According to a recent Forbes.com article, over a half a million small business get started each month while more shut down than start-up. With this statistic it’s not a surprise that some would be leery in joining the almost 30 million small businesses in the United States. It may also come as a surprise that over half of the working population works in a small business and that most small businesses are home-based. Why then do people start small business with these kinds of odds? Because many of us are still deciding what we want to be when we grow up. And once we’ve learned that, we choose to make a go of it on our own.
Starting a small business or a home-based business is not something that should be entered into lightly. More often than not you’ll go through a long period languishing while trying to make your business viable. As with many big decisions in life, starting a business is a very big risk. There’s never an assurance of success. Rather, it is expected and statistically likely that you’ll fail. However, if you’re willing to work at beating the odds and fulfill a professional goal, this may still be the route for you.
I’d worked in libraries for over a decade. I spent the majority of that time in library administration. I knew a good deal about how to run a small business because I’d essentially been doing so for quite some time. However, when you go out on your own there are many pitfalls that can be made in your businesses’ infancy. Contrary to the popular song lyrics, the best things in life aren’t free. Shortcuts will likely come back to haunt you and so too will not putting in the sweat equity needed to not only financially succeed, but to also feel emotionally and psychologically empowered.
If you want to start a small business it has to be a deliberate process. However, it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. It doesn’t hurt for you to do some research. The Small Business Administration, http://www.sba.gov is a great free resource. So too are the books, Home-Based Business for Dummies or Small Business for Dummies. Really, there are any number of tools to help you start-up or navigate the waters of small business. If you’re like the almost 75% of all U.S. business who are non-employers (self-employed with no additional payroll or employees), then you can be sure that there is plenty of information to help you achieve your goals.
Running a small home-based business can be inexpensive, not cheap. Don’t scrimp on the stuff that can really make you appear more professional without breaking the budget. Here are a few startup tips for your business:
1. Get a domain name.
You may not need to register your business’s name with the state. The fact is, that process may be unnecessary and It can be costly depending on the nature of your business. However, it helps if you have a domain name so that you can have a traditional online storefront and presence. That isn’t to say that you need to sell products through your site, it just means that you have a place that you can send people to online to find out more information about you and your products and services.
2. Use social media.
No longer can people lament about how they don’t use Facebook or Twitter, being on social media also lends an air of credibility and savviness to your business. Using social media is inexpensive and easy. There are plenty of online tutorials on how to use social media and by getting yourself out there by using the social media networks, it opens you up to more clients and the ability to interact in real-time with them as well. Also, don’t simply have a presence on social media, depending on your demographic, there are still some people who simply aren’t using social media. Thus, you must also have an easily accessible webpage as well.
3. It doesn’t hurt to use old school marketing tools.
Professional business cards as well as marketing items are now nominal in cost. Don’t just settle for free cards, pay that little extra to brand your items. This way you can be fully in charge of the message you’re putting out there. Think about it, what did you think of the person who handed you a business card that were clearly free ones?!
4. Use accounting software.
Quickbooks, Freshbooks, Nutcache and the list goes on. You can even use Excel if you’re so inclined. Regardless, it’s imperative that you start consistent and accurate record keeping from the very start. Make sure that all of your transactions, big and small, are in a place that will make it easy for you come tax time.
5. Work in the cloud and back it up.
Cloud-based software is available for everything. It also doesn’t hurt to use free ones in this case. Google is the gold standard when it comes to free. However, document creation and retention aren’t the only things you can do in the cloud. Accounting software, website administration, almost anything you can think of can be done in the cloud. Plus, it makes your data accessible anywhere that has an Internet connection. And don’t forget to back up your work. If you’re saving your work to your computer or saving it to a virtual drive in the cloud, be sure that you have a backup. Redundancy is key and it can also be very economical. A good rule of thumb is to have a physical and virtual off-site backup because Murphy’s Law always happens.
6. Be virtual.
Depending on the type of services you offer, there are companies out there that can assist you in getting jobs/projects. Companies like Elance and oDesk provide you with a place to offer your services to others and provides you with an online workplace. Being a freelancer has never been so easy. As a freelancer, you don’t have to limit how and how many clients you have.
7. You have to pay some to get some.
Yes, you can start a new business with no cost, however, by investing just a little money upfront you’ll almost ensure a return on your investment. Pay for a virtual fax service, marketing materials and other little things that will go a long way in ensuring that your business isn’t like every other “mom and pop” business. Just be careful not to go all in too fast. Recurring costs, though small, can add up fast. If you have recurring costs it means that you have to earn at least that much money per month.
8. Be tax savvy.
You must be cognizant of what kind of tax impact there will be as a result of your business. It’s common, depending on the type of business you have and if you don’t have employees, for you to not withhold any taxes during your first year. Getting a baseline for what your business will be like is important, just don’t forget that Uncle Sam may hit you with a large tax bill at tax time. Visit http://www.irs.gov or speak to a tax professional to help you with getting this sorted out before it becomes a very expensive mistake.
9. Make time for yourself.
When you commit to owning a small business the one thing you’re guaranteed is that it’s going to be hard. Despite how challenging it is, you have to take time for yourself. It’s easy to work long hours and to forget that we aren’t machines. Even if it’s just a 15-minute walk each day or something else that will break up your workday, you must not forget that sometimes it’s best to literally walk away to clear your head. This will do wonders for your mood and your process.
10. Be disciplined.
Sure, we all think that working for ourselves would be the best job in the world. But it’s not until you’re actually doing it that you realize just how easy it is to be trapped by the pitfalls of having no other boss than yourself. That quick television break inevitably turns into a television marathon, sleeping in one day turns into not setting the right habits you need to be successful. It’s easy to say that you’re going be disciplined and fully devoted to the success of your business, but old habits do die hard.
Each day brings challenges and uncertainties. You have to be willing to fail spectacularly. But you also have to be willing to love and nurture your business even on the days when you just don’t feel like it. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Despite that, the sky’s the limit and your earning potential is limitless when you’ve devoted yourself to doing what it is that you are passionate about. It’s important to remember that you’re not to give up when it gets hard. Those are the times you have to really dig in and remember why it is that you’re doing it in the first place.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 1/14/15 issue of The Union-Recorder.