The Essential Guide To Launching A Small Business
eing my own boss has been the best and the worst thing that has happened to me.
I spend most of my time creating and feeling like I’m on top of the world. There are some difficult, seemingly impossible days as well. The beauty of owning your own business is waking up every day and rising to each new challenge.
But this didn’t just happen overnight.
Before I evolved into the Bouji Visionary I am today, I was working full-time as a Visual Merchandising Manager at Banana Republic. I loved the work I did, but due to ineffective and often toxic management I never felt valued or respected. I always felt like I had untapped potential just waiting to be explored. I wanted to bring my creative passion into my own projects and work for myself, so in 2016, I began working in my spare time as a freelance designer and photographer, charging people $20 to grow my portfolio.
I continued to work at BR for two more years, occasionally applying for other jobs, always being turned down for my lack of experience. Towards the end it became very difficult to come into work due to disrespect and mistreatment from management. Feeling burnt out, I conjured up a plan to tough out the rest of 2018 and save up to begin working full-time for my business. However, instead of waiting I found myself quitting only a week later, after suffering a mental breakdown.
With nothing left to lose, I dove fully into my business and for the first time in my life, working felt right. I felt it in my core. This is what I need to do.
I spent a lot of time researching, reaching out and learning all I could from each experience. I developed my skill set and forged new connections. I threw myself into anything and everything I could, as long as it forced me to grow. Much of my learning was through trial and error. Mistakes were made. Pits were stumbled into. I battled the snakes and climbed out again. This was an immensely challenging time for me, but I wouldn’t trade any of these experiences for anything in the world.
I never had a guide or a mentor. Learning from others’ mistakes can be extremely helpful, so
I’m writing this to guide other passionate creatives to success. This is what I would have wanted to know when I was just starting out and the world of business seemed cold and intimidating.
With this post I hope to encourage you and shine a light on the reality, joys, and pitfalls of owning your own business.
Brace Yourself - Mentally & Physically
If you plan on starting your own business, be realistic with yourself. Owning and operating a business will require sacrifice. This is a huge time sink and financial commitment. It will test your mental fortitude daily.
This isn’t to scare you. Being your own boss is an amazing achievement. However, it comes along with a steep learning curve and consequences if it isn’t thought out well. Whether you are going to start your business with a partner, eventually grow a team, or forge ahead solo, it all begins with you. You need to trust and rely on yourself. Believe in yourself!
I will be transparent about my own experience and say this is not easy. I suffer from paranoia, severe depression, seasonal depression, and general anxiety disorder. I doubt myself daily, turn off my phone weekly, cry monthly, and feel depressed yearly. I had to come to terms with the ways I work, mentally and physically, and build it into my business process. Each day is difficult in its own way, but after all this pain and struggle I am rewarded with deep feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Be honest with yourself, be ready to adapt to anything, and above all, be realistic.
The Power of Brainstorming
42% of businesses fail because the market doesn’t need the services they offer. This, and other common pitfalls can be avoided with basic research. There will be many things you don’t know, and you’ll need to search Google, read articles, watch videos, or ask people around you for answers.
Research may seem intimidating but I will assure you it’s quite simple, and made easy through an effective process called brainstorming. All this means is taking a step back and giving yourself the freedom to let your ideas flow.
At this stage there are no wrong answers and no bad ideas. When you’re brainstorming you should be scribbling, mumbling to yourself, or crumpling paper. Think each idea through to its logical conclusion.
Here are a few simple exercises to use while brainstorming. Each tool can help you approach your problem with a different question, like how or when to do something, and will help you to determine the best way forward.
Mind mapping is an easy tool that helps you visualize how to approach your idea or task by breaking it down into manageable steps.
- Grab a notebook or blank piece of paper and write down the problem or task you’re trying to solve in the center. Draw a circle around it.
- Expand on this by surrounding your task with possible steps needed to complete it. For example, if your task is to “build a website”, you might include steps such as, “ design a theme”, “complete content layout”, and “register domain”. Draw circles around each of these steps and connect them to your main task.
- Next, further break down each subtask into reasonable steps. In this example, the steps for “complete content layout” might include “organize services”, and “draft an ‘about us’ page”. Connect each of these to its subtask.
- Step back and look at the big picture. Your formerly overwhelming task is now clearly laid out and manageable.
Notes & Planning
If you are struggling to complete a number of tasks within a certain timeframe, this is a hands-on tool to help you physically manage your to-do list by determining when each item should be worked on.
- Grab a writing utensil and get to writing your tasks separately on note cards or post it notes.
- Take each idea and stick it on the wall.
- Step back and consider how much time each is likely to take, and when it will be due.
- Reorder your note cards until you arrive at a sensible plan of action. You will now have a solid schedule in place to get everything done on time.
What it boils down to is this: You can never know too much, you can never think too much, and you can never be too prepared. If you don't find answers within yourself, how will you find answers for your clients? Once you have found your mission in life, your vision for the future, and what you expect to do in this world, you’re ready!
Lay Out The Blueprint
After your breakthrough you should lay out a plan for your business. Most will tell you need a business plan, but that may seem intimidating. In reality, you simply need to know a few things:
Define Your Business Goals
Start by defining your client, financial, and growth/reach goals. Knowing how you want to grow, how many clients you want to take on, and how much you want to make will make your day-to-day operation much easier.
Create A Vision Board
This is the hardest, weirdest, and most thrilling part of this entire process. It ultimately depends on who you are. After you have defined your goals, create a vision board filled with clients and companies you want to work with and ideas you want to execute. This vision board needs to be filled with things that showcase your future. Good things come to those who wait.
