First phase of business
Do you want to know what the first phase of your business is about? It is all about the four 'C''s...
Crying, cursing, clapping and collapsing.
Yes. folks those are the four c’s needed to traverse the infantile phase of the new business you are so keen to start.
What? You were surprised? You shouldn’t be. Starting a small business can be incredibly rewarding but also monstrously challenging. The business you start out with will most likely not be the business you end up with. You do cry, curse like a sailor on shore leave (okay, maybe that is just me), clap with joy and collapse with frustration. Sometimes all on the same day. Sometimes all in the same hour!
But there is something so primal about having your own business that even having all of these emotions happen, you still love what you do.
Why would I want to run my own small business?
I have run my small business for the best part of 5 years. My goal over this series of posts is to share with you what the three different phases of my business have looked like, what I would have done differently in each phase. What I feel are the most important things you can do in each phase to give your small business the best chance of succeeding…..and growing! Plus as I am a big believer that those that embrace technology even a little bit will have a much better chance of getting their business off the ground, I also share what you software and apps which you will need in all three stages (and you will be happy to know that most of them are free!).
But a bit of a back story first. My husband is actually husband 2.0 - I was married before him and divorced husband 1.0 about ten years ago. While going through this divorce, which was very unpleasant, I made a promise to myself that I was going to enter this next phase in my life with the intention of seeking and finding joy. So when my (new!) husband and I had our first child (my third, his first), I took a year’s maternity leave from my job. As this was my third child, he was definitely going to be my last so I decided to really use this time to tune in to what my “finding joy” meant, not just as a mother but as a human being.
During this period I had a kernel of an idea for starting a small business which was based on me teaching people to learn how to sew, converting a large room in the back of my house. This kernel soon became a few scribbles on the back of an envelope, the occasional research on Google in between feeds, then a file where I clipped and kept all my ideas (it was a ring binder - this was pre-Pinterest after all!) and the occasional discussion over a glass of wine with my newly appointed husband.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It tapped in to a part of me that wanted to have a business which was an extension of something I loved, an extension of me, that I would want to put my heart and soul in to. As a matter of fact, I can honestly say this, I thought about my not quite decided to do it business what seemed like every waking moment (which is alot with a newborn child!).
I suspect if you are reading that last paragraph, nodding your head up and down and and slowly exhaling the word “yes”, then you know what that feeling of all consuming passion is all about. So the first step I took was to have the commitment talk with my husband about my business idea. This wasn’t an airy fairy talk - this was my version of a business plan which I broke down in to three areas.
Really…it all comes down to three questions and how you answer them.
These questions, if answered truthfully, can be the compass as to whether you really want to commit to your business, and the amount of time and money that will be required to achieve what you want your business to be. It also helped me know if I had what it takes to not only be a creative entrepreneur but also a successful business owner. Here are the questions:
1. What type of business are you considering and how do you feel you fit in to that type of business.
Notice I said business - not hobby. Hobbies don’t make money. Businesses do. If you aren’t comfortable with making money, talking about money and managing it, this can be a sizeable hurdle to succeeding and being taken seriously.
It is important that you really think about this question because if all you want to do is make things and selling isn’t your bag - this could be a problem. Or if your business would benefit from networking, and the thought of doing this makes bile rise in your throat, again, you may want to just add this to the list of things that you should look at.
Which brings me neatly on to the next question-
2. How do you want to present yourself and your business?
I knew that it was going to be important for me to present my business in a way that was both friendly and professional, which meant that there was a higher level of investment needed in a website and supplies and equipment. But fleshing this question out helped me see where I was going to need to spend my money to achieve this.
And then the flip side of the coin:
3. How do you think that others will perceive you and your business?
During this talk we also looked at the reality of what the implications were of me leaving consistently paid work. We did spreadsheets and budgets (because my husband LOVES spreadsheets) talked about what we could go without, where my initial start up money would come from and where would I get my first round of business from.
Besides the spreadsheets (which were more about the household budget and the effects of me not working - not so much about what I was hoping to have for an income), I have to be honest and say that the rest of it was fluid in terms of detail. There was a part of me that felt that trying to get too much detail wasn’t going to serve me very well and would most likely become a barrier. I decided to let my gut become my guide and put in place a very simple business plan*.
But the most important thing that you will need during this set up period, regardless of whether your spreadsheets look okay or not, is the support of your family. Whether they like it or not, they are part of the ride when it comes to your business.
*Since then, the idea of the one page business plan as a building block for alot of small businesses is now acceptable and even marketed as a positive thing!
So what next?
You start to walk the walk that is what. I can smell what I call a half-comitter a mile away. They do the minimum to set up their business and then sit back and wait.
