My first business opened when I was a mere 10 years old. Making money wasn’t only fun; I did it because I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment when someone paid me for something I had created.
That first foray into having a business was a disaster. Not because what I was doing didn’t provide a service, but because my mother didn’t believe I should be selling anything to our neighbors. There was no internet and I couldn’t drive, so my neighbors were my only clients.
I learned a valuable lesson – I must have permission from my mother before I could sell ANYTHING until I was out of the house.
I had to go back to everyone who had purchased from me and return their money, and insist they keep the product. It was a bit degrading, and essentially squashed my desire to have my own business until I was out of college.
Although I continued to write through the years, I didn’t make an effort to sell it or develop a plan. It wasn’t until I was finished with my first degree that I decided it was time to branch out again. I did my research, made a plan, put in the foundation and published a review journal for rehabilitation professionals.
However, while I enjoyed the work, and grew a client base, I didn’t accommodate for technological changes. When the information I provided was easily searchable online, my client base dried up and so did my extra income.
While the loss of income was aggravating, it was the loss of accomplishment I missed the most. The next time it was an embezzling business partner who stole $13,000 of my hard earned money that was a devastating loss.
The third time was a charm and I’ve been rolling along ever since. These are the six mistakes I learned about starting your own business and how you can avoid them.
Do Your Research
It seems like a reasonable assumption that research is important, but you might be surprised how many times people start a business because they fall in love with an idea and don’t think it all the way through.
Research is important to the success of your business. But, even more important, is your ability to read the research, interpret the results and listen to advice from people who have been there before you.
You may love the idea of what you want to do, but unless there are people willing to buy from you, it won’t matter how much effort and quality you put into your product, you won’t be successful.
Make a Plan
You might be a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of gal, that just doesn’t work. It’s time to make a short-term and long-term plan for your business. Where do you see yourself in 1 year and how do you intend to get there? In five years? In ten years?
Your plan must include the research that needs to be done to identify the viability of your service or product, who you’ll sell to, how you’ll market your product or service, how you’ll grow the business, your merchant accounts, invoicing, paperwork, accounting practice, taxes, production, and more. However, don’t forget to be flexible along the way. If a new opportunity for marketing or something else appears to derail the “Plan,” alter the plan – as long as the new plan is successful! There is always room for testing.
Anything in life grows because you address it consistently and persistently. God says that what you keep your eyes on will grow. When you spend time with God, your family, your friends – those relationships grow. When you spend time in your business with your eyes on the prize, you’ll get there.
It may not happen the way you think, in your time, or how you want it. But when you stay focused on your business it will mature in some form or another.
Don’t give up. If it’s what you want, don’t give up.
Build a Team
Every good business is built on a strong team. You probably won’t have the funds to hire a team quickly, and realistically – you shouldn’t. The early months and years are time for you to learn how to handle each aspect of your business until there are the funds to bring on an employee.
But, that doesn’t mean you can’t hire a virtual assistant as you need one and pay for just the hours you use them. You can talk with the local business schools looking for someone who needs an internship (paid or unpaid) to finish their degree. There are grants you can apply for to help you pay for an intern.
Depending upon what you’re doing, there is a solution. You have to look for it.
You Don’t Need Perfection
PLEASE don’t wait to be perfect! You’ll make less money if you wait until your plan and business is perfect before you open your virtual doors. You’ll learn more about how to change to accommodate your customers by being flexible, opening early and listening to both your customer and your spreadsheets.
Don’t be rigid with your idea. Don’t fall in love with the plan. Instead, listen to what others (including your customers) are saying and learn to change what you’re doing. I also work with a health and wellness company. Before they launched the focus changed two or three times, and once again after launch in response to customer need. It has turned out for the best, for both the company and the customers.
Marketing and Money
Money and marketing are the most painful mistakes you can make. Money hits you right where it hurts and your marketing involves your money. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Don’t skimp on an attorney. Be sure you’re operating within the letter and spirit of the law or you could end up paying fines until you’re old and grey.
- Never risk your retirement funds, or anyone else’s retirement funds. If your idea is that great, find an angel investor or get a bank loan. You need the money when you retire to eat and put a roof over your head.
- Don’t skimp on your marketing. Marketing is what drive sales. Sales make money. You can keep to a marketing budget, but use the money wisely and HAVE a marketing budget. That budget can be all your company’s income – but you have to spend some money on marketing.
- Use a budget for all your business needs and not just the marketing. You must know how much you can spend on virtual assistants, product creation, development, overhead, taxes, Internet costs, merchant accounts and more.
- Keep your books up-to-date, every month. It might seem like a no-brainer, but you can easily get caught up in your day-to-day events of marketing and selling. Before you know it December rolls around and you’re spending hours, if not days, recreating your business accounts for Uncle Sam. Keeping your books up-to-date is also important when you have investors or a loan from the bank. Even the occasional offer for your business will want to see your books.
- The tax man cometh. The tax man always cometh! Keeping your books up-to-date helps to keep track of how much money you owe in taxes every quarter. Pay your quarterly taxes, even if they’re only $100 so you won’t be hit with fees at the end of the year.
Having your own business is fun, exciting and I have LOVED it for over 10 years now. There are accomplishments, challenges and obstacles to overcome. But the rewards are amazing. Not just money in the bank, but the lessons you learn and the ones you teach your children.