All month we’re partnering with Weebly to share a series on getting your online business off the ground and running! One of the questions I hear most from people these days is how they can turn their ideas into real-life businesses and what they should know beforehand. So after talking about inspiration last week, today we’re focusing on what you need to know before you get started to help set your business up for longterm success. These tips, techniques and tools will help your business build a strong foundation, avoid costly (and avoidable) missteps, and make a plan that allows your business to grow organically and with intention.
For those readers joining this series after the publication month of May 2018, you can find Parts 2 – 4 at the following links:
- PART 1: Finding Inspiration + Motivation To Start!
- PART 3: How To Tell Your Brand’s Story
- PART 4: What To Do After Your Business Is Live!
Let’s Talk About Starting Money:
When I reached out to Candice to talk about looking back and some of the early pain points of starting a business, she mentioned that funding was a big concern early on. “[I wish I had known] the importance [of] small business loans or crowdfunding. Having a lump some of money to start your business off is very helpful, so you can do everything right the first time without worrying about how you’re going to pay for it. You end up spending more money trying to fix the way you do things on a budget.”
Funding is one of the biggest challenges for all business owners and there are a few things to consider when you get started:
1. Starting capital: To get going, most businesses want to have at least 3 months of working costs in the bank up front. This means what you need day-to-day to produce your work, pay all bills and any team members you may have (in addition to the launch costs of websites, branding, etc.). Some people receive outside funding, support from their family or use crowdsourcing to get these funds secured. While it may be frustrating to wait to launch, it’s always worth waiting until you have money saved in the bank so you’re not held back by a cash flow problem (which is very common) in your early days. This is also a great time to do a little research into future funding for your business if it grows at the pace you forecast, or even more importantly, it grows faster than you anticipate. Sometimes small businesses are poised for growth sooner than expected and it’s always a good idea to know what business loans or capital may be available to make sure you have the materials to produce the inventory necessary to accommodate your growth. There are now a handful of companies that can help new or small business owners get access to capital — like Square. Knowing a little about what financial resources may be available to you in the future might also provide you with some peace-of-mind in the early stages of building your business.
2. Hidden costs: Talk to friends who run their own businesses (in and out of your field) to ask about what costs they didn’t anticipate that they wish they’d known [about] ahead of time. This could be the cost of web hosting, image hosting fees, sales tax, self-employment tax, packing/shipping costs, or any other slew of small fees that add up when you start a small business. Try to get a good understanding of what you’ll really need to run your business (including things like childcare costs if you need support in that area so you can step away to work from a studio, etc.) because these costs can quickly sideline a budget. Weebly has a great e-commerce platform for their customers that can help you plan ahead to better understand sales tax and pricing.
3. Trade Shows: Candice told me that not knowing about how important trade shows were to her business (and bottom line) was a big issue. “Not having a background in the fashion industry I had no idea how to strategically market my business, nor the events where I should have been focused on selling. A trade show showcases your brand to hundreds of buyers at one time which allows you to get picked up faster and better exposure for your brand.” Candice is spot-on — these shows are important for most businesses and they’re usually expensive. So if you plan on debuting your business at a show, be sure to get all the full costs (including union fees for booth installation!) included in your operating costs for the year. These are the most important topics to think about. For more perspective and tips on getting ready to sell, check out Weebly’s blog which is packed with great resources for people getting started.
Let’s talk about Financial Planning
When we talk about money, it’s important to talk about getting your ducks in a row in addition to just saving up operating cost money. Here are some things to consider:
1. Find a financial advisor and/or accountant: I can speak from experience when I say that tax and small business planning and paperwork can be confusing. So investing in professional guidance is always a good idea. These sorts of investments always pay off in the long run because they help you avoid even more costly errors later in the process.
2. DBA/Business Account: Do you have a plan for how you’ll track and organize the money (both incoming and outgoing) for your new business? Talk to your small business expert at your local bank and see if they can help you decide what type of account is right for you. It may not be as fun as designing business cards or logos, but getting these nitty gritty financial details set up properly is important.
3. Travel time: Will you be traveling a lot for work? If so, talk to your bank about getting a credit card with airline miles so you can cut your travel costs by using points, instead of your own dollars, to fly.
4. Legal Fees: The cost of a lawyer can feel a little painful (most small businesses aren’t used to the hourly rates that most lawyers charge), but it is 100% worth investing in. Consulting with someone who can ensure that you’re setting up the right type of business and filing paperwork appropriately will help you feel safe and secure as you move forward. Speak with friends in your area to find someone who can help you and work within your budget. After your first year, add up what you spent on legal consulting and build that into your yearly budget so you have that as a resource going forward. I always consult with our lawyers, Kim Brown and Patrice Perkins, about legal 101. Here are some of the biggest issues they’ve helped us set up over the years:
- Contracts: Writing strong, secure contracts is an art form — and it’s worth investing in. So investing in the cost of a lawyer to help you draft contracts you can use for new hires, suppliers, business partners, etc. is a definite must.
- Trademark/Copyright: If you’re launching a business, be sure to do a copyright and trademark search first to make sure you’re not starting something you may need to rename later down the line (which is costly and time consuming). This simple search can be done with your lawyer and it will ensure you don’t spend all of your time and money branding a company name that may not be free to use.
Are there fun moments getting started?
