Unconventional Tips for Starting a Business: 43 Entrepreneurs and Business Strategists Share Their Secrets for Success

Last Updated: July 6, 2018
 

Starting a business is an exciting undertaking. It’s a journey filled with twists and turns, requiring an entrepreneurial mindset, an adventerous spirit, and a willingness to take risks. You’re setting off on an unchartered course, taking a stroll (perhaps a sprint) down an unbeaten path, and emerging unscathed often means thinking outside the box.

Where else should we turn but to those who have dared to brave the journey before to get the best unconventional tips for starting a business? So that’s exactly what we did. In search of some valuable, unique tips for those who are about to embark on their own entrepreneurial journeys, we reached out to a panel of entrepreneurs and business strategists and asked them to weigh in on this question:

“What’s your #1 unconventional tip for starting your own business (unique tips that ‘buck the trend’ or ‘break all the rules’ but are still incredibly useful)?”

Find out what our panel of forward-thinking leaders had to say below.

Meet Our Panel of Entrepreneurs and Business Strategists:


Ajay PrakashAjay Prakash

@Rinse

Ajay Prakash is the Co-Founder & CEO of Rinse (www.rinse.com), a consumer service company that is building the first and largest national brand in clothing care.  Rinse offers pickup and delivery for customers’ dry cleaning and laundry needs and currently operates in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Prior to Rinse, Ajay was the COO and CFO of humble Brands, a consumer product start-up in San Francisco.  He also has experience at Bonobos, Berkshire Partners, the NBA, and Bain & Company.  Ajay received his BA from Dartmouth College and his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Always keep track of how excited you are about the business…

It’s important to remember that building a great company is a several year journey, so if your excitement wanes in the initial weeks and months, it’s a strong indicator that you might not want to invest so much of your life in the business.  Before starting Rinse, I explored multiple ideas but realized early on that I wasn’t as passionate as I needed to be about them.  With Rinse, there was a noticeable difference in my excitement levels from the beginning.  I started Rinse in 2013 with James Joun, one of my best friends from college, who also happened to grow up in dry cleaning.  In our first alpha test, I sorted laundry at James’ parent’s shop and loved it.  We pushed ourselves to test with customers early and often, and although we sometimes received feedback that ran counter to our thinking, my level of excitement kept growing.  Over the past four years, we have experienced several ups and downs as we’ve scaled Rinse to serve San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, but the one constant has been my level of excitement.  In fact, I’m more excited today than I’ve ever been to tackle the challenges that lay ahead and to build the first and largest national brand in clothing care.


Kishan MadamalaKishan Madamala

Kishan Madamala, is CEO of Maxton & Company, an online retailer and manufacturer of specialty goods. He has extensive experience in retail, spanning from e-commerce strategy to brick-and-mortar store operations.

On being asset-light…
A lot of business books will advise that a physical goods business be “asset-light” – running the business without owning equipment, inventory, etc. They argue that outsourcing wherever possible will help you preserve cash. While this is true, your costs per unit will often be higher and your gross margin rate will be lower. For example, manufacturers often charge additional fees for shrink-wrapping, labeling, boxing, etc. Purchasing and operating some of this equipment yourself may allow you to produce the same finished goods at a much lower cost in the long run.
At Maxton & Company, our investments in equipment and inventory have given us a cost advantage over our competitors and that cost advantage has allowed us to enter new product categories that would not have been possible with higher per-unit costs.


Brandon GoonBrandon Goon

@GOONtheASIAN

Brandon Goon is the Founder of Be Anything.

Be willing to walk alone…

When starting a business, there’s a limited amount of people who can both understand the problem you’re tying to solve and can help you with your business and until you find those people, your journey will require a lot of independence.

Be a small fish in a big pond.

Don’t be afraid to tackle big problems with your small amount of resources.

Be empathetic, not sympathetic.

“You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.” – No clue who said it first.


Evan HarrisEvan Harris

@EquitySd

Evan Harris is the co-founder and CEO of SD Equity Partners, a San Diego based money lender specializing in fix-and-flip loans.

Embrace mistakes…

With any startup, there are going to be mishaps, mistakes, and blunders. It’s inevitable. You can prepare and plan as much as you want, but something always comes up that you couldn’t have prepared for. Mistakes will happen, and it’s important to view them as opportunities to learn and grow. Turn a mishap into a chance to better your business or product. This mindset will help you to embrace the inevitable and ultimately improve your business because of it.


