The New Year is a time for big dreams and bold business moves. Many entrepreneurs pick the fresh clean slate after the holidays to get a new business or venture off the ground. However, the very fact that it’s new often means there are lots of gray areas and questions. YouInc has compiled some tips for entrepreneurs ready to take the leap.
Writing a business plan is a key component to starting a business. “If you don’t have a road map, any route will not get you where you want to go,” says Barry Kronhaus, president and owner of Discount Packaging Depot in Lake Worth, Florida. However, he recommends entrepreneurs don’t do as he initially did when he wrote his first business plan. “I spent months writing a long business plan and did so much work researching it. In hindsight, what I thought would be is not what is.”
In everything an entrepreneur will do, flexibility is key, he says. "Give yourself a guideline for where you want to go, with financial forecasting and a budget that you’ll review on a regular basis, but expect the unexpected."
Lucinda Cross, president of Activate Worldwide, a small, boutique marketing firm in New York City, takes her business plan and turns it into a vision board each year. While this might sound esoteric, she takes it very seriously. “It allows you to see your desires in images you cut out that inspire you to push forward. Putting your goals in living color is important because entrepreneurship is tough.”
There are a ton of other small steps a new business owner ought to take at the beginning before the big launch. According to Cross, “The key is to look like a bigger business than you are.”
This includes steps such as securing any domain names that will be associated with your products or services, “Because your domain name is your brand, it’s your hashtag, and something you can turn into other products and services to give you a household name,” Cross insists. She recommends using GoDaddy for securing domain names.
Also, make sure your email handle is something professional. “Your email handle shouldn’t be 'sexymama123', for example.”
This all helps you become “Googleicious,” her word to suggest that you have brand consistency and “online domination.”
Additionally, before you launch a business is the time to cast aside those bathroom selfies and get professional headshots taken for advertising and marketing. “Do it once, get it out of the way,” Cross says.
If you haven’t already, it’s also important to take your fiscal priorities seriously by setting up your business as a corporation of some kind, Kronhaus advises. “If you’re going to form a real company and you want people to take you seriously, invest a few hundred dollars and form one. It projects a more professional image.”
Once you have the road map and the image nailed down, it’s time to get out there and network.
Cross recommends you create a calendar of “must-attend business and industry trend events” for the year you’re starting your business.
Lori Cheek, New York City based founder and CEO of Cheekd, a mobile dating app, says the most important lesson she learned in networking “is to take every advantage possible to meet new people.” She believes strongly in attending networking events within your industry. “It’s most advantageous to go alone so that you’re forced to talk to new people,” Cheek says. Once you’re there, don’t be shy, “just walk up and introduce yourself. The only thing you have to lose is an opportunity.”
She also recommends that even in this mostly digital age, never leave home without business cards. “It’s still the fastest way to share who you are, what you do, and how you can be contacted.”
Networking is how you can eventually find a mentor, which Cross suggests is a crucial step for a new entrepreneur. Finding a trusted advisor with the experience in the field or the area you want to be successful in “shortens the learning curve. You get to borrow power from ten years of learning to maybe ten months,” Cross says. “You want a seat at a table and you need to learn things you don’t know.”
Eventually you’ll need to do more than network, and actually invest in some marketing to reach customers. This requires knowing what you’re selling, Kronhaus says. “Everybody is selling something, tangible or intangible. Make sure you know what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to. That will lead you to a business plan which will lead to a framework for a company.”
After that comes the marketing. “Be smart about it,” Kronhaus says. “Don’t just throw money at places. If you’re starting out, you don’t have a lot of money.” He invested in Google AdWords after checking out how his competitors marketed themselves, and had good success paying attention to what words customers used to search for products he sells.
Cheek says she had to learn to be creative with her marketing after spending tons of money on a PR firm that didn’t reap her much business. “I soon realized I had more passion for my company than any agency could and decided to take on the task of PR on my own.” She’s been able to parlay in-person events into a marketing strategy that has gotten her business into big name publications and onto TV. “If [a strategy] doesn’t work, sometimes it just doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Additionally, the beginning of a business is not typically a time of tremendous cash flow. Cheek suggests entrepreneurs build “frugal habits” and seek out money-saving opportunities at every turn. “It’s going to cost three times more than you think, so you’ve got to be super creative when it comes to footing the bootstrapped budget,” Cheek says.
For her this means such changes as using the shared bike service CitiBike, rather than paying for the subway or cabs, shopping at consignment stores and using all her extra cash to market her business.
Once all the practical realities of a business have been laid in place, Cross urges entrepreneurs to “stay focused on completing one thing at a time. That’s what builds confidence.” And she recommends three to six months to get everything set up before you launch. “Master what you have in your hand and that will give you confidence.”
After eight years as an entrepreneur, Cheek sums up her lessons as so: “It will take twice as long as you’d hoped, cost exceedingly more than you’d ever budgeted and will be more challenging than anything you’ll ever try. But if you give it your all and refuse to give up, you can trust it will be the ride of a lifetime.”