Entries tagged with “small business”.
Did you find what you wanted?
Fri 15 Jan 2010
By Dan d’Man
(c) January 15, 2010
When I told friends and co-workers that I was starting my own business as a writer and communications consultant, I received all sorts of advice and insights.
Much of it was great and saved me a lot of headaches. Still, there were a few things I wish I would’ve known before taking the leap. Things like…
Doing books “by hand” just doesn’t add up
When I started my business, I didn’t take the time to set up an electronic accounting/invoicing system — something like Quicken. I remember thinking, “My business isn’t big enough to warrant something like that.”
Well, not long after, my business became too big to do my bookkeeping “by hand.” But then, I was too busy with work to take the time to set up an electronic system.
Do yourself a favor and take the time to set up your bookkeeping/invoicing system before you start your business.
You should treat your business like … a business
Successful businesspeople from all professions stress the importance of investing in your business. They recommend setting aside a certain percentage of your profits (10 percent is a frequent recommendation) for this purpose.
Whether it’s updating your Web site, attending educational conferences, refreshing your marketing materials — it is important to sharpen your skills and add tools to your business resources.
On paper, it’s an easy concept to grasp. In practice, it can sometimes be difficult to actually write out those checks.
I recommend setting up a separate bank account in which you can regularly deposit a percentage of your business income. Having it already set aside can make it a little easer — psychologically — to spend it for its intended purpose. (Note: I also recommend this model for your quarterly business taxes.)
Freedom is a relative term
When you’re a one-person company it’s rare that you ever feel totally free from work.
When I’m on vacation, I long for my corporate-employee days. It was so nice to be able to leave an out-of-office voicemail directing any immediate needs to another person in my department. That allowed me to truly unplug and enjoy my time away.
As the owner of a one-person business, I have no one I can direct calls to. It’s difficult to totally detach myself from “What if” scenarios. “What if my biggest client calls and has an urgent need? What if that company finally calls back and wants to bring me in on a project?”
And because nothing gets done while you’re gone, you do at least two weeks’ worth of work to prepare for a one-week absence. I have a real hard time telling my clients, “You know that really important project of yours? Yeah, just hang on and I’ll get right back on it when I return from Cabo.”
Running your own business isn’t impossible
Knowing — or at least assuming — this from the first day I started my business would’ve saved me a lot of stress and lost sleep.
I worried about getting clients, keeping clients, servicing clients, billing clients, bookkeeping, doing taxes, having enough work, having too little work, staying motivated and staying sane. You name it, I worried about it. While that’s my nature, it was magnified significantly when I started my business.
But then, slowly but surely, I realized that owning a business isn’t brain surgery. In fact, if you just work hard and follow your instincts, it’s really quite easy. It’s so easy, in fact, that I’m now writing an article about how to do it. (I gotta say, I didn’t see that coming.)
It’s also been the best business decision I’ve ever made. I’ve grown immensely as a person and as a professional and I shudder to think that I almost didn’t take the leap and give it a try.
Now that I’ve helped you avoid these four possible missteps, there’s really no excuse for you to not take the leap as well. If you’re relatively good at whatever it is you do and, most importantly, passionate about it, you can take any interest or skill and turn it into a business.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan d’Man (a.k.a. Dan Deuel) is principal of Deuel Communications, a writing and communications consulting firm. He is a frequent contributor to Tripping on the Ladder. He lives in Minneapolis/St. Paul with his wife and two young daughters.
Thu 14 Jan 2010
(c) January 14, 2010
Starting a new business is an exciting, thrilling opportunity—but, if you’re not careful, your new venture can easily drain your finances before you even earn a penny in profit.
In Tuesday’s issue of “The Daily Rung,” I shared with you a few tips for knowing what to spend your money on when forming a new small business. And now it’s time to consider a few places where you can save money.
Part II: Where You Should Save
Unless you are expecting clients to visit your office, you really don’t need much in the way of office furniture—at least, not right away. If you’re working from home, you’ll probably need a desk with ample work space, a good ergonomically sound chair (since you’ll presumably be sitting in it much of the day) and a file cabinet, preferably one that locks and is fire proof.