Garrett Ball Garrett Ball

Garrett Ball is president of 65Medicare.org, an independent Medicare insurance brokerage, as well as several other senior-focused online resources. Over the last decade, he has worked with tens of thousands of seniors who are turning 65 and starting Medicare.

Most conventional business advice for people starting a business is…

To build a product or service that can reach multiple customer types or have multiple revenue streams. While that may work for some businesses, I have had success with a method that runs contrary to that. Instead, I’m a big believer in niche business creation. First, precisely define the population or type of customer you hope to reach and research their demographics, preferences, and characteristics; then, build a niche business tailored around reaching them specifically. When you intimately know who your customer is on the front end of business creation, it speeds up potential growth for your business and allows you to specialize instead of giving half-attention to multiple revenue streams.


Nico MuoioNico Muoio

Nico Muoio is a teenage entrepreneur prodigy, creator of the game Freedom of Speech. Nico started his first profitable business at 9 years old and is now 18. He has currently prioritized business over college in order to launch his latest venture: Freedom of Speech, LLC. He is a success and has already solved business challenges from a unique perspective.

An entrepreneur should seek…

To safely (use an NDA if applicable so you don’t give away your ideas) get as much feedback as possible. Listen to what people have to say, even if it is bad. In fact, especially if it is bad. Iterate and get more feedback. Keep going ’til it’s perfect. The
product is key.

The thing that I have recently learned – and am still learning about – is internet marketing and social media ads. The trick to getting the best bang for your buck on these platforms is to make sure your ads are as engaging and eye-catching as possible. People move very quickly these days and you may only have a second or two to catch someone’s attention, so you need to make sure it is a concise message. You also need to ensure that your target demographic is well thought out. Know who you’re selling to – who will be using your product – and target them. Get your product in front of those people. For example, you wouldn’t want to market a new trampoline to elderly people, because for the most part, they are not the people buying and using trampolines. You want to have ads that are relevant to draw the consumers in. I do not think that casting a wide net is the best way to do this anymore. With all the data collection available in these platforms, you can accurately label your target demographic and create captivating and engaging content for the right viewers, thereby raising your chances of a much better bottom line.

My favorite place to learn about business is TED. I find that TED is very selective about who they allow to do TED talks, so the information is always good and current.


Jeff HandsJeff Hands

Jeff Hands is a restaurateur and president of TracRite Software. He has been helping restaurant and hospitality owners increase profitability for over 20 years. TracRite Software develops Optimum Control, a leading inventory management software for the hospitality industry, with applications for restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts, and more worldwide.

Don’t be afraid to step outside your industry…

My career in the restaurant business started as a carpenter, specializing in building restaurants. After years in the industry, I decided I wanted to open my own restaurant. I had the opportunity to work with a great business partner and mentor that helped me learn the ropes and turn it into a success. Since I did not have a long-seeded background in restaurant strategy and menu pricing, I realized I needed to learn more about costs and portioning in order to maintain a healthy bottom line. This led me to my next business venture, an inventory control software for the hospitality industry. Coming from a very different industry, I was able to turn my passion into a success, and other entrepreneurs can do the same! If there is a will, there’s a way.


Jimmy Chan, PixeliciousJimmy Chan

Jimmy Chan is the wedding photographer of Pixelicious.ca.

There is no point in starting a business if one has nothing unique to offer in the marketplace…

We can still try, but chances are we will struggle until we find a way to distinguish ourselves among our competitors.

The good news is that humans are creatures of habit, and they tend to follow the herd. So my #1 tip is to do the opposite of whatever others are doing; this will immediately separate your business from the rest. What follows is simply execution and staying true to your own brand.

A few examples of how I managed to apply this method in marketing my business:

1) Photographers tend to sell packages and/or hourly rates.

Problem: No way for brides to know what will happen next year. Also, no one likes being charged overtime, especially on their wedding day!

Solution: Agree to an all inclusive pricing for the day such that the bride knows the budget needed in advance. She no longer needs to plan her day according to the photographer’s schedule; therefore she’s happier and less stressed.

2) Photographers tend to push for album and print sales.

Problem: An increasing number of brides are becoming less interested in having albums as we live in the digital world.

Solution: Offer the high resolution files, such that the client can choose to have her own albums and prints. Bring further value by assisting the bride in getting her prints if required.

