Steps to Starting a Small Business: #2 – The Implementation

In the first post of this series, Steps to Starting a Small Business: #1 – The Idea, I covered what is perhaps the most IMPORTANT part of starting a small business – the idea behind your business.

Once you’ve got an idea whose passion has taken you prisoner, it’s time to get down to the next step which is the implementation.

You know – the BORING stuff like the legal FORM of your business, choose an accounting method, apply for an EIN, set up a business checking account, order business cards and stationery – yada, yada, yada!

One of those “yadas” may be to apply for a line of credit or a business loan. There’s been a lot of debate over years over the cost associated with starting your small business.

In one online debate, the two sides are arguing over how much it really costs to start a freelance business. One side says plan on spending a couple of hundred dollars, while the other puts the figure quite a bit higher in the $1,000 – $3,000 range.

Remember, I’ve worked with HUNDREDS of wanna-be small business owners and I have to say, the $300 or less plan is a very dangerous point of view to adopt.

When you’re starting your own small business everything is going to take longer and cost more than you planned.

Chances are, you aren’t a MASTER at all of the jobs you’re going to need performed in your small business, so you should probably plan on farming out at least SOME of the work.

  • If you’re not a web developer, you’ll probably need to hire one to create your website or blog.
  • If you’re not an accountant, you probably need to find one to help you set up the book keeping for your business.
  • If you’re not a graphic artist, you’ll probably need to hire one to create your logo and identity package.

The list goes on and on. (Trust me!)

Without a doubt, the biggest obstacle you face as you start your small business is trying to do EVERYTHING yourself.

Several years ago, I wrestled with a client for almost a year over the opening page to her website. That’s right, it took 12 full months to create a single page. She was obsessed with not only controlling every aspect of the appearance of her website, but she was EQUALLY determined to spend as little as possible.

The thing is, she had a GREAT idea for a small business. Unfortunately, putting up the site was quickly turning into a decades long ordeal and during that time another competitor came to market offering a similar service. My client lost her opportunity to be “first to market” and the last I heard, she had given up on the idea all together.  Meanwhile, her competitor is enjoying the accolades and success of being “first” to market.

Time is NOT money. You can always make more money. You can’t make more time!

Time is constantly ticking away. Ooops! There went another second. No matter how much money you have in the bank, you can’t get back that last second.

This is important. If you’ve got a GREAT idea for a business – one which has captured your every waking moment, every day is precious. Trust me, if it’s a GREAT idea, someone else is working on it.

Every hour you spend trying to piece together your brochure or trying to create a header for your blog in Photoshop, is another hour you postpone the grand opening of your business.

If you’re charging $50 an hour for your services – start viewing the job of designing your business cards, designing your header, setting up your blog via that lens.

You may pay $750 to have a talented graphic artist put together an identity package for you, but in all probability that is probably the BEST use of your time and resources.

See, If you spend 40 hours trying to learn how to create a logo in Photoshop – that means you’ve invested $2000 of your time in creating your identity package. Unfortunately, the logo YOU design probably won’t look as professional as the one you would have HIRED someone to create and may actually PREVENT you from signing clients.

UGH!

I believe this is what my mother would call being, “Penny wise and pound foolish.”

Meanwhile, if you’d hire an experience graphic artist, you’ll get a professionally designed logo which communicates without words all that your business is and does.

That’s why I cringe when I hear someone tout “ultra shoestring” budgets for launching any business.  Create a business plan. If necessary, take out a business loan or better yet – start it after spending a full day at your ‘real” job for a while.

Whatever your do – don’t start your business under capitalized. Plan on everything taking longer and costing more than you think it will.

Now, I’m not advocating getting VC style funding which enables you to splurge on polished marble floors for your office and a hiring half naked, well built men to massage your shoulders as you work.

[Wow – all of a sudden,  I’m wishing for some VC funding.  I believe I just unwittingly set a GOAL for myself with that previous sentence!]

Get enough cash so the desperation doesn’t ring in your voice as you go out and try to drum up clients. If you can do that without a loan, all the better!  However,  while”balls to the wall” isn’t usually isn’t the preferred mode, some people NEED that kind of pressure to get started.

Your comments – as always – are welcome!

Halloween Humor and an Object Lesson on Trust and Marketing

I talk a LOT here about the importance trust plays in marketing your product or services.  Establishing trust with your marketing is especially essential if you’re selling “nothing but air” a.k.a. making an intangible major sale.

Trust is hard to win and easy to lose. In the world of Web 2.0, transparency is the key.  For example, In the “old days” (pre-web), if a business owner got a reputation for lying and ripping of his/her customer,  he or she could always pick up and start anew in a new location.  However, in the world of Web 2.0, your reputation can follow you ALL over the world!

Here’s a bit of Halloween Humor making the rounds these days which offers a thinly veiled object lesson on trust and marketing.

A cabbie picks up a  Nun.  She gets into the cab, and notices that the VERY handsome cab  driver won’t stop staring at her. She asks him why he is  staring.  He replies: ‘I have a question to ask, but I don’t want to  offend you.’

