I had always known I wanted to own my own business but I didn't realize how it would develop. I was in a transition and had the opportunity to give it a try. I had no idea what it would take to maintain or to drive it forward. I have had to learn on the fly, trial by fire if you will, and while it has been very hard, it has definitely been worth it.
As I've grown on this journey a big part of my heart has been to share my experiences with anyone traveling down a similar path. If I can prevent even an ounce of pain by someone else learning from my experiences, I'm more than happy to do so. So here are 10 things I wish I had known, or done prior to starting this journey.
Take yourself and your business seriously. No really! I'm sure this may have started as a hobby, or you're worried that no one would pay you to do what you love, but if you don't take yourself seriously, no one else will either! Remember, you have something to offer this world. I know all too well about impostor syndrome, its real.
Set up your finances right from the beginning. And I know this is daunting. But do a little research. Had I put a plan in place right from the beginning my life would be very different right now! This book helped me so much in setting up a system. You may have to make some adjustments and there are definitely other ways to do things but I will say, don't just leave it to chance! Three years in and I finally said
"Hmm how should I pay myself?"
There are many great resources out there, and your first system may not be the best but it's start.
Podcasts, books, audio books, courses, mentors, coaches - there is such a wealth of information out there that I've only recently tapped into.
“I maintained my edge by always being a student; you will always have something new to learn.” – Jackie Joyner Kersee
There are so many people who have gone before you who are willing to share their wealth of knowledge - take advantage of it! Whether it's social media strategies, financial systems or just how to get past your fear of self promotion there is something for every struggle you are experiencing.
Here's a list of the books that have impacted my business, here.
There are so many free tools and apps that can be so helpful in organizing and branding your business that I wish I had known about them so much earlier! A great option for keeping your branding and social media consistent and clean is Canva. You can great graphics and templates for Instagram, Facebook, blogs posts and more! There are also many great planning tools for social media. I know how overwhelming all of this is, especially the social media aspect, but try to just take "one bite at a time". I have found that giving yourself a 'guideline' type schedule for social media can be very helpful and reduce some of the "what do I post today?!" stress. You can download my free template for that here.
While it will definitely feel like it at times, you are NOT in this alone. Yes you may be the sole person in your company but there are so many entrepreneurs and small business owners you have experienced or are experienced the exact same struggles (and wins!) that you are. Find a community, whether online or in person, or both and get involved. There are many great groups such as local chapters of the Rising Tide Society that meet so that you can engage with other small business owners. You could also start your own! Don't be afraid to reach out to others who are in your area that you have connected with online but not met in person yet. There are many great online groups as well. (Psst have you joined my "She can and She will: Women in Business group on Facebook yet? Join here!)
I will be the first to admit this is not an easy one in the beginning. But staying consistent with as much as you can, is so crucial to setting yourself up for success for many reasons. The first is with your products/offering. I'm sure, especially if you are a creative person, you are just overflowing with ideas of products or services you have to offer. And I don't doubt you have so much to offer this world but hear me out. When you have the 'Jack (or Jill) of all trades' approach, it is harder for you to be a 'go to' person for your customers. What I mean is, if you start out with only one or two offerings, say hand painted signs and growth rulers, and you become known for those two things, it is much easier for customers to refer you to others. "Oh you're looking for a growth ruler? You have to check out X's Designs they do amazing work!" or "Oh you need a special wedding gift? You have to check out this company I order from them all the time!". When customers are not entirely clear on what products you have or what service you can offer, they will be reluctant to share you with others.
Another very important aspect of consistency is pricing! Listen to me *stands on soapbox* I HAVE BEEN THERE! I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of giving a low price to so and so's mom because you feel bad charging. Or not being sure of yourself or your product so you make up a different price ever time someone asks. I am BEGGING you to knock that off right now! Make yourself a price chart or formula. Be consistent in what you charge people so that it doesn't matter if its your aunt or a stranger they are getting the same price. You wouldn't ask a friend who is a teacher to take less of a salary for teaching your child because you are friends right? So they shouldn't ask you to take less money on your products or services! This pricing will (and should) change as you grow your business and your skills and that's okay! Just start somewhere.
"Why would someone buy a sign from me when there are so many sign makers out there?" - "Why would someone choose me to organize their home instead of another company?" Because you are you and they are them. You can call me Dr. Suess if you'd like but its TRUE! Be yourself, let your personality come through in your branding, your social media and your work. The "know, like and trust factor" is a real thing. Offer your customers your knowledge and talents in only the way you can and you will see your community grow!
There is an element of casualness in today's social media approach to business. There is a lot I love about this (see #7 above) where you do want to be yourself however, I still believe there should be an element of professionalism within your business. This also goes back to my #1 point of taking yourself seriously. Create business pages on Instagram and Facebook. Don't use your personal pages for running your business. If you are unable to start your website and email right away, then at least start with those two social media platforms. You can communicate with customers through there as well. I highly recommend getting an email address associated with your business name, even if it is just a free one to start.
Another aspect of this is how you take payment. It is so important to be able to take payment in a professional and safe, way, for both you and your customer. I recommend using Square. It has so many amazing features including Invoices, appointments, reports and more. (You can sign up here and get free processing for the first $1000!) This may not seem important as you're just getting started but I promise you it will give your customers peace of mind, plus when you look at your reports in 6 months, a year, 5 years you will see how far you've grown!
I know I've referenced charging appropriately in a couple of my previous points but this is a little different. How on earth are you supposed to know WHAT that is?? There are so many different formulas and honestly opinions, on what is correct. However much of it should be based on numbers. You will see a formula floating around that is a version of Materials + Labor = Cost. Seems so easy right? *Insert GIF of the minions saying 'UH NO' right here*
First of all materials are not just the wood needed to make the table, for example. What about the glue, screws, brackets, stain and finish? Sure maybe you don't use an entire bottle of glue, but you need to factor that you do use it, and that you will need to buy another bottle eventually and you need to make sure you are allocating for that expense. Second is labor. There are MANY ways to determine this, I am no expert, I recommend you ask for help with this one or honestly, google it. There is a way to determine your hourly wage based on expenses and desired salary. Do not guess, do not assume what people will pay, do not go by what so and so makes. Do some research, and set yourself up with a formula. It's also okay if you need to adjust it as your business grows.
Word of mouth is by far the best advertisement! Have you heard this before?5, Because it is 100% true. When someone trusts their friends or family and they're recommending you, they are going to go to you over an ad or commercial they see, any day. Ask your customers for reviews! After I complete an order or install, I send an email asking for a review on both Google and Facebook. Give out business cards with orders or even just during consultations. It can never hurt to ask them to spread the word about what you do! Most people are happy to do that.
Also, referring back to #5, refer and ask other businesses to refer you! Much of my support and building my customer base has been from other businesses telling their customers about what I have to offer. When we all support each other we all win. Remember, there is enough to go around so adopt the phrase "community over competition" and learn to believe it!
I could probably write a book about the things I wish I had done differently, or sooner but hopefully this is a helpful start! And remember, even if you are three years into your business it's never too late to get yourself on a better track.
Like I said at the beginning, I am so passionate about helping others with their businesses and avoid some of the struggles that I've gone through so I hope this is helpful!