Career & Money – Part 7: Starting Your Own Business
In the last few articles in this series I focused on finding and landing the job. This assumes that after taking a deep look at your values that working for someone else is what you want. For some people, the only way to career success and happiness is being their own boss.
Whether you call yourself an entrepreneur, freelancer, solo-preneur, owner of a home based business or something else, the one thing in common is – you are your own boss. You are responsible for your own destiny — succeed or fail — in a way you never could be working for someone else. There is so much to learn that you will never know all that you need to know. That is the good and the bad news.
The main components to getting started based on my personal experience are as follows:
1) Am I Cut Out for This?
2) Getting a Plan
3) Forming your business
3) Working the Plan & Finding the Funding
4) Creating Your Support Team
5) Getting Clients
6) Managing the Business (systems)
7) Ongoing Learning
8) Revisiting and Revising
Am I Cut Out for This?
Owning your own business is not for everyone and certainly not for the faint of heart. Every day that I work in or on my business I realize this truth. Yet, what separates the success stories from the failures has more to do with WHO you are than WHAT you know. (It’s funny, but I find this truth to be pretty darn applicable in all areas of our lives.) If you’re not sure what I mean, check out this article “Are You Cut Out to Be Your Own Boss?” by small business expert Karyn Greenstreet .
If you’re anything like me you may get hung up on beliefs like
- “If I want to own my own business I’ll have to work 24 X 7”
- “You can’t enjoy what you do, have free time, and make a lot of money”
- “Being in business is risky”
Or, you might find other mind chatter that keeps you paralyzed with inaction. In today’s world, however the route to business owner is far different than it was years ago and many of those old myths need not apply. Check out these “8 Outdated Notions of Entrepreneurship” to see if you’re stuck with some outdated belief that is keeping you stuck.
If you’re still not sure, go back to my tips on Life Planning because that is the root from which all your choices grow. If you just know it is right for you, but are scared and feel all alone, visit Escape from Cubicle Nation it is like a virtual lifeline for corporate employees starting their own business.
Getting a Plan
There are two types of entrepreneurs: those with a plan and those flying by the seat of their pants. Don’t let the thought of planning your business paralyze you. Whenever someone says the words “business plan” people’s blood stops circulating in their veins and they make all sorts of excuses as to why they don’t have time to plan (after all, they are so busy doing stuff, right?). You probably wouldn’t dream of planning a vacation several states away without using a map so what makes you think you should trust your livelihood and future career success to chance? Doesn’t make sense.
That being said, a business plan doesn’t have to be a mammoth document full of minute details. Unless you are going after loans, financing, and venture capital (in which case they have specific financial requirements that need to be included in your business plan), you can do solid planning in just a few pages. Think of it as the cliff notes for your business — it captures the most important details and creates a workable document without every long, drawn out detail. The best resources I have found and personally use are the Passion for Business resources for creating both your business plan and your marketing plan. Start with the article “What Should Be in Your Business Plan?” and build from there.
Perhaps the best business book you can ever read would be “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber. This book gives you all the information you need to know why small businesses don’t work and what you can do about it so you don’t become a failure statistic. It is guaranteed to shift your mindset.
Forming your business
What type of legal entity do you want your business to be? What types of licenses, permits, or registrations do you need to have for your business?
Until I started looking into the details of the business part of my business I had no idea what any of this was or why I should care. What I know now is that you need to devote some time and resources to making some powerful choices around the form your business takes.
A business is a legal entity. Even if you are the owner and sole employee there are choices you need to make that will affect your taxes, your legal protections, recordkeeping requirements, and ultimately your bottom line. Two great resources to get you started include Start Up Nation: “A Little Business Structure Goes A Long Way” and the book “LLC or Corporation? How to Choose the Right Form for Your Business” from Nolo Press.
The best advice I can give you is to do as much research as you can on your own and then enlist the professional help of an accountant and lawyer familiar with small businesses to give you definitive advice.
Working the Plan & Finding the Funding
Once you have a business and marketing plan it is time to start working it. Building a business is a distance run, not a sprint. The key is consistent action over time. If you were the type to cram and pull all-nighters for an exam in college, it is time to change your ways. While you may find yourself cramming at times, it should not and can not be your regular mode of operation or you and your business are likely to crash and burn.
Money makes the world go around. And, without funding you and your business are going nowhere. Depending on the type of business you are starting, you may find that you don’t need a ton of capital to get started. I recently wrote at length about “Preparing Financially to Go Solo” but I will touch on some of the key ways you can find the funds you need to get started.
If you need money you can:
- Borrow from your savings
- Use your credit cards (preferably a business account credit card)
- Borrow from friends, family, or other sources like prosper.com
- Get a loan from a bank
- Find a venture capitalist (but only if you have a BIG business idea expected to turn millions since VC’s aren’t interested in freelancers and your average small businesses)
- Be your own venture capitalist by starting your business on the side while you continue to work for someone else
There is no one right or wrong answer to how to fund your business. What I do know for sure, though, is that it always takes more money and more time to achieve what you want than what you initially project so be prepared. So many businesses fail just when they are on the cusp of turning the corner to success because they simply run out of money.