3) Too many horror stories of bad photographers not showing up (or disappearing later).

Problem: Standard business practice is to charge the full amount prior to the wedding, putting the client at risk should the photographer not deliver the images as promised.

Solution: Demonstrate honesty and transparency by charging after the client reviews the retouched images. She knows exactly what she is paying for, no surprises.

4) Establish trust and credibility.

Problem: How can the bride trust you, especially if you are found via the internet and not a family/friend referral.

Solution: Offer an ironclad, 100% satisfaction guarantee or money back policy and honor it. Communicate your confidence and establish yourself as someone with integrity. This is unheard of in the industry.

What’s remarkable is that I have been doing the above for a few years already, and no one in my area has tried to do the same, allowing me to keep attracting a small pool of clients who see the value in what I have to offer.


Anna PolishchukAnna Polishchuk

@lalafo_com

Anna Polishchuk is the Co-Founder at Lalafo and ex-Chief Operation Officer at Slando/OLX (London).

My best and most unconventional tips for starting a business are…

1. How to choose an idea for business

Each of you has a story that led you to where you are now. Every decision and choice you`ve made brought you here. Each of you has something that you are good at. Someone is a super cool manager, someone is a designer, a programmer or a teacher. Do what you love and know.

2. Don`t be afraid to make mistakes

The business develops by trial and error. Many of your assumptions turn out to be wrong. But it is ok! Because sometimes making mistakes is the only way you can figure out what works and what does not.


Steve SilberbergSteve Silberberg

@fitpacking

Steve Silberberg founded Fitpacking Weight-Loss Backpacking Adventures in 2005. He graduated from M.I.T. in 1984 with both Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Steve was a software contractor for over 25 years serving dozens of clients including DuPont, Polaroid, Tektronix, Acadian Asset Management, and Talbots. Steve has the 10th largest Air Sickness Bag collection in the world, and his online museum has garnered international press and national TV and radio coverage. Steve likes talking about himself in the 3rd person like a self-important putz.

Don’t do any market research before embarking upon your venture…

Part of being an entrepreneur is being motivated by bringing your passion to market. If you do a bunch of focus groups, everyone is going to try to convince you that their brilliant idea (tangentially related to yours) is better. Of course, if you’re just trying to make a buck in an already commoditized business, then sure, do all the market research you can. But otherwise, go with your gut.


Steph TaylorSteph Taylor

@wearewildbloom

Steph Taylor is a corporate misfit turned health and wellness entrepreneur and digital marketing guru. She is the founder and director of health food subscription box, The Sugarfree Box, and health and wellness marketing agency, Wildbloom.

Don’t waste time writing a business plan…

Unless you are seeking finance, you really don’t need one. I wrote one for my first business and then never read it again. It’s all well and good planning things out, but nothing ever goes to plan. Especially financially! And when you’ve planned it all out, and it doesn’t go to plan, well, that can feel a bit like failure. So my advice is to spend the time you would usually spend writing a business plan on things that will grow your business – like writing a brand strategy or marketing plan, or setting short and long-term goals for the business.


Sam AlexanderSam Alexander

Sam Alexander is the Digital Marketing Strategist for cThru Media, a San Diego-based full service media agency with a focus on Digital Media.

Believe it or not, most startups don’t require any investment capital…

It’s really important to establish constraints like time or money that will help you maintain focus on your actual idea, which is where the real value comes from. Having too much money in the beginning stages can actually cause harm to your long term success, if it means you lose focus on what’s important. Your main goal should be to validate your idea. Make sure it’s as good as you pictured it, and that people are willing to pay for it. Once you’ve determined whether your business is viable and scalable, the investment will usually find it’s own way to you. There’s no shortage of investment capital. There is, however, a shortage of entrepreneurs who have the persistence and motivation to pursue their dreams.


Harshit SekhonHarshit Sekhon

@hssekhon

Harshit is the founder of Feastively – the fastest and easiest meal kit in town. With tech, supply chain management and product management backgrounds, he’s a bit of a swiss army knife and loves variety in his work. He’s an eater, rider, lifter and shooter.

To be a good entrepreneur…

Firstly, you can’t follow a pre-written playbook, because what works for one may not work for another. So here’s where creativity comes into play, sometimes on the verge of being unlawful.

