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Shortcuts: Starting a business

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(CNN) -- Think you could be the next Richard Branson? Look no further -- we'll show you how to get started.

Vision: Just as Martin Luther had a dream in 1963, you must have one too, even if yours is simply to supply novelty garden ornaments online at competitive prices. From Henry Ford to Apple's Steve Jobs, every great company owes its success to someone with a great idea and the confidence, vision and energy to back it. But here's the bad news: No one ever got to the top by giving themselves the weekend off. So get your head down, get thinking and get ready for some hard graft. Even Bill Gates did some work once, before he started giving all his money away.

Investment: If you can't even sell your idea how do you expect to sell anything else? There's plenty of money out there for the right businessman/woman with a plan and until you get your hands on some funding your company is going nowhere. Pitching your big idea to a few venture capitalists is also the quickest way to discover if you're trying to flog a turkey. It's profits that talk so give them numbers, numbers and more numbers. As Tom Cruise said in "Jerry Maguire," "Show me the money." Keep getting turned down? Maybe the market for personalized garden gnomes isn't quite the money-spinner you thought.

Workforce: Most businesses survive through the first year on the sweat and effort of their founders. But unless you've set up some sort of Albanian pyramid scheme, sooner or later you're going to need a few extra pairs of hands. After all, it's been a long time since Amazon's Jeff Bezos packed books into boxes or Starbucks' Howard Schultz served anyone a skinny latte. Hiring your first employee can be stressful -- they are putting their life and mortgage in your hands and you are pitching your company to them as much as they are selling themselves to you. The key to early recruitment is to look for drive and attitude rather than specific skills. In a small business you need people flexible enough to turn their hand to anything. Maybe one day you'll even be able to step back and take a supervisory role from the comfort of your Caribbean tax haven.

Start small, think big: The NASDAQ-100 or the FTSE-100 may seem like a distant dream but there's always room for wishful thinking and setting yourself a target will keep you motivated though the poverty-stricken early days when most companies fail. From the start you have to run your company as if it's Microsoft. That includes professional cards, e-mail addresses and phone numbers and schmoozing potential customers with coffee and donut-fueled meetings. If you don't take yourself seriously, why should anybody else? Set yourself targets from the start, including first year turnover and profits, and make sure you hit them.

What if I fail?: Don't take it personally. Even the best-planned business can sink without trace. But you can act to minimize that risk by identifying a few of the main reasons why start-ups stop. According to business book author Michael Ames they include: 1) lack of experience, 2) insufficient capital, 3) poor location and 4) personal use of business funds. Worryingly, many businesses can also become victims of early success if they prove unable to cope with unexpected growth. Nine out of 10 young businesses will probably fizzle and fade -- but the true entrepreneur will simply learn the lessons and start again.


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Richard Branson: Living proof that long hair is no obstacle to business acumen.

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