There is a right way to start small. And today, in three basic steps I will show that way.
1. Start small physically
There is one advice that I heard repeatedly from books, from people already running their own business and those who failed at running a business. That advice is that you should not start with a fancy big office space or an office space at all. I once read how Sahara Oil (Sahara Group) began. Tonye Cole said there was a time they were all using a room and they were nine. Nine people including the MD were all sharing the same office/room. I doubt if you wanted to start an oil company you would rent a room. Even filing stations use more than a room.
Think about Facebook, for a fairly long time it was run from Mark's dormitory. Then Apple, the world's biggest company, it was run from a garage for its first years. I'm sure if there is a good documentation of how the big Nigerian companies started, their story will be more humble.
One of the biggest mistake you can make when starting small is to care too much about office impression. It's a lot of work to get the attention of your market and the first ones you will get will probably not even come to see your office. Don't laden yourself with unnecessary expenses. In starting small, you also have to start physically small.
2. Pick a small market
50% of 1000 is 500. 0% of 10 million is zero. Don't make the mistake of wanting to compete with everyone you feel you can beat. Don't enter every market you can enter. You don't have the resources of Aliko Dangote nor do you have a good margin of error. The same way you start your career from the bottom and grow into more responsibility giving roles, so also you should start from a small market and grow into other markets with time.
The obvious reasons are it takes a lot of marketing and time to get the attention of a big market. And if you are starting small, you don't have that resources. It is also easy for the competition to bring you down when they are far richer than you. So start with a very small market.
In my case, I have narrowed my market to Lagos, Microsoft Excel and Data Analysis. Every week I get job invites from foreign clients, wanting me to apply for their consulting projects. Last year those mails were my best mails. Like free clients. Now I don't read through them anymore. I want to focus on Lagos. Luckily, Lagos is the size of Ghana and I can crisscross it much more easily. I am already seeing results of focusing on just Lagos.
3. Be the best
The greatest edge a small business has is that it can easily upgrade its technology and improve its products/services. To upgrade my Excel training to the soon to be released Office 16, I am the only one who needs to learn it. I can beat (and already beat) my competition by being at the bleeding edge of Microsoft Excel and VBA programming. Regularly, Microsoft organizes online meetings where the Office development team show us (MVPs) what they are working on and things other regular users will never know. And I bring those knowledge to bear in my products and services.
When you are starting small, you need to be the best in the small niche you have chosen for yourself.
And those are the three basic steps to starting small the right way.