It’s one of the questions that keeps budding entrepreneurs awake at night. In fact, the same question, in one form or another, keeps most entrepreneurs and business owners awake at night. Some are navigating the challenges that come with growth, some the changes in the competitive landscape, and others the changes in the economic climate.

For a startup, the biggest and probably the most common challenge is uncovering a sustainable business model. A business model that removes the risk and uncertainty associated with a startup, replacing it with the stability and profitability of a business.

This week I had the opportunity to speak with Marta Cielecka, founder of MyCuddle, a startup in Milan, Italy. Marta is passionate about creating dolls that are eco-friendly and anallergic; safe for the environment and safe for children with allergies. Her passion radiates throughout her website, telling the story of how she brings each unique, handmade doll to life with love.

Marta has done an excellent job of transforming her idea into a startup. Now, her challenge is to take her startup to the next level, to transform it into a viable business.

During our latest call, I shared some of the observations I’ve made working with successful entrepreneurs; the tools they use and how these tools contribute to their success. Here are some of the tools I believe every startup will find invaluable:

Creating a Vision

I recently published a post entitled Expanding Your Business, in which I described how Zingerman’s owners, Ari and Paul, use a technique called visioning to create a vision of the future for their business.

In creating a vision, you clarify what your business looks and feels like at a point in the future – perhaps in 5 – 10 years. The process involves committing your vision to paper, sitting down for 40 minutes, writing from the heart, and creating a vision for something great.

Need help creating your vision, try this technique from Zingerman’s:

Step 1. Pick your topic (in this case your business).

Step 2. Pick your time frame.

Step 3. Put together a list of “Prouds” (3-5 things you are particularly proud of, that are guaranteed to put you in a positive frame of mind).

Step 4. Write the first draft of the vision:

– Go for something great

– Write it from the heart

– Go quickly

– Use the “Hot Pen” technique

– Get Personal

Step 5. Review and redraft.

Step 6. More drafts.

Step 7. Get input from ACES.

Your vision will help keep your business true to your passion and values. Its purpose is to steer you clear of opportunities, relationships, and decisions that may erode your brand or dilute your core values.

Create a plan

Having a vision and carrying it around in your back pocket is one thing, but it’s not going to help you achieve your goals. To achieve your goals, you must translate your vision into an actionable plan. A plan that will take you, step-by-step, toward your goals.

This isn’t a 20 page strategy document that you put together and never look at again, it’s a 2 page actionable plan, that you stick on the wall above your desk and that keeps you focused on the tasks you must achieve to give your startup the traction it needs in order to become a viable business.

The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) is a set of 20 tools that help entrepreneurs follow through on their plan. It captures your core values, your marketing strategy, your core focus, and milestones for the year ahead.

Business Development

As a startup, defining your target market is essential. Segment your market, select a beachhead market (the market you will enter first), create buyer personas, identify first customers, and map the process of acquiring the first customer.

One of the challenges that every startup faces is a limit of resources. Luckily, we live in era where tools like the internet and social media make customer research, customer engagement, and brand development infinitely easier and less expensive than startups faced a decade ago. If you have a tight marketing budget, use digital channels to tell your story and promote your brand.

If your beachhead market is local, look for opportunities to display your brand at exhibitions, at markets, at industry events. Identify online and offline groups that potential resellers or customers might be involved in. Try contributing to groups or attending events.

Your objective is to build a tribe; to keep telling your story to people that are inspired by it and who will become evangelists.

“It’s easy to have an idea for a business, the hard part is figuring out where to start once you have one. This book finally gives a Step #1. Whether you are new or practiced entrepreneur, this book brings clarity to the questions to ask and the steps to take.” – Christina Chase

A Final Word – Accountability

The difference between a successful entrepreneur and a less than successful entrepreneur comes down to getting the job done. Days and hours can be poured into planning and strategy development sessions, time that is simply wasted unless you actually execute your plan.

When you are getting started, it helps to have a person that will hold you to account, an accountability partner. This is a person who is objective, a person who isn’t scared to call you out, a person that takes helping you seriously. Once you’ve found the right partner, work on establishing an accountability schedule – daily, weekly, or monthly, at minimum monthly.

A check-in might take the form of an email, a phone call, or a video call. It doesn’t have to be long. The objective of the call is to have you feel accountable for getting through a set of goals you need to achieve to move your business forward. Knowing that you have to account for your progress should should keep you on your toes.