Taking the Leap – Starting a New Business

Have you been thinking about starting a new business? If so, how long have you been thinking about it? Many of us dream of going into business for ourselves and being our own boss, but keep in mind that being the boss is not all it's cracked up to be. The flip side of that is being your own boss is awesome! I own two businesses: Mighty Mouse Productions and AllyJay Pet Designs. I've learned a lot over the years and would like to share some with you. Let's discuss the pros and cons of being a business owner. 

Competition Breeds Challenges that Can Lead to Success
I've been self employed now for 17 1/2 years. When I first started out as a graphic designer out of school, I wanted a job with benefits. I wanted what I considered "security". Back then very few people worked for themselves compared to today. In 2013, an estimated 10 million people claimed to be self-employed. That doesn't even include owners of incorporated business and freelancers. That's a lot of people! Therefore the first thing you need to remember is that means there is a lot of competition in most industries. The first thing you should consider is just how much competition there is in what you want to do. Don't be discouraged by competition too much though. A lot of competition usually means it's a good business, but you have to find a better way to do it to set yourself apart. Spend a lot of time researching those who would be your competition. Do it better and more efficiently. Never settle for mediocre. Try to look at it from a different perspective. Make a list of the weaknesses of the product or service that currently exist and then make strides to correct those things.

Can You Afford it?
You need to be very clear about this: Are you set up to financially afford going into business for yourself? I started freelancing as a graphic designer because my husband had a stable corporate job and benefits. If you get in over your head too soon, things might turn south. Keep a tight reign on your expenses in the beginning. Make sure you make a complete list of your monthly expenses and work towards making enough to pay those to start with. Keep yourself in the black for a long as possible. If you need help in this area, ask a friend who's really good at managing money to spend an evening with you to show you their tricks. Financial issues are the #1 reason most businesses don't make it.

If You Don't Advertise, Don't Expect to Succeed
Be realistic about your need to advertise. Advertising can be a huge help and a huge hinderance. It's expensive and there's a LOT of options out there. You can hire experts who know what their doing, or you can try and do it yourself. I personally believe that starting with a great logo is one of the most important things you should do, if you're doing a business that will be seen by the public at large. Some small, service driven businesses can get away with a simple type treatment, while retail stores can draw in customers just from a great brand development. 

Social media will be your #1 advertising source in the beginning, if you're starting with a small budget. It's free and there are tons of websites and blogs on making the most of each facet of social media. One thing you might not know is Facebook has tightened their reins on business accounts (they're in this to make money just like you are). It won't matter how many people like you page, Facebook will only show your post to about 35 people. As an owner of two small businesses, the way we get around that is by sharing our business post on our personal pages. Then if you have a special promotion going on, you can ask friends and family to share it. One suggestion I have is to pay a little money and boost your post. Facebook will let you choose how many people you want to see it according to how much you want to spend. Keep in mind that they will only let you put text on 1/6th of the page. Focus on interesting photos and don't only post products and sales pitches. People want to know you're interesting and involved in your community. Put photos from every event you attend.

Being the Boss Takes a LOT of Discipline
How disciplined are you with your time? Being self-employed requires an enormous amount of self-discipline and the ability to manage your time. When I first started working from home I decided in the beginning to get up, shower and dress every day. If you're planning on working from home (which is cheaper in the beginning), set up a strict routine every morning. Pretend you're going into the office. I even had to have my shoes on! LOL! If you're dressed and sitting at a desk, you will be more productive. Also, on the working from home front, you need a room or designated space to work in that's efficient and large enough to spread out and feel free to do whatever you're doing. If you're starting a company that will eventually have employees, you need to be the example that you want your employees to be. If the slackness comes from the top, you'll have no one to blame but yourself. Being the boss is a very hard job, so make sure you're up for it. Going easy on employees in times where you shouldn't will cause problems in staffing. Can you be the person who has to make tough decisions?

Setting Goals is Hard Work, but Worth It
Set goals. This is probably one of the hardest things to do. I personally set a monitary goal of the money I needed to make. Since I charge by the hour, I knew at that point how many hours a week I HAD to work in order to make my goal. If you're starting a business where you're selling a product or service, you need to know how much you need to sell in order to make a living, minus all of the expenses. If you're selling a product, you need to set your profit margins correctly. Also take into account all of the small expenses that will drain your profits, if you're not careful.

You're Not On Your Own
There are reources and organizations that can help you. There are many organizations– private and state run – designed to help small start-up businesses to succeed. In my pet business, my partner and I attended a "New business" class that a group of retired business men put on. It was a Saturday well spent. You might also need investor groups for when you're ready to take it to the next level. Start with your local Chamber of Commerce to find the best connections for that. 

I've loved working for myself all these years and feel very blessed to have been able to do that. A year ago I started the online pet company AllyJay Pets, and I have to say it's the hardest thing I've ever done. Sometimes you have to just take the leap, but never without weighting the cost. A lot of time and effort went into launching this company, but we have made it a year and my partner has worked very hard to keep us afloat. If you have a great idea, don't just sit around and wish you could do it. Take steps today to make it a reality! I encourage you to go for it!