Is entrepreneurship calling you? Whatever your reason for wanting to run a startup, there’s simply no reason you can’t do it. So how DO you, well… start it up?
There are a plethora of articles out there about ‘how to start a business’. Some are little more than a lovely pep talk. Others dive headlong into the technical nuts and bolts of what’s involved in running a business. (Think: business structures, tax advice, insurance.)
Here, we’re going to offer a bit of both – practical steps to take and resources to lean on, as well as advice on how to tackle the unique challenges faced by female founders.
Let’s learn how to start a startup.
1. Develop your business idea
If you’ve already got a great idea…
Amazing! Your job at this stage is to look at this idea from all angles and assess if it’s a good idea. Reviewing current market trends is a good place to start.
You could also consider targeting your business towards a particular niche – a smaller, specialized target audience. By focusing on a small audience your business will be able to stretch its resources further. It can also give way to very fun marketing opportunities.
If you don’t yet have a business idea…
Perhaps a good place for you to start is identifying a problem you can solve. Finish this sentence:
I wish there was an app that…
Or this one:
I wish there was a way to…
Forbes lists some other ways to find a good business idea, if you can’t think of a problem to solve.
You’ll need to be able to articulate ‘why’ your product or service is needed. Who will it serve? How is it different from solutions that other companies are offering?
Be ready to explain your business’ vision and mission. And while it’s not always necessary to create an actual prototype early on, even a basic sketch or mockup will help you with user testing, and presenting to potential investors.
2. Build your team
Think about whether there are gaps in your skillset. If you’re not great with finances, it might be a good idea to get a business-minded team member involved in the business. If you’re not as technically proficient, you might need some fellow girls in tech to help you out.
And while it’s true that some businesses can be started solo, the most astute entrepreneurs will at least enlist the support of a professional mentor or business coach to help them stay focused, and to bounce ideas off.
3. Create a business plan
A business plan can be pages long and full of detail, but the US Small Business Administration also offers tips on how to develop a ‘lean startup plan’, which is more high-level and useful if you’re strapped for time.
Whether your business plan is comprehensive or more high-level, it should include:
Your goals and objectives
Financial analysis including cost structure, fixed and variable costs and revenue streams.
In short, a business plan should outline how the business will work and how it will generate money. It can also touch on the marketing strategy and how customers will be attracted.
4. Flesh out your research
How much do you actually know about the people who will interact with your business? Consider conducting user research and having real conversations with people who will use the product or service. This can help you refine the business and adjust your plan as necessary.
The next part of your research should look at the competitor landscape. Who are your competitors and what makes your product better than theirs?
5. Consider marketing and growth
Think about where you want to take the business. Will it be a simple side-hustle, or are you planning to invent a unicorn startup?
What’s this about unicorns?
A ‘unicorn’ is a privately owned startup that is valued at 1 billion dollars. As of 2022 there are currently 1,182 unicorn start-ups in the game! Canva, Grammarly and Airtable, to name a few familiar ones.
How large you want your business to be will determine what your goals are, and what your milestones for growth might be.
So how will you promote and grow your business’ reach? Will you need to work with referral partners or influencers to get the message out there? Will you require funding for paid advertising campaigns?
The Forbes guide, How to Start a Small Business in 2022, lists some great ways to market your business.
5. Do the official paperwork
If you’re serious about making your startup legit, then there are some important steps to take.
Choose a business structure
How you officially structure your business will affect how you operate it and how you deal with taxes and financial responsibilities. The two most common business structures for startups are:
Limited liability partnership (LLP) – An LLC is a legally separate business entity that’s created under state law. An LLC combines elements of a sole proprietorship, partnership, and corporation, and offers a lot of flexibility for owners.
Sole proprietorship – This involves the business owner (you) being personally responsible for the business’ debts.
Set up your business
Choose a name for the business, and check to see if the domain name and social handles are available too. You’ll officially set up the business by filling out paperwork with your state’s business agency – usually the secretary of state. There will most likely be a filing fee to pay, and you’ll be provided with a certificate that allows you to apply for licenses, a tax identification number, and a business bank account. All the fun things.
Apply for the licenses and permits you need
Check with your local government office or chat to an attorney about what legal requirements you need to meet to conduct business.
Open a business bank account
This is a good idea so you can keep business funds and personal funds separate.
Get an accountant or accounting software
This is the best way to keep track of your inventory and finances – and it’ll make tax time much easier on you! There are lots of great accounting software options available to business owners.
7. Get out of your own way
Here’s the pep talk bit.
Women are known for being less confident in business than men. It’s why we see more male entrepreneurship than female. And it’s why women in the workplace get promoted at a slower rate.
Of course some of the challenges related to starting a business as a woman are out of your hands, but some can be overcome with a mindset shift.
Veuve Clicquot’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Barometer Global Report 2021 found that the main barriers stopping women from starting businesses are:
Attracting funding – female VC is wildly underrepresented and this may not always be within your control.
Balancing family life – women are fearful of disrupting the family by starting a business, and this stops many from taking the leap.
Fear of failure – again, potential failure is out of your control. And yet countless stories exist of entrepreneurs who have been rejected countless times before hitting success. (Hello, Melanie Perkins of Canva!)
Changing behavior – running a business can involve hard work, long hours, grit, determination, and a lot of hope and self-confidence. These are things you simply may not be willing to do.
Facing criticism – this is part and parcel of running a business, especially one that challenges the status quo.
A lack of female entrepreneur role models – it’s true! We can point to so many more male role models in business! But you can be inspired by Girls in Tech’s past Startup Challenge winners, these 6 women running tech companies, and these 10 fearless women changing history.
Interestingly, the study also found that the US has the largest entrepreneur gender gap, at 24%.
Despite these challenges, and despite how you feel about your ability to run a business – you’ll never know unless you try. Go for it!
BONUS: resources to help you
Here are some of our top picks of books and podcasts that will inspire and inform your startup journey. Dig in and learn from others!
Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons, by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown
Girl on Fire, by Cara Alwill Leyba
Thrive, by Arianna Huffington
The Likeability Trap, by Alicia Menendez
The Confidence Effect, by Grace Killelea
Give it a go – Enter the Girls in Tech Startup Challenge
The Girls in Tech Startup Challenge is specifically designed to help female founders get a leg up with VC. By pitching your business idea, you can get access to funding, mentorship, and media exposure. And perhaps more importantly – it’s the chance to properly ideate, map out, and prepare your product for launch to market.
Enter the challenge, and put your business idea to the test. It might just pay off!