woman sitting on floor in home with laptop and coffee
Taking these first few steps are enough to transform your business idea from a dream into a reality. — Getty Images/damircudic

So you have an idea for a business. It's something unique that you feel truly fills a gap in the market or solves a common problem. But without a strategy to set that idea in motion, your business is unlikely to get off the ground.

If you're ready to take your business from concept to reality, here are four basic steps you'll want to take to set yourself up for success.

Test your business idea to make sure it works

Testing your business idea is the foundation for building your company. To successfully test your idea, you’ll need to identify your target audience, any potential problems or obstacles, and your financial needs. Writing a basic business plan is the best way to thoroughly outline all aspects of your company. Here are some of the questions your business plan should answer:

  • What problem will your product or service solve?
  • Who do you want to target with your product or service?
  • Is your product or service a viable financial idea?

Research your competitors

Researching your competitors is key for putting together your basic business plan. You don’t want to lose on any potential profits to a competitor you never even knew existed. Competitive research involves identifying your competitors, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses — both as a company and of their products and services, and how your products and services measure up. It also can reveal any industry trends that you may have missed.

There are a few key things you'll want to focus on when conducting competitor research. First, you should identify who your main competitors are in your industry. Analyze each one's online presence, including their social media channels and any online reviews you can find about their company. Once you've gathered all this information, be sure to track your findings and identify potential areas where your competitors may be lacking. This can be a good place to start when determining what makes your business unique, as you can fill in their gaps.

Every business owner should write a business plan, whether it's a simple, single-page document or a more in-depth report for potential funding sources.

Write a business plan

Every business owner should write a business plan, whether it's a simple, single-page document or a more in-depth report for potential funding sources. First and foremost, you'll want to know who you’re writing the business plan for and what stage of development your business is in. This will help determine how you frame your business plan. For example, an investor who expects a return will be looking for different information than a bank that's evaluating you for a line of credit.

Some basic elements that most business plans include are an executive summary, mission statement, market analysis, company description, organization and management, marketing and sales, service or product line, funding request and financial information.

Above all else, your business plan needs to convey why you’re passionate about your company and why you think it will succeed.

Create a marketing and business development strategy

Once you’ve built up your business, you need to spread the word about it. This can be difficult to do on a limited budget, but not impossible. Some great low-cost marketing ideas include face-to-face personal networking, sending targeted local media pitches, developing a content marketing strategy (including social media), and running product or service giveaways for industry influencers.

Finally, you'll want to craft a strong business development strategy to ensure you can keep finding new customers and growing your company after you launch.

For more detailed steps to launching your business, including specific information on registering and trademarking your company, check out CO—'s step-by-step startup guide.

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.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

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