Business Posts

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business

Running a business is tough. Whether you're a brand-new startup or an operating company, it’s important make sure you've considered your own strengths, weaknesses, and reasons for wanting to be an entrepreneur.

In the NaperLaunch Academy, participants use an entrepreneur profile questionnaire to reflect on whether entrepreneurship is a good fit with their interests, skills, and life circumstances. For those who have already started a business, this profile can provide deeper insight into how they and their organization affect each other.

If you’re considering starting your own business, ask yourself these seven questions to assess whether you're ready to take the leap.

  1. Why do you want to start a business?

    What brought you to this point? Is your reason personal, opportunity based, or a mixture of both? For example, do you want more flexibility with your time and energy? Do you want to be your own boss?

  2. What do you know how to do?

    Do you have any specific skills or experience that can help you in this business? Are you a quick learner? Can you gain the skills you need in a timely manner? Do you have expertise in finance, operations, sales, or marketing? How well do you know the market you are entering? Do you know what it takes to make your product or service successful? Are you a good problem solver?

  3. What do you love to do?

    If you have free time, how do you spend it? Do your hobbies fall in line with the business you’re thinking of starting? Does your personality match up with the type of business you’re thinking of? Will you still like what you do when it becomes your source of income?

  4. What personal and professional relationships do you have that can support your business?

    Would you want to partner with someone who has similar or complementary skills? Do you know people with skills, tools, capital, property, or connections that could help you? If you seek help from someone you know, can you accurately gauge their skills or resources?

  5. What kind of support network can you rely upon?

    Building a business can be very stressful; on whom can you rely for emotional support? If your business doesn't take off financially right away, how can you make sure basic needs are met for yourself and your family?

  6. What are your resources?

    Do you have enough cash on hand to get started? Is there anything you can use as collateral if you need a loan? Do you have investors lined up to fund your business, or do you know any in case you need investment in the future?

  7. How do you handle setbacks?

    Do you set realistic expectations? How do you manage your blind spots? How have you learned from past mistakes? In what ways have you shown resilience when facing challenges?

If your answers support your desire to start a business, NaperLaunch can help! Register for an upcoming NaperLaunch Academy workshop or schedule a one-on-one mentoring session with a business librarians, NaperLaunch coach, or SCORE mentor.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 - 12:45

Startup Basics: Choosing a Business Name

Choosing a name for your new business is an important and often challenging part of the startup process. Some founders arrive at a name in the early stages, while others wait until their business plan has solidified. This blog post will outline some of the key considerations for deciding on a name, as well as how to protect the name you choose.

The best place to start when choosing a business name is with your mission statement, business plan, and unique value proposition. What is the essence of your business? What did you learn about your target audience in your market research and potential customer interviews? As you brainstorm, a keyword discovery tool like Twinword may help inspire ideas.

While it may be tempting to choose a name that includes or refers to your primary product or service, don’t limit yourself; your business’ name should still fit if you diversify your product mix or expand your focus to include additional target customer groups.

Once you’ve come up with a few contenders, review and analyze your options. Some things to consider include the following:

  • Does the name convey what your business does?
  • Is the name easy to remember?
  • Is the name easy to pronounce? This is especially important with the increasing popularity of voice assistants like Siri and Alexa.
  • Is the name easy to spell? Will potential customers be able to find you online or refer you to others?
  • Is the name consistent with your business tone and branding?
  • How will the name look in a variety of common mediums, such as a logo and email signature?

Before you settle on a name, make sure that it’s available. If it’s already in use or trademarked, it’s probably not a viable option. Check for trademarks via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS); states such as Illinois also have a searchable trademark database. It’s also important to check the name’s availability as a domain and a social media handle in order to avoid confusion for potential customers; sites like GoDaddy and Namechk can help you find available options.

Once you’ve found the perfect name for your business, it’s important to protect it. There are several different ways to register your business name, some of which may be legally required depending on your business structure and location.

