Hindsight: What I Wish I Knew About Owning a Small Business
My name is Tracie and I am a recovering prior business owner. All joking aside, it is an accomplishment that I am proud of, learned from and discovered things about myself I’d never known if not for owning my own business. However, there are many things in retrospect I would have done differently if I had it to do all over again. As I state in many of my client meetings, it is better to have done it and openly admit it didn’t turn out as I had planned, than to live with regret of wishing I had tried but never took the risk.
My degree in Marketing made me certain I knew almost everything about owning a business. When in reality, when the doors were opened, I walked in and felt totally overwhelmed by the things I did not know. I often think of those things that came as a complete surprise to me, that I wish someone would have told me, prior to me opening my business.
A website is a requirement. Even if it is just an informative website, stating who you are and what you do, but your presence online is critical. I had difficulty finding someone to help me build mine. My reasoning was either the cost was too extreme or I didn’t have the time to do the cooperative part needed to build it. ISBDC now keeps a referral list of those in the area who do this type of work at an affordable price.
Managing social media requires balance. Beyond a website, social media is an intricate part of your marketing plan. And most of what you can do with social media is the best F word, “free.” But you do have to “pay to play.” A word of caution, you have to be very careful you aren’t immersing yourself in your social media that you forfeit face time with your customers. Vanity metrics are those things that make you feel good but do not necessarily make a financial impact in your business. Many “likes” on Facebook is a feel good thing, but does it mean that customer will come in and buy from you. Also, carefully consider who you are trying to reach when engaging in the different social outlet mediums.
Grants for small businesses, especially for start- ups are almost nonexistent. And usually when you go searching, means it is too late and your business may already be struggling. Yes, grants are out there, but it is not a feasible consideration, in most cases. Most grants are for non-for-profits. Not to mention the criteria for grants involves showing you are financially stable and an established and a strong force in your industry; then grant money may be awarded to assist your mission, not to support or finance it. Small communities are now offering small loans in the way of a microloan. Check with your local economic development offices to see if these loans may be available for you.
Do not skimp on hiring an accountant and don’t cut corners by having inadequate insurance coverage. These are two strong pillars that any business cannot afford to cut corners on. Both of these things have equal weight when making sure your business is built on solid ground. It will keep you out of trouble with the IRS and be there if anything catastrophic should happen while you are in business.
Your English teacher was right. Proper communication is critical when you are a business owner. People want to know you are professional when dealing with them. It is imperative that your customers have the assurance you are knowledgeable about your business and you can convey that properly. Responding to emails in a timely manner and answering your phone with a smile on your face (yes people can tell) are not options they are requirements.
Another fact is what you do in the public eye is important. You may have strong opinions about politics and other controversial topics, but by being vocal about those may in turn, cost you customers. Also, you may feel like since it is your business you can say what you want in the tone you want and with whatever language you choose, truth is, that is inaccurate. Some people may be offended by harsh, rude or offensive language if they are a client in your business. And…your private Facebook account needs to be kept private, so that your personal views cannot be shared or misinterpreted by potential clients.
When doing start up financials, unless you are buying an existing business, you are making best-guess estimates for this data. A general rule of thumb is to remember: what you guess your revenue at, you can almost bank on it being half of what you estimate. And expenses will probably be close to twice what you figure.
Lastly, keep business, business. And keep personal, personal. Do not mix either entity for any reason. You need separate checking accounts. You need different insurance policies. You need different social media. You need separate expense accounts. You need different credit cards. Crossing the lines is a dangerous combination and not a best business practice.
Things I wish people would have told me, now you know. Now you have been warned. Hope the voice of experience will help you not make the same mistakes.