Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from previous contributor and retail strategist for creative business owners, Rena Tom. Rena previously owned Rare Device, a boutique and art gallery with locations in Brooklyn and San Francisco that was renowned for its carefully edited collection of design objects, books, housewares and accessories, and for supporting small, innovative designers and artists whose work was not easily found in stores. She remains an avid crafter and blogs about personal projects, as well as retail trends and small business tips, at renatom.net.
Today, Rena shares some of her personal expertise on launching a business. From the initial legal steps to spreading the word about your new biz, Rena presents her easy steps to launching your business the right way. Thanks, Rena, for this insightful post! — Stephanie
Read the full post after the jump . . .
Launching a business, no matter the size, is hard work. Let’s say you’ve got the idea, the temperament and the opportunity to start your own business. Now what? Today I’m going to offer you a framework for further research. Here are 10 tips for taking your business from idea to reality; in a nutshell, planning, communication and analysis are going to be your best friends during this process.
1. Make it legal. Many businesses grow out of hobbies, and that’s fine, but when all of your friends and family have bought from you and you start selling to strangers, it’s time to get serious. This will mean different things for different businesses, but it will definitely include choosing your business name, legal structure and then putting that business name onto something promotional, like a website, postcards or business cards. Beyond that, you might look into liability insurance, a business bank account, operating permits and payroll services. Know what you need to do to establish your particular business. For example, don’t plan the grand opening of your cafe and then get a letter wondering why you haven’t done your permits and inspections.
2. Write a business plan. Creating your business plan is an exciting process for some people and right up there with going to the dentist for others. I am guilty of procrastinating on this one myself. However, when working with clients, I have found that those with even a simple plan were better prepared to deal with major questions that arise before their launch and after.
If you are going after financing, you’ll need to create a pretty traditional business plan. If you are writing it for yourself, be creative. Start with who/what/when/where/why/how and then think about the future of your business. Pretend someone is writing a Time cover story article five years from now on your amazingly successful business. What does your business look like, and how did you get there?
3. Have enough money. I know, I know, there’s never enough money! But now that you’ve got your business plan in hand, you will have a very good idea of the amount of money you’ll need, not only to start your business but also to have in reserve. When I was operating Rare Device with my business partner, we liked to reserve three months’ worth of expenses in the bank. At certain times of the year, this was not possible, but that cushion is what kept the lights on, our vendors happy and our partner relationship intact.
4. Communicate your mission. Your mission statement should be part of your business plan. It should be short, sweet and easy to understand, and it should be less about you and more about your customer. Are you making their life better or more beautiful? Are you them saving time or money? Know your mission and tell it to your audience.
5. Document the process. There are a couple approaches to launching a business. Some businesses like to keep everything a mystery until opening day, but increasingly, the strategy is to let people know as soon as possible what you are planning to do. This allows you to build buzz and community beforehand. Establish your blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts early on (and other platforms as appropriate for your industry). Give people sneak peeks behind the curtain. I worked at an art gallery, and we would joke that the busiest days were the ones when the door was ajar and had a sign that said “Installation in Progress.”
6. Be consistent and prepared. Make sure everyone in your business knows the plan. Again, you want to present a very clear vision to your future customers. This goes double for customer service; know how you are going to deal with questions, suggestions, complaints and returns. Have an FAQ ready on day one.
7. Make a launch plan as well as a business plan. A launch strategy deals with how you are going to introduce your business to its target audience. Definitely think about whom your business is for, so you know where they are getting their information, and keep notes on innovative ways people have reached you with their new service, business or product. For some businesses, a press release submitted to media outlets might be really important. Other businesses might start with a tantalizing preview sent to tastemakers or influential groups. Or maybe you make a product and will offer pre-orders to your mailing list.
8. Be ready for success. You personally might feel ready to sit back and let the money roll in, but in order for that to happen, you must have an operational plan in place. If your launch was fantastic and you wake up to 5,000 orders of your widget, what would you do? If you need to find a bigger office or studio in a hurry, where would you go? You don’t have to have all the answers, but try to think of the best-case scenarios for your business and have some idea of how to solve any difficulties that may arise.
9. Spread the news. So you launched your business, and people are talking. That’s great! Don’t forget to repeat or repost because press begets press. Many of my clients are so busy that they forget to promote, which is just a lost opportunity. You’ve worked hard — let people know it paid off.
10. Analyze the feedback. Look at the reactions to your business. Look at your launch strategy and evaluate how some techniques worked better than others. Again, new business owners are very busy and often don’t feel they have time to look backward, but studying your successes and failures and adjusting your business practices accordingly will keep you afloat far beyond the launch.