So, you're starting a business and need some extra tips to help as you get started? I'm dishing all about what to do before you launch your business - all the nitty, gritty deets I wish someone had told me when I was starting out! Let's dive in.
1. LEARN ABOUT CITY, STATE & FEDERAL TAXES
If you live in America, I'm just going to say this right now to save you time: budget about 27% of all your earnings for your Federal Income Tax filing - NOT 15% as some people may advise you. Trust me. You must factor this in when determining your service rates. If you're a business that sells products, you better look into general sales tax and local/county shipping tax specifics as well if applicable.
As a marketing professional, I only sell services that are non-taxable, so I only have to worry about the generic 27%. This goes for most all service-based entrepreneurs, but when you get online stores and products involved, it's a whole 'nother ballgame!
Not only do you have to pay for your federal income tax withholding, you in effect are also paying for medicare and social security (disguised as your "self-employment tax") that a traditional employer would hold from your paychecks. 15% makes up only a sliver.
While many tax information documents can seem jargon-filled and exhausting, I suggest reaching out to your local business coaching center and find out what types of classes they offer. We're lucky enough to have "Ask the Bookkeeper" sessions that are provided by trustworthy professionals at a very minimal cost (sometimes you can even waive fees).
2. APPLY FOR YOUR BUSINESS LICENSE
Once you decide on your business name (which I assume you already have), it's important to file with your state's Department of Revenue (or however your place of residence's system handles business license registry) for your official business license.
Yep, we're talking about makin' it official, sealin' the deal, poppin' the question to yourself and sayin' yes! You don't want to get stuck in a messy legal situation when the government discovers that your business isn't actually a business, you just say that it is. While this seems straightforward to many people, I'm shocked by the amount of my peers that claim they run "consulting" or "coaching" agencies without any legal license.
3. LOOK INTO LEVELS OF COPYRIGHT & TRADEMARKING
When you register for your business license, you will be prompted to purchase a "trade name" which is the name you will conduct business under. However, this does not mean that you own the copyright to the name or that the trade name is trademarked (™).
In order to trademark or copyright a business name, you need to go through a different process. Weigh the pros and cons to this - it will cost you more money to trademark than it will to simply register a trade name that will be sufficient enough to run your business. If you're planning on running into many competitors and your business name is something that you think others might want to use/is a common name, it may be safer to own rights.
Hey, I've even had someone steal the blog name "Fashionably Frank" before (not to mention a few of my most popular category/series names along with it).
Anything can happen!
4. SCHEDULE A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOSHOOT
C'mon, you want to look the part, right? No matter if you are a solopreneur #girlboss or a team with a passion for growth, getting a professional photoshoot done before you launch your business is always a wise idea. Focus on getting some great headshots, styled photos if you are a creative business (such as a graphic designer, or digital marketer like myself) that involve your laptop or computer of choice, along with personal details about your lifestyle that will help those interested in your services greater connect with you.
If you have a freakin' adorable puppy, include it in some of your shots. Struggle from a serious obsession with coffee (like me)? Whether you choose a snap of you sipping your daily Starbucks vs. a local, home-grown coffee company will show a lot about your character. Adding personality into some of the more relaxed shots is wise - you can use these as website header images or galleries, in your email list, on your blog and social media and anywhere else you need branding to tell a cohesive story.
5. DESIGN (OR HIRE SOMEONE TO DESIGN) YOUR WEBSITE
Please don't let me down on this one. Your website is EVERYTHING, I'm not kidding. This is where people will find you on the Internet, first and foremost. Make sure that your website is optimized for search engines and that you use long-tail keywords that people would be searching for (example: "Los Angeles coffee shop", "social media marketing in Olympia, Washington"). Don't make your keywords too short, or you won't rank high enough. This goes for every one of your blog posts, too, of course!
Hiring a professional (in the case that you aren't) to design your website is key to presenting your brand in 21st century fashion - not an outdated 1990s style. GAG! Make sure you determine a brand style guide - colors, typeface, logos and watermarks and ensure that your designer weaves these elements into every single piece of your branding.
You should also hire a designer for your brand style kit (logo, watermark, etc.).
6. ORDER BUSINESS CARDS
This is something I'm not great at: I'll admit. Being so immersed in digital marketing, I often forget how super critical business cards are to networking. Even though we have cell phones nowadays, it's still so important to have these little slips we can give to the individuals we meet on the fly. They don't want to stand there typing in your website URL, social media handles, email address and phone number.
I am a big fan of Moo business cards and stationery items in general. I opt for their regular business cards with a thicker paper, but the gold foil ones are an extra pop if you're willing and have the budget up-front to invest. Maybe the second time around!
