If you are reading this, I am assuming that you are either thinking about starting a business or are new to the business. Congratulations! Giving birth to an idea is both rewarding and insanely difficult. It is also fun to watch your business change and grow.
When I first decided to start a business, the idea of a boutique was so far out of the realm of possibilities that I could not believe it would ever happen. But it did, and sooner than I thought possible. Here are a few tips I learned while building a business:
- Write down your ideas. If you have the entrepreneur spirit, then you are in no shortage of ideas. Keep a list of every idea that comes to you, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. Eventually one will stick out, and you can move forward with it.
- Create A Business Plan. No need to make this complicated. But creating a business plan has the same idea as writing your thoughts down. When something is written down, on paper, then it’s like watering a seed. It gives legs to an idea, allows you to think ahead as to what you would like to do in the future. Sets a general direction of where you are going. I also think of it as a “budget” for my business decisions. When faced with numerous business decisions, a quick look at your business plan will help you decide if the choice you are about to make will assist you in achieving the goals and direction written in your business plan. Here is an example: In my business plan I wrote down that I wanted to open a physical location within 3-5 years. I honestly didn’t know if that would be possible, but two years later I was presented with an opportunity to rent a store front. Since I had already considered this in my business plan, I did not have to wonder if it was the right direction for us, as we had pre-determined that choice.
- Start With What You Have. I’m sure you can envision the perfect result of what you want in your mind. However, if you wait until everything is just right, you will never get started. Figure out what resources you have available right now and then determine a course of action of what it would take to get to the next level. Write down all the steps you think you will need to take in your business plan. When I started my business, I had $500. I took that money and purchased a few supplies and my first box of inventory. Basically, I had nothing. I was able to negotiate and borrow to acquire a few more items. Once I sold those products, I was able to purchase more. A decidedly painfully slow process, but the only option available at the time.
- Use Your Mouth. Unless you are starting with a large, small business loan or other capital, you are not going to be able to pay for any marketing. In fact, I highly recommend sticking to word-of-mouth or social media (both are free) until you have saved enough money for six months of marketing. No matter how persuasive someone gets, I am telling you from experience (I lost over $10k in the first year learning this the hard way), you are throwing your money away if you can not afford to advertise in the same venue for at least six months. Just say no until you are more financially stable and rely on networking and social media.
- Cash Flow Statement. So important! Even if you are not open for business yet, get your cash flow statement done now and update once a week. The Cash Flow Statement was, and is, my #1, most useful tool in my business. You can use it for product-based businesses or service-based businesses. I used to forecast expenses and inventory and to see how current cash flow would impact my business weeks or months in the future. (Stay tuned. My next blog post is how to create, maintain, and understand the cash flow statement. I will also provide a free Cash Flow template for use in Excel or Numbers.)
- Find A Partner.
I don’t necessarily mean an actual business partner, but that would be ideal. Support in running a business is critical. Don’t try to do it alone. Whether it is a spouse, friend, or business coach, the biggest asset to getting off to a good start is having someone by your side.
- Make Friends With The State and City. Sounds funny, but personally going into your local Department of Revenue office and City Administration building to secure your business license and tax forms will go a long way. Ask questions, be upfront and honest. Usually, the people there are helpful and provide you with resources for making sure you have everything you need to collect and pay your taxes and license fees. If you ever are unsure of something, go in person and talk to them. They like working with their local business owners. It can establish trust and get you on the right foot with the folks who collect taxes. It’s always good to keep the Tax Man/Woman happy!
- Speak Life. It is so easy to get into discussions with other business owners regarding the difficulties and woes of business. I did this way too much. This habit will set you up for comparison with other business and puts negative thinking in your mind, which can cause anxiety, fear, or other emotions that handicap your ability to make wise decisions. It’s ok to pray for wisdom and understanding in running your business. Also, when you have bad days, take the extra effort to find something good in your store or with your clients, and speak it out. Write a thank you note to a customer, rave about a new product that arrived. Thank God for the opportunity to be in business and the future success you know is coming. Avoid negative thoughts and comments as much as possible.
- Stay Focused. Find the one thing you do well at and stick to it. Resist the urge to run after “shiny objects” – meaning new ideas that sound great but don’t fall in line with your business plan. Maybe it’s a secondary business idea or a line of products you like, but they don’t fit in with the culture of your business. They will come. Your Business Plan or coach will help you stay the course. Once you are steady on your feet and can turn over the majority of your first business to someone else, then you can start chasing those shiny objects!
- Family First. Count the cost when starting a business. It WILL consume all your time and energy. Sit down with your family and openly discuss what it will require of you. It’s not just about you and your dream. It impacts all the people in your life. Talk about expectations, boundaries, priorities, and how long. Decide as a family what you all are willing to sacrifice and what you are not. Also, put a time limit on the startup process. It may take six months to 2 years of 24/7 to get a business up and running. Only you and your family can decide how much time you will invest in your project. For my family, our retail business needed my full attention, but I still had a child that I homeschooled. After six years, we decided it was better to close the business until my son was out of the home. What you do is a very personal decision only you can make – but at least be aware of the cost and make sure your family understands as well.
There are certainly more tips and resources out there to help you be successful. Sometimes local colleges offer free or inexpensive business courses. Also, local networking groups are always a source of excellent information. Don’t go it alone! If you can dream it, it can be done.