The Five Steps to Building a Successful Small Business

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about how the Internet has really started to level the playing field, allowing all sorts of “content producers” to get in front of increasingly larger audiences. The same kind of phenomenon can be observed in the world of business. Whether you’re a freelance writer like me, an artisan jewelry maker or a massage therapist, it’s possible to go into business for yourself and make a very comfortable living.

And all it takes is five simple steps.

1. Identify a Real Problem

No matter what it is that you want to sell, be they products or services, you need to think about why someone would want to buy them from you. The key is finding a problem that needs to be solved. For example, Lucy may have recognized that Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts crew were in need of some advice, so she set up her walk-up “psychiatric help” stand. Apple may have seen that people wanted a simple yet robust digital music player, so they came up with the iPod.

The “problem” can be substantial or it can be trivial. The endless supply of kitchen gadgets can attest to that, but you have to start by thinking beyond the bottom line and simply identifying a problem that needs to be solved.

2. Recognize Your Strengths and Talents

Of course, just finding a problem isn’t good enough. I want to have an electric car with a near infinite range that can drive itself, but I certainly don’t know how to build one of those. That’s why you have to look deep within yourself and identify your own personal strengths and talents. What do you bring to the table that could solve that problem? What skills do you have?

Let’s say that you want to be a wedding photographer. You’ve identified the problem that couples may have in finding the right photographer for their special day, but do you have the skills to address this problem? Do you have a “good eye” for good pictures? Do you have good editing abilities? Are you a natural people person? Are you good at directing people so that you can take the best shot possible?

3. Fix the Problem

The next step is to marry the problem (and your proposed solution) to your particular set of skills and strengths. If you can effectively solve the problem that leaves your customers completely satisfied, then you have a viable business on your hands. The challenge, however, is that you’re probably not the only one providing a viable solution. You’re not the only graphic designer, courier, wedding photographer, florist or freelance journalist in town.

4. Be Unique, Different or Both

One of the biggest lessons that you can learn from Dragons Den and Shark Tank is that you have to be different in some way. What is your unique selling proposition (USP)? Why would someone choose to buy that product or service from you instead of paying for a similar solution from the guy down the street? On Dragons Den, they always talk about how they may be nothing stopping someone else from cloning your product and beating you based on price, service or quality.

If you can convince someone, in the shortest amount of time possible, that you can provide the ideal solution to their problem and that no one else can do exactly what you do, then you’ve got yourself a potentially winning formula.

5. Address the 5001 Other Factors

There is an episode of South Park featuring the “underpants gnomes” that you see here. They’ve been stealing underwear from a boy named Tweek and we later learn that this is all part of their elaborate business plan. The problem is that they are missing the second phase entirely. They’re collecting underpants and they have an eventual goal of profit, but they don’t know about all the stuff that needs to happen in between.

The fact of the matter is that the real world of running a small business is oftentimes much the same. You might have identified a problem and how to solve it in a unique or special way, but you still aren’t enjoying any kind of real commercial success. It’s not fair to say that there is a missing X factor, because there are many missing factors. You have to think about advertising, networking, market conditions, logistics and even luck, plus all sorts of intangibles too.

No matter what kind of company you run, one of the bigger factors that you’ll want to consider is your website. My friend Dave Jacquart from ShiftUP Consulting offers software and website design services geared toward businesses. He has a proven track record and he offers business consulting too. Check him out if you want some help with your business website (and be sure to let him know I sent you).

Building a successful small business is no small feat and it is an ongoing learning experience. What works today may not work tomorrow. I wish I had all the answers, but I don’t and neither does anyone else. Soak in all the advice and guidance you can get, but it is ultimately up to you to figure out the “perfect” solution for yourself.