The Silicon Valley stereotype is true. 70% of entrepreneurs in the United States started their business in their home. And when asked what’s the best way to learn to be an entrepreneur, just over half said, “start a business.”

But for most people, starting a business is this nebulous concept. It’s “somehow I get a loan and sell people things.” But a startup is much more than that.

Startup culture is rough. You’re constantly pushing your limits and you’re often wanting to quit. But the end result is worth it…if you make it.

You want to have all the tools available for success. Without them, you’ll likely fail. Today, I’m going to hand you those tools.

Draw a Map

X marks the spot. When you come to a fork in the road, take it. The best maps give you reliable advice while showing you the way forward.

You don’t always have to follow the map. You can drive off the road if you like, but you have to accept the consequences.

You may not jive with a traditional business plan. That’s fine if you’re not securing funding. But you should at least have a roadmap for your business.

This could include quarterly goals, income goals, marketing strategies, etc.

Always Plan For Success

You’re likely to fail with your first business venture. This doesn’t mean you should bet on failure.

Take your road map, set your course, and steadily ride those waves. The landscape might shift, but you know where your destination is. Success is your only option.

If You’re Helping People Solve Their Problems, You’re On The Right Path

You could have an awesome product idea. Consider Google Glass. It was going to change how we interact with our media by putting our smartphones on our heads and directly in front of our eyes.

It was the first step toward functional augmented reality.

But it failed. Why? Because it created more problems than it solved.

You need to do your market research before developing your product or service. Ask yourself, what does this thing actually do for people? If the answer is, “it solves more problems than it creates,” you might have a winner.

Then you need to go and ask people. And not just your family. Of course, your family is going to back your product even if it sucks.

You need to go sample from your audience. Who is going to buy your product? Who’s problems are you solving? Approach those people and find out if your product or service works for them.

Treat Your Employees Like Kings

One reason startups fail is culture. This is why you need to step back and evaluate how you interact with people on a day to day basis. And then you need to sit down and write out what kind of culture you want your business to exemplify.

The best startups, the ones that survive and thrive, are the ones that treat their employees well. This doesn’t mean you coddle them, it means you reward them for their work.

The first step is making payroll easier. You can make it easy for your employees to clock in and out on the go with tools like Time Clock Wizard. This way you can give your employees the power to keep track of their own time.

You then give your employees opportunities to advance in the company. You give incentives to work harder and to advance the company goals.

You then give them the rest and recovery they need. Don’t be like older companies who lump sick leave with vacation and call it “paid time off.” You want a healthy work force and you’ll only get that if you specifically free your employees to take sick leave.

Protect Yourself With an LLC

You might think you could run a business out of your home or from your garage and not get the government involved. And you might be able to run under the table for a while, but you’ll eventually regret it.

If the taxman doesn’t come for you, the debt collectors might. The reason you want to register your business under an LLC at first is liability.

LLC stands for limited liability company. And an LLC moves the liability from you personally to your company. This might seem like a small distinction, but it’s an important one.

If your business fails and you don’t have an LLC, debt collectors can come after your personal assets. This includes your savings, your home, your investments outside your business. And what’s worse, they could come after your investors and their assets.

If you don’t become an LLC, you’re less likely to secure investments. Investors will be more hesitant to back you.

So, get registered. If your business does fail or you get sued for all you’ve got, you just settle for the insurance money, close your business and start over under a different name.

Keep It Secret Keep It Safe

In the world of the internet, your ideas are not safe. And if you’re seeking connections, you’re going to have to tell others about your ideas.

Someone could steal your intellectual property almost easier than they could steal your physical property. Thus you need to seek patents and copyrights when applicable.

If it’s a process, keep it under wraps. And have your employees sign NDAs. You may feel like you can trust everyone in your company, but you never know. It’s better to follow Fox Mulder’s advice and “trust no one” than regret losing your intellectual property.

Fear Not Competition

I worked at a chocolate cafe during my college years. The manager of our establishment would often stand at the corner window, stare down the street, and tell me “Kilwin’s drove by to spy on us today.” She would point at some shabby conversion van and claim that was the owner of Kilwin’s.

My manager is not alone in her paranoia. Many business owners are afraid of their competition.

The best entrepreneurs know their competition well. They see it more like a race than a battle. You’re both going through the same challenges and you’re trying to be the best, but in the end, you’re running the same race.

There are times you might want to approach your competition and see if you can mutually benefit each other. But if you do enter into a partnership, you better sign contracts. There is no honor among thieves.

By Ben Mattice

Benjamin Mattice is a freelance writer/editor, horror and sci-fi writer, SEO and affiliate marketing newbie, dog wrestler, cat wrangler, capoeirista, and long distance runner. He lives in the Palouse with his wife, three dogs, two cats, and two rats. Yes, that would probably be considered a mini-zoo.