Be sure to set up some space that is dedicated solely to your work. In other words, your work desk shouldn’t double as the gift-wrapping table and the poker night table, and the keep the kids and the dog away from it, too. In a home office, it’s critical to keep your work space separate from your living space. Not only will this help keep you organized, but it’s also a requirement by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if you are planning to claim home office deductions on your annual income tax return.
If you need to equip a new office, Craigslist, office furniture resale stores and Target and other discount retailers offer low-budget solutions. And even if what you come up with is hardly a matched set, if aesthetic is important to you, never underestimate the power of a good can of spray paint to give all the pieces a cohesive look.
Depending on your line of work, you may or may not need to have a dedicated telephone and/or telephone number. So much business these days is transacted via e-mail that, if you have to make a choice, it might make sense to invest in a high-speed Internet service first, rather than a phone line. If you plan to use a cell phone for business purposes, ask your wireless service provider to give you a special rate by bundling it with your current calling plan. If you use a land line, consider purchasing prepaid telephone cards to make long-distance phone calls rather than paying for costly long-distance service.
And, there are many great services available—Skype being one of them—that offer free web conference services so you can hold virtual meetings with colleagues and clients without spending a cent, and all from the comforts of “home.”
As soon as you announce that you are open for business, you will likely be on the receiving end of endless solicitations to advertise your new business. Whether it’s a representative from the Yellow Pages, the community “shopper” newspaper, or the latest fad in online advertising, the solicitations will come. These sales people have a job to do—and goodness knows it requires persistence on their part—but that doesn’t mean you should just hand over your wallet, either.
Before you consider any kind of advertising for your business, revisit your business plan. Who are the customers you are hoping will hire you? And where are they? If you are trying to appeal to a niche market, chances are good that your prospective customers won’t be looking for you in the Yellow Pages. Likewise, if your target customers aren’t Web users, then online advertising may not help you reach the right folks.
Advertising, when done carefully and selectively, can really help your business development efforts. Advertising, when done foolishly or without a plan, is like watching your money run straight out the door. Be selective—and, if you’re really unsure, there’s no harm in trying some other business generating activities first (phone calls, face-to-face meetings) before considering alternate forms of getting the word out.
Tue 12 Jan 2010
(c) January 12, 2010
Starting your own business is an exciting, exhilarating leap of faith—and a very empowering one, at that.
If you’re like most sole proprietors in the start-up phase, however, you will want to save every penny that comes in the door and choose your expenses carefully…at least until your revenue grows. That doesn’t mean you won’t one day have that shiny office with an expansive view of downtown and your name stenciled on the door in gilded paint. It does, however, mean you may need to make do with a less glamorous set-up until your business grows to a profitable and sustainable level.
In this two-part series, we explore where you should spend—and where you can save—when starting your new small business.
Part I: Where You Should Spend
It’s tempting—and generally wise—to cut corners when starting a small business and to choose your expenditures wisely, since it’s likely that you may not have a lot of seed money to start with and it may take awhile before revenue comes marching in the door. Don’t make the mistake of cutting corners on absolutely everything, however. Here are the things—in my own humble opinion–that you should never scrimp on (even if you’re tempted):
Going to law school and, later, working as the communications director for two large law firms taught me a very important business lesson: Don’t make a big business move without first consulting with a business lawyer. It’s important to find someone you trust, who has demonstrated experience helping small businesses like yours, and whose fees are palatable to your pocketbook. A good business lawyer will help you structure your new business in a way that makes the most sense for your business objectives, keep you on the right side of the law in your jurisdiction, and protect your business from unforeseen legal issues down the road.
This will probably be one of the biggest expenses you will incur during the start-up of your small business. Lawyers are expensive. (One reason is because, as my husband likes to say, “If the work was fun, people would do it for free.”) Just gulp now and accept it. But legal planning now will save you time, and perhaps costly problems and unforeseen “surprises,” down the road. It’s kind of like going to the doctor: a full work-up now will keep you on the healthy path toward the future.
You may also need an intellectual property lawyer to help you file any trademarks or service marks that you are developing as part of your new business. You may want to do this as soon as possible after meeting with your business lawyer, since filing trademark applications takes time and is a fairly slow and tedious process—not to mention that you will want to protect your intellectual property from the very beginning of your business venture.
