About 6 months ago I made the decision to take a leap of faith, march downtown, (actually drive) and get a business license to become a legal photography business. I remember that day. I was so scared that I would mess something up. It was so overwhelming. A couple of hours before actually driving downtown I was researching online and had tons of papers I printed out all around me. Tax ID info, zoning info, sales tax info, etc. Half of all that info I barely understood. I was pretty scared. What if I do something wrong? What if I forget to do something and I mess up right from the beginning? Am I really ready for this? What will this be like during tax season? I had so many questions and so many fears running through my head all at one time. It was enough to make me nauseous.
When we make the decision to start a business it can be so overwhelming and you feel like there isn't enough info out there to point you in the right direction. As a matter of fact, the info that you find... seems to point you in TOO MANY different directions about how to do things. Each direction has a different way of going about it with different tasks than the other directions. You start getting advice left and right from so many people and you don't know who to listen to. You start feeling like you just have to make a decision by guessing and hope all goes well. If only I knew then what I have learned so far in the last 6 months. There would have been a few things I would have done differently. Here are a few of the big ones.
Get a Business Coach or Mentor
A good basketball team has a good basketball coach. A person needing help getting their life on track can usually meet with a life coach. When you need help with school, you usually hire a tutor. The idea of having a coach who is knowledgeable about the business world is one of the best ideas when it comes to starting a business. I didn't have a business coach until about two months after I started my business. I wish I met him before I started. He gave me so much insight and there were so many things I could have done to get ready for starting a business that I had no idea about. There were so many things I could have saved money on instead of spending blindly on things I truly didn't need. A lot of people will tell you that having a photography business is 20% photography, 80% business. I am here to say that it is very true! I spend so much time handling the business side of things and it seems taking photos and editing them happens every now and then. Find a good business coach you can trust. Someone who knows how to get where you are trying to go. Someone who speaks your language and can help you prepare for the hard journey ahead.
Have a Business Plan
We hear this all the time because it is SO essential. You can't expect to go far in having a business if you have no idea where you are going and why. If you have no idea who your client is, how can you market to them? If you have no idea how much it will cost to run your business, how will you know if you can afford to start it or even get a loan to start it? How will you know how much to charge for your product? A business plan helps to set goals and figure out the foundation of your business. Without it... you are working blind.
Hire a CPA
Your money is very important. It's so important that it happens to be a big reason why you went into business. To make MONEY. By all means please do what you can to make sure your bookkeeping is being taken care of. Some people are able to do this themselves, some just need a little help during tax season and some need full time help or someone to take over the bookkeeping duties entirely. This is where having a good trustworthy CPA comes in. Just like a business coach can help you navigate the waters of business, a CPA can help you journey through the sands of bookkeeping and taxes.
What ever it is that you don't know about business, research it! Heck... research the stuff you DO know too... just in case you don't know it all. Research social media strategies, marketing strategies, etc. Read books, blogs, articles, anything you can get your hands on to help you understand the subject at hand so you can handle it to the best of your ability. Don't leave it all on your business coach... STUDY. Do the work.
Networking is VERY important. One of the most important aspects of your business is building good relationships and getting people talking about your business. Good networking can help you grow in so many ways. You can do this by looking for networking groups or going to networking events in your area. Don't expect to post things on social media and hide in your office waiting for a phone call... GET OUT THERE! Let people meet you, talk to people, help them network and get to know them. Become one of those people that seem to be seen almost everywhere. You will have a way of being on a person's mind that way. Especially if you made a good first impression. Networking used to freak me out. It always intimidated me. Now I look forward to them. I have done them so much that I no longer feel scared... just ready to meet people and have a good time!
Follow Your Passion
If you decide to start a business, it should be doing something you are passionate about. Especially if you are the only one running it. It will be your passion that will help to get you through the hard times of start-up. Those times when the money isn't coming in like you would like it to or when you are working so much and have to take time away from family to get things done... it is your passion for your work that will motivate you. If you just get into it for the money... you will find yourself burnt out. Don't chase the money... chase the passion! It's your passion and your love for what you do that will attract customers. They will see it and be interested in it. They will feel it and be drawn to it. If you are only after money... you will reek of it. People will see it a mile away and be turned off. Start your business for the right reasons. Do something that you love doing with or without the money. Make sure your passion is also about taking care of the customer... not taking their money.
Be Ready to Sacrifice
If you are just starting out and especially if you are the only person running the business... you have A LOT of hats to wear, my friend. For my business, I am not only the Owner and Photographer. I am the Social Media Manager, Marketing Director, Quality Control, Website Builder, Delivery Person, Set Builder, Clean Up Crew, Email Responder, Human Resources, Trainer, Accountant, Scheduling Officer, Mileage Logger and soooo much more! There are many businesses that pay multiple people to do those jobs full time. However, all those jobs belong to you. You are going to have to get a handle on organization, multi-tasking, and scheduling your time well. Otherwise, you will never get to spend time with your family to do anything other than go to sleep. Sacrifice will become your middle name very quickly.
Find a Good System
You are going to need to have systems in place to handle all of your inquiries, customer info, products, accounts, bookkeeping, scheduling, etc. Make sure to find out what works best for you as early as you can so you don't find yourself doing what I am doing now. Moving all your info over to a new system and introducing new workflows so you no longer have a desk full of papers everywhere. I admit, as the world changes and has new and improved systems every day, you may have to change things at some point. But always try to be as organized as you can from the start. Get things in place NOW before things get messy. An unorganized business is not attractive to clients.
Remember to Take Care of You
I am still working on getting better at this. I can often be a workaholic. I have so many days where I am in the zone and go a full 8 hours, only to realize that I forgot to stop and eat something. My husband has to always remind me to eat or take a break. At normal 9-5 jobs, you get time to eat and take breaks. Take time to take care of yourself. Block out times in your schedule that are for you and your family only. Try to introduce something new that is healthy and energizing at least once a month. If you don't take care of yourself, you may not be here long. If you are no longer here... what happens to your business?