10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Small Business

Taken from here.

Lauren Fairbanks is the co-owner of Stunt & Gimmick’s, a digital marketing firm specializing in creative content development and SEO/SEM and a contributor for The Grindstone.

Starting a small business can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime. If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand having a boss, who likes making their own schedule, who likes following their heart to wherever it may lead, being self-employed can seem like a dream come true. For the first week. Then one day you wake up screaming after dreaming about being beaten by irate customers using sections of corporate law as cudgels, and you will have arrived at the reality of being a small business owner. Like raising a child, it’s a wonderful experience that unfortunately no one bothers to adequately prepare you for.

So without further ado, and in the hope of saving a few people a few nights of sleeplessness, here are the ten things I wish I knew before starting my small business:

1) Know how to pay yourself. Depending on whether you’re set up as a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or an LLC, how you pay yourself is going to be vastly different. Make sure you know when and how you’re allowed to pay yourself before you bring down the wrath of the IRS.

2) Find a mentor. Most entrepreneurs don’t have decades in the field they’re starting a business in before striking out on their own. Even if you do, working for someone is incredibly different than working for yourself. Find someone with experience who is willing to take you under their wing and help you avoid a lot of common mistakes and pitfalls.

3) Don’t skimp on marketing. There’s a temptation when you first start up to skimp on “non-essentials” like marketing. Don’t! If you can’t get the word out effectively, you will be hamstringing your ability to grow at a strong pace, which can hurt you down the line.

4) Overestimate your operating costs for the first year. Imagine every possible cost you might run in to. Then add a little safety margin. Nothing is worse than having to cut back on essentials because you ran into a cash flow problem three quarters in.

5) Don’t overestimate those costs too much. While it’s good to have some cash in reserve, don’t keep too much back. Having to cut expenses to meet an overly-high safety margin can be just as crippling as running out of money.

6) Be ready to make the time commitment. Running a business is a huge time suck. Count on spending hours working long after you’ve shut your doors for the night. Be ready to commit to every night and weekend for the foreseeable future.

7) Learn how to sell. You don’t have to be a used car dealer, but it helps. Unless you’re coming off a career as the leader in your field, you’ll need more than good looks and good ideas to sell your services to clients and business partners. Think about investing in professional sales training to turn you into a stone-cold closer.

8) Have realistic expectations and goals for the first year. You’re probably not going to be a millionaire by the end of your first year. In fact, don’t count on hitting the black in your first year at all. Instead, focus on setting solid, realistic revenue goals based on actual data and projections.

9) Hire the right people. You have precious little time to waste, and nothing wastes more time than the wrong employee. Make sure your first couple of hires can do the job and can do it without draining your patience. And make sure you get along: your first couple of employees will be working as a tight knit group, so a good personality match is key.

10) Don’t give up. There will be days when you will want to burn your business down for the insurance money. Don’t. Not only is it illegal, but it gets better. Your first year isn’t supposed to be amazing, it’s supposed to be your on-the-job training. Keep doing what works, and change what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to take risks and reinvent yourself. If you keep at it, eventually it will all get much easier.

Photo: Anna Omelchenko/Shutterstock.com

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