Taking those first steps into the world of commerce can be the most exciting time of your life. However, the harsh reality that up to 90% of new businesses fail to succeed should serve as a wake-up call. If you’re ever going to force your way into the magical 10%, it’s imperative that you maintain focus at all times.

The whole realm of entrepreneurialism feels a little alien right now. But these 12 questions will help direct you through those opening 12 months in style. Keep them at the forefront of your thinking at all times, and you won’t go far wrong.

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#1. Online, Offline, Or Both?

As a startup, your ideas are only the foundation of the business plan. It’s the way you execute them that truly matters, which is why the choice between online and offline is so important. In today’s climate, it’s easy to assume that online ventures are the most likely to thrive. However, there are plenty of pop up shops and small localized companies that have achieved greatness too.

There are many contributing factors to consider, including your budget and your skill set. However, if you do go for an offline venture, allowing online bookings and orders could be a great addition. In truth, you probably had the answer to this question from the second you first thought about the idea. Nevertheless, studying the options is crucial. After all, this decision could be the difference between success and failure.

#2. Who Is My Target Customer?

One of the first things you’ll learn in business is that the customers will decide whether the venture sinks or swims. While you’ll encounter people from many demographics, knowing your primary audience is key.

Not only will this help you in your bid to find your place in the market. More importantly, a stronger understanding of who you’re trying to attract will allow you to tailor products and services to them. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if other audiences hate your ideas. As long as your ventures resonate with the people who are most likely to complete a purchase, you’re doing just fine.

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#3. What Is My USP?

Knowing your audience is one thing, but knowing how you’ll win them over is another altogether. Essentially, if your products aren’t cheaper or better than what’s already on the market, you aren’t going to make money. Most startups will focus on the latter, and creating a sense of excitement is the only way to do it.

It could, for example, be something as simple as being an eco-friendly company. Appeal to your audience’s desire to protect the planet by making smarter choices on packaging and daily operations. Of course, there are various other ways to create your USP. Essentially, though, creating this personality is what will give your business an identity. Do not forget it.

#4. Where Will Funding Come From?

Funding is arguably the biggest obstacle you’ll face and is one of the main reasons so many fail. Most businesses will need time to establish themselves as profitable operations. So if that money runs out before that time arrives, the company will inevitably crash and burn.

Adding in some personal savings will help get things up and running. However, most startups will need help from business loans or outside investors. Another option in the modern world is to look at crowdfunding. Whatever you do, make sure you have the cashflow to see you through those early barriers. Otherwise, the dream could be over before it truly ever starts.

#5. Am I Being Cost-Effective?

Even when you do gain access to that money, it’s imperative that you use it in a responsible manner. Maintaining control over expenses will buy you more time and maximize profit margins. Therefore, analyzing all avenues before making big decisions should be seen as mandatory.

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One of the best ways to save money is to cut staffing costs. You often won’t need full-time staff to complete many of those early jobs. Outsourcing to freelancers can reduce those direct costs greatly. Meanwhile, the lack of needing commercial space to work from can allow you to complete the planning and production phases from home. Paying out for a commercial space before you need it would be a massive error of judgment.

#6. Do I Have Protection For All Eventualities?

As a business owner, protecting your business at all times is imperative. In addition to CCTV and digital security, you also need to ensure that intellectual property is safe. Registering trademarks and copyright now could be the key to preventing others from stealing your ideas.

You’ll also be working with other companies, from suppliers and delivery firms to providers of software. As such, you need to know that your business is safe even if there’s goes wrong. Escrow data can offer that security blanket in case something goes wrong at the other end. In truth, avoiding those potential disruptions could make all the difference. After all, customers won’t be happy if your operation suddenly stops – even if it isn’t technically your fault.

#7. Am I Doing Enough For My Staff?

Maximizing the output of your assets is hugely important for all businesses, not least when they’re starting out. Of everything at your disposal, your employees are the most significant. Subsequently, putting them first is essential.

Hiring the right people is the obvious starting point. But it’s equally vital that you take the necessary steps to help them develop through training and increased responsibility. Finally, maintain a good employer-employee relationship at all times. In return, they will naturally work harder to push you through that difficult first year.

#8. Do I Have The Customer’s Trust?  

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Appealing to the customers with inventive marketing is great. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay the bills. Converting the sale is the only thing that truly matters, and this won’t happen until you gain the trust of your clients. This is why you cannot afford to ignore the importance of customer care for a second.

Most clients will be willing to forgive mistakes as long as you make genuine efforts to rectify them. Creating a fair and solid returns policy will immediately put the fears of new customers to bed. Couple this with great communication through social media, telephone, and human interaction. With those systems in place, they’ll be no reason to doubt your integrity.

#9. How Can I Spread The Word? 

Building an audience is challenging, but it can be achieved. Thanks to search engine optimization and social media marketing, you can now do this in the digital arena at a fraction of traditional costs. There are thousands of helpful posts about this subject online, so even a beginner can achieve great things.

Nothing beats the power of recommendation, though. Encourage existing customers to spread the word with referral schemes, competitions, and rewards. You’ll be amazed at how high the conversion rates can be

#10. Could The Brand Be Stronger?

Creating your brand identification is no easy task. So when you do, it’s imperative that it becomes instantly recognizable. Quite frankly, this goes beyond marketing. Whether it’s investing in a staff uniform, or a unique way of treating customers doesn’t matter. The key is that it all feeds into the ethos of your company as well as customer perceptions.

This is one area where you can learn valuable things from looking at giants like Apple and Starbucks. When you think of those companies, you don’t just think about the logos and the products themselves. You know exactly what to expect from the staff, the layout, and the aftercare. Those comforting elements make a brand far stronger and will go a long way to helping you secure long-term loyalty.

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#11. What Can I Do To Increase My Enjoyment?  

Spoiler alert: there will be tough times ahead. Even if your first year in business exceeds even your wildest fantasies, you cannot expect it to go smoothly from start to finish. At least not from a financial point. Those challenging moments will be far less stressful when you actively enjoy the job. Besides, loving your work will help your passion shine through, which will influence customers.

Organizing a special promotion day can be a great way to extend that joy to the customers while it’s a great chance to grow your audience. However, you can generate an even greater impact by promoting positivity throughout the team. Arrange team building exercises; have exercise breaks, and raise money for charity as a group. It’ll put a smile on your face, and that will make the working week feel a lot brighter.

#12. Where Next?

Reaching the one year anniversary is a milestone for any business. Then again, this isn’t the end of your journey; it should only be the start. While you may not be too focused on this stuff just yet, it’s important to have one eye cast towards future growth. Whether it’s franchising the business, adding new lines, or opening a sister company is up to you. Either way, establishing long-term aspirations is a healthy part of the plan.

You may find that those ideas never materialize. Even so, knowing that you are ready to embrace them should those opportunities arise will give you the best shot at sustained success. What more incentive could you need?

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