When we’re young, it seems we are asked very early on what we want to be when we grow up. I was never married to just one image of my adult self – as most kids aren’t at a young age. We want to be a lot of things – dancer, doctor, vet, Olympic champion, lawyer, horse trainer – the list goes on and on. Yet as we grow up, we are expected to choose just one thing and stick with it. We study it in college or train for it as an apprentice. We toil away to an entry level job in our chosen profession so we can spend years climbing the ladder. Once we get up there, sometimes we stop and remember all those other cool things we wanted to try, often turning them into hobbies that we find play around with from time to time.
But what if you want to reignite your love for something and pursue that dream after all? You find yourself pulled in the entrepreneurial direction to turn your hobby – jewelry design, singing and songwriting, hairdressing, photography, or whatever your passion is – into a business. You’ve found people are interested enough in what you have to offer, and you believe you can make a living this way – so now what?
I can speak from experience that creating a successful business takes a lot more than love for your hobby. You’ll find yourself wearing many hats and you’ve got to prepare to fulfill multiple roles and responsibilities in making the business a success. While you can always hire experts as you grow, be prepared in the early years to think about – and manage – these other elements as well.
Although many people feel they are smart enough about their core audience to execute marketing and PR on their own – after all, who knows your story better than you do – they forget the time and resources it takes to do marketing well. How will you develop content that breaks through the noise? Where will you put it – online or off? How will you manage interactions and engagements? Will you have time to maximize your marketing investments to ensure ROI?
As a solo or even partner act, it will be crucial to clearly identify who you want to sell to (who do you believe is going to buy – not just admire – your work?) and choose a few select ways to market intelligently. This includes identifying a strategy to fit your budget and to scale with your ability to meet the needs of any incoming business as a result. The good news is that there are a lot of marketing consultants out there. The bad news is that you have to filter through the myriad of self-proclaimed experts to find the best fit. Don’t just hire someone based on what they say, but on their reputation – because you’re putting your reputation in their hands as well. Check references, ask for case studies and do some easy preliminary online searches. Any great marketer today will have a strong and credible online presence. And that doesn’t just mean numbers of connections – it means having quality connections with influencers, so be sure you’re looking through who they engage with, are linked to or followed by in social networks.
Ah, the government. There’s a lot to know about owning a business, including state and federal tax filing requirements, personal risk and liability of each type of business (S Corp, LLC? Etc.), rules around hiring contractors vs full time employees and more. Make sure you invest in a great accountant and if possible, a good business and legal advisor who can help make sure you understand and adhere to the ever-changing laws. In addition, each state is different, as are cities. Sometimes, for example, if you’re selling good or services in a state outside of where your business is based, you can be required to pay taxes for the privilege of doing business in that city or state – or both.
In addition, you’ll want help with someone who can crank out appropriate contracts, manage vendor or customers requirements and more. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the myriad of legal requirements in running a business – but they can’t be ignored. So get some good help. Ask other small business owners in your area who they’ve worked with, and ensure you ask for references. Too often, legal counsel takes control and you end up feeling like you work for them. Remember, it’s the opposite – you’re paying them – so find someone smart, assertive and trustworthy that has you and your business’ best interests at heart. And that includes understanding your financial abilities, and working with you in a manner consistent with such.
Time after time, I sit down with business owners, leaders and operators, and HR is always one of the biggest headaches listed. It’s complicated – because people are complicated. But it’s impossible to grow a company without growing staff, so it’s inevitable that managing HR will become a good chunk of how you spend your time. It’s certainly complex enough to be job all on its own – but it isn’t what you set out to do with your life, so get help. From time-intensive recruiting and hiring to emotionally- and sometimes legally-complicated management, I recommend doing your homework and finding an expert (or two) from the get go. This will enable you to focus on your core business, and can often help you to have a better relationship with the people you work with because there’s a conduit to handle tough conversations, keep up with legal requirements and handle the mountains of paperwork involved.
Whether you’re just thinking about starting your own business, or are in the throes of planning and execution, thinking about these core areas will help you get started off on the right foot. I also recommend following small business experts and entities on social networks like Twitter, and reading through the U.S. Small Business Administration website.