Maybe you’ve been thinking about launching your own company for a long time. Or maybe you’re just staring at your cubicle walls for the zillionth time but only now starting to consider ditching them for good.
Making the leap can be daunting, but you don’t have to dabble on the side for upwards of a year before going all in (though some entrepreneurs do!). In fact, not only can you start building the foundation for your company months before you commit full-time, you can even set an ambitious but achievable timetable for that process.
How does 90 days sound?
First, it’s helpful to reckon with the (relatively) longer-term priorities you’ll want to accomplish by the end of the three-month period you’re setting yourself. And that mainly comes down to getting your finances in order.
Suze Orman might cringe if she knew that when I started my business, I had zero savings and some hefty student loans. In retrospect, this was a poor decision. If I could do it all over again, I’d save up enough financial padding for six to 12 months of living expenses before leaving my job. Using credit cards to get started ended up working out in the long run, but it was a risky and very stressful move.
There are plenty of ways you can start saving and become financially prepared for your first venture. From skipping your daily $5 latte to moving to a cheaper apartment, even surprisingly small tweaks to your lifestyle can turn you into your own angel investor. Cutting back on expenses for just 90 days can give you enough funds to hire a designer to mock up your idea.
And for me (but not just me), design proved the most important investment I could’ve possibly made in order to establish my credibility early on. Even with a savings account (or, in my case, credit card limit) of just $500, you can typically design a sales PDF, build a simple landing page, and print a stack of business cards. Once I’d made those three initial investments, I was able to start pitching and secure some early contracts.
Hyekyung Hwang, CEO of the Seoul coworking space Hive Arena, recommends cutting back 30% of your normal expenses when you’re planning to launch a company. “When I was getting ready to take the plunge, I moved back with my parents for a few months to meet my business goals,” she says. Like Hwang, I also realized I’d have to abandon my New York City apartment to find a less expensive abode. To get back on track financially, I moved to a small town in Spain, knowing rent would be one-fifth the cost of living in Manhattan.
Before quitting his job, Arthur Zudin, a self-employed UX/UI designer, found a number of coffee shops and meeting rooms to conduct business in while saving thousands on office space. “When I first started my company, I kept costs low and didn’t buy fancy equipment to meet my goals.” says Zudin.
While you start working on paring back expenses, there are a few things you’ll want to tackle sooner, ideally within the next 30 days.
First up, prove market validation. If you have a business idea in mind, start looking for ways you can begin testing it in the next few weeks. Have a website idea? Build a prototype and get feedback from potential customers. Want to create physical products? Mock them up with Photoshop and show them to your friends to see what they think.
You can take some low-tech steps in the same direction. Before starting my company, I asked friends and colleagues if they thought there was space in the market for a PR and design agency specializing in hospitality. These conversations helped me flesh out my idea very quickly and refine my startup’s initial offering of services.
“If you know what business you want to start, I would work part-time for the next three months on that business,” says Ajay Yadav, founder of Roomi, an app for finding roommates, apartments, and sublets. “See if there is a problem you can solve, or if you can really get your idea off the ground during that time. If you can, then go for it full force.”
Worried someone will steal your idea if you start floating it to people and testing some products and services? Don’t be. One lesson I’ve learned is that execution is really tough. Many people don’t have time to pursue their own ideas, let alone steal others’. And if you’ve set yourself an overall 90-day timetable to launch, you’ll most likely beat out any would-be competitors to market.
You’ll also want to fail a few times within that first month—not intentionally, of course, but as a result of starting small and iterating quickly from there. If you labor a long time on perfecting a grand scheme, by contrast, it’ll be months before you finally test anything and learn you’ve got something wrong, and by then it may be too late to fix it.
Before starting my company, I made a list of short-term goals and how I’d get to each one within just a few weeks. That list ultimately became a flexible business plan that helped me focus on taking small, achievable steps to reach my bigger goals. Since starting my business, I’ve failed countless times. What’s important to know is that failure is inevitable—the sooner you trip yourself up, the sooner you’ll know what changes to make to move ahead. It’s pushing through the lows that will help you succeed in the long run.
Roman Romanuk, founder of the marketing tool Prezna, recommends selling something small before you build. “Sales is the most important part of starting a business,” says Romanuk. “If you can’t sell, find a partner who can. You can also find companies that already have relationships with your target market and offer them the ability to resell your product or service, and incentivize referrals.”
No matter what kind of company you’re looking to build, it’s important to just get started. Now that you’ve got a few concrete steps to take within the next month and the next quarter, here’s one more you can tackle this week: On your way home from work, pick up a few business books and start reading up on how others have done it. Before long, you’ll have a few ideas to start tossing around within your network, and your 90-day plan will already be under way.