Top Tips for Starting a Small Business

Wonder what it really takes to start a small business? Here, successful entrepreneurs share what they’ve learned.
by Julie Anne Russell |October 20, 2020

Perfectly crafted business plans and large initial investments might sound like non-negotiables for starting a small business, but the truth is many entrepreneurial stories have simpler beginnings: an idea and the drive to bring it to life. These strategies can help you get there. 

Buck traditional wisdom

When Travis Weaver founded Manready Mercantile in 2012, it was without major backing; he did it based on the belief that some products marketed toward women, like candles, could take off with men as well. 

Investing just $100 of his own money, Weaver made a batch of soy candles in whiskey glasses in his kitchen and then sold them door-to-door at local businesses, markets and even from the back of his truck. 

Since then, Weaver's business has expanded to include apparel, home goods, accessories and apothecary products sold out of his shop in Houston, TX., as well as online. "You've just gotta just start somewhere, with something," he says.

Think small at first 

Organizing your ideas and mapping out a path forward is useful, but as Steph Lawrence and her business partner Aashi Vel discovered, you may want to start with a  business plan on the simpler side. A one-page mission summary is what Lawrence and Vel used to set their venture, Traveling Spoon, in motion.  The pared-down plan was critical for getting the culinary tourism platform off the ground. “A grand notion can actually get in your way,” explains Lawrence. And your initial plan can be adapted and expanded as knowledge of your markets grows and your aim evolves. Traveling Spoon started with a minimum viable product, or MVP (the term used to describe a smaller feature set that can be tested for future product development), and today, Traveling Spoon connects travelers with authentic culinary adventures in more than 70 destinations around the globe. 

Be open to funding options 

Capital is an essential factor, of course, and more traditional routes include securing a bank loan or a line of credit. But you can also expand your possibilities by researching eligibility requirements for federal, state or private startup grants that may be available or by exploring crowdfunding (supporters donate for something in return). Another option, equity funding models, entails individuals or an organization providing capital for an ownership share in your business.

Stay flexible with your concept 

No matter how well you prepare, the business you end up building may be very different from the one you originally imagined. Rather than rigidly adhering to a plan, it’s a good idea to test, learn and adjust your business model based on your findings.

Conducting research and learning at the outset can help you create a stronger foundation for the launch. “The question we wanted to answer was, ‘Are we two crazy people, or do other people like this idea as well?’ So we found student travelers, we found a host, and within an hour we had a sold-out dinner with a waiting list,” Lawrence says. “We realized there’s so much we can test before we even build a line of code.”

Build some buzz 

Traveling Spoon offered meals in just three countries in the first year, but the interest from hosts was strong around the world so they expanded on that plan. “We grew organically because we had so many hosts coming to us,” Lawrence says. “We made the strategic decision to find a way to include [some of those] hosts instead of only looking for hosts in particular countries,” she says.

It's not enough just to have an idea come to life, you also need to spread the word about it, says Weaver. , and “knowing the audience works.” The Manready Mercantile image of high-end, premium products largely made in the U.S. is what resonates with his customers. “I have a story,” he says, and a big part of that is being a maker and connecting with other makers to sell their products along with his own.

No matter the idea, staying true to it is often what breeds success. “Entrepreneurship at its best is when you’re creating something you love,” says Lawrence. “That’s what gets you through the lows. If you ask me ‘Do I believe in what I’m doing?’ unequivocally the answer is always yes.” 

-- With additional reporting from Life and Money by Citi editors

Julie Anne Russell

is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist. She writes on personal finance, small business, travel and more.

The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article.