Until you have product-market fit, treat it like a project, not a business, and definitely not a company. No customer will go looking for your certificate of registration or ABN. No one cares. What people care about is their problems, so make sure you solve these first. Sometimes you have to do first, and then apologize and make up for it later. We parked kids’ bikes outside schools, painted in neon green, with our posters on them. Of course, this was just one experiment and it didn’t work as well as we anticipated, but we tried it nonetheless. But there are limits to this, so be very careful. I am not to be held liable if you get in trouble.

BONUS TIP: If you work in a job you can tolerate, then work on your “project” part time. But this is conventional wisdom. Ideally, you want to send off the resignation letter and figure out a way to make revenue really quickly. Your very sustenance is at stake, so you’ll likely work harder.


Shathvan RaiaShathvan Raia

@shathyan

Shathvan Raia is the Head of Marketing at ForeverShop.in – C2C Social ecommerce Platform where sellers can create a Online Shop for FREE & Sell Online by sharing their Products on Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, and more with ease. He is also a Blogger & Internet Marketer at www.OnlineBusinessBay.com, where he writes about Digital Marketing, Blogging, Startup, Marketing Ideas & Plans.

When you think about starting a business, just go for it…

Your instinct will show you the right direction more than hearing others’ words. Just follow it. Do proper research and ground work before stepping in. The idea will be right, but only by doing proper research will you get a clear understanding about the market, and you will understand how you can move forward with your business.

Always talk with people who are your potential future customers and understand them. Know what they are doing, how they are doing, how your business can help them, and whether they’re looking for the kind of solution you’re planning to offer. It is basically evaluating your idea well before you start so that you don’t feel bad after investing and starting

Don’t focus on money or expansion initially. Always focus on customer satisfaction. Don’t worry, even if you have one or two sales/client. But focus on them and make sure they are happy with your product/service and they come back to you.

Starting a business is all about living the hardest part of your life for a better future. So have the right attitude and a positive mindset. Encourage yourself always.

In simple terms, always believe the best business idea is doing what you love and what you’re good at.


Danni LinDanni Lin

@greatwineusa

Before becoming the CEO of GREAT WINE, Danni Lin was a Data Scientist at Microsoft.

Don’t overfocus on getting VC or investors…

This may surprise you. Investors are looking for returns, either short-term or long-term – they are not just buying high-sounding ideas! If you can prove your company has value and can make money, investors will invest. Always remember that investment could help speed up the growth of a business, but cannot change the nature of a company if it is not profitable. Yes, it is very easy to run into a situation that the bank balance is almost zero for startups. Instead of panicking about when money will be running out, be careful with every penny the company spends. This practically strikes a balance between dreams and reality, especially at a time when not everything is perfect yet.


Ben FriedmanBen Friedman

@helloallset

Ben Friedman is the Co-Founder and Head of Operations at All Set, a Boston-based start-up that customers find top house cleaners with verified reviews. All Set is recognized as a Top 10 Boston Startup.

Get your current employer to seed the start-up…

Corporate-backed venture capital is becoming a huge trend as traditional, entrenched businesses realize they can still be debunked by start-ups that seemingly have no experience. If your idea overlaps even a little with the company’s mission, they may consider funding it.


Tony MariottiTony Mariotti

@tonymariotti

Tony Mariotti is the owner of RubyHome.

Start a blog before jumping ship…

Grab a free WordPress site template and buy a cheap hosting plan. Then get to work writing keyword-targeted articles that will attract potential customers. It’s reasonable to assume a few months of smart, part-time blogging can generate qualified traffic to your website. You may even capture a few leads before you’re ready to quit your day job.


Adam M. HyersAdam M. Hyers

@Insureman411

Adam Hyers founded Hyers and Associates Inc. in 2002.

My (somewhat unconventional) tip would be to have a side gig…

It may sound counter-intuitive, as we are told to put everything we have into a new business, but in my opinion, half the battle is sticking around long enough
to make it work. You wonder how many small businesses were on the cusp of success, but had to fold up shop too early due to lack of income and/ or other financial obligations.

Having side income can give you the padding you need to work and rework your business model until you can discover your niche, get the word out, develop relationships and/or build a web presence. Maybe it’s driving an Uber or bartending on the side. Perhaps it’s working part-time at a current job. I worked leads from an insurance company for about a year before fulling becoming an independent agent running my own agency. Without that year of somewhat regular income, I’m not sure if I would have had the time to make it – or even known what I was best at. It simply bought me the time I needed to game-plan. And it helped tremendously.


