We’ve been there, many times: you’re confused, overwhelmed by all the information out there, and suffering from analysis paralysis. You know what you want your business to look like, but you just don’t know how to get there. You feel like you’re not equipped to make decisions about things like building websites, becoming a sole-proprietor or an LLC, targeting niche markets, managing money and managing clients. It all feels so complicated, when all you wanted was to make money doing what we love.
This is the most common roadblock we see people hit when starting a business: the question of, “what needs to be done first?” While the advice below may not work for everyone, we tell most business owners to tackle things in the following order.
A plan of attack for new business owners:
1. Brand and target market
Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it a million times: know your target market. Find your avatar (no, not the blue people in that James Cameron movie–avatar is another word for “ideal client”). But here’s the thing—if you’re hearing it over and over, it might be worth taking to heart. We suggest this as the first step because you need a business name to become legal, and you can’t choose a name until you know it’s capable of supporting a strong brand. The quickest and easiest way to figure out your brand is to create a killer mood board on Pinterest. Think of your mood board as a concentrated source of information for what you want, what your style is, who you look to for inspiration, keywords that you would use to describe your business, and more.
2. Getting Legal
You have many options on what type of business you want to become—14 last we checked! But the two main structures chosen by creatives are LLCs & Sole Proprietorships. We’re both LLC’s. That’s because we work with people in public spaces and wanted to keep the liability off of our personal property. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Once you decide what type of business structure you want to become, head over to your local Clerk of Courts website, your state’s Department of Revenue site, and the IRS site to see what steps are required.
We know what you’re thinking: can’t I just skip this one and move on to the fun stuff? But wait a minute!—if you’re not tracking your expenses, you’re going to have a really hard time building the cushion you need to quit your 9-5. When we started out, we were both guilty of spending way too much money on wasted marketing materials that we never used and “business dinners” which, let’s be real, we partly used as an excuse to eat lunch and dinner with friends. To track things, we highly recommend using Quickbooks Self-Employed—it will help you take responsibility of your spending, start saving, and prepare yourself for success.
The world wide web has its fair share of pretty awful websites. And we’re not just talking about design. Ever visited a website looking for a phone number and couldn’t find it? What about service-based businesses where you can’t find a single testimonial online? We could go on, but we’ve narrowed it down to five main things every small business website must have:
- a sensible web address
- easy-to-find contact info
- a clear statement of you who are
- an SSL certificate
These website essentials will help your new company effectively do business.
A lot goes into a business pricing. And while you can take a look at your industry and get a decent average, always remember that your competition is pricing themselves to cover their expenses. Not yours. Do a little math and make sure that you’re pricing yourself for profit.
There are many types of business communications, but let’s start with one major time suck: responding to emails. It seems like we often send 50 responses to inquiries to only get a handful of final sales. That’s why we recommend having pre-made templates that you can simply copy and paste to turn inquiries into sales. A few other things to keep in mind:
- Respond quickly—it shows you value them. (However, respect your own office hours.)
- Provide details, but try to be concise.
- If you don’t have what they need, provide an alternative.
- Be conversational, not overly formal. Your tone should be professional yet positive—avoid negatives (can’t, don’t, won’t) when you can.
7. Social Media
With so many platforms out there, does your small business need to be on all of them? That’s a lot of content to create and a lot of maintenance. So which platforms will help you meet your marketing needs? Begin by researching the demographics of each social media platform and its average users—Pew Research Center makes this easy once you know who your ideal client is. (See why branding is #1?) Then, pair that info with curated branded content for socal media success.
While this was a super quick overview, we hope it’s made you feel more organized and confident. Now that you have a plan, starting your business shouldn’t feel quite so overwhelming—just remember to break it down into bite-sized pieces.