Accounting and tax services.
Uncle Sam is not always the friendliest guy. Not if you mess up your taxes, that is. Spare yourself the guess-work and hire a good certified public accountant (CPA) with small-business experience to guide you through the tax process. It pays to start building a relationship with a CPA you trust; as your business grows, your accounting and tax needs also will grow in scope and complexity and you will want to rely on someone who’s been with you from the beginning, who understands your business goals and who can help you navigate complex tax laws (which seem to be getting more complicated with each passing year).
In the same spirit, invest in a good accounting system for your business so you can be organized and effective in invoicing clients, paying your bills, and staying on top of your cash flow. QuickBooks offers several easy-to-use solutions, including a starter version that is free and can be upgraded as your client base—and your business needs—grow.
It’s worth it to spend a little money on developing a brand for your new business, followed by a simple business card and Web site so that potential customers have a way to find you. My 10-plus years in the marketing and communications arena have given me a very strong bias, which I will share with you here: Hire an expert to help you. Don’t try to do this yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. Being able to create circles in Microsoft Word does not make you a designer and plugging words together does not make you a writer—and, if done poorly or sloppily, it will make you look ridiculous. And, for pete’s sake, that handwriting font that looks like a little kid scribbled with a pencil should be outlawed. Just…don’t go there.
Hiring a graphic designer, a writer or a marketing/communications consultant can make all the difference between giving the impression of being a strong, successful, professional, contemporary business or a rinky-dink, unprofessional business that’s running out of someone’s back bedroom…and looks like it. And, frankly, if you are a client seeking to hire a sole proprietor, which company will you trust more with your business, based on first impression alone?
You need not hire a costly agency to help you. There are some outstanding freelance designers, writers and consultants (I like to think I am one of them) who have award-winning experience and who, because they are freelancers with low overhead, can offer you a better price than some of the flashy agencies and creative services firms. Some may even be willing to barter services with you as a cost-effective solution.
A post office box.
If your office is in your home, you will want to consider renting a post office box from the local post office or mailing-related store (such as Mailboxes, Etc., or The UPS Store). Since you will want to keep your personal mail separate from your business mail, this is one way to ensure that happens. And, if you work from home, you probably won’t want to broadcast your home address to strangers who visit your Web site. A p.o. box gives you a business presence, and a place to direct your mail, while protecting your privacy at home. Generally, post office boxes are available in a variety of sizes and the cost to rent a box is commensurate with the size.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in Thursday’s issue of The Daily Rung, where we highlight some areas where you should save money in starting up your new business venture.
Mon 4 Jan 2010
Guest Column By Marni Hockenberg
(c) January 4, 2009
As a professional trained recruiter and interviewer, I had enjoyed a long and successful career working for other people—including working as an award-winning senior search consultant for an agency that would become part of one the largest staffing agencies in the U.S. and serving as a founding member of an information technology training company, where I focused on business development initiatives.
It was a successful and exciting career by most accounts—but even so, I’d always held on to the hope that one day I would pursue my dream of entrepreneurship and start my own company. And, in 2002 I finally had the opportunity. I dreamed, I schemed, I planned and I just decided to “go for it.” Joining forces with a longtime colleague of mine, I co-founded The Hiring Experts, a search firm focused on providing recruiting and search services for companies of all sizes and in most industries.
After The Hiring Experts closed, just last year I formed a new company, Hockenberg Search. Some of my clients call me a “professional matchmaker” or an “ambassador.” Whatever the terminology, my job is to help small- and medium-sized businesses find, recruit and retain top “A List” talent.
Throughout these years of entrepreneurship, including this most recent business venture that is mine alone, I’ve learned three important things that I think are fundamental to success, no matter what business venture or industry you’re considering. What’s interesting is that these tips also can apply for those of you who may be considering a new career opportunity rather than self-employment, specifically.
1. Passion for your business is the key.
If you have a burning desire to take your product or service to market and believe in your ability to succeed, you will stack the decks in your favor to “make it.” Your friends and family will sense the passion in your voice when you talk about your business; your customers and prospects will know that you take your business seriously; and every morning when you wake up, the passion for your business will propel you to forge ahead and put in many hours that will be a labor of love. If you don’t have a passion for your business, don’t even bother to start it.
