How to start a simple business – a step-by-step checklist

Spoiler alert: business doesn’t have to be complicated.

All you really need to do is be valuable and give people a way to pay you for it.

And yet, it’s so easy to fall into the pit of all the things you think you should be doing. Social media. Ad campaigns. PR. Hiring a team. Expanding to new regions and markets. Scaling your customer base. Tripling your revenue year-on-year.

These things don’t need to be essential. What is essential is knowing why you’re running your own business.

What does success actually look like – is it revenue, or is it your freedom, happiness, time for other people and things, and peace of mind? What do you need to live well, and what’s your priority after you’ve reached that point?

To help you to keep things simple and focus on what’s important to you, here’s my step-by-step checklist for starting a simple business, the easy way.

It’s just one way of doing things, and some of the steps might seem to be in an unconventional order (they are). They’re structured like this to help you (and me) to avoid procrastination, endless planning, and constant optimisation instead of actually doing.

You won’t find the technicalities (including registering your business) until Step 11, which gives you time to work out what you’re doing first. If you end up in a position where you can make money sooner, you can do this earlier.

One easy way to work through these steps is to do one step a day over 2-3 weeks, but you might find you need more or less time. Go with the flow, but avoid procrastination and complication.

How to start a simple business

1. Choose one way you can give value. You don’t need to know your exact product or service right now. We’ll figure that out later. But to start with, get clear on the general idea. Make it something you know how to do well or that others ask you for help with. Maybe it’s writing, yoga, or graphic design. Only you can decide what you really want, but that said, one of the best reasons to start a business is because others are already asking to be your customers. 

2. Buy a domain name and website hosting. Why do this now, not later? To get something out in the world as early as possible rather than messing about with plans. With a website, you have the starting point for an online presence. You have a place to share what you do. It’s fine to keep it as if you don’t have an idea for a brand name. Here are some recommended tools for setting up a simple website.

3. Create your simple website. Choose a simple website theme and resist the urge to spend all day customizing it. Create your key pages: a homepage sharing who you are and what you’re good at, an about page talking more about you, a contact page for people to get in touch. You can optimise and update these later when you have a clearer idea of things.

4. List your income ideas. What’s possible for your business, based on the one way you can give  value from Step 1? Don’t overthink things or be too logical right now. Just get your ideas and options down on paper. You can write them down on a single Post-it note if you want to. Keep it simple.

5. Choose your first product or service. Narrow down your income ideas from the previous step and choose just one to focus on. To help you pick one, answer these questions:

  • How easy will it be to get this out in the world and into the hands of customers?
  • How quickly can you start making money from this?
  • What’s smart for you to do (is easy, uses your skills/experience, and is in demand from customers)?
  • What makes you happy (would you enjoy offering this and feel proud of it)?
  • What’s useful (will your customers actually want this offering and find it valuable)?

6. Create your first business offering. Make the simplest version of your product or service. Ideally it costs you very little or nothing to create, in the shortest possible amount of time (a day or two if possible). Think about the type of person who will benefit from it. If you know someone like this, reach out and involve them in the process.

7. Send your product or service to 5+ people. You can’t tell if a business will work out until your product or service comes into contact with customers. At this stage, friends and people you know who could be your target audience are fine. Try to find people willing to give you feedback but honest enough to not sugar-coat it.

8. Create your first blog post. While you’re waiting for feedback, this is a good time to create some more content for your website and get used to talking to your community. 

Here are some of the best prompts for generating content ideas:

  • What problems are people in your community facing?
  • What questions do they want an answer to?
  • What decisions are they trying to make?
  • What goals are they hoping to reach?
  • Who are they hoping to become?
  • What’s your unique perspective?
  • What would you tell your audience if they were sitting right here in front of you?
  • How can you make people’s lives better with what you know and what you’re offering?
  • How can you connect with people beyond your product?
  • How can you step up and be seen as a real, flawed, and open human being who doesn’t always have it all figured out?

9. Add your first testimonials to your website. Have some of the people you’ve sent your offering to given you positive feedback? Do you have any other testimonials you can use? Ask them if you can put it on your website. This will be really powerful for bringing in real customers.

10. Refine your offering based on feedback. Use the feedback you’re receiving to improve your offering, even if it means trying a new approach… or starting from scratch and choosing a new idea if you’re getting nowhere. Don’t fall into the sunk-cost fallacy and force something to work when it clearly doesn’t want to. Ideally you haven’t invested too much time or money yet, so you can afford to try out different things.

11. Tick the boxes for business registration, banking, and tax. 

  • The simplest way to register a business is usually as a sole trader, but different countries have different options. Some countries require you to show a business plan, others just ask you for the industry you’ll be in.
  • Register for taxes and VAT (or other taxes required in your country). I’d highly recommend hiring an accountant to help you with this.
  • Choose accounting software (here are some recommendations). Do a free trial and check if you can connect your bank account and automatically reconcile transactions in and out.

12. Share with your network and get your first paying customer. Now that your business is registered, it’s time to get the word out. Get used to talking about your business; you might be surprised who’s interested. Could it be valuable to someone you know, or do they know someone else who will love it?

13. Reach more people. Here are some starting points…

  • Start creating more of an online presence around your offering and making it discoverable for relevant keywords your ideal customer would search for. This can just be on your website if you don’t want to use social media.
  • Share content that answers the questions your community wants answers to. Do this in any way you choose. Emails, blog posts, videos, podcasts. Be unnecessarily generous with the advice and value you share.
  • Encourage referrals following the recipe in Chapter 18: a great product + stories + generosity. Your fans will bring in the most customers in the cheapest, easiest way.

14. Focus on getting your first glowing feedback from a customer who loves your work. This might require adjusting what you’re offering, but getting here puts you in the best possible position. The more valuable your product and the happier your customers, the less marketing you need to do. Remember to share your testimonials on your website.

15. Create your one-sentence brand promise. This is one of the few marketing school-type activities I think can be worth it. All you have to do is fill in the gaps of this sentence: 

{Target audience} trust {your business} as the {unique product or service category} that {primary benefit of your offering} because it’s the best way to {solve X problem or achieve Y goal}.

Keep it simple and go with your gut. For my book I might be bold enough to write…

Simple-living folks trust Simple Business as the business book that shows them a different way of doing business because it’s the best way to learn how to design a business for ease, freedom, and living simply.

This is a simple way of reminding myself of the promise I hope to deliver with this book, as well as the people I hope to serve. I hope your sentence gives you a North Star to focus on too.

16. Improve your offer. Maybe you invest a little in design or other areas that make things better for your customers. But only do it once you’ve started making money. If you’re offering something incredibly valuable, you can get away with it being ugly for a while.

17. Be ruthlessly consistent. This is one of the hardest parts, but it’s usually the most important. It can take months or even years until things really take off, but keep going. Keep seeking feedback and improving what you’re offering. Keep listening to customers. Keep sharing and iterating. Keep being generous. Keep going.

18. Simplify. As your business becomes more profitable, know what enough means to you. Know what success looks like to you. Continue to clarify what your ideal way of working looks like, what your non-negotiables are, and what your boundaries need to be. Stay laser-focused on what matters most to you, the people you love, and your business’s true fans. Be wary of scaling. Be protective of your time and energy. Let your work serve and support your life, not the other way around.

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