Thinking of starting your own business? Here are 19 things I wish I knew before I started my own business.
1. Starting a Business is Really Easy
You don’t need anything fancy to start a business. You don’t need start-up capital. You don’t need an office. You don’t need a website. Or even your own domain name. You don’t need business cards. You don’t need a bank account. You can just start working.
2. Find Someone Who Will Buy Your Product or Service (Before You Do Anything Else)
The only thing you need to start a business is someone to buy your product or service. And then you need the ability to provide that product or service. It’s that simple.
3. Don’t Google for Answers
Google can serve up a lot of great tips about how to start a business. But you can waste an enormous amount of time reading posts about whether your business should be an S Corp or an LLC. But guess what? None of these posts are tailored to your business. Don’t waste your time Googling.
4. Instead Visit the Library
A better starting point for forming your own business is the library. The small business section of the library has a book for nearly every question you want the answer to and if you can’t find something, the librarians will help you.
5. Or Take People to Lunch
Taking a business owner to lunch and asking them questions about how they got their business idea, found their first client, or marketed their first product will teach you more than you could have learned from 25 hours on Google or 8 hours reading a book. Any business owner will do. Then, once you’ve met with them, ask for more business owners who they might suggest reaching out to based on your business idea.
SCORE is a non-profit that offers free small business advice. There are chapters all over the country and the mentors are committed to helping you with your business. SCORE is an incredible resource that every person starting a business should take advantage of.
7. The Government Wants to Help You
This may come as a shock, but local, state, and federal resources for small business owners are actually quite helpful. Contact your Secretary of State’s office and ask them for assistance — they’ll point you in the right direction.
8. You Don’t Need Business Cards
There are lots of things that you think you need to run a business. And lots of things other people will tell you you need. But, the best thing to do is to wait until someone actually says “do you have [____]?” until you go out and get that thing.
9. Except When You Do
Of course, there are times when you do need [____] before you can proceed. Most of the time whatever that thing is will be a minor hiccup. “I’m sorry, I must have run out of business cards” usually works. But, occasionally you’ll run into a show-stopping disaster — e.g. make sure you get your USDA and government permits before you close one food processing facility and open another. The best way to avoid these show-stoppers? Talk to people who have been there before and ask them “what do you wish you knew before starting your business in this field?”
10. Figure Out If You Have More Time Than Money or More Money Than Time
Most people who are starting their own business for the first time have more time than money. But some people have money to throw at their new business idea, but no time to commit to it. Figure out which one you are.
11. Then Act Accordingly
Once you know if you’re a “more money than time” or “more time than money” person, act like it. Don’t hire someone as a virtual assistant if you don’t yet have enough work to pay them. Likewise, do hire someone to reply to your emails if you don’t have the time to respond yourself.
12. Have a Strategic Plan
Every business should have a plan. You should have some goals for where you want your business to be in 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, a year, and even further out. And you should have a plan of how to get there.
13. But Be Willing to Change Your Plan
Your business will never go according to plan. That’s just the way business (and life) works. The best thing you can do is be flexible. Look for opportunities. And make changes as needed.
14. PO Boxes and Google Voice Are Your Friends
Once you actually form some sort of business, you’re going to have to put your address and phone number in a lot of places. As a woman, I was concerned about letting everyone know exactly where to reach me. Thankfully, PO boxes are cheap. And with Google Voice you get your own phone number – which you can forward to your cell phone – for free.
15. Get a Partner (Sometimes)
Having a business partner can greatly improve business. It increases accountability. It increases your reach. It increases the amount of work you can get done. If you think a business partner might help you, get one.
16. But Choose Your Partner Carefully
Once you start working with someone you’ve formed a Partnership. That’s a capital “P” because Partnerships are legal entities. But, you don’t need any legal documents. Partnerships just happen. They happen when you start working with someone. And they are controlled by all sorts of state laws which may be very disadvantageous to you and your business. So, tread carefully when working with someone else.
17. Get a Good Lawyer
Once you start making money with your business (or before you start making money if you’re working with a partner), you’ll need a lawyer. A good business lawyer can quickly and efficiently help you figure out everything you need to know. They not only help ensure you’re running your business in compliance with the law, but they’ll help prevent major problems before they would have otherwise occurred.
18. And a Good Accountant
Besides a lawyer, you’ll want an accountant on your team. Accountants aren’t nearly as expensive as you might expect. And they’ll save you hassle and money when it comes tax time.
19. Most Businesses Fail, So Have Fun
We all hear the statistics about how most small business owners don’t “succeed” their first go round. Success is defined in different ways by different people – so don’t let the statistics get you down. But the reality is that things might not work out, so you might as well enjoy the process along the way.
What do you wish you knew before starting a business?