2. An ad hoc “advisory board” of trusted friends, family or service providers that believe in you and your business will get you through the dark days of doubt and fear.
Find people who are optimistic, have high self-esteem, have business experience, a track record of achievement and success, and who will tell you the honest truth (even if you don’t want to hear it). These are your cheerleaders, and you don’t need to be the Lone Ranger when you start a business.
3. Attend networking events and become active on social media outlets such as LinkedIn and Twitter.
You will begin to build your personal and business brand to the outside world which will differentiate you in the crowded marketplace. This is the beginning of building a referral network for your business. People generally need multiple exposures to a product or service before they buy it – your brand is the beginning of creating this awareness. What do you stand for? What is your value in the marketplace? What business problems or personal problems will you solve for your customers? Ensure that people will feel proud to recommend you or your business to others.
Now…Good luck and go for it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Guest columnist Marni Hockenberg is principal of Hockenberg Search, a professional and managerial recruiting firm based in Minnetonka, Minn. With more than two decades of recruiting and business consulting experience, Marni Hockenberg has a proven track record of providing focused, personalized search services to small- and medium-sized businesses to help them find, recruit, and retain top-tier talent.
Mon 21 Dec 2009
(c) December 21, 2009
One day, when Chuck Solomon was in high school, his dad announced to him: “You’re going to help me re-roof the house.”
Taken by surprise, Solomon asked his dad, a pharmacist, “What do you know about roofing?” to which his father replied: “I went to the lumber yard and asked lots of questions.”
The roof got built (and lasted for years) and so did a new do-it-yourself hobby for Solomon, who went on to do the occasional home repair project for friends and was frequently hired to do some painting for a few of his college professors.
After a circuitous career over the next decade as a social worker, nonprofit administrator, information technology recruiter and, later, a stay-at-home dad, Solomon eventually returned to his hobby handyman business when his son started school. Before long, it had grown into a full-time venture.
Today, Handyman Solutions is the go-to resource for homeowners in North Carolina’s Triangle region who are seeking help with everything from stringing Christmas lights to simple repairs to full-on bathroom remodeling projects.
Solomon is the editor of the HouseFixer blog and recently published a book, Building Your Successful Handyman Business: A guide to starting and operating a profitable contracting business (available for purchase on Amazon), to help tradesmen better hone their business skills.
He shares his three best tips with others who have recently started, or are considering starting, their own small businesses:
1. From losses come gains.
The financial crisis led to the collapse of many businesses, both large and small, but for Solomon, it’s also sparked innovation. Instead of bemoaning lost income streams, he challenged himself to be creative in exploring new ones.
“I saw the writing on the wall when the banks crashed, so I went back to the well,” says Solomon. Back in the real estate heyday, for example, a significant portion of business came from real estate agents who needed help with basic home repairs contingent on closing a sale. When real estate activity dried up, Solomon flexed in a new direction: providing “on the ground” repair services to homeowners who had moved out of town but were forced to rent their homes rather than sell the property at a loss.
“I consider myself lucky, but also purposeful about taking steps to counteract potential challenges,” he says. “And, even in this economy, people are still living in homes. We’re not going back to caves and huts. There’s still a need for help.”
2. Being the expert in your field doesn’t mean being an expert on everything.
There’s a lot involved in starting a small business—but many proprietors make the mistake of thinking they must go it alone. And that often leads to guesswork, which can be time-consuming at best, or costly at worst.
Take, for instance, taxes. Small business owners typically are required to file quarterly tax estimates with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and failing to do so can be a costly mistake.
“When you work for someone else, they take the taxes out for you before you ever see your paycheck and you never think twice about it,” says Solomon. “But when you start your own business, you alone are responsible for withholding the appropriate taxes. Guessing is hard—and I recommend that small business owners hire a CPA to work with you from the very beginning.”
And, if hiring a professional advisor is too costly for your checkbook, consider bartering services. Many small businesses are just starting out, like you, and bartering services is a great way to accomplish what you need, while also helping your collaborator build his or her own professional portfolio.
3. Be confident about pricing.
One of the challenges many small business owners face is what to charge for their services. When starting out, it’s tempting to panic and start cutting prices or offering discounts just to get business—but that’s often a bad strategy for long-term success.