Eli WilliamsEli Williams

@elitwilliams

Eli Williams is the founder of Foundry35, an NYC based e-tailer of sporting goods that uses software and a unique approach to supply chain management to connect an extensive network of wholesale suppliers in the USA. Since 2015, Foundry35 has served over 100,000 customers.

Don’t fall victim to ‘big idea’ paralysis…

The most common excuse I hear from people who want to start their own business – but choose not to – is that they don’t have a ‘big idea.’ The secret to starting a business is just that: you need to start. You need to understand that a business is something that grows incrementally and transforms over time, even if it’s mowing lawns on the weekend. Five years from now, your residential lawn mowing business may be signing multi-million dollar corporate landscaping contracts, but you’ll never know until you get your hands dirty and work overtime.


Deborah SweeneyDeborah Sweeney

 

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. Based out of Calabasas, CA, MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, trademark, & copyright filing services.

It’s not the most unconventional tip, but it’s an important one to keep your business in compliance…

Incorporate or form an LLC for your startup! This allows you to protect your personal assets and separate them from your professional ones, save money on taxes, and establish credibility with consumers to ensure your startup remains successful in the long run. Additionally, you should also file for a trademark for your business name, logo, or design. Trademarks allow you to claim your name and protect your unique business identity to keep anyone else from plagiarizing or copying the assets.


Clara SongClara Song

@CatherineJinn

Clara Song was born in South Korea but moved to the US in 2016 with her family. She is the founder of a new K-Beauty brand called Catherine Jinn. She is excited to provide new methods for people gain their confidence and feel young again.

In building Catherine Jinn, we have lived by the theme…

Outsource, outsource, and outsource more. We are rowing the boat! In 2017, there’s no reason you can’t hire the best people at the best prices regardless of location. The amazing thing is we have found extremely talented people from places like Florida, LA, San Francisco, North Carolina, Minnesota, Europe, and Asia. We aren’t looking for cheap labor; we are looking for high quality at fair prices. Too many businesses let convenience or comfort play too big a role in their decision making.


Trey GordnerTrey Gordner

@Koioslib

Trey Gordner is a product manager and library software entrepreneur. His company, Koios, helps the library appear in local Google search results, building stronger communities around public resources. A.M.D.G.

Here’s my #1 unconventional tip for starting a business…

When deciding on a business idea, find your LCP: your least common passion. Your least common passion is a topic or industry that interests you deeply but attracts almost no one else. Don’t forget that the easiest competitive advantage to sustain is to be the only person doing it. Dominate that tiny niche, then expand.


Bradley ShawBradley Shaw

@ExpertBrad

Bradley Shaw has been a Digital Marketing and Online Consulting Expert Since 1997.

My most unorthodox tip is to buy a watch and use it…

It does not have to be a fancy Rolex, any watch that works will do. Being punctual in business is at the very core of being successful. No one likes waiting on anyone who is running behind. In fact, be 10 minutes early to every meeting or appointment. In the event you are late, never make excuses. Simply accept responsibility, apologize, and move on.


John TurnerJohn Turner

@UsabilityGuyPGH

John Turner is CEO/Founder of QuietKit which provides guided meditation for beginners (for free).

Keep it as a side project for as long as possible…

There’s so much conventional wisdom on taking the leap or jumping off the cliff right into working on a new business as your sole source of income, but instead
of that, keep it as a side project for as long as possible.

This will have the unintended effect of keeping your time as focused as possible, since it will be much more limited, and you’ll be able to grow it until the point where you have to work on it full time, without the risk of worrying if it’ll work.


Ben TaylorBen Taylor

@homeworkingclub

Ben Taylor is a “serial solopreneur” and long-time freelancer who writes, fixes networks and builds websites. He’s quit more that one job in his time and it usually works out OK!

QUIT YOUR JOB…

It sounds drastic and foolish, but the combination fear and exhilaration this gives you can be just what you need to get a business off the ground. Obviously individual mileage may vary, and some emergency savings help – but in a way, the more precarious your situation, the more you just HAVE to succeed.


Sophie KnowlesSophie Knowles

@pdf_pro

Sophie Knowles is a web developer and co-founder of PDF Pro, an online platform for editing and converting PDF files.

