Excellent question (and excellent answers here too). I'm 18 months into my start-up. That's 18 months of learning what is essential to survival and what is a waste of energy and space.
Here is what is helping me most:
1. Communication essentials: Business cards (moo.com), laptop, phone, and Internet access. No explanation necessary.
2. Memberships in free or low-cost online media and networks (like this one). Online (in order): 1) Gmail, 2) LinkedIn (especially groups), 3) Meetup, 4) Twitter, 5) WordPress, 6) Constant Contact, 7) Facebook. Use these to find in-person opportunities to network and prospect. These tools are your lifeline to building an online presence, prospecting, and researching. Also vital: Testing your product or service idea.
3. Bookkeeper or good bookkeeping software. I cannot emphasize this enough. CASH IS YOUR BUSINESS. If you don't have a budget and cash flow projection, you don't have a business. Period. You MUST make this the heart of every activity and every day. If you suck at it, find someone who is good at it and spend the money to get them to help you.
BONUS: Listen to podcasts like "Entrepreneur on Fire" and subscribe to free resources like Jeffery Gitomer's "Sales Caffeine."
As a bonus, here is what took up space in my toolkit (now jettisoned):
1. Big bucks on a graphic design firm to do my marketing media. This is not for starting up; it's for later. Use free or low-cost design services or templates. You want to test your actual business idea first before investing thousands of dollars in a design company.
2. Apps, apps, and more apps. I went app crazy in the beginning, buying buckets full of "productivity" software. It ended up sucking up too much time and I settled on Evernote and Google Spreadsheets because they're familiar and they work for me. Big apps are for later.
3. Coffee meetings. OMG. I wasted hours and hours and hours having coffee with my "network," which amounted to a lot of people who could pat me on the back but who could neither buy from me nor refer any business. Affirmation is great, but too much of it will run your right out of business. Find a network of entrepreneurs in your community and spend more and more time with people who can buy from you. It's the only way to grow.
I'm happy to visit with you from the trenches. Please give me a call if you like.
Oh yes, an entrepreneurs survival kit during the first year... (1) a reliable internet connection and of course the iPhone at a minimum
(2) a real network of support people, personally and professionally. Not "yes" people only, but friends and connections that help you build your resilience to stay in the game. They have a healthy combination of encouraging you and reminding you of your vision and strengths, while also able to give you tough love and pull you into line as you develop your vision and offerings
(3) cash cushion for 3-6 months so you're not stressing on a survival level
(4) Remember WHY you're doing this, your passion and enthusiasm is important to launch into momentum
(5) One key person you trust to really assist you to reconnect to your vision and take you on the mountain top for a review when you're caught in the trenches :-)
Hi I'm Suzette and I'm a triglomerate entrepreneur. In 2013, I started three businesses at the same time. This is not to in any way give kudos to overachiever-aholics...lol. The only reason that it worked was because finding the money in my hobbies was an authentic leap into the world of entrepreneurship.
What allowed me to do such a thing without becoming swallowed up in the process? The guidance of a business coach. Had I not had someone experienced to help me to dig inside and find the money waiting to be discovered, I would not have survived. That is what I would put in my survival kit.
You see, I had tried starting a coaching business back in 2006 but it fell flat because all I had was a dream. I got certified, hung my shingle but nobody came. Feeling like a failure, I went back into traditional employment. It was 6 years later that I found myself face-to-face with what I had left in defeat. But this time, I hired a business coach to help me. It was one of the BEST decisions I ever made. I am doing what is my definition of success. I am living my life on my terms, doing fulfilling work, waking up every morning excited about my day and generating the revenues needed to support all the above.
I'm going to avoid the "cell phone, laptop, internet connection" and assume they are givens so I can focus on the meaty stuff.
I'm in my second startup right now and using what I learned to do this right this time.
1. Good partner(s). Going it alone, or with someone that does not have your interests in mind, is hard and harder, respectively. Partners give you a sense of shared ambition and they are the only others who have the same level of motivation and dedication as you do. I started my first business with a less-than-ideal partner and it dragged me down the whole way, cost me a tonne of money, and prevented us from making the company as successful as it could be.
2. Experienced mentors or advisors. I triangulate when I need advice or have to make a big decision. I speak to at least three people that I trust who have done what I need to do, and pick out the commonalities in each response. This works especially well if they all have diverse experiences and personalities and you recognize their angle.
3. Financial awareness. Wow, this is a big one. While you don't need to be an expert in tax accounting, you sure as heck should know about what is going on in your business. What are your obligations and what do you need to plan for? What does it mean when you receive payment, or sign a contract? When you look at your books, can you explain where all your money is going and why? Can you speak to your accountant and understand why he/she is structuring your books in a certain way? NOTHING will make you fail faster than having your head in the sand when it comes to projections and budgeting, and cash flow management for that matter. Hire good people to manage the details but make sure you can understand them.
4. Sales partners. By this I mean relationships with other organisations in your industry who can help you sell your offering. I structured more than 70% of my sales through partners, who would benefit from any sales they drove, and who were much, much bigger than myself with broader reach. It's like having a mature sales organisation that you don't need to pay for, and they will introduce you to clients that you couldn't otherwise meet.
6. A proven business model. Don't skimp on relentlessly proving that someone will buy what you want to sell, and will feel relief and delight that you've solved a problem or filled a gap. If you can't say you have done this with confidence, stop immediately and invest in this activity.