  • Entity name. In Illinois, corporations and LLCs are required to be registered with the Secretary of State and/or licensed by the Illinois Department of Revenue.
  • Trademark. Trademarks prevent others in the same (or similar) industry in the U.S. from using your trademarked names. Register your federal trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Doing Business As (DBA) name. In Illinois, when the operating business name is different from the owner’s or partners’ full legal name(s), the Illinois Assumed Name Act requires sole proprietorships and general partnerships to register the business name with the county clerk's office of the county where they reside.
  • Domain name. If you want your business to have an online presence, you’ll need to register a domain name (also known as a URL or website address) with a domain name registrar (such as GoDaddy). This protects your brand presence online. Your domain name does not have to be the same as your legal business name.

For more information about bookkeeping and accounting, as well as other aspects of business operations for new startups, visit our BizVids Tutorials or register for a NaperLaunch Academy workshop. NaperLaunch coaches and SCORE mentors are also available to provide one-on-one virtual assistance.

Monday, May 17, 2021 - 15:45

5 Best Practices for Prospective Customer Interviews

Previously on the blog, we’ve described the Lean Startup Process that is the foundation of the NaperLaunch Academy curriculum. A key component of this process is the Build-Measure-Feedback loop; as described by Eric Ries, it involves identifying a customer need and developing a solution, which becomes your product or service.

In order to identify the needs of your potential customers, you need to listen to them. Customer interviewing allows you to explore and learn what you don't know. Through the interview process, your goal is to Identify what you need to learn and create metrics against which to measure your results.

Why interviews and not focus groups or surveys? While customer interviews are about exploring what you don’t know you don’t know, surveys assume you know the right questions to ask—and even worse that you know the “right” answers to those questions. In addition, you can’t see the customer during the survey, whereas in a face-to-face interview you can gain additional insight from their body language and tone of voice. Focus groups usually devolve into “group think,” whereas one-on-one interviews will enable you to hear from a variety of individuals.

Below are 5 best practices for approaching customer interviews:

  1. Focus on learning. Build a framework around learning about the problems experienced by your target customer. This is not the time for pitching, explaining, or defending your idea.
  2. Don’t ask customers what they want. Measure what they do. Try to learn how people solve the problem currently. There may be good solutions already available. To create a better solution, it is necessary to understand current solutions. This also provides guidance on what people are willing to buy.
  3. Stick to a script. Ask the same questions to everyone so you can record the answer differences. Begin by asking broad questions, then become more specific as you proceed.
  4. Cast a wide net initially. When seeking interview prospects, start with people that you know to test your questions and approach. Then interview your target customers to learn how that audience thinks. You’ll also get a sense of how widespread the problem is.
  5. Document and review results. Immediately after the interview, transcribe responses while they are still fresh in your mind. As you interview more people, review the accumulated totals for each question to understand what you learned; you may need to revise some questions and conduct further interviews based on what you learned.

Customer interviewing is important throughout the Build-Measure-Feedback loop. Once you’ve analyzed the findings of your initial interviews and developed some draft solutions, circle back for a second conversation with your interview subjects to confirm that your idea solves their problem. Engaging in this cyclical process will inform the development of a low-cost proof of concept that you’ll use to establish people’s value proposition. (Our blog post on the minimum viable product describes this process in detail.)

Here are some titles available at Naperville Public Library that outline the lean startup and scale up process, including conducting prospective customer interviews. The concepts mentioned in this post are based on these books.

book cover

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

book cover

The Startup Checklist: 25 Steps to a Scalable, High-Growth Business by David S. Rose

book cover

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works by Ash Maurya

book cover

Scaling Lean: Mastering the Key Metrics for Startup Growth by Ash Maurya

For more on this and other topics, consider registering for the NaperLaunch Academy Workshop series. In addition, business librarians, NaperLaunch coaches, and SCORE mentors are available for one-to-one mentoring sessions.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021 - 10:15