Ready to launch a new business? Then hold tight – you’re about to start on a journey that offers a wealth of amazing opportunities for personal and professional growth. One business is formed every minute in the UK (GOV.UK, 2019),but with fewer than half of them making it beyond their first year, it’s essential that you take your time to really get prepared before jumping in.
After all, the road to entrepreneurial success can be fraught with challenges, especially during your first year.
To help you navigate this exciting (but often tumultuous) journey, I’ve put together a comprehensive first-year checklist to get you off to the best start on your entrepreneurial journey. Whether you’re launching a tech startup, a small local business, or anything in between, this guide will provide you with the insights and tips you need to make your first year a success.
1. Prioritise Yourself to Succeed in Your Business
This one is so important and it’s why I take such a holistic approach to life coaching: you are your most valuable resource. Your self-care will ultimately reflect in your business. Your business can only be as healthy as you are, so make sure you’re setting boundaries and making time for the things that light you up outside of your work: whether that’s getting out in nature, engaging in something creative or spending time with friends and family.
We live in a time where ‘hustle culture’ is seen as the norm, but there’s only so much energy you can devote to your work before you run out of it completely. You can’t pour from an empty cup and as a founder, you’re the most important asset of your business. If you’re not making yourself a priority, now is the time to do it. By looking after yourself, you can make far better decisions that will ultimately lead your business to success. It’s the difference between trying to keep things going while feeling burned out and confidently managing a business that generates greater profit and impact.
Set clear boundaries for when work starts and ends, and put your phone in ‘do not disturb’ mode outside of these hours (no matter how tempting it is to take just a little glance at your work emails). Regular exercise, a balanced diet and quality sleep can do wonders for your productivity and decision-making abilities – much more than rubbing your eyes in front of a screen after hours ever can.
Remember: you are your best asset.
2. Define Your Vision and Goals
Before diving into the world of entrepreneurship, it’s essential to have a clear vision and well-defined goals for your business. What is your ‘why’? What’s the one thing that drives you to get out of bed in the morning and do what you do?
Take a moment and think: what does true success in your business ultimately look like for you? What is the purpose of your business and where do you want it to take you?
It might be to afford you and your family a lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, or it’s perhaps because you have a mission to positively impact people. The clearer your ‘why’, the more energised you’ll feel and the clearer your vision will be. This is what will push you through all the challenges that may come your way.
A well-defined vision is the starting point for any successful business venture and acts as your North Star, the guiding light that illuminates the path for you to follow.
Having a strong vision will not only inspire you to work towards your goals every day but it will also help you inspire others: whether that’s your team, investors, or customers. Your vision should encapsulate the essence of your business, its purpose, and its long-term aspirations.
Once you have a clear vision in place, you can then start setting some concrete goals. These goals should be SMART; in other words, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. These goals will act as the stepping stones toward your vision, giving you the clarity and direction you need to get there. Let’s say, for example, your vision is to revolutionise sustainable agriculture. Perhaps your SMART goal could be to secure funding for a research and development project within the first year.
Really take your time on this. Your vision and goals will shape the path you follow and the choices you make, so it’s important to take as long as you need to get it crystal clear.
3. Create a Solid Business Plan
A well-structured business plan is the foundation of your enterprise. It should outline your business model, target audience, marketing strategy, financial projections and more. A detailed plan will provide you with a clear roadmap for the future. There are plenty of free business plan templates online to help you get started – for example, this one by Startups.
I know the initial excitement of entrepreneurship can have you wanting to immediately dive in head-first, but the more time you can take planning at the start, the better your chances of success once you launch. This is why getting your business plan right is key. It’s not just a document you put together to secure funding; it’s a living, evolving blueprint for your business. It will serve as your reference point and keep you on course whenever you face a new challenge. A key thing to remember here is that your business plan isn’t static – it needs to evolve with your business and the changes that happen along the way.
Remember to revisit and revise your business plan regularly as your business evolves. I’d recommend scheduling in an hour a week to reflect on where you are, where you need to be and how your plan may need to be adjusted to accommodate it. With every move you make in business, more discoveries emerge and with that you should refine your plans accordingly. By taking time to do this, you can use it to measure your progress and make informed decisions at every stage of your entrepreneurial journey.
