When it comes to entrepreneurship, there is quite the amount of effort required to keep your business and yourself going strong, and as you go along there are always going to be surprises (good and bad!). You will soon discover that you will permanently encounter ups & downs daily, and a boatload of “things I wish I knew before starting my business” moments along the way.
The Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Business
As a proud owner of two businesses, I am no stranger to the “I wish I knew that before starting my business!” moments. Sometimes they are as simple as figuring out that not everyone is your ideal client, or as complicated learning the correct way to file business taxes too late. I have gathered the insight of several other small businesses in the Ottawa area to give you the full scoop and hopefully save you some trouble.
Set Goals & Challenges
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to running a business. You must be ready to pivot, change your point of view, and adapt to find success. Brainstorm your ideas with other business owners and be ready to make changes when necessary. Regularly set new goals and challenges for yourself. Running a business may not look the way you thought it would when you started, but that’s OK.
– Lara Wellman, Business Coach
I can’t tell you how many times I have woken up excited to start the day and get to work, with caffeine in hand and everything, yet somehow ended up on Facebook and binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix. Oops! Sole entrepreneurship can be a lonely place, and without that boss breathing down your neck it is very easy to get distracted. Especially with a home office and a compfy couch! My biggest regret was not being organized and scheduled from day 1. I have found that notebooks and to-do-lists have been a world of help, and without the motivation of being able to scratch off those items, it is difficult to stay on track. Mood boards and setting goals are also a great way to see the bigger pictre, and to plan ahead, and really set yourself up for success. Curbing the Facebook and social media habbit is thanks to the newer features of scheduled posts and cross-posting softwares. Setting up reminders on your phone calendar as to how much work you shoudl have done is also a great way to keep on schedule. And there is nothing wrong with splurging on an organizational planner if it means you stick to the plan. I’ve tried a few, and my favourites have been the ones with the luxurious covers, that fit inside my purse for on-the-go updates, and that have blank pages to doodle and take notes. The fact that they are pretty makes me more likely to want to carry it around, and I am much more motivated to actually use it if it is always with me. Finding a mastermind group, whether local or virtual is also a great way to stay motivated and be held accountable for getting your stuff done, on time, properly. They also double as focus groups for any ideas or plans you’ve been working on, and because you establish trust with your fellow members you will find that many refer clients to each other. If all else fails, there’s always the “If you don’t get to work you can’t pay the bills, and you will be homeless and hungry!” inner-voice backup plan.
I wish I had known how much importance I’d need to place on finances. I know, that sounds obvious -starting a business is all about finances and making money- but for me it really wasn’t. I just wanted to share my skills and make pretty things for people (I do calligraphy & lettering) on the side of my full-time job, and didn’t necessarily care if it made me huge money. So I never placed much emphasis on it.
I thought, I’ll just make up a business name, start up some social media platforms to market myself, get clients and then make pretty things for them. What I didn’t realize was that not setting myself up for financial success from the beginning would mean lots of steps backward down the road.
At the beginning, I didn’t register my business. I didn’t think I had to; I’d done a bit of research and I knew I didn’t need to charge HST unless I made $30k+ in a year (which I never thought I’d hit). I thought that also meant I didn’t need to save any of my profits for taxes later on. Dumb.
So there I was, making pretty things and getting people to pay me for them (woot!) and then all of a sudden, it boomed. I started teaching, I started getting a ton more clients, and I exceeded what I would have ever imagined I would in terms of profits. So I thought maybe it’d be smart to talk to someone about finances.
I asked around, found a local accountant, and met her for coffee. And after that meeting, I had to TOTALLY reorganize myself and the way I did business. I had to put my actual calligraphy work on hold so that I could backup and change my entire business model. I realized I was going to be in trouble at tax time and had to make some changes: register my business name (get a BIN #), get a business-only bank account and credit card, keep all my receipts, track mileage and gas on my car, keep records of my home bills since I work from home, etc, etc. And since I hadn’t done that from the beginning, I also had to go through a year’s worth of finances and sort out what was business and what wasn’t. Huge time waster, and money loser, since I hadn’t saved any of my receipts.
Long story short: set yourself up for financial success, even beyond what you think you can achieve. It’ll save a ton of time and headaches in the long run.
You Are Good Enough
What do I wish I had known before starting my business? That I was actually much smarter than I believed.
I always knew I was a talented writer and content strategist. Unfortunately, some negative experiences while working for the proverbial “man” had led me to question those talents. I’m not saying all my experiences working for other people were bad—far from it. But the daily grind of corporate life can certainly drag you down, particularly if you work for (and with) difficult people.
Going out on my own brought me back to the realization that I was good—really good—at my job! Very quickly, I found myself in meetings with prospects, having all the right answers. I was receiving amazing feedback from clients. And people started to recommend me to their business contacts.
Having your own business is no cakewalk. But if you’re holding back simply because you don’t think you’re smart enough…I’d encourage you to take that leap. You’re probably much more brilliant than you ever thought possible!
– Lindsey McCaffrey, Writer and Content Strategist
Entrepreneurship as a Parent
I started my business in Canada 3 years ago when I moved here from the UK (I had a business there as well). I went through the sponsorship process which took two and a half years, and had to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. I wish I knew how hard it would be trying to run a business with a newborn baby. As an entrepreneur I have had lots of challenges and experiences but this I feel was the hardest to deal with.
I worked on contract with a couple of other bridal shops and served private clients from my home. Finding out how intrusive it was serving clients at home, I started with renting a room in a salon where I would have all my fittings at. Then realizing how labor intensive and time consuming it was to be bringing dresses backwards and forwards to and from my home studio, where I did all my sewing (I wish I knew that before too), I opened my boutique/studio on Spadina Ave.