She answers, “My son, you  cannot offend me.  When you’ have been a nun as  long as I have, you get a chance to see and hear just about  everything.  I’m sure that there’s nothing you could say or ask that  I would find offensive.'”

“Well, I’ve always had a  fantasy to make out with a nun.”

The nun responds, “Well, I could probably oblige you under two conditions.  First, you have to be single and second, you must be Catholic.”

The cab driver blurts out, ‘HOT DOG!!!  Yes,  I’m single and Catholic!’

The nun says.   ‘Pull into the next alley.’

The make out scene that followed in that alley would make a hooker blush.

When they get back on  the road, the cab driver starts crying.

‘Why is wrong?” the nun asked.

‘Forgive me but I’ve  sinned.  I lied and I must confess; I’m married and I’m Baptist.’

The nun replies, ‘That’s  OK.  My name is Kevin and I’m going to a Halloween  party.”

It’s a beautiful thing when a liar gets taken by a con artist.

It’s not a beautiful thing when good people get taken by “gurus” and “experts” who don’t know enough to know they don’t know anything!

That’s why I’m a REAL fan of blogging.  See, there’s no better vehicle to build trust than with a blog.  It’s hard to fake expertise over the course of a couple hundred blog posts!

If you’re here and you’re offering “real deal” services, then get a blog.   There’s no better way to demonstrate the breadth and depth of your knowledge!

Steps to Starting a Small Business: #1 – The Idea

The topic of starting a small business is ALWAYS a popular one.  If you are a small business owner and you meet someone who is toying with the idea of starting a small business, you’ll probably hear the question asked, “How did you get started?”

Too many times, this question leads to a very dry discussion of accounting methodologies and business structure issues.

YAWN!

Here it is from someone who has “been there, done that”  I’ve not only bought the T-shirt but I’ve worked with HUNDREDS of people in helping them to achieve the dream of marketing and promoting their own small business.

  • The first step to starting a small business is NOT deciding upon a legal structure for your business.
  • The first step to starting a small business is NOT performing a SWOT analysis, a competitor analysis or any other kind of “analysis”.
  • The first step to starting a small business is NOT creating a logo,  ordering business cards or creating a website.

Are you ready – [drumrollfinger on desk]

The first step to starting a small business is the birth of the idea!

“Money never starts an idea. It is always the idea that starts the money.”Owen Laughlin

Starting a small business with the idea that you’re going to make a LOT of money is a piss poor reason to launch a business.   As a matter of fact, if there’s a BETTER way to achieve failure, I can’t think of it.   Some Of The Best Business Ideas begin not with a passion for money, but a passion for something other than money.

There are certain inalienable truths which you should know as you begin the exciting journey of starting a small business.

  1. You’re going to need more money that you thought to launch this business.
  2. You’re going to need more money than you can beg, steal or borrow to launch this business.*
  3. You’re going to have to work harder than you ever have in your life to launch this business.
  4. You’re going to have to turn a deaf ear to the people who think you’re crazy for pursuing this business.

* There is an exception to the “you’ll never have enough money” truth.  You may gain access to venture capital, in which case you’ll have too much money – which surprisingly can be WORSE than not having enough.  Read Monitor110: A Post Mortem, which digs deep into the reasons (hindsight is always 20:20) why Monitor 110 didn’t rise to the ranks of legendary success – one reason was the access to too much money!

By the way, I’m not saying that you WILL NOT make money with your small business, I’m just saying if that is your primary motivation, you probably won’t make it.

So if money isn’t a good reason to start new business, what is?

In a nutshell – it’s an idea.  An idea that keeps you up at night.  An idea that permeates your every waking moment. An idea that has hold of your brain and won’t let go.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. People who implement them are priceless” – Mary Kay Ash

If  you want to start a small business in order to improve the balance of your checking account – for heavens sake, go get a JOB and don’t even think about starting a small business!

What’s your passion?  What’s keeping you up at night?

Once you’ve found your passion – then begins the process of bringing your business to life.

The “Real Deal” – The Value of Authenticity in Blogging

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.

David M Ogilvy

It’s no secret that I’ve been a HUGE fan of Cath Lawson for quite some time now.  While I don’t remember exactly which blog post it was that I first read, but I still remember the feeling that washed over me when I discovered her blog.   Was it recognition?  Was it relief?

It was probably a little of both.  After all, I’ve publicly declared that there are times when I feel like I’m the only ” honest politician in Washington” because sometimes, I sometimes get EXHAUSTED by the “self proclaimed gurus and experts” who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk!  I was half way through reading my first Cath Lawson blog post when I recognized that I had found another “honest politician”, even though she lives “across the pond” from me.

See, Virtual Impax is NOT my first rodeo.  I’ve jumped in and out of self employment ever since the birth of my oldest child and I worked extensively with entrepreneurs and business owners during my time as an AE with an advertising agency.

So it’s only natural I guess that when I had trouble finding a reliable cleaning lady, I decided to start my own cleaning business on the side.  I don’t know WHY I thought that was a good idea at the time.  Looking back, that one was PURE FOLLY!  “Let’s see, I can’t find ONE person who will clean my house properly – I think I’ll start a business where I have to plant my foot in the buttocks of a CREW of people who don’t know how to clean a house properly OR show up for work!”

