Fancy Being an Entrepreneur? Here’s Where to Begin

Jul 23, 2014 - Joe Matar
Are you “over” your 9-to-5? If you’re sick of going into the office every day and feeling totally uninspired as you sit in your cubicle working hard to grow someone else’s business, the entrepreneurial lifestyle might be a better fit for you. As an entrepreneur, you can set your own hours and work around your own priorities. Most importantly, you get to build something you feel truly passionate about. Making your own business successful sure beats working for the man. While you may fancy the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, you may not know where to begin. As with most daunting life changes, getting started is the hardest part. How do you figure out what the market needs – and how do you create it? Follow these steps to identify where to focus your talents and skills as an entrepreneur and take the right steps to build a successful business. (Click here to tweet this list.)

Start with your passions

Start by exploring your passions and your strongest skills. Create a list of industries you’d want to work in.Given the long (often unpaid) hours that go into getting a business of the ground, choosing an industry that fascinates you is the first step. Be sure to cast your net wide; many skills can apply to more than one industry. For instance, a developer might start her own software tech business. Or, she might explore health tech and develop better algorithms for calculating health risks and insurance pricing.

Get analytical

Conduct a comprehensive analysis on the industries in the list.Now that you’ve narrowed down your industries of interest, ask the following questions:
  •       What businesses are doing well in these industries?
  •       What customer needs are being addressed?
  •       What customer needs are not being addressed?
  •       What are new startups in these industries doing differently?
  •       Are news articles and stakeholders predicting a good outlook for each industry?
Your industry analysis should be able to answer these questions. The answers should reveal needs that existing business are not addressing, opportunities they are not exploiting or innovative combinations of services and products that are not yet offered.

Brainstorm solutions

This is a most important step. Use knowledge from your numerous hobbies and academic interests to harness your creative energy and think strategically. From your analysis of industries and unaddressed needs above, narrow down what can be feasibly addressed. Brainstorm potential solutions – and not only the obvious ones. Remember that innovation could be as simple as new combinations of existing services or products. In his book “Where Good Ideas Come From,”Steven Johnson explains that good ideas come less from thinking outside of the box, but thinking through multiple boxes. The entrepreneurial mind does not create ideas ex nihilo -- it instead curiously seeks to make uncommon combinations and improvements on already existing systems. Iterate frequently throughout your brainstorming process. Seek to define new solutions and to define unique combinations of solutions. Pay attention to solutions that can be easily translated into business. Remember, you need to make money, too. Most entrepreneurs seek sustainable, scalable solutions that can be easily monetized.

Translate your solutions into value propositions

Once your brainstorming has yielded positive results, refine your ideas until you can explain in a sentence or two what solution your business will offer. Boom! You have already defined the value proposition for your business. You’re not there yet though. In the next couple of months, your value proposition will evolve. Let it! Intense networking and research should characterize this process. My favorite piece of advice from Johnson’s book urges entrepreneurs to connect rather than protect. Talk to your professional networks about your idea. Talk to experts at innovation hubs in your college or city. Get feedback and incorporate it in refining your proposition. Using your knowledge of your industry and market, define what your competitive advantage is. Try to capture it in your value proposition or your business model.

Design a plan of action

What’s next after your well-defined idea? Design a plan of action and an accompanying timeline detailing your priorities and deadlines. Many idea creators will work on finding a good team, seeking funding, understanding the market and refining their product to better meet market needs. You’re now an entrepreneur. Make it work! You’ve probably come across frightening statistics about how many new businesses fail. That should not dampen your drive, but it should prepare you to be ready to learn from your mistakes and to go back to the drawing board when necessary. Nkatha Gitonga is a rising senior at Harvard interested in entrepreneurship. She works  for a Legal Department Management firm in Boston.