Start your business as a side gig…

That way you can test your idea to see if it has potential without quitting your day job. A lot of people are afraid to start a business because of the lack of security and risk. Instead of jumping head first, you can start off part time and transition to full time if things take off.

 


Charles DuganCharles Dugan

@Am_Img_Displays

Charles Dugan is the owner of American Image Trade Show Displays, providers of trade show booths, equipmentand supplies.

My favorite tip is to look at past companies that have tried your idea but failed…

Maybe it is a company that attempted to build the same product or offered a similar service, and went out of business. Reach out to their founders and employees and pick their brains over the phone or email to learn about what mistakes they made. This can help you avoid having to learn the hard way. As they say, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


William GadeaWilliam Gadea

@willgadea

William Gadea is the Founder and Creative Director of IdeaRocket, a maker of animated videos for business.

It’s almost impossible to specialize too much…

Don’t be an accountant for the entertainment industry; drill down deeper and be an accountant for theatre companies – or film companies. This strikes some people as counter-intuitive because they think, “If I narrow my market too much it will become too hard to find work!” Maybe at the very beginning, but once you’ve got some jobs behind you, all of a sudden it will make it much easier to find work. Why? Because you will understand your clients’ needs better, but more importantly, you will have a differentiator to separate you from the other people that are just accountants. You will be seen as having more credibility. And you will have a way of finding work, because theatre companies know each other and will recommend you. Specialization works in customer segments, but also in services offered. Not specializing enough is the number one starting-a-business mistake.


Gene CaballeroGene Caballero

@YourGreenPal

Gene Caballero is the co-founder of GreenPal which has been described as Uber for lawn care.

Dont quit your day job but instead do both for a year…

This will test your passion for your new business and ensure that you do not quit your bread-n-butter for something you thought you were passionate about.

Also, this will be about the time it would take to see if you can actually live off your businesses revenue and solidify if you business has product-market fit.


David WaringDavid Waring

@FitSmallBiz

David Waring is the co-founder of Fit Small Business, a website that provides small business reviews and recommendations. Previously he served as a top executive at Forex Capital Markets LLC, which he joined as an initial employee and grew to a team of over 700.

I have been involved in a number of successful startups as a founder, employee, and friend…

The one thing that I see consistently over and over again is that it takes around 3 years before a business is generating solid profits. The first year is all about just trying to figure out what you are doing and finding product market fit. Once you have your head on straight after the first year, then it’s all about refining the revenue model. It’s not really until the 3rd year that you really start to hum and make a good profit from the business.

From my experience, this runs counter to what most first-time founders think. They think they can get up and running and be supporting themselves in 6 months or less. Because of this many founders fail not because they have a bad idea, but because they run out of capital to support themselves until they can get things working.


Vienne Brown Vienne Brown

@Vienne

Vienne Brown, founder of VienneMilano, is an entrepreneur and independent professional. Throughout her career, her passion has been to see products come to life, from concept to market. She has served a variety of clients, from international corporations, to startups, to nonprofit organizations, focusing on marketing and product management. Her personal interests include fashion and automobiles. Originally from Hong Kong, she lives in Boston.

Don’t conduct market research…

In the 70s, Sony conducted market research in order to determine if consumers would purchase a portable device that played music — a.k.a., the walkman. Sony ignored the resounding “no” that they received and launched the walkman anyway, and the rest is history. The fact is that consumers don’t always know what they want. Entrepreneurs should have a very clear message of what they want to do and remain consistent. For example, people aren’t always clear on what thigh highs and hold ups are, but people are buying the product. I stuck with my belief that there was a vacuum in the hosiery industry that needed to be filled, and filling it worked. Know what you want and believe it will work.


Sid BharathSid Bharath

@thinkific

Sid is an entrepreneur, marketer, and VP of Growth at Thinkific, the all-in-one online course platform.

My #1 unconventional tip for starting a business is…

To start marketing your business before you even create it. If possible, get people to pay you up front and then figure out how to deliver your service or product.

This completely flips the traditional method of starting a business – creating a business plan, creating the product or service, and then marketing. The problem with this is that you put in all that effort only to get crickets at the end. However, by marketing first, you can determine if there’s a market for your business before you build it.


Neil McLarenNeil McLaren

@neil_october

Neil McLaren is the founder of Vaping.com, a leading online supplier of vaping devices, supplies and accessories.

