau and two MIT professors found that the most successful entrepreneurs tend to be middle-aged, especially in the technology sector.
After compiling a list of 2.7 million company founders who hired at least one employee between 2007 and 2014, the researchers found that the average age of the founders of the most successful tech companies was 45.
Generally speaking, a 50-year-old entrepreneur is almost twice as likely to start a wildly successful company as a 30-year-old. And it gets even better, at least for some of us: A 60-year-old startup founder was 3 times more likely to launch a successful startup than a 30-year-old startup founder, and almost twice as likely to launch startups that fall into the top 0.1 percent of all companies.
So don’t let age get in your way because your experience is probably your biggest competitive advantage.
Even if you have no direct entrepreneurial experience. The most successful entrepreneurs I know didn’t try to be something they weren’t; they started with what they are and grew from there.
Like the high school dropout who built a $50 million construction company. Or the high school dropout who turned his personal beliefs into a blueprint for founding successful companies. Or an MIT graduate who realized that small businesses can market in a completely different way.
If you want to start a small business, who you are today is enough to get you started.
In fact, trying to become someone else, especially early on, is almost always counterproductive. Most successful entrepreneurs take what they already know or can do and use it to find a way to meet a need, solve a problem, or satisfy a demand.
Do you know how to drive? You can become an Uber driver and upgrade from there. Do you know how to code? You can pick up freelance gigs and build from there. Do you know how to build decks? You can start building decks for neighbors and grow – both your business and yourself – from there.
You don’t have to work, train or study to become an entrepreneur.
You can become an entrepreneur today and then work, train and learn to become a better entrepreneur.
This is the best startup tip. Don’t just look for opportunities. Don’t try to define what is “hot”. Start a business based on what you currently know, do well or enjoy. (More on that in a bit.)
Then the rest will come much easier.
How to write a business plan
Many people start a business without a business plan. If you have solid business skills, work hard, and are lucky with timing, you can build a great business without creating any plans.
But it is also true that your chances of success will be lower. This is shown by a number of studies planning increases the chances of business success at least by ten to twenty percent.
Additionally, developing a business plan is often the first step in deciding whether to actually start a particular business.
If your idea doesn’t work on paper, why waste time trying to make it work in practice?
At the very least, make sure you test your financial assumptions. If your business can’t make a profit, it’s not a business. It’s just an expensive hobby.
For more information, here’s a comprehensive – and field-tested – guide to writing a business plan.
What business to start
The first step in deciding what business to start is not coming up with an idea. The first step is to define what “success” means to you. If, say, you love to cook and your goal is to become a wealthy restaurant owner, the economics of the industry require you to own multiple locations. You’ll have to build not just a restaurant, but a restaurant business, which means you’ll be able to spend some time in the kitchen.
But if your definition of “success” is spending every day cooking great food, your goal won’t match that definition—and no matter how rich you become, you’ll end up unhappy and unsatisfied.
So first define what “success” looks like to you.
Then think about your interests, your skills… what you like to do. (Because we usually enjoy doing things we do well.) Then add a filter: Make sure people will pay you for what you love to do. A trite example, but still: While you may love watching TV, no one is going to pay you – much less pay you well – to do it.
Then assess the potential of your business idea. How big is the market? Can you reach this market? How competitive is this market? What will make you different and make you stand out?
Next, consider your resources. time. Money. Willingness to persevere. Willingness to fight at the beginning. It is not enough to want to “be” something. You also have to want to do the work.
Even if – especially if – for a while it seems like you’re not making progress.
After all, most successful entrepreneurs struggled. For many of them, the struggle was what made later success possible. Learning, growing, adapting…those early days of hardship are what gave them the tools – and the mindset – to succeed.
While the type of business you start is certainly important, the business you overcome obstacles, challenges and adversity to continue building is what really matters.