How to Get a Small Business Started: 5 Essential First Steps

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Reboot" by Jodie Fox. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Wondering how to get a small business started? How can you turn an idea into a business? What should you know first?

In Reboot, Jodie Fox provides advice on how to get a small business started from scratch. In the book, she offers a vulnerable, honest look into her successes and failures as an entrepreneur, proving that there’s always value in the process of owning a business, even if your business doesn’t work out.

Read on to learn how to get a small business started, according to Fox’s five first steps.

How to Start a Small Business

Reboot explores the rise and fall of Jodie Fox’s global business, Shoes of Prey—an innovative start-up that allowed customers to design their own shoes. In the book, Fox provides advice on dealing with many of the situations you’ll encounter as a business owner. In this article, we’ll use examples from Fox’s time with Shoes of Prey to explain how to get a small business started, whether you already have an idea or not.

#1: Follow Your Passion

One of the first lessons Fox learned as a young professional was the importance of following your passion when starting your own business. If you’re genuinely interested in what you do, you’ll work harder and spend more time finding innovative solutions to problems that arise. Additionally, you’ll receive opportunities and experience success because people want to invest time and money in individuals who are passionate about their work.

#2: Turn Your Idea Into a Business

Fox also followed her passion when she and her co-founders decided they wanted to start a company together. They settled on Shoes of Prey, a website where women could design and order custom shoes. They were inspired by Fox’s interest in fashion and an experience she had designing her own shoes at a market stall in Hong Kong. She designed several pairs of shoes using a sketchbook and swatches of material the stall owner gave her. Then, the owner took the designs she created, sent them to be manufactured, and shipped the finished product to her.

When Fox wore her custom shoes, women began asking where she got them. They were all intrigued by the idea of creating fashionable pairs of shoes that no one else owned. Once Fox and her co-founders realized that interest in custom shoes existed, they wanted to replicate and scale Fox’s Hong Kong shoe design experience for women online.

Finding the Target Community for Your Business

Many entrepreneurs start their businesses to solve a problem they have as a consumer—in Fox’s case, it was the lack of options for designing your own affordable, high-fashion shoes. In The Minimalist Entrepreneur, Sahil Lavingia expands on this idea, outlining how you can start a business by identifying a problem you want to solve and which community you want to solve it for. 

To identify potential target communities, look to your own communities first. Think about your hobbies, interests, and social groups—who do you like to spend time with, and where can you find these people? (Fox’s community was women interested in fashionable shoes.) Once you’ve identified some possible communities, join groups within them to get to know their members and interests better. 

Establish yourself as a member of these communities, and pay close attention during the conversations you have with other members. They’ll eventually tell you the problems they need solutions for. When you find the right community with the right problem, you can start looking for solutions that you can turn into a business. 

#3: Research Potential Competitors

Research businesses making a similar product or service to yours to see if your idea’s been executed and executed well. Fox and her co-founders discovered only one other company of the same type, and the experience that company offered wasn’t very good. This convinced them that they could create something better with little competition. The team also researched Nike’s sneaker customization service and found that it had achieved swift growth. Nike’s success convinced them that there was a market for shoe customization.

(Shortform note: Fox suggests researching your business idea to see if anyone else is already doing it, but she doesn’t give much guidance on how to do this. Start with a simple Google search, using keywords that reflect the problem you’re trying to solve or the function of your business. Additionally, contact a business consultant about your idea—they know the market, and they’ll be able to tell you if your business idea is original and if it has a chance of survival. Finally, check for patents or trademarks that suggest someone may already have a legal claim on your idea. You can use websites like Google Patents or Patentscope.) 

#4: Create and Test a Prototype Product

Next, Fox advises, put together a simplified version of your product and test it with your target customers. Doing so before you invest a lot of money or time in your idea will help you pinpoint areas of your product that still need improvement.

Additionally, feedback can provide evidence that your product idea is worth pursuing, validating the time, money, and effort you put into it so far. Fox argues that this validation is especially important for maintaining a positive mindset while starting a business, when you have to put in a lot of time and hard work for minimal pay.

