Starting a new business is an exciting endeavor, but it can feel overwhelming. It involves financial decisions, extensive planning and research, and a series of legal processes. For fledgling entrepreneurs, getting started is often the hardest part.
To help you clear that initial hurdle, we spoke to Smita Shah, the founder, president and CEO of award-winning engineering company SPAAN Tech, Inc. Shah is passionate about nurturing innovation, entrepreneurship, and the growth of small businesses. She regularly seeks out opportunities to mentor future leaders and enjoys sharing the secrets to her success with others.
Read on for seven helpful tips on founding a successful business of your own.
About Smita Shah
Smita Shah is the president and CEO of SPAAN Tech, Inc. She is a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) in multiple states (LEED AP BD+C). Shah’s extensive business and engineering education spans Northwestern University, MIT, and Oxford University.
Shah founded the engineering company SPAAN Tech, Inc. in 1998 to provide alternative solutions for challenging technical projects. Since then, she has built the company into an award-winning business recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the Fastest-Growing Private Companies.
In addition to being an industry expert, Shah is an influential business leader and high-profile keynote speaker. She is the recipient of numerous business achievement awards, on the Board of Directors for multiple leading organizations and businesses, and was the first Indian American to serve as DNC parliamentarian. Recognized for her dedication to strengthening international partnerships, Shah is also the recipient of the congressionally recognized Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
A visionary, civic leader, and strategic advisor, Shah is strongly committed to nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship. She promotes community enterprise and advocates for the growth of small businesses in emerging industries. She is passionate about mentoring and inspiring young professionals and future leaders.
7 Steps to Founding Your Business
Since its founding in 1998, SPAAN Tech, Inc. has been named Best of Business in Chicago Engineering Services by the Small Business Administration. It was also recognized as one of the fastest-growing private companies by Inc. Magazine.
Meanwhile, Shah herself has received recognition as a community leader, civil engineer of the year, and Chicago business “40 Under 40.” She enjoys paying it forward and helping others achieve similar success. With that in mind, Shah offered these seven steps to founding your own thriving business.
Come up with an idea.
Since you’re reading this article, you may already have an innovative idea. If not, here are a few tips for brainstorming the next big thing:
- What’s something that bothers you or the people around you? What’s a common problem that could be fixed, or a difficulty that could be simplified?
- Is there a technology, advancement, or development coming soon that will change the business landscape? How can you plan ahead to meet new needs?
- How can you make an existing business model better, faster, cheaper, or more convenient? This approach has proven successful for booming businesses like GrubHub, Uber, StitchFix, and Blue Apron.
You can also research ideas online, talk to people about their daily inconveniences and pain points, and gain inspiration from other entrepreneurs and leaders.
In addition, think about your strengths, skills, and passions. How can you use your unique set of talents and interests in a fresh and exciting way?
Do market research.
Once you have your idea, it’s time to do market research. Market research helps you discover potential rivals, ways that your product or service can be improved, and more.
According to Forbes, the lack of a market need for a product/service is by far the top reason that startups fail. Doing your research can help you avoid this trap and return to the drawing board if necessary.
Research whether anyone else is already doing what you plan to do with your business. If yes, how will you differentiate your business and help it stand out? If no, is there a good reason that no one else has launched a similar business?
As you research, talk to family, friends, mentors, coworkers, or other acquaintances. Present your idea or even a prototype of your idea. Ask what they like, what could be improved, and whether they would purchase the product or service. Ask them what factors they would consider when deciding whether to make a purchase.
Listen with an open mind and don’t take feedback personally. After you all, you want honest, usable feedback. Take notes, and look for patterns in the feedback you’re receiving. Adjust your plans accordingly.
Create a business plan.
Speaking of plans, Shah emphasizes that creating a business plan is an essential step. Your business plan is a document detailing how your business will evolve. It’s a document that you will update as time goes on.
For now, your plan should include information like:
- Business name
- Summary of your business
- The problem you’re solving and how you’re solving it
- Your target market and the strategies you will use to sell to that market
- The strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and how you’ll differentiate your product/service
- How you will develop your product or service, including a budget
- How you will manage and operate your business on a daily basis
- A financial plan for how and when you’ll secure financing, what costs you need to cover, etc.
Funding is an extremely important consideration for any entrepreneur. Luckily, there are many options for funding a business. These include:
- Bootstrapping (funding through personal savings, credit cards, and/or borrowing from friends and family)
- Crowdfunding through sites like Kickstarter
- Negotiating an advance from a partner or customer(s)
- Business loans or local loans
- Angel investors
- Venture capitalists
- Trading equity (exchanging stock in your business for capital from investors)
- Providing services in exchange for capital (e.g. negotiating free office space in exchange for providing technical support for the other office tenants)
There are pros and cons to each type of funding. You’ll need to research your options and consider your resources and circumstances to make the best decision for you.
Handle the legal aspects.
Starting a business requires you to handle several legal aspects. It’s a good idea to take care of these early in the process to protect your idea and your investment. Although you can handle some of these steps on your own, it’s also wise to consult with a small-business lawyer.
Legal aspects include:
- Structure of your business (corporation, partnership, LLC, etc.)
- Registering your business
- Federal and state tax ID
- License and permits
- Trademarks, copyrights, or patents
- Opening a small business checking account
Build an all-star team.
Your team may be small at first, but it’s important to surround yourself with the right people. You need to find talented, driven individuals who believe in your idea and your vision. It’s also a good idea to consider your strengths and weaknesses, then hire people whose strengths offset your weaknesses.
Establish a strong company culture from the get-go. Smita Shah points out the importance of valuing and respecting your employees and their ideas. Create a culture of collaboration and openness, where trusted employees can take initiative, make suggestions, and engage in brainstorming sessions that enrich your business.
Identify your target customer. Who will need and want your product? Think about the identity of your target customer. Where do they work, what are their interests, what are their pain points, and how do they engage with products and services?
Think about where your target customer spends their time, what websites they engage with, and so on. Start reaching out to target customers through phone calls and/or strategically placed advertisements. Develop marketing strategies that will appeal to your target audience.
If you’re new to marketing, consider hiring a marketing team or even a freelance strategist. Alternatively, take free marketing courses online, buy books on marketing, and educate yourself about this vital aspect of doing business.
Following these seven steps from Smita Shah will put you on the path to founding an innovative and successful business.
It’s not easy, and you will encounter roadblocks and challenges along the way. But if you commit to your idea and take the necessary steps, success is certainly possible. Find an idea that you believe in, do your research and make a thorough plan, handle financial and legal aspects, surround yourself with a stellar team, and target your ideal customer.
Seek guidance and wisdom from mentors like Smita Shah along the way, and you’ll grow a thriving business of your own.