A wise woman once told me: You can’t put an old head on young shoulders. And while personal experience makes for the best teacher, when starting your own business, you can benefit from the wisdom of others.
Take me, for example. Less than two years ago, I made a “pandemic pirouette” that launched my HR consulting business. Necessity pushed me into it when I found myself among the millions laid off due to COVID-19. Once I accepted my job wasn’t coming back, I jumped headlong into my venture without much planning. Hindsight revealed that as a mistake!
Now, I offer this “old head” for young business shoulders as a way to avoid some of the missteps I made.
Tips for building your first business:
- Lay the Foundation
Before you hang out a shingle, start a social media page, or make those business cards, make sure you understand these things:
• Purpose/Mission – what are you hoping to achieve with your business through its products or services? You might consider writing a mission statement that will help you focus on your goals. There’s plenty of help for writing such statements on the internet, including an article from BigCommerce that recommends focusing on value, inspiration, plausibility, and specificity.
• Audience – who needs your products or services? And of those, are there target groups that no one else is servicing? Chron., an online publication for small businesses, suggested starting with identifying the four levels of primary target audience: 1) where they are; 2) who they are; 3) why do they buy; 4) how do they buy.
• Competitors – Who is already in the marketplace, and how are your services or products differentiated? Guard against discouragement here. There may be many competitors in your lane, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for your business. Look at the bread aisle at your grocery store for proof that there can be room for many similar products and services.
• Mentors – Is there anyone with experience in the specific business you are starting or starting their own business in a different industry that could provide mentorship? According to a July 2021 article in Entrepreneur magazine, startups led by entrepreneurs with mentors have greater success. If you don’t know anyone, look for mentors in online forums like LinkedIn or professional or industry groups. Network with your friends and family to ask if they know anyone who might be willing to discuss your business venture.
- Gather Your Materials/Experts
After laying the foundation, take these steps:
• Draft a business plan/model – you don’t have to make this super detailed or fancy. Just use the information you gleaned and sketch out your framework. Not sure where to start? Check out resources on the internet, many of which provide templates for these purposes. Your local or state government may have online resources as well. South Carolina, for example, offers free information on starting a business at https://scbos.sc.gov/starting.
• Make a list – what do you need to get started? Remember not only materials for products or leased space, but also office equipment (computers, printers, desk, lighting, cameras), software (Office, Excel, PowerPoint, QuickBooks), shipping supplies, insurance, licenses, and professional dues. Don’t forget funding sources, too. Will you get working capital from loans, grants, or gifts? Nerdwallet provides some ideas here. You’ll also need to open business bank accounts.
• Enlist experts – some fledgling business owners try to cut corners when it comes to getting expert advice. But “you get what you pay for” is an adage for a reason. Scrimping on legal, tax, and HR advice when you start your business will end up costing you later. While you likely can file your business with your state secretary of state online, legal and tax advice regarding what kind of business you form, such as partnership, LLC, or corporation, is essential. Read more on the topic at the Small Business Administration website. And if you plan on having employees, an HR consultant can help you avoid compliance problems. The same goes for marketing expertise, especially if you don’t have the skills to build and maintain your website and social media accounts. Besides online resources, such as Fiverr and UpWork, don’t forget to check area colleges that might have students looking to make extra money by building websites or designing brands.
- Start Building
You laid the foundation and gathered your materials and experts; NOW you can start building your dream business!
• Stay on brand – When launching your business, remember to stay on brand across all online platforms and with any other media/advertising you do. Use the logo designed for you, along with the recommended fonts and colors. If you had your business name and website set up before opening (as recommended), your primary email should be firstname.lastname@example.org (or .biz or .net). I didn’t do this upfront, and now I track two different email boxes!
• Keep a schedule – When you work for yourself, it’s more important than ever to keep a regular schedule. Otherwise, you can work too few hours (the boss won’t mind!) or way too many. Balance is the key. This tip goes for sleep, exercise, and healthy eating as well.
• Work the plan – Now is when you return to your business plan for a roadmap to meet your goals. If you haven’t fully developed quarterly goals, do so. By using three-month increments, you can keep from feeling overwhelmed and have an excellent chance of seeing positive results.
• Ask for help – Just like you wouldn’t try to put in a large cross beam to hold up the second floor of a home by yourself, you’ll need help when building your business. ASK! You can also search out support groups too. For instance, I’m in a few for HR professionals, and they are a resource for expertise or as a sounding board.
Even with taking these tips to heart, your business journey still likely has lessons for you. But hopefully fewer. And what you do learn, make sure you pass that along to the next set of young business shoulders.