Jake Knapp’s Design Sprint Process

One effective method for getting feedback on your product in a short time window is Jake Knapp’s Design Sprint process (as outlined in Sprint). Knapp developed the process to improve product development efficiency while working at Google. Later, he facilitated design sprints at more than 100 companies. 

During a design sprint, you and your team develop a prototype product and test it with customers within a five-day workweek. The short time window allows you to gain valuable insight into your product’s strengths and weaknesses without spending too much time or money developing it. 

Design sprints are highly structured and collaborative, with each day broken down into steps that build on each other. You work with a small team of different kinds of experts to plot your customer’s ideal experience with your product. Then, you individually create designs for your product, collaboratively choose a design to move forward with, and create a simplified, functional prototype. Finally, you test your prototype with customers on the last day of the sprint.

#5: Find Your Suppliers

Once you decide to get your business started and pursue your idea, you’ll likely need to find suppliers to help you with manufacturing (if you make a physical product). Fox and her team returned to Hong Kong to look for suppliers. They went to the stall where she had originally designed her shoes, then they met with several other owners of similar stores.

Many potential suppliers didn’t want to meet Shoes of Prey’s manufacturing needs at first because Shoes of Prey required factories to produce one custom shoe at a time instead of their usual large orders. However, large factory orders slowed when the 2008 global financial crisis started, so the suppliers were eventually willing to take a chance on Fox and her co-founders. 

Based on her experience, Fox offers the following options for finding suppliers for your business:

Find suppliers online through business websites such as LinkedIn. This works especially well if your product type is already made by other companies.

(Shortform note: The internet is a good source for suppliers when you make an existing product because if the product already exists, suppliers of it do, too—and you can likely find them online.)

Attend events that showcase products from your industry. Do this if you aren’t yet sure what kind of product or service you require. Seeing the manufacturer’s samples at fairs and other events will show what they can make.

(Shortform note: You can find information about conferences and trade shows in your industry using online databases. These websites have event listings and resources for exhibitors, and you can search for them by industry or location.)

Figure out who supplies brands that make similar products. Often, brands try to keep their suppliers secret, but this is still a worthy avenue to pursue.

(Shortform note: It can be difficult to find a company’s suppliers because they don’t want competitors to learn that information. However, even when a company tries to keep it a secret, you can usually find its list of suppliers on databases like Bloomberg and Mergent Online. In the U.S., you can also search a company’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings to find this information.)

How to Evaluate Potential Suppliers

Before you partner with a supplier, you need to make sure they’re the best option for your business. Fox and her co-founders had to prioritize finding suppliers who were willing to manufacture small orders—your business’s needs will likely be different. No matter what your priorities are, there are a few factors to look for when deciding if a supplier is right for you:

Is the price right? The costs of working with the supplier should match your budget, especially when you’re a start-up with limited funds. 

Will the supplier be reliable? A good supplier will send items you order on time and in good condition. Both large and small suppliers can offer a reliable service, but in different ways—a large supplier has the resources to fix mistakes, but a small supplier will likely have more attention to devote to your business. 

Is the location of the supplier right for your business? Having international suppliers worked for Shoes of Prey but also brought unique challenges. Consider how the location of a supplier will affect different parts of your business: shipping times, environmental impact, the number of employees you need to hire, and so on.

Exercise: Develop a Business Idea Based on Your Passions 

Fox extensively describes her process of taking her business from idea to reality. To get your small business started, follow the same steps for generating and exploring business ideas:

  • Create a list of things you’re passionate about, such as fields, professions, or hobbies. (For example, Fox was passionate about fashion and design.)
  • Brainstorm a list of ways you could turn one or more of those passions into a business idea, whether as a product or a service. (For example, Fox created a service women could use to design their own shoes.)
  • Would you need suppliers to help you manufacture your product or provide your service? If so, what method would you use to find suppliers? (For example, you can find suppliers through online professional networks like LinkedIn, through trade shows, or through other companies who make a similar product.)
How to Get a Small Business Started: 5 Essential First Steps

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Jodie Fox's "Reboot" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Reboot summary:

  • A look at the rise and fall of Jodie Fox’s global business, Shoes of Prey
  • An honest look into the successes and failures entrepreneurs face
  • How to deal with mental health struggles as a business owner

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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