Build Your Business Structure
Once you have completed the brain work you will need to figure out how you will structure your business. This is best left to experts, and I strongly recommend consulting with a financial planner (also known as a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA) and a lawyer about what they recommend for your business. Meeting with both will provide you with the best perspective and direction. Keep in mind, free consultations exist, you just have to seek them out. If this isn’t feasible simply research the different business models (DBA, LLC, INC) and determine which aligns best with your goals.
If you’ve made it this far, you should consider getting a certification, degree, or educational background in the field you want to start a business in. This step is not strictly necessary, but will provide some considerable advantages. I myself am self-taught and understand both the privilege of having a degree and self education. There are a variety of places that may have great opportunities and resources for you to choose from. Choose the education path that works best for you. (Self-taught, Associates, Bachelor, Masters, Etc.)
Find The Resources
This is crucial. Make the most of your situation and find resources for your business. As a Creative Director I have a printing press, stock photos, and models in my back pocket. Having these resources has made my job so much easier. What kind of resources do I recommend? There are so many but a few good ones would be business partners, groups within your field, websites that offer tools for your field, local business resources, or other business that can mass produce products.
I will admit this word was scary to me until I hired a Certified Public Accountant to handle the financial aspect of my business. My CPA reassured me that there is nothing to fear about taxes. I wholeheartedly recommend doing a google search or finding a local CPA who can help you manage your finances and file your taxes. Not knowing how to manage your money is okay. You can either do your own taxes or hire a CPA or find free tax resources in your city to help you manage your finances better.
Forge Your Foundation
The foundation of your company is your brand and messaging. These two elements guide you to your successful future. A question I am constantly asked is What is a brand? A brand is simply the identity of an individual or business that people experience. Your brand is how you’re known, how you’re talked about, how you’re perceived. I always tell my clients If you want to make money, you need to spend money. Branding is one of those things I recommend you invest into. Here are a few elements your foundation needs
Create The 'IT' Name
There are 26 letters in the alphabet and a plethora of name combinations. Which name will be successful? That’s the question I ask my every client when they approach me. Your name is the #1 priority because it’s what people know, see and feel.
Develop Your Messaging
What do you want people to know? How do you want it to be said? These are questions answered by messaging. This is the communication element that will really pull people in. The most persuasive brand messaging is concise, compelling, and cohesive. Some examples of brand messaging are: Your tagline, company bio, or your company story.
Formulate A Strategy
In the last section, I mentioned you should make a list of goals. This is where those goals come into play. Having a brand strategy is more than just what you do. Your brand strategy is the meaning behind it. Businesses that just do aren’t as effective those who have intentions behind their behavior.
Establish your Presence
Often, when people are asked to imagine or identify a brand, the first thing they think of is a brand’s presence. Your brand presence consists of the logo, business cards, website, or content you market yourself with. Depending on the content, people can paint an ugly or pretty picture of what you do. Create a brand strategy and the creation of your presence will be easy.
One of the biggest myths about starting a business is thinking that you’ve got to do it alone. The truth is that you cannot create a great business without help. You may need some guidance to invest your money into the right things. Put your mind at ease and hire an agency or a freelance brand creator like me to create your brand with you. We offer a variety of prices and payment options that appease your cash flow. Remember, you need to invest money to make money.
Write Your Contract(s)
They say that your contracts define who and how people have messed with you in the past. This is the single most important document of your business because you need to protect yourself from people who will take advantage of you. No one will value your time until you show them you need to be taken seriously as a professional. I have had multiple people not pay their invoices after I sent the final work, or fail to show up to meetings, or try to expand the scope of the project without wanting to pay more for extra work.
This was a harsh lesson to learn. Because I didn’t have a concrete contract, or I wasn’t strict about the timeline, people didn’t take me seriously and walked all over me. Learn from my mistakes and protect yourself with these few tips:
Research. Research. Research.
Go to your preferred search engine tool and type in “Free Contract Templates”. This revolutionary search will bring up a lot of tools and resources you can utilize to create your own contracts. Read contracts of other people in your industry. For example, I began my search with “Freelance Graphic Designer Contract Template”. I combined elements of 5 different contracts to create one I felt best represented my needs.
You can write your own contract, but make sure you’re covered by consulting with a lawyer. They have experience and will know the things we don’t know. Lawyers are expensive but they have free services if you do your research.
Anticipate Potential Issues
You won’t be able to predict everything that might go wrong, but you can cover some of your bases. For example, if you’re prone to becoming frustrated when people are late and don’t call ahead of time to warn you, you can add an attendance clause into your contract to give potential clients fair warning that you expect them to value your time. This can go a long way to mitigating the sense of wasted time that comes with unexpected cancellations.
Test Your Product
I know you will be excited to launch your company, but make sure to take a step back and test your product and services before you have a huge launch. Few businesses test their services before the launch. Having a test stage will help you build a process and develop an experience around that product. This is a simple and painless stage work with friends, create pro bono work to build your portfolio, or find strangers for an unbiased opinion. Just give it a try!
Launch your Business
You did it! This is everyone's favorite part of the process and the most rewarding. Before this day comes, plan a special event both online and in person. Building your following and hearing people's responses can be very heartwarming. Utilize this time to give your business meaning and tell the world you have arrived!
Celebrate Your Success
At the end of the day, I want to really communicate that launching a business takes time, money, and patience. You cannot quit your job one day and start building a business without a solid plan. After reading all of this I want you to make a promise to yourself:
If I start a business I will be patient with myself, I will create a plan before making any life changing decisions, and that I will create something with quality and not worry about the quantity.
I cannot promise you success, I can only promise that this is how you create a quality brand.