Build a community, then spawn a business…

The conventional way of launching a startup is to build a business and then find consumers to purchase the products or services that you are offering. We decided to do this process in reverse, and in paid off greatly! We began by building a community forum and attracting members who would eventually become our customers.

By engaging heavily with consumers within our industry, we were able to identify their pain-points, issues and challenges, and respond by creating and providing products that they really wanted. There is no market research equal to what you can gain by listening directly to buyers in your market. The feedback we were able to generate gave us insight that our competitors didn’t have, and allowed us to build a catalog of products that far exceeded the quality of what other brands were offering.

Don’t assume that you know your customers. Instead, get out there and speak with them and figure out what their real needs are!


Linda BullardLinda Bullard

@Lynnme1205

Linda Murray Bullard is the Chief Business Strategist at LSMB Business Solutions which supports startup companies in making powerful needle moves toward their next levels of success.

Go under an existing company for one year to learn the skills…

Then, strike out on your own. I’ve actually worked with two very strong companies for the past two years and now, I’m ready to start becoming more independent.


David MercerDavid Mercer

@smepals

David Mercer is a best-selling author of programming, Web and business books. He contributes to SME Pals, a blog dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and small business owners thrive online by turning creative business ideas into profitable startups.

Find a way to make money as early as possible…

A vanishingly small number of home or Web based startups actually make a profit. More often than not founders spend far too much time focusing on their product/service and far too little time networking, marketing and promoting in order to get their first few paying customers. Securing a trickle of funds as early as possible is vital because it gets the business in front of customers and reduces the financial burden of starting up. This allows your startup business to operate for longer (many small startups are bootstrapped and fold because they run out of funds before the business can become established).

To get this right, you have to understand how your business will make money right from the start. That’s easier said than done, because it means knowing who your market is, what they want, and how to convince them to trust you and pay for it.


Nenad CukNenad Cuk

Nenad is a veteran in the digital marketing and technology space with over ten years experience. He is currently the co-founder and CEO of CroatiaTech, a technology partner for agencies and corporations.

My biggest tip for starting a business is…

That no matter what you want to go into, make 2 or 3 sales by closing deals with people that aren’t family or friends. Then work on fulfilling that order. A lot of people think they know what others want, or will pay, or what it’ll take. So they make some big initial investments, without knowing how long it’ll take or how it’ll go. Make 2-3 sales, then fulfill on them, and you’ll be a year ahead of anyone else.


Paige Arnof-FennPaige Arnof-Fenn

Paige started a global marketing firm 16 years ago, Mavens & Moguls, and clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.

Even though I started a global marketing firm…

I would recommend NOT spending money on things like fancy brochures, letterhead, business cards, etc. Until you know your business is launched I would say to put your budget into things that help fill your pipeline with customers. I created online stationery for proposals and invoices, ordered my cards online and made downloadable materials as leave behinds for people looking for more information. I know other business owners who spent thousands of dollars on these things and found it was a waste of money. Your story will evolve as you find your market, you need to look professional and have a web site to be taken seriously but embossed paper with watermarks and heavy card stock is not going to accelerate your sales cycle. Find those reference customers quickly, use them to get testimonials and referrals. There is plenty of time later to dress things up!


Matt BentleyMatt Bentley

@matt_bentley

Matt Bentley is the Founder of CanIRank, an SEO intelligence software and digital marketing agency that helps small businesses and startup companies.

Start a remote-based company…

More and more companies are allowing employees to work from home with more flexible schedules. There are tons of collaboration software tools that can help facilitate team communication, even if you aren’t all working in the same location. One added benefit working remotely is you avoid having to pay for an expensive office, which can be one of the largest costs a startup faces. When you are first launching a business it’s important to keep your monthly expenses as low as possible.


Dustin MontgomeryDustin Montgomery

@DustinMontSEO

Dustin Montgomery is the Digital Marketing Director at Shippers Supplies. With over 15 years of experience dealing with websites he continues to push the web forward.

My best tip for starting your own business is…

Start it before you are ready. Most people wait around and subconsciously make excuses for why they need XYZ in place before they launch. Don’t do that, 90% of your business can be figured out along the way. Just start it already.


