Big Ideas for Small Business: A Guide to Startups, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation

Small businesses are big businesses. In the U.S., there are more than 29 million of them. And it’s not hard to see why: running a small business often comes with more flexibility and personal fulfillment than a larger corporation while at the same time offering opportunities for growth, networking, and creativity.

It’s why more people than ever are launching their businesses—and why so many succeed. As one of the world’s leading startup ecosystems, we at Built In know how challenging it can be to start something new in this environment. But also that it is doable and worth it.

Being an entrepreneur in a city like ours is perhaps the best way to launch your own business and take advantage of everything that comes with it: community; accessible co-working spaces; mentorship programs; online resources; funding opportunities, and access to local talent you probably wouldn’t find anywhere else.

What is a small business?

A small business is any privately owned company that is not a part of a larger corporation. Many people start their small businesses to earn money and be their boss. As a result, small businesses employ about half of the working population in the U.S. and account for almost all of the country’s net job growth. A small business can be almost anything, from a food truck to a law firm. It can also range in size from a handful of employees to a few hundred.

It all starts with an idea.

If you’re itching to start and don’t have anything yet, that’s okay too. You can always brainstorm and see where the path leads. Once you’ve got a premise, it helps to answer some basic questions: What is it? Who is it for? What is the problem (and how can it be solved)? Who is your competition? What is your unique advantage?

And most importantly: Why will people care? One of the best ways to get going is by talking to your potential customers. Find out what they want, what they need, and what they wish was out in the world. You might not have all the answers, but this exercise will help you find them. And with any luck, you’ll find that customers are excited about your offer.

Before you launch: Know your customer and competition.

You need to anticipate and prepare for many things as a business owner, but one of the most important is keeping tabs on your competition. You don’t have to be a research organization like Gallup, but collecting data and analyzing your competition will help you stay on top of your game and keep your customers coming back for more.

Please pay attention to the types of customers your competitors are acquiring and how they reach those customers. Who is their audience? Where do they congregate? What kind of content do they publish? You can also look into your competition’s social media to find out who they are engaging with.

Growth plan.

It’s essential to have a business plan and, even more importantly, a growth plan. You don’t need to launch with a fully formed company culture, 100 employees, and 10,000 square feet of office space. But it’s important to know where you want to be in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, and 5 years. If you’re not sure where to start, think about what you want your life to look like.

What do you want your business to do for you? What kind of lifestyle do you want to lead? As you formulate your plan, don’t forget to consider factors like your skillset, strengths and weaknesses, existing relationships, and the resources you currently have at your disposal. If you don’t have enough savings to sustain your company or have the right team in place, growth may not be possible. At the very least, it will be incredibly challenging.

Build a team you trust.

Starting a small business can feel like going it alone. But you don’t have to. One of the most impactful things you can do as a new entrepreneur is to get plugged into the local community. This could mean joining a local business organization, starting a Meetup group, or simply connecting with people in your field. Find other entrepreneurs at the same stage as you or who have gone through similar challenges and successes. This kind of peer-to-peer support is invaluable and can be one of the best ways to get plugged into a city’s innovation ecosystem.

Don’t forget about marketing.

Once you’re up and running and have established a loyal customer base, it’s important to remember to keep those customers returning. One of the best ways to do this is by getting your name out there. This could mean creating a digital presence on social media or investing in paid advertising.

It could also entail getting in front of potential customers at events or on the streets. It could mean partnering with companies with a similar customer base and willing to trade goods or services. Or it could mean finding ways to get your name in front of the right people without being too salesy.

Wrapping up

Starting a small business is a challenging and rewarding experience, but it’s important to remember that it’s also a process. You don’t have to have everything figured out from day one or know exactly how everything will go. Instead, it’s about being passionate about what you do, learning from your mistakes, and staying resilient when it gets tricky.

Then, with the right support, a positive outlook, and a willingness to put in the hard work, you can do anything you set your sights on. From creating an innovative product or service to finding your company’s unique value proposition, bringing in the right customers, and keeping them returning for more.