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Laying the Groundwork for Your Ageless Startup Find out what first steps you need to take to maximize potential.

By Rick Terrien

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The following excerpt is from Rick Terrien's Ageless Startup. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound.

Most startups take far longer to get underway than people think. This is especially true for small, self-funded startups. That isn't a bad thing; it's just what it is. What this should be saying to you is to start your own small business as soon as possible because it'll take longer than you think to get it going. Start it while you have a day job. Start it in your spare time. It won't be easy, but the time is there. Find what time you can, and put it to work.

So, start now. Start slow. Take some time to think about it and explore the possibilities. Following are the first two things you'll need to do to launch a slow startup to make it sustainable for the long term.

Step 1: Lay the Groundwork

The first step is to get a realistic understanding of what it takes to wake up an idea, as well as the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship and how to plan for both. Ageless startups can be launched as smart, inexpensive enterprises, operated and grown at your own pace. Sustainability is the key goal.

The first thing is to do some "blue sky" planning in which you focus on the big-picture details and dream big. Here are some steps you can take as you create your "blue sky" plan:

Create a rough outline of your business model. What core product or service will you test first? How will you define that product or service so all parties will clearly understand the value and the proposition? Who are you targeting as your initial customers? What can you do to turn them into repeat customers? What problems are you solving for those customers? How much will you charge? How will you maintain ongoing contact with that customer?

Create a minimum viable product (MVP) you can release to test market your business plan. This is simply a product that's sellable at its base level. Your initial drafts don't need to be perfect. They just need to provide you with a credible pathway into the market.

Build your virtual team made up of contracted professionals and advisors. Surround yourself with professional advisors you can turn to (CPA, attorney, bank, insurance, advisors, etc.). This team consists of contract advisors who aren't employees.

Begin marketing, networking, and learning. Draw out your initial marketing and sales map. Who are your customers?

Determine the value of your product or service. What selling prices are you considering? Learn to make informational cold calls to contact people who could influence your emerging business. Get their input. Learn and respect the educational and motivational value of "no."

Warm up online, and start building your brand identity on major social platforms. You don't necessarily have to have all of your startup ducks in a row to do this. In fact, building early buzz before you roll out the business is one way to get on the radars of potential customers. Start with something as simple as a basic web page or Facebook business page. Post about your MVP there without giving away trade secrets. You can also let a small group of people know you're launching: friends, advisors and thought leaders in the market you are entering. Ask them for feedback. Think of test marketing as commercial speed dating. Many people and ideas will pass by during this phase.

You should be comfortable with the amount and type of risk you're creating with your business launch. You should understand that you can start by offering products or services to your market that may not be in their final forms. You need to be comfortable with change and listening to criticism and suggestions. You need to be ready to adapt as you move forward. These are strategic advantages that are unique to you, the ageless entrepreneur.

Step 2: Solidify Your Business Plan

Next, it's time to begin transitioning your early stage, "blue sky" concepts into a concrete business plan. Before beginning your writing process in earnest, use an appropriate business-plan template and industry-specific information to complete it:

  • Search for free business-plan templates online you can download.

  • Search the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for free tem­plates and resources.

  • Search online for industry groups, such as trade associations, that may have information and resources to help describe your market and populate the elements of your plan.

  • Cold call leaders in your market to ask for information and further introductions that could help inform your business plan.

Business plans come in many forms, but most contain the same basic outline. The SBA's version utilizes a template called the Business Model Canvas that calls for you to provide information about:

  • Key partnerships. Who will you partner with and contract with to launch your enterprise?
  • Key activities. What are your competitive advantages in the market? How are you different?
  • Key resources. List the resources you'll leverage to create value for your customers.
  • Value proposition. What's the unique value your company will bring to customers?
  • Customer relationships. Design your customer's experience with you from start to finish.
  • Channels. What is the mix of ways you'll use to communicate with customers?
  • Cost structure. List the most significant costs you'll incur while launching your enterprise.
  • Revenue. Explain how your enterprise will make money.

Depending on how complicated your business is, you can tweak the format and style of your business plan over time. Remember: it's a living document, so adjust sails as you go.

As an ageless startup, the answers to the questions posed in your business plan can highlight your experience, training and all the industry knowledge you've gathered through the years. You can use your plan to highlight the breadth of the networks you've developed that can be leveraged to bring a unique value proposition to customers. Your know-how is an asset. Put these to work in your business plans. Your age is your advantage.

I am a lifelong entrepreneur with a focus on sustainability. My own business launches that have exceeded 40 years, 20 years, 10 years and five years. I was awarded U.S. Small Business New Product of the Year, as well as Fast Company's Fast 50 (now The World's 50 Most Innovative Companies).

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