Thorough planning is an essential step of starting a new business, especially in the pandemic era. With so much uncertainty, though, it can be difficult for new entrepreneurs to know where to begin.

To help those who are just starting out, CO—'s inaugural Start. Run. Grow. event, hosted by Jeanette Mulvey, CO— editor-in-chief, and Barbara Thau, CO— senior features editor, offers insights from emerging entrepreneurs about their experience planning and launching their businesses, as well as expert advice on how to develop a business plan and grow a startup.

Start: Be intentional about your market research and brand positioning

While many entrepreneurs find it helpful to write a formal business plan, there are some preliminary "basics" you'll want to establish first, like your target market, branding, price point and long-term business goals. For new business owners Ray’Chel Wilson and Taylor Tankson, this has meant being intentional at every step of the planning process.

"Research is important," said Wilson, a certified financial education instructor and founder of Raise the Bar Investments. "Intentionality [in your research] is finding out: Who is your target market? What do they enjoy doing in terms of lifestyle? What locations do they frequent? What are their sources of income? All of that's really going to help you determine what your market penetration strategy is, and that's useful whether you have a product-based business or a service-based business."

Tankson took this approach when she and her Tribe & Oak co-founder decided to position themselves as a luxury home essentials brand. Both of them had prior experience in the luxury retail market, and because they source higher-end, specialty ingredients for their products, the "luxury" branding and price point made sense.

"Our materials cost a lot of money, plus … we understood the aesthetic [and] the target market," said Tankson. "It was kind of a no-brainer for us to get into their price point."

[Read more: 3 Easy Steps to Research Your Startup Business Idea]

Businesses that plan grow 30% faster than those that don’t, and 71% of fast-growing companies have plans.

Heesun Lho, director of programs, Tory Burch Foundation

Run: Develop an objective, research-based business plan

The process of drafting a business plan can seem daunting, said Heesun Lho, director of programs at the Tory Burch Foundation. That's why the Tory Burch Foundation created its Business Plan Builder tool to provide instructive, customizable templates to help entrepreneurs "jumpstart the process," no matter where they are in their business journey.

"Businesses that plan grow 30% faster than those that don’t, and 71% of fast-growing companies have plans," said Lho. "We're drawing a map of the journey."

A business plan is not set in stone, though: "It's a living document, not a static exercise," Lho explained.

There are three things every entrepreneur should do as they craft each iteration of their business plan:

  • Be objective and specific when laying out your market positioning and goals, and think of it from your customer's perspective.
  • Ground your plan in research and include evidence to support your plan, including information about competitors, advantages and risks.
  • Communicate your "why," specifically, why your company exists and why you are the person or team to do it.

Whether you're creating your plan for a lender, an investor, a retailer or a potential partner, Lho recommended staying away from absolutes — phrases like "zero competition," "no one like us" or "best in the world."

"[Phrases like this] are rarely true," she said. But even if they are, "there's a more powerful way to illustrate this: through data," she said. "If you are the best, then show your numbers. If you have zero competition, then prove that to me [in your plan]."

Grow: Align yourself with the right people

In the "Grow" portion of the event, Barbara Thau, CO— senior features editor, interviewed Haniff Brown, the founder and CEO of AI-powered fashion tech company FIT:MATCH. Brown launched in 2018, but his business was tailor-made for the pandemic era: With limited in-store shopping options, customers and retailers alike were able to help minimize e-commerce returns by using FIT:MATCH's technology to ensure the perfect clothing fit, every time.

As Brown reflected on his journey so far (including a lucrative partnership with Rihanna's Savage X Fenty brand), he dispelled the myth that hard work alone brings success. Instead, he said, it's all about the relationships you form.

"If you find the right relationships — if you [research] your end market and who's at the other side of the table – chances are the person you are aligned with to get to that end goal … [will] help you way more than all the hard work you could have done," Brown said. "As I look at our success to date, it has all come down to … the people we have aligned with and the team we've built."

[Read more: How FIT:MATCH Built a Multimillion-Dollar Business in Four Years by Nixing the Need to Try on Clothes]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published February 25, 2022