All the nitty gritty details of getting started can be overwhelming — and expensive — so it’s important to remember that not all of the “must-dos” before you launch are difficult. I asked Candice what her favorite memory from pre-launch was, and she said, “Designing the jewelry I would sell and getting photos taken!” Remember, the more time you invest in getting your financial and legal ducks in a row, the more time you can spend doing what you’ve really wanted to do, whether that’s selling paintings or your consulting services or a new collection of jewelry or home goods. The same goes for dipping your toes in the water by playing with tools that you’ll eventually use to operate your online business.
Playing and reading (or even skimming) in places like the Weebly Inspiration Center (as we suggested in our first post) while you set up financial and legal elements can keep you excited and learning while you deal with the not-so-fun stuff. The big bonus here is that when you turn to the actual set-up of your website and store, you’ll have a wealth of information to pull from that you didn’t even know was tucked away in your brain! Bottom line? The fun parts are even more enjoyable when you know your business is standing on solid ground.
What to remember to stand on firm emotional ground, too!
Getting your head and heart in line to launch a new business is just as important as all of the other details we’re talking about. So here are some things to keep in mind to keep your happiness as central to your business’ needs as its financial and legal concerns.
- Call on your support group: remember that mentorship group we talked about last week? Lean on those friends and support systems when you need them. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or scared or nervous about some aspect of launching, let them know! We’ve all been there and knowing that you’re not alone is a buoying feeling when you’re about to go live.
- Take time for yourself: it’s easy to put 100% of your time into your business when you’re just starting out, but setting a schedule and time that allows you to still be with yourself, your family and the activities that make you happy is crucial. If you build a business model that doesn’t allow you to ever take a day off, you’ll be hurting in the long run. So make sure you plan around your exercise time, time with family and friends, or whatever activity and moment makes you feel secure and grounded.
I reached out to Allison Greason, Head of Brand Strategy & Experience at Weebly to get some more advice on handling the emotional side of starting a brand new business online.
What is the toughest or most emotional part of people launching new businesses that you’ve experienced working with Weebly clients?
Going it alone. Many Weebly customers are micro businesses or businesses of one. There’s a lot of pride in running the show but it can also make it difficult to make decisions without input and being held accountable by others. There’s no playbook and no supportive team to cheer them on. They crave real support and validation.
Are there any stories you remember of clients overcoming a big hurdle to find the courage to launch their business?
All the little things. Honestly, most often the biggest hurdle is actually the zillion little things that stand in the way. First-time business owners need to learn so many new skills — it may be marketing and design for some and finance and supply chain for others. When things go wrong it’s tempting to make mountains out of molehills but realizing that a setback isn’t failure is key. Try again or try something new.
How do they find the courage?
I’d say our customers have a ton of courage. But courage doesn’t mean that it’s not scary! It’s super scary to share your idea with the world by opening an online store or putting up your website. Our creative entrepreneurs get motivated to overcome those fears from seeing others like them who are successful. Social media is a fabulous source of inspiration — and sometimes fabulous source of envy — but even that’s motivating. And once you’ve launched, motivation to keep going comes in the forms of a glowing review, an international sale or a repeat customer. These are the golden gifts of real validation that are incredibly encouraging.
What are some common stories you hear from Weebly clients as they push through those early days of running a business?
Just keep moving. The creative entrepreneurs who thrive tend to keep moving forward every day no matter how small. This is what separates the “doers” from the perennial “dreamers.” The dream is real and super important to start something but the get-it-done mentality is critical to succeeding. For many, that means doing things in a way that is “good enough” early on, so they can make forward progress and then optimize those things later. For example, accounting may be done in a spreadsheet in the early days but, over time, they upgrade to accounting software. They are learning and improving as they go, not waiting until they have the perfect solution.
What advice do you have for new customers who want to start a new business for the first time?
I have three thoughts:
Obsess over your customer. Get feedback, especially early on. When our customers truly know and empathize with their customers, the product, messaging and experience are all just so much better. The trick is embracing the negative feedback and not letting pride get in the way.
Look for ways to make it feel real. One of the most powerful moments for our customers is the moment when it starts to feel like a real business rather than an idea or project. We see that first-hand when a customer hits “publish” and their website goes live or they get an alert on their phone that their first item sold. It could also be when you print business cards, file to be a legal business entity or when you have your first sale from someone who’s not your mom. These seemingly minor moments are actually major mental tipping points where you begin to see yourself as a small business owner.
Build your “team”. If you’re lucky enough to find a mentor or other entrepreneur you want to emulate, that can be a huge source of emotional support and guidance. Even if they don’t work for or with you, seek out people who are starting their own businesses and learn from them or learn together. We hear from our customers all the time how it’s so hard to ask for help. But once they do, they realize they have joined a determined tribe of entrepreneurs who are all eager to support each other. Share tips and resources. Help put things in perspective. Inspire each other but also hold each other accountable. Taking a business from idea to launch to growth is a journey. Having good company will make the road smoother and the ride more fun.
When I think about launching a new business, I’m always reminded of these wise words from Gabi Gregg, online pioneer and blogger and co-owner of the fashion brand, Premme. When asked about finding the balance between starting a new business and taking care of herself she said,
I love Premme, and I want it to be successful, but nothing’s more important than living, so I’m going to prioritize that first.
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