7. VISIT A BUSINESS COACHING CENTER
Like I mentioned in my first tip, visiting your local business coaching center (if you have one) is a great choice. Even if you feel as though you have the basics of operations down, there's plenty of tax questions and other needs that you may want suggestions for.
Your local center will most likely be able to provide pro-bono initial consultation meetings, allowing you as a new business owner to access their services for free. Mine is super good about that, and is able to receive the funding necessary to offer lower income, in addition to minority (racial or gender) business owners a chance at free coaching. These centers offer a wide variety of coaching - everything from marketing to accounting.
Funny story: the business coach I was paired with later reached out to me via my website for some marketing work! You never know who will become your next great lead.
Bonus Tip: Consider yourself always "on" and always work at selling yourself, even if it seems like the person you are talking to is not in need of your product or service. It's likely they will know someone who is.
8. SET THE WHEELS IN MOTION ON YOUR MARKETING PLAN
Are you going to have a robust social media presence? Are you going to place paid ads on the Internet? In person around your town? In the newspaper? On the radio? How will you best reach your target audience? Where do they frequent? What do they frequent?
Getting together with a marketing professional (hint, hint: I'm available!) to determine and outline your goals, then write-out a thorough marketing plan can be super valuable.
9. PUBLISH A BLOG POST (OR TWO)
Blogging is key to content marketing. If you plan on doing social media (which um, hello - you should in 2017!), you need to have a means of providing value to your audience that will entice them into becoming solidified customers. By giving free advice to those within your target audience segments, you are evoking reciprocity and in turn, generating leads.
10. DETERMINE YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE
Of course, you can't really run a business without knowing who your ideal customer segments are. Outline your personas - detailed descriptions about your different customers that come with unique backgrounds, lifestyles and needs, but all tie back into your greater purpose and product. Remember: you'll have to tailor any marketing to each specific customer segment - marketing is not a "one size fits all" sorta thing.
11. CRAFT YOUR MISSION STATEMENT
After you've determined your target audience and what their pain points are, crafting your mission statement to reflect what you will promise your clientele/customers is necessary. Evoke an emotion in your mission statement, while keeping it short and sweet and addressing the value you bring to the table.
Storybranding is a concept by Donald Miller, author and marketing extraordinaire. I had the pleasure of learning the general ins and outs of the StoryBrand framework when I was interning at a local tourism nonprofit. While attending one of Donald's conferences will cost you hundreds - thousands of dollars, he offers a free mailing list and has given a free printable of his general framework for anyone who signs up, from which you are able to do the main, most vital chunks of the work. Sometimes he even sends little videos!
Basically, if you don't already know: storybranding is a technique that helps you identify your target audience, what their problem is (or their pain point), as well as how you can become a leader with authority in your niche and eventually solve the audience's problem, positioning them as the heroes and you as the guide that helped them along the way. This approach is inspired by the way iconic screenwriters and authors tell the journey of some of the most beloved characters in film and literature.
You can get a taste for what Donald does by utilizing his FREE e-course:
5 Minute Marketing Makeover.
13. FIND A MENTOR
Whether this is someone who has been a mentor for you in the past or just recently came into your life and inspired you to launch your dreams into reality, having people around you for support, guidance and wisdom along the way is so very important.
14. IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE FIELD
Most people will find a great plethora of information on their industry niche by doing a simple Google search. A few of the things I like to do on a regular basis that have grown my business are the following:
- Participate in Twitter Chats. You can find these by doing a Google search, or searching around on Twitter for niche keywords.
- Grabbing relevant news sources and blogs with updated trends within my industry, adding these to a Feedly account and tracking them weekly (I do this for clients, too).
- Engaging on social media with industry influencers in your niche, learning from them and most importantly: never ending your life-long learning!
15. ATTEND NETWORKING GROUPS / EVENTS
While Twitter chats are great and all, attending in-person networking events and groups can be very helpful, especially if you know someone who is already in the group(s). One of my very first clients introduced me to his business networking group and I received 2 leads and 1 repeating client from attending a SINGLE meeting. Yup, it's powerful stuff.
Oh, and be sure you bring your business cards and practice your elevator pitch! :)
Did these tips help? What are you struggling with the most when launching your business and making your dreams an actual reality? I'd love to answer any follow-up questions you may have! Leave them in the comments below!
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BLOGGER: KATHRYN COFFMAN
Kathryn is the lead contributor + founder at FashionablyFrank.com. Obsessed with leading a life of balance, she started the blog in 2013. Since graduating from The Evergreen State College (Washington) in 2016, she is now a digital marketing specialist through her business, Fashionably Frank Marketing. She believes a cup of coffee is the answer to all of life's problems + that all women should strive to embrace a #girlboss mantra.