Shortly after, I gave birth to my new little apprentice. She came two weeks early which forced me to go back to work 2 weeks after giving birth to her and within 6 weeks I was working full time. As a new mother I did not have a clue what I was getting my self into.
– Reah Jervis-xenos, Ele Bridal (Bridal Alterations, Custom Wedding Dresses & Accessories)
Work Smarter, Not Harder
This is one of the biggest things I wish I knew before starting my business! Just because you work hard, doesn’t mean you will be successful. You have to work SMART. Spending tons of money on advertising and marketing campaigns does not mean you will get tons of clients. You have to study your target market, find out where they shop, what they like, where they pay attention to ads (if anywhere), and try a few different outlets before deciding which are best for your business. The key is use measurable advertising, otherwise you will never know where your clients are coming from and where you are wasting money. The age-old Pareto Principle indicates that 80% of one’s output is generated by 20% of the input, so it is key to identify what that 20% is for your business. Keep in mind that this can change as your business grows and as the seasons change. Spending all your time on the wrong things in your business will cause you to burn out, and can cause certain important tasks to be incomplete or erroneous. Don’t know how to work your website? Hire a website manager and/or a content creator. Don’t know how to balance your books or keep track of expenses? Hire a bookkeeper (you will appreciate this even more at tax time!). Don’t know how t0 create ads or business cards? Hire a graphic designer. You get the point. Don’t try to be everything all the time. There are only so many hours in a day, and there is no point to you doing all of the $10/hr things like shopping for office supplies and filing paperwork that can absolutely be outsourced, when you could be doing the more complex $100/hr tasks like sending important emails (not just the auto-response ones) and the tasks that only YOU can do like face-to-face business meetings with clients, creating your unique product, or networking with vendors. Spend your valuable time doing things only you can do, and let others handle the rest.
Business Contracts & Commercial Insurance
I was lucky. I started my business after having gone through several business education programs, accounting and marketing courses, and a few of my close family members actually owned their own businesses as well. I did some extra research about my local laws, got my Master Business Licence, ordered my domain & built my website, and voila! I was in business! Not quite.
I found out the hard way that people aren’t always honest. Even though you agree on something in the beginning, doesn’t mean they will agree with it in the end, and email trails aren’t always enough. Get a contract. Get it reviewed by a lawyer. Be prepared to have to change it several times at first, and semi-annually with amendments and new clauses. A contract is a document that has the information of each participating party, the time and date and location the contracted service is set to take place, what service and/or products are set to be exchanged and what is expected in return,(sum and/or service and/or product) and by when (deadline/due date). No exceptions. Even for family. But BEWARE, a contract will not protect you from everything. Even though your contract clearly states that if your clients cause damage to your equipment maliciously or by willful neglect, that they are responsible for the costs of replacing it, there are those rare awful clients who will point and laugh as their toddler pushes over your studio lighting equipment (you know, that one worth over 1000$ you recently purchased). That’s what insurance is for. Commercial insurance: a completely separate policy from your home and/or content insurance, specific for business owners. Personal policies do not cover business assets or claims. However, make sure you don’t stop at equipment insurance. Especially you online business people who think that just because you don’t have a retail shop or home-studio that you don’t need insurance for your business. WRONG! You absolutely need liability insurance at minimum: the type of policy that helps protect your business against lawsuits for whatever reason, and keeps your business entirely separate from your personal assets.
Local Business Community & Resources
When I started my business, I didn’t know a thing about business. I came into it from the perspective of creating modern calligraphy goods, and I had to figure out how to sell my products and services. Do I need a website? How do I set prices? Do people who have never met me before even care about calligraphy? I had so many questions and doubts. I wanted business resources and I wanted a community I could bring my questions to.
Starting out, I lacked community and business resources, but I quickly found that they came hand in hand: the more you build your community, the more resources you discover; and the more resources you consume, the stronger your community will become (you can bond over the resources you both use and trust!).
Where do you start? Ask people you know, like and trust. Okay, small caveat; don’t ask just anyone if you can “pick their brain”. People who are closer to where you are in your business will be more likely to help you than someone who is miles ahead (e.g. CEO of *big brand name*). If you want advice from this person, pay for consulting hours – their time and advice is well worth it! To build a mutual relationship, find someone who is at your level, or one step ahead of you, and offer them something in return. You’ve got to give to get.
You can get all your burning questions answered if you are willing to just ask them, and if you are willing to be dumb or wrong (you’ll get over it, I promise). You will build new friendships around your new business and surround yourself with people who understand your struggles.
If you are looking for a good place to start online, my favourite creative community is the Rising Tide Society‘s local TuesdaysTogether meetings, and my favourite source for business resources is seanwes.com. Both are great to build your community, and to always keep learning!
– Stephanie Ko, Simply Steph Ko (Calligraphy Services)
Of course there is more!
Hopefully these tidbits of information and cautionary tales will help you continue to grow your business, give you the confidence to get your startup going, or encourage you to reevaluate your situation and improve. I’ve also written an article about my favourite business apps and websites, which have proven to be quite useful in helping me stay organized and track my marketing efforts. Wink wink, there’s a budget app for under 10$ that you’ll LOVE and that your accountant will too! For all things website, small business, and SEO, subscribe to the blog!
Do you have something else to contribute to the conversation? I would love to hear what advice you have to offer other business owners and startups. Let us know in the comments below!
Best in Business! XOXO