“I tell my clients that I run an above-board business,” says Solomon. “I have insurance, I pay taxes, I pay the people who work for me. I need to be profitable, and my clients need me to be profitable. They want to know that when they call me in a year, I’ll still be there.”
Even so, it’s important to determine a competitive pricing model. Solomon calls competitors to see what they charge for similar services, and he keeps impeccable client records to keep tabs on what his clients paid in the past. “People tend to buy by price, not value,” he says. “And most people won’t choose the provider who charges top dollar or the lowest dollar—they select someone right in the middle. So, I always try to make sure my prices fall right in the middle, and I always give my clients my best price upfront.”
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Chuck Solomon of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, is the owner of Handyman Solutions, a small business specializing in residential home improvement services from carpentry, flooring, painting and general handyman repairs. He blogs about various home repair topics on House Fixer and he is the author of the recently published guidebook, Building Your Successful Handyman Business: A guide to starting and operating a profitable contracting business.
Thu 17 Dec 2009
By Sharon Korbeck Verbeten
(c) December 17, 2009
If you’ve purchased a first home, you’ll recall how that experience took research, planning, expense, time and a healthy dose of resolve. It also likely involved a leap of faith.
That’s not unlike starting your own freelance writing business—which I did five years ago. And while launching All Write Creative Services was just as unpredictable as buying my first house, my decision has proven just as comfortable as that modest two-bedroom ranch.
After more than 20 years working in magazine and newspaper journalism, I summoned up my desire and connections (along with motivation and moxie) to break out on my own. At first, I needed a bit of convincing, but with the support of family, friends and business associates, All Write Creative moved from a longtime desire to a reality.
Here are three things I learned from launching my own business.
1. Remember: You aren’t just a freelance writer. You’re a business owner.
You’re not just a freelance writer; you’re a business owner. Before you begin, write a proposed business plan to determine the specifics of your business. What will you call your business? Proposed business expenses and income? Will you work 9 to 5 or have more flexible hours? Work from home or rent an office? Incorporate your business? Hire an accountant? Specialize or offer more broad-based services?
Proudly introduce yourself as a small business owner. Presenting yourself in a professional manner–complete with business cards and a title (I chose “editorial director”)—allows others to take you seriously. Too many people still believe that writing is something people do just for fun. Let people know this is your business, and they will be more likely to treat it as such.
2. Don’t underestimate the power of networking.
Even if you’re extremely well connected, never underestimate the value of meeting new people. You never know where your next assignment will come from. More than a decade ago, I worked in the funeral industry; a former colleague of mine heard I was freelancing and later called me first when she learned of an editorial project in that industry. In another instance, I was chatting with an old friend who knew an editor in the waste management industry. Now that editor offers me regular work. Sure, in both cases, I had to introduce myself, follow up, provide writing samples and prove I could do the work, but I may never have pursued—or even known about—those opportunities had it not been for these contacts.
Don’t overlook other freelance writers. Consider them connections, not competition. Some of my best connections with editors have been through referrals from their regular writing stable. There’s plenty of work for talented, dependable writers, and editors trust their better writers’ referrals.
3. Working on assignment…and other misconceptions.
Before I started my business, I thought I’d always be flush with assignments from my “regular” editors. It doesn’t always work that way. And while these clients are good to me, sometimes they’re too backed up with stories to need anything. Or they may be too busy to respond or make a formal assignment. That’s why you always need feelers and queries out there—to your regular clients as well as to new markets. And remember, once you break into a new market, be sure to ace the assignment (turn it in clean and early!) and foster the relationship so they become one of your regulars.
Much like any major decision in life—buying a house, having a baby—starting your own freelance business comes with its own set of “must haves” and “must knows.” Remember that the key to staying sane while serving up success is being prepared and organized—while still being ready for the unexpected!
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Sharon Verbeten, a regular contributor to Tripping on the Ladder, is editorial director of All Write Creative Services in De Pere, Wis. Before starting her own business, she worked for 10 years as editorial director of three national hobby magazines. A 20-year veteran of journalism, she now writes for many national trade and consumer publications in the antiques, library, funeral service, waste management and business sectors.