Mario SernaMario Serna

@CeremonySupply

Mario Serna, of CeremonialSupplies.com, has worked in the e-commerce industry—retail and wholesale—for more than 11 years. He has gone from working with well-established companies selling specialty products to working low-funded start-ups entering new, highly competitive markets. Being unconventional is a necessity in today’s overcrowded e-commerce market.

My number one unconventional tip for a new e-commerce business is, don’t stock anything…

As a matter of fact, don’t sell anything and don’t develop a full website with bells and whistles either.

Many new businesses start out of a perception of a need that is not being met within an industry, but unless you have hard facts about the supply and demand for the product, you are gambling on unfounded expectations. I am not just referring to the hard facts published by an industry newsletter or the experience of a buddy who made it big. I am referring to your personal niche within that industry. How will you fare against the established competition?

Before you invest thousands in a fancy website, merchandise, marketing, employees, a facility and all the other good stuff that seems like a recipe for success, invest a small fraction in a basic test website with solid copy/product information, and PPC traffic. Of course, you should have/gain some knowledge on how to properly optimize a PPC campaign, but your cost-per-click along with your click-through-rate will be telling of two very important things. One is how competitive the market is and two, how many people are in search of that product/solution.

Is your competition willing and able to outbid you for a large range of keywords, and if so, is a conversion worth the investment? You can create ad campaigns for the product even if you don’t stock it. Just try to see how many searchers click on the ad, how much time they spend on the product page, how many click further into the site to explore other products (vs how many bounce back), etc. Of course, the most valuable action is if they complete the checkout process.

No inventory? Don’t panic. Just establish contact with a supplier beforehand and be ready to slowly invest more and more into the products as you see orders increase. If the order volume grows out of your control and your CTR is efficient, this is an excellent problem to have as long as the cost to acquire that customer is justified by the sale. If so, it is time to move forward with the bigger investments to make a full-on e-commerce business come to fruition.


Todd StichlerTodd Stichler

@LENDSPARK

Todd Stichler, MBA is the Founder and Managing Director at LendSpark Funding & Advisory, which has provided $200 million in small business financing since 2012. A past owner of several businesses, Todd Stichler understands well the opportunities and challenges entrepreneurs face. He’s stewarded the financing of start-ups, growing and mature businesses, but he’s also helped businesses sell and wind-down. He’s acted as the chief financial officer of several corporations, including one with 350 employees and 7 offices.

Small businesses should know…

They can use multi-step financing to keep their businesses going far past the point of full capital utilization.

While every company believes they will be profitable quickly, it often takes twice or three times longer than estimated to meet revenue goals. It can also require two or three times the money.

Once capital is used up, businesses should know what assets they can leverage for capital. Many start-ups don’t realize that they can finance equipment they own to get working capital. As they sign more contracts, they can use accounts receivable for working capital and start paying off the equipment loans. When money comes in after work is concluded, they start getting even farther ahead. Depending on business need and industry, a workable path exists for a business to use smart financing to grow.


Jeremy SchaedlerJeremy Schaedler

Shortly after graduating from UCLA with a degree in economics, Jeremy founded Schaedler Insurance, a Northern California insurance agency specializing in surety bonds for California contractors. Outside of work, Jeremy enjoys outdoor activities with friends and family. He is happily married and the proud father of two young boys.

The only mistakes that will hurt you are the ones you don’t learn from…

When starting your own business from scratch, there seems to be an unspoken code that your supposed to have all the answers for everything that gets thrown your way and that’s simply not the case. Successful people learn from experience and especially mistakes. In truth, the faster you can make mistakes and learn from them often dictates how efficiently your new business can adapt and grow.


Paul RiddickPaul Riddick

@RealPaulRiddick

Paul Riddick is an English creative, and multi-disciplinary designer. He founded his first company, Studio1337 – a design & online marketing company – in 2005, and has since gained experience in over a dozen industries.

My #1 tip for starting a business would be…

To consider a non-domestic location to register the business. For example, if you consider the Estonian e-Residency program to setup a business, you can simplify the process, accounting, tax returns and cut maintenance costs. Plus, it can help you gain access to the EU market without import/export taxes.

A great example is if I’m getting started with a low budget and want to dropship a product. I can find an international supplier with products warehoused both inside and outside of Europe – allowing me to sell to a wider audience and navigate away from archaic import/export taxes.


Angela Stringfellow

Angela Stringfellow is a writer with 10+ years of experience. She focuses on news, trends, and insights in marketing, business, and technology.

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