Taking your idea and turning it into a business can be intimidating and unpredictable – and there's no one-size-fits-all approach.

There are many ways an entrepreneur can start a business, and it’s challenging to know which one might be best for you. Most start with a profitable idea, a captivating brand, and a long-term strategy, but developing each takes time and effort.

Here is a step-by-step guide to becoming an entrepreneur and building a business that lasts.

Get Into the Entrepreneurial Mindset

Becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t just mean starting a business to make a living. Entrepreneurs are business owners with a vision that allows them to take risks to achieve their goals.

Being an entrepreneur means thinking like a visionary, beyond a single business, product, or service to franchises and household name brands. Entrepreneurs tend to prioritize innovation, industry disruption, growth, and long-term strategies, while business owners tend to use proven, risk-averse business models to make a profit.

Not all business owners are entrepreneurs, but most entrepreneurs are business owners or investors.

A few ways you can start getting into the entrepreneurial mindset:

  • Educate yourself about business development 
  • Research your ideal industries 
  • Build a network of fellow entrepreneurs and potential mentors

Identify Your Big Opportunity

Many entrepreneurial ventures start with a passion project. Household brand names like Apple, Etsy, Under Armor, and Yankee Candle all began as side hustles. The key to all these incredibly successful businesses is that each founder identified a strong interest that met a broader need.

Entrepreneurs are optimistic innovators and risk-takers, a combination that can make growth tricky without a scalable plan. Identifying gaps in the market can help you avoid jumping into business and narrow your focus.

A few ways to do this:

  • Assess your areas of strength
  • Look for industry niches with multiple scalable product and service opportunities
  • Research recently successful products and services
  • Analyze customer reviews for common challenges and complaints

With a big idea and target market in mind, you can start putting your plans on paper. Make a 5-to 10-year entrepreneurial plan for yourself by answering these questions:

  • What is your end goal?
  • What industry and offerings do you want to focus on?
  • How do you envision building your entrepreneur portfolio?
  • What will your starting point be?

Next, build out the first step of your entrepreneurial journey into your first business plan.

If you already have a business, level up to entrepreneur status by considering how you can innovate, expand, or experiment with new business models and offerings.

Create a Brand

Every entrepreneur needs a brand. This could be a single personal or corporate brand that houses all your business ventures, or multiple separate ones if you plan to explore different industries in the future.

Build a brand strategy into your entrepreneur plan. This should include your:

  • Unique value proposition (UVP): Demonstrate your unique selling points and what makes you as an entrepreneur and your offerings stand out from the competition.
  • Mission and vision statement: Create a mission statement that outlines what you do and your values.[1] Your vision statement should contain long-term goals and aspirations. Keep in mind that you may want to create multiple mission and vision statements: one for your entrepreneur plan and one for each new business.
  • Brand story: Create an emotional connection to your brand by summarizing your UVP, mission, vision, and backstory in a compelling way.

Along with a brand strategy, you’ll want to consider your marketing plan as well. Use the market research you’ve done to identify your target audience and determine where best to find them and promote your business. A good marketing strategy highlights your brand in each piece of content you create and shares it in a way that appeals strongly to your future customer base.

Get Funding in Place

Entrepreneurs often gravitate to bold choices like angel investors, accelerator programs, grants, and bootstrapping or self-funding. But more traditional funding options such as small business loans can provide a needed influx of capital and help stabilize your cash flow.

But do your research carefully: certain types of funding will work better for your venture than others.

The funding method you choose will also help determine how much you ask for and what it will cover. It's especially important to set clear and realistic expectations of your projected revenue and expenses.

Here are some costs you’ll need to plan for:

  • Marketing costs such as brand visuals and design, marketing collateral, and labeling and packaging
  • Inventory, supplies, and equipment
  • Storefront rent or mortgage and/or website design and development
  • Business software and/or app development
  • Operating expenses (6-12 months)

If you are presenting to investors, for example, you will likely need to invest in basic branding, software for financial projections, sample products, etc. Some investors offer seed funding for startup costs while others prefer to invest in already-profitable businesses.

Set Up Your First Business

There are a thousand steps to starting a new business, but here are a few that you must complete to launch yours:

  • Business name: Choose your business name and confirm that you can use it by searching your Department of State website and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before you register your DBA (Doing Business As)[2]
  • Legal setup: There are three main ways to incorporate as a for-profit business, S-Corp, C-Corp, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Weigh the costs and benefits of the different legal structures and check your state business registration process.
  • Licenses and fees: Federal and local governments often have industry, location, product, or occupation-specific requirements. Check your Department of State website for any licenses or permits you need to file for and additional fees.
  • Real estate: Whether you plan to run an online or in-person business, you need a storefront to attract and sell to customers and showcase your brand. Consider local real estate requirements for businesses, compare website hosts, and decide how best to translate your brand into store and/or web design.

Build Your Business and Think Long-term

With that first business launch under your belt, take some time to analyze and reflect. What have you learned so far? How can you improve on what you’ve done?

You still have plenty of milestones to overcome, like taxes, annual corporate obligations, and building your first team. But remember: entrepreneurs think far beyond the first couple of years.

As your first business becomes stable and profitable, consider your next steps. Will you continue to expand your business model, build on your success with another business, or sell and invest in something new?

The choices are limitless.

There isn’t a single blueprint for becoming an entrepreneur, but most dreams can be realized by thinking through each step. It might seem like a lot of work, but it’s important to reach out for support and help along the way.

PNC Bank supports aspiring entrepreneurs. Begin your entrepreneurial journey today with our small business resources and tools.