Please - save yourself the money, the life crushing disappointment and don’t half commit. When you decide to set up your business, you need to understand that much of the set up costs happen in the first few years but this is the most important money you will spend as it is creating the groundwork for your brand and business. It is scary and I remember when I had started to pay people to produce logo’s, buy my domain name, buy sewing machines, insurance etc. - having that nagging voice in my head that would doubt whether I would see that money (in the form of customers) again.
Make a conscious decision not to listen to those voices - I trained myself to know the difference between self doubt and genuinely questioning a business decision.
Doubt is based on fear - business decisions are based on fact.
So here is my list of things that I would spend my money on if setting up a business - in somewhat of a sequential order (Fiona's book covers all the bits of information you need to know when it comes to setting up some of the things mentioned but I would strongly advise that you get to grips with technology and the advice Fiona gives you about this section).
- Register your company name as a domain name. And if they offer to give you a discount for registering it for two years, take the two years as psychologically, you just bought two years of commitment. No “one year” get out when the registration is up, type of thinking is allowed!
- Dedicate yourself to signing up to at least three of the top five social network sites (using your company name or a quirky version of it if your name has already been taken) - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+ are the main ones for when you start up. Again - only sign up for three as all five of those can be overwhelming if you are just starting out and you tend not to do any of them very well. If you really fancy streamlining all of these, also download Hootsuite to help you manage them in one easy to navigate dashboard (again, Craft a Creative Business has a great section on Social Media as Fiona has really worked to describe how important this is as part of the marketing mix). Start using social media even if you have nothing for the public to look at or do yet. It is all about getting your foot in the door.
- You will need a website, and again, this one is absolutely crucial to how serious people take your business. It doesn’t have to be complex (Strikingly have a very straightforward drag and drop website creator that makes it super easy to create, incredibly professional to look at and the basic one is free). If you do use a free service, I would look at this as a temporary measure and I would be looking to ensure you have a website on Wordpress as your goal by the end of year one. I personally have a bias against websites that are on a free platform - I understand that people have to choose where they spend their money - but websites, combined with the use of the social media networks, can be the engine that will make your business run. And without going into the technical specifics - Google loves Wordpress. So spend the money on a Wordpress site with a hosting package if you can afford it from the get go and you are already in Google’s good graces.
- Get a logo or a header with your company name designed. I still use the same logo I had created with when I started up - it cost me £80 and it was the best £80 I spent as it set the Studio aside as a brand from the start. Since then, there are websites liked Fiverr and elance where you can pay a very small fee (in the case of Fiverr it is five dollars - hence the name!) to have someone produce it for you.
- Embrace the idea that you will need to have lovely images on your website to help people take you seriously. If you are lucky enough to be a photographer then you are blessed as your art becomes the product. But if you are not that lucky, you can obtain free or purchase photographs from a stock company, pay a photographer to take the photos that you would like to have or learn how to take them yourself (I have done all three)!
- Use blogging as a way to engage yourself with your new community. If you don’t like the idea of having to share yourself with people you don’t know, think of it in the same way you approach a dinner party with people you don’t know. Social etiquette says that you should take your time to let the guests know about you and not hog the conversation. Tell a bit about yourself and then ask a bit about the readers.
- Finally this one (I think!) has been the most important as I started doing this right from the beginning - start creating a mailing list! I now have my website do this for me using Mailchimp but in the beginning, I would ask people if they wanted to hear from us and then added them to a good old fashioned spreadsheet. I now have well over 1,000 people on my mailing list and I can see from the stats that Mailchimp provides I have a very high readership rate which means that they open my newsletter when it hits their inbox and we stay engaged with them.
What would I have done differently during this stage?
That is such a hard question to answer as they say hindsight is 20/20 and it is easy to reflect on something and not really know if doing it different would have set off a chain of events that we could not foresee. But I think if I was to have done a few things differently, they would have been:
- Bought a Mac computer earlier (I finally bought one last year). I had been putting off buying one as they are so much more expensive than a PC but in actuality, it has made my life so much easier with it’s operating system. It is just so intuitive and it syncs with my iPhone which makes it much easier with photos etc.
- I would have taken a photography course to help with my images. Good images make all the difference. I did eventually take a course with a fantastic lady named Lyndsey James but I wish I hadn’t taken so many bad photos before that!
- Understand sooner that you can’t do everything and you do have to decide where to get help in order to keep growing.
Read the rest of this series here.
Maeri Howard is the founder and owner of the Make and Do Studio, which was started in 2009 as Cheshire’s first boutique crafting studio. Since then, the Studio has helped 100's of women and men learn to make their Pinterest boards a reality with their unique brand of creative workshops. When not busy helping people make time to be creative, she loves to figure out what all the buttons on her DSLR camera are for as well as walk the newest member of the family Janie Dawg, whilst talking to herself with wild abandonment (it keeps her sane!).