In the end, I learned A LOT about myself.  I discovered that  I SUCKED as a boss.   I ran my business like it was some kind of charity organization.    I hired women who needed flexible hours and extra money instead of hiring people for their work ethic.   I hired dwarves instead of giants!  I hired people who wanted easy money, not people who took pride in their work!

Of course, my employees used and abused me.  (As Liz Struass would say, “They were people being people.”)   I closed shop when I had a dream that I was working in food prep at McDonald’s.  In the dream, I was stinking of grease and exhausted, but I declared  within that dream that it was better than cleaning houses.

So that’s probably why, when Cathleen would write about the trials and tribulations of running her plumbing company, I could relate.  I recognized the voice of another battle scarred business veteran.

With that said, I don’t know why I was so FLOORED by reading Cath’s offer to run an ad for free on her blog.  I just sat back in shock and awe.

DAMN – SHE’S GOOD!

As a matter of fact, I’d say she’s a MARKETING GENIUS!  No wonder I’m such a fan!  Not only is she a giant, but her readers are as well.   As her readers have been finding this blog, I’m feeling quite privledged to be in the company of so MANY giants at one time.

By the way, I can DEFINITELY tell a difference between Cath’s readers and mine.  Cath’s readers leave comments.  Mine email me or use the contact form.  Either way is good for me!

Strategic Marketing is like Planning a Trip

Creating a marketing strategy is like planning a trip.  You have to know where you are and where you’re going before you can even BEGIN making a plan.

In my recent post Strategic Marketing Is Like Planning a Vacation, I wrote:

The first step of creating your marketing strategy is deciding where you are and where you want to ultimately be.   In this case, its as simple as you’re in NYC and you want to get to Miami.

Creating a marketing strategy CAN be just that easy.  However, creating a marketing strategy gets VERY difficult if you don’t know where you are (NYC) or where you want to go (Miami).

Notice how more more difficult planning your vacation becomes when you change the scenario above to read, “I live where it’s cold and I want to go somewhere that’s warm!”

So the first step in planning your marketing strategy is to determine where you are and where you want to be.  (Again, this SOUNDS a lot easier than it actually IS.)

Let’s go back to the “NYC to Miami” trip scenario.  In planning your trip, you have several options of how you’ll get from NYC to Miami.  You can:

  1. Walk
  2. Take the Train
  3. Take a Bus
  4. Drive yourself
  5. Take a Boat
  6. Take a Plane

So the first decision you’ll make as you plan your trip is basically one of whether you’ll make the trip by land, air or sea.

Notice how If you’re heading from NYC to Miami, then all of these are viable options.  However,  if you’re in Alaska and wanting to find warmth on the Serengeti Plain, then some of these travel arrangements are not viable options to get you where you want to be!

Internet or online marketing is just ONE way to get from where you are to where you want to be.

Using online marketing may very well be the be the fastest, quickest and easiest way for you to take your business from where it is to where you want to be but it’s not the ONLY way to travel.  If online marketing is the “taking the plane” in our trip planning analogy, then be aware that taking the plane is only faster if you can get a direct flight and unless you plan WAY ahead, it’s definitely not the the least expensive method of travel.

I’ve got a client how has recently “returned” to the fold.  While we were working together, I kept hearing all about her “business coach” who is in name her “business coach.  In practice however, he’s a Make Money Online coach.   During the last month we worked together, I kept hearing, ” But, that’s not how my business coach says I should do it!”

So when her budget got too “tight” to continue working with me, I wasn’t surprised.  However, I WAS surprised when she contacted me via email a while ago, asking for help.

Because her coach is a MMO kind of guy who specializes in making the MINOR SALE, her “business coach” is all about Squeeze Pages.

Don’t get me wrong, a squeeze page is a great marketing tool – but expecting a squeeze page to magically attract loads of traffic is just not realistic.  Using it to try to make MAJOR SALES is definitely a case of using the wrong tool for the wrong job.

If you’re selling a product that only appeals to bloggers – such as the 8 Week Power Blog Launch – then your marketing methods are going to have to be web based.

On the other hand, if you’re selling a product that appeals to people who don’t spend 8 – 10 hours a day on the web,  then you probably should expand your marketing and advertising efforts BEYOND the web.

In the client above’s case, she LOVES performing.  Her limited funds combined with her inability to grasp the difference between an email and a web page make the web a REALLY poor choice of marketing vehicle for her business.  Instead,  I suggested she begin doing free seminars in her community to promote her business.  There are plenty of people who aren’t on the web in her home town who would LOVE to take advantage of her services if only they knew she was offering them.  However, she’s been sitting at home, waiting for her website and subsequent “squeeze” pages to deliver clients to her while her savings dwindle.

Contact your local radio station or television station rep and ask for a rate card.   You might be surprised how “affordable” offline advertising can be.  (Try running a PPC campaign and you’ll see how EXPENSIVE online marketing can get!)

If your prospective customers aren’t spending all their time on the web, maybe you shouldn’t put all of your marketing and advertising eggs in that basket either!