Taking the plunge into launching your own online business is scary, risky and exciting all at the same time. The promise of a potentially life-changing business is encouraging and a reason to put the hard work in toward living your dream lifestyle; at the same time, you might be putting everything on the line for a shot at that dream. Many businesses take years to become profitable; and though there is no guarantee you’ll ever earn profits, adopting a lean-investment approach can increase your odds of being profitable fast. To that end, here’s a general guideline for launching a profitable online startup in just 30 days.
Days 1 through 7: Market research
You have a great idea, but how do you know if it will sell? One of the most commonly skipped, yet critical, aspects of business planning is market research. Many entrepreneurs believe market research is too expensive and “conduct their own research.” Unless you’re a market research expert, this is a bad idea. It’s way too difficult to be objective about how potential customers will receive your “baby.”
A good marketing research firm can provide the following benefits:
- project whether your business has a healthy market
- determine the level of competition you’ll face
- identify barriers to entry as well as untapped opportunities
- create customer demographic profiles so you can properly plan your marketing
- suggest how much upfront capital you’ll need to make your business a success
Best of all, you don’t need to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for this type of research; I’ve found excellent market research experts who have provided in-depth studies on these areas for under $1,000. That’s a small investment to make when you’re banking your future on the success of your startup.
Days 8 through 15: Develop your business plan
Most businesses fail due to lack of planning, and though it might seem an arduous and, perhaps unnecessary, process, crafting a solid business plan is critical to success. Business plan software can help you answer questions you never knew you needed to ask, develop realistic expectations for marketing, production and other overhead, and determine how and when you will be profitable – and, of course, how profitable you will be.
Business plans are just projections, admittedly, but they’re also living documents that help you benchmark progress and evolve as your business grows. Two of the most popular business plan programs are LivePlan and Business Plan Pro. You can follow along with free business plan templates, but business planning software will make the process faster, easier and more accurate.
You can swiftly work through a business plan in a single day, but chances are you’re going to have to do some legwork to research accurate answers – which is why I’m suggesting a week at minimum to develop your plan. Revise your plan, learn your plan and know it by heart so you can stay true to your business goals.
Days 16 and 17: Build your support team
Business plan in-hand, it’s time to build your support team. I recommend consulting small business experts from the Small Business Administration, which offers regional small business counseling for free at its development centers, as well as SCORE – Service Corps Of Retired Executives – which also offers free one-on-one business counseling. It never hurts to listen to what successful business owners have to say about your business plan.
In addition, I recommend recruiting an advisory board for your business. Your board should consist of three to five people who can help you with expert advice. Your board should not be your friends (unless they’re business experts); rather, it should be people you trust to give you sound advice and who have the business backgrounds to back up what they have to say. You don’t have to pay your advisory board members, though it does help to pay for their meals when you meet. Advisory boards can meet online, but I recommend meeting face-to-face monthly. As your board members get to know you better, they’ll get behind your company and have personal interests in helping you succeed.
This is also a good time to set up your company’s legal structure and to formally file as a business. Consult an attorney to help you determine whether you should incorporate, start as an LLC, or adopt some other business structure. Be sure to find out what types of business insurance you’ll need as well.
Days 18 through 21: Develop your marketing plan
By now you should know what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, so you can create a marketing plan that gets your products and services in front of the right people at the right time. Consider whether you’ll employ the following in your marketing strategy:
- social media
- search marketing
- online publication marketing
- email marketing
- direct-mail marketing
- print marketing
- television, radio, magazine and newspaper marketing
- guerrilla marketing
- public relations campaigns – press releases, etc.
- other marketing methods
For each marketing method you choose, you’ll need to create content, develop web pages, draft ad copy and design, and determine distribution and ad placement. You want to be ready to hit the ground running on your launch date.
Days 22 through 25: Develop business processes
Armed with excellent market research, a solid business plan, and expert advice, you can now turn your attention toward developing the business processes you’ll need for your business to thrive. These include processes for:
- your supply chain and/or production
- contractors and employees
- marketing and ad placement
- accounting and bookkeeping
- customer service
- shipping and stock
- other processes
Determine who you need to help you, what needs done, and who should be doing what. Create standardized processes so you can streamline business operations. The more efficiently you operate, the greater your chances of success.
Days 26 through 29: Review and prepare
You’re getting close to your launch date, so now it’s time to review your business plan and marketing plan to be sure you’re ready for launch. Test business processes to make sure they work efficiently and that there are no holes in your plan. You’re trying to do everything very quickly, so prepare to solve problems at this stage. It’s much easier to correct issues now, when you’re small, than once your company has grown.
Conduct a final review with your small business and SCORE mentors as well as your advisory board and ensure everyone agrees you’re ready to launch. If so, it’s time to give your business the green light.
Day 30: Launch your business
After all your hard work, it’s time to finally launch your business – but the hard work is far from over. No matter how well you’ve planned, issues will invariably arise and you need to solve them as quickly as possible so your company can make sales and grow unhindered. As you move forward, consistently track your progress and compare it to your business plan to make sure you’re where you need to be. Make adjustments as needed, and consult with your business support team regularly to help find ways to improve your marketing strategy, business processes, and overall profits.
Launching a successful startup takes a lot of hard work and intelligent planning, and even with those no one can guarantee profits. Trying to do everything in 30 days isn’t impossible, but it’s unlikely. If you need more time, take it – you’re only going to get one chance to get it right. At the same time, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, so long as you correct them. No one gets everything right the first time around, but successful business owners learn to evolve and adapt. When you follow the guidelines presented here, you’ll give your startup a much greater chance for earning profits in 30 days.