Creating Your Support Team
No successful person does it solo. It takes a team. I know I would still be sitting in my room procrastinating and going nowhere at all if it weren’t for my coaches (yes I am a coach, but always have my own coach) and other professional colleagues. While you must be willing to do what it takes to start your business, don’t be fooled into thinking you need to do everything. If someone can do it better than you consider hiring them. It’ll save you time and money in the long run.
People you may want to have on your team include:
- A life or business coach
- Insurance agent
- Small business or marketing consulting
- A mentor
- Graphic designer/artist
- Technology consultant
- Many others…
In the coach training I completed they often called your support team your “Team 100”. The theory being that you should have a list of 100 people that can support you in your life and business. If you’d like a free copy of this worksheet, contact me and ask for the “Team 100 Worksheet”.
Another resource that really helped me cover all the aspects of business building (from business entity to support team to marketing) was the “Overnight MBA” by Leah Grant. While it is geared toward coaches, the steps and exercises are fundamentally sound for any business (especially service professionals).
Ah, the elusive clients. In a philosophical sense, if you don’t have any clients or customers (or at least prospects), do you even have a business or just a nice idea?
Sales and marketing (S&M) is not a dirty word. In fact it is crucial to your success. It is not about getting something, rather it is about building relationships. People buy from and work with people they know, like, and trust. All sales and marketing is about getting the right people (for your business) to say yes to you at the right time (for them).
Sales and marketing needs to be done in an authentic way if you want lasting success and don’t want to feel like a car salesman in a cheap suit. The cheap, phony route isn’t sustainable and certainly isn’t the path to living a life aligned with your personal integrity. Sales and marketing consultants are like bunny rabbits, they multiple in great numbers every day. If you hire one, make sure you’re hiring one who knows what they are doing and have a proven track record.
Some of the absolute best resources, methodologies, and people I have found out there include Andrea J. Lee, Get Clients Now from C.J. Hayden, Book Yourself Solid, and The Client Attraction System. Again, my perspective has been from a service based business, so you may find better resources out there dedicated solely to marketing products but the fundamentals of all these programs apply to whatever business you’re in.
Managing the Business (systems)
All successful businesses have systems in place whether the business consists of one person or thousands of franchises. In fact, that is what makes franchises so successful — the proven systems. When you buy a franchise you don’t just buy their product (the burgers, hoagies, water ice, etc.) and their brand, you buy their proven systems for running the business.
What is a system? It can be anything from the way you do a certain task to an actual piece of technology that enables a part of your business. The important element of a system is that it is repeatable and minimizes effort (is as automatic as possible). For example, an auto responder system is a piece of technology that automatically sends emails to your prospects without you having to intervene. You set up the email responses and list settings once, and all new people who sign up are handled automatically. This is a system for handling potential prospects.
Having the right systems in place will not only help you work your plans consistently, but also free up your time and energy so you can actually have a life too. Part of what I love about my business coach Heather Dominick is her focus on putting systems in place that work to bring you the results you want while also allowing you to live the life you want. There’s nothing worse than choosing to start a business because you don’t want the confinement of the corporate walls only to find out that you have created the worst prison you could ever imagine right within your own business. Having a jerk as a boss is much more painful when the jerk is YOU.
If you were the type to toss your graduation cap and cheer because you don’t need to learn anymore, you definitely don’t want to start your own business. But, I know since you are a Queercents reader, that you thrive on learning new information, otherwise you wouldn’t have read this far! Investing in YOU pays dividends both personally and professionally.
When you are starting out, you want to invest your time and money in learning several types of things:
- Business savvy and “soft skills”
- Personal development
To run a business you definitely need to do some skill building. Don’t be fooled that skills are the main event, though. You also need to fortify your business soft skills and personal development. Remember, your success will be determined more by WHO you are than WHAT you can do. I advocate becoming masterful at whatever skills needed to provide outstanding value to your customers. What I also know is that you need to balance the scales so you are a well-rounded person who can thrive in various environments and situations. That is what being an entrepreneur is all about — a hire wire juggling act of skills, relationships, personalities, and personal qualities.
Revisiting and Revising
When you plant a garden in the spring, you don’t just throw down some seed and ignore it for months and hope something grows. The same holds true for business. You need to tend to your business by working “on” your business strategically at regular intervals. Revisit your business and marketing plans at least several times a year. Revise your plans and financial projections regularly. Measure and monitor your activities and results. These are all part of the cycle of keeping your finger on the pulse of both what is currently happening with your business as well as staying in touch with what you really want and envision for the future.
Owning a business is hard work but can also be very rewarding. Your business is a living, breathing, and evolving part of your life. How you care for yourself will directly impact the success of your business. If you get stuck or start to feel stale, consider “Re-potting yourself” or at the very least creating some space so you can step back and get a fresh perspective and re-energize for the road ahead.
Now that you’ve started your business or landed the job, I’ll talk next time about making the most of it.