Don’t stick to a plan that’s out of date – keep revising it to reflect the situation you’re in.
4. Build a Strong Support Network
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road at times, and the more you deal with challenges alone, the greater your risk of hitting entrepreneurial burnout. This is why it’s so essential to surround yourself with a strong support network, which will act as your safety net to catch you when you fall. This could include mentors, fellow entrepreneurs, and coaches who can offer guidance and keep you accountable to your goals.
As a first-year entrepreneur, you’ll likely face uncertainties, doubts, and moments when you feel completely overwhelmed. This is where a coach can be such a brilliant investment to guide and support you. If you want help with deciding on the right time for a life coach, take a look at this blog post.
Don’t forget your fellow entrepreneurs, too – they can be such an incredible source of support. They can empathise with your struggles and offer practical advice based on their own experiences, in a way that perhaps well-meaning friends and family can’t. Networking with peers can lead to partnerships, collaborations, and a stronger sense of belonging within the entrepreneurial community (not to mention, challenges are always less daunting when you have people to turn to for advice).
5. Think About the Money
When it comes to your finances, be prepared. You can’t guarantee that people will always pay you on time and you can’t guarantee your workload, so make sure you have plans in place should these situations happen. How will you seek more work during quiet times? Do you have payment terms clearly outlined in your contract? Do you have enough financially to ensure you’ve got backup as you begin your journey?
If you’re about to leave a salaried career to embark on your entrepreneurial journey, calculate how many months’ savings you might need to ensure the bills are paid and you aren’t subjecting yourself to financial stress from the get-go. Preparation is key.
My honest advice to first-time entrepreneurs is to focus on setting up in a lean fashion. While funding can be great, you also need to consider that you’re sacrificing that freedom that probably attracted you to entrepreneurship in the first place. If you get funded, you suddenly find that you’re having to work for your financiers as well as yourself. This removes some of your flexibility and piles on the pressure.
Similarly, bank loans can prove stressful if the numbers just aren’t adding up in that precarious first year or two. This is why I prefer to recommend that you grow in a lean fashion. By minimising unnecessary expenses, your limited funds can be directed towards the areas of your business that will generate the most return.
6. Establish Your Brand and Messaging
Are you an advocate for using Apple products? Perhaps you wouldn’t run in anything but Nike shoes or eat any ketchup other than Heinz.
Hubspot defines brand experience as “all the feelings consumers have before, during and after interacting with your brand.” It’s the promise of value and emotional connection you establish with your audience. It’s why so many of us have brands we tend to turn to – whether that’s because we associate them with quality, good value or amazing service.
The stronger your brand personality and brand identity, the more likely you are to attract loyal followers and advocates.
Start by identifying your target audience and understanding their needs. How do you serve these needs? How do you want people to feel when they see your brand? If you’re serving a need for fast service, then your messaging should be around speed and reliability. If you’re serving a need for luxury gift options, then shape your messaging around the idea of luxury, generosity and exclusivity.
Take a look at the social media accounts and adverts of various well-known brands and notice how the most successful ones align their messaging consistently with what they sell. Every bit of messaging feeds into the brand experience that keeps their customers returning.
Create a mind-map of word associations for your brand. Use these words to shape your messaging so you can create a consistent brand experience across all of your communications channels – and help you differentiate from the competition.
Embarking on your entrepreneurial journey is both exciting and challenging, and the first year is such a crucial milestone. Your vision and goals, a solid business plan, a strong support network, and smart financial management will provide you with a strong foundation for you to build your success.
And above all, don’t forget to prioritise your well-being and maintain a healthy work-life balance, no matter what challenges arise.
As someone who has been there, I know now that bringing balance to my life is so important if I want to be my best. Contrary to the damaging ideal of ‘hustle culture’ we’ve been led to aspire to, I’ve learned the hard way that triumphs in business actually don’t have to come at the expense of any part of your life: your health, your relationships or yourself.
And it’s why I now spend my time helping ambitious entrepreneurs just like you do the same thing I’ve been able to do: work less, profit more, and serve a greater impact from a place of calm, balance, and ease.
Get in touch with me and I’ll only be too happy to help you handle discomfort, achieve balance and build the business you’ve always dreamed of.