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.
Makes sense. But oddly enough, what people tend to search for varies by state.
According to data compiled by CenturyLink, while “how to start a business” was the most common small business query, “how to write a business plan” was the top search query in thirteen states. (Including mine, Virginia.) “What business to start” was the third most-Googled question by state, with eight.
After that, the numbers tail off quickly. “How to get a business loan,” “how to build business credit,” and “how to come up with a business name” were each the top search queries in just one state. (Interestingly, New York’s top query was “how to advertise your business.” Evidently most New Yorkers are past the planning stage and well into implementation.)
Since the top three search queries are clearly top of mind for aspiring entrepreneurs, let’s take a brief look at each.
How to Start a Business
First things 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 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, researchers found the average age of those who founded the most successful tech companies was 45.
In general terms, a 50-year-old entrepreneur was almost twice as likely to start an extremely 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 nearly twice as likely to launch a startup that landed in the top 0.1 percent of all companies.
So don’t let age hold you back, because your experience is arguably your greatest competitive advantage.
Even if you don’t have direct entrepreneurial experience. The most successful entrepreneurs I know didn’t try to become something they were not; they started with who they are, and grew from there.
Like the high school drop-out who built a $50 million construction company. Or the high school drop-out who turned his personal beliefs into a blueprint for founding successful companies. Or the MIT grad who realized that small businesses could market in an entirely different way.
If you want to start a small business, who you are today is enough to get 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.
Know how to drive? You can become an Uber driver, and build from there. Know how to code? You can take freelance gigs, and build from there. 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 or train or study to become an entrepreneur.
You can become an entrepreneur today, and then work and train and learn to become a better entrepreneur.
That’s the best startup advice. Don’t just look for opportunities. Don’t try to determine 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 a lot easier.
How to Write a Business Plan
Plenty of people start a business without a business plan. If you have solid business skills, work hard, and get lucky with the timing, you can build a great business without creating any plans at all.
But it’s also true your odds of success will arguably be lower. A number of studies show that planning increases the chances of business success by at least ten to twenty percent.
Plus, 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 force it to 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, 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 isn’t to come up with an idea. The first step is to determine 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 requires owning multiple locations. You’ll need to build not just a restaurant, but a restaurant business –which means you’ll get to spend little time in the kitchen.
But if your definition of “success” is getting to spend every day cooking great food, your goal won’t align with that definition – and no matter how wealthy you become, you’ll wind up unhappy and unfilled.
So first determine what “success” looks like to you.
Then consider your interests, your skills… what you enjoy doing. (Since we typically enjoy doing things we do well.) Then add a filter: Make sure people will pay you for what you enjoy doing. Trite example, but still: While you might enjoy watching TV, no one is likely to pay you – much less pay you well – to do it.
Then evaluate the potential of your business idea. How big is the market? Can you reach that market? How competitive is that market? What will make you different, and make you stand out?
Then consider your resources. Time. Money. Willingness to persevere. Willingness to struggle at first. It’s 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 making no headway.
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.
Because the kind of business you start is certainly important, the business you overcome roadblocks, challenges, and adversity to keep building is what really matters.