4 Things That Really Matter When You Start a Business
I was working my ass off, but my boss didn’t think my work was relevant. I wasn’t getting along with the men on my team, my boss just dismissed their lack of accountability. The clients weren’t happy, but my boss thought we should just focus on getting new clients.
Things weren’t going well. It wasn’t hard to spot.
I wanted to leave the company but I didn’t think I had set myself up to go into business on my own yet. That’s when it happened: the boss fired me.
The world came crashing down around me. No more financial stability. No more 9-5. No more guarantee of work. It was terrifying, and if I’m being honest, I really didn’t know if I was up for the challenge.
At first I was numb. I cried a lot. This was on a Friday. By Monday morning, I had bought my website, applied for my LLC, and hit LinkedIn hard. After a year of working to make a name for myself, my business was a success. I might not be making $20K months like all the coaches and consultants on Facebook, but my business is profitable and is consistently growing.
Looking back over the past 12 months, I’ve realized that there’s a lot of shit we fret over in the early days of a business that are completely useless to us. Here’s what I learned about what REALLY matters when you start a business.
First things first: you can’t start a business if you don’t know the industry. Want to be a social media consultant? You should probably have more than 500 Instagram followers. Want to open a yoga studio? You should probably go get certified.
Perception is reality, so if the image you project online or in-person is one of an individual who is just getting their feet wet, you need more time. Take a course, get some experience, do some volunteer work. There’s no wrong way to get educated.
Even if your resume isn’t overflowing with job titles that sound important, your knowledge will still shine through when you connect with people. When you think the time is right to go into business for yourself, trust in that knowledge: you worked hard for it.
Unlike when you’re searching for a job, however, your resume isn’t the only “knowledge” that matters when you start a brand. You need to do a little digging on the mechanics of owning a business. Here’s a few things you should research on your own:
Best business structure (LLCs, S-Corps, etc.)
Most effective way to accept payment
A plan for generating stable revenue
Taxes, taxes, taxes!
The number one killer of a business is lack of exposure. If no one knows about your business and the value you bring, you can’t bring in new customers or clients. Without new business, it’s nearly impossible to keep going. (That’s why people hire marketers like me, yo.)
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: about 20% fail in their first year, and about 50% of small businesses fail in their fifth year. (Source) These numbers aren’t surprising, or at least they shouldn’t be—we hear about businesses new and old shutting their doors all the time.
Now I can’t say that their marketing was the problem, but I can say, that marketing yourself as a new business owner is absolutely crucial. Marketing comes in many forms, but with all the inbound marketing hype, there’s one big piece that lots of new businesses completely forget out: real relationships with real people.
Who you know matters, and if you think you can do this business thing on your own, you’re wrong. Now I’m not saying that you need to rub elbows with all the top players in your industry, but you’ve got to make some friends.
Make a point to connect with someone in your niche who is willing to be a guide and mentor. Be sure to connect with people outside your niche who have a passion for what you do. Be sure to connect with the competition to see if there’s any way you can come together for the good of both brands.
Creating strong connections is hard and it takes effort, but when you have the right people in your corner, your business has a much greater chance of success.
I’ll preface this by saying that the customer is NOT always right, and we don’t need to bend over backwards to work with people who are wrong for us. However, I have seen too many individuals running businesses who care more for the bottom line than they do for the ones they serve. Guess what? It shows.
I want to work less hours and spend more time traveling to Europe; I’m not ashamed of it. I’ll just say it: we’re all in business to make money. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be successful and have more cash than any person really needs. We’re entitled to our desires, ok?
The problem arises when you find ways to get that cash through dishonesty, by doing sub-par work, and operating in a way that puts others at a disadvantage.
It’s so cliche, but I’m going to say it anyway: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
When your service is awesome and effective, people will pay more for it without blinking an eye. When your products are high-quality and make people feel good, they won’t hesitate to buy from you again and again. When you treat people the way you would want to be treated, your business account will reflect that.
No matter what your financial goals are, your integrity matters. Let it guide you, the rest will follow.
When I was fired from that “dream job”, I was faced with crippling self-doubt. I was only good at this because the boss knew what he was doing! I was only able to be successful because the clients came to me already!
Then my husband pulled me aside and started asking me questions about my old clients.
Who did this? How did you get that result? What is the client feeling?
And then it hit me, I had done plenty of good stuff. I was really qualified to start this business. Like, REALLY qualified.
But you can’t do anything if you don’t believe you can. It doesn’t matter if your partner believes in you, and it doesn’t matter if your network believes in you. If you don’t have that fundamental trust in your own abilities, you won’t be able to successfully launch your own business.
So here’s my advice: before you get a logo, before you do market research, before you apply for a loan, write yourself 3-5 case studies. Write down who you worked for, what their goals were, what steps you took to help them achieve these goals, and what the final outcome was.
Got a product-based business? No problem. Reach out to customers you’ve had in the past and ask them why they bought from you in the first place and what is so special to them about your products. Hell, write about how you feel about the products yourself!
Look at what you’ve written down. Now look at what you have achieved! Chances are that you’re already “there”, you just haven’t indulged in your own successes enough to see your accomplishments for what they really are.
Your innate understanding of your true ability is essential, because when you’re an employee, someone hands you a job and says “do it”. When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to be the CEO, business manager, director of operations, and VP of sales—and nothing will sell your product or service like your own radiant confidence.
So forget about the logo. Don’t stress about the website right away. Forget about getting a bunch of funding for now. What you really need is simple: knowledge, a network, empathy, and confidence. With those four things, you have the right foundation to build upon with a business plan, marketing strategy, mission statement, and all that other stuff will come in time.
So if you’re ready to take the plunge into entrepreneurship, just know that you don’t need a big budget or a fancy degree. You can get started—and be successful—with some essentials you already have on hand. Keep those things always at the top of mind, and your small business will be one of the few that makes it another year.
Meet the Author: Shauna Armitage
Shauna is a Marketing Director or Fractional CMO helping early-stage startups scale with effective strategies, creative solutions, and unparalleled integrity by making the most of small budgets for maximum impact.
As a vocal advocate for women in business, Shauna is on a mission to redefine what it looks like to be a working woman and to support other women doing the same. She spends her free time traveling with her husband and four kids while drinking Coca-Colas. Connect with her on Instagram at @shauna.armitage.