Starting a small business can be a scary time for most people. The smartest people that I have ever met feel intimidated about taking that first step to being independent and fear reaching out to potential businesses that could use their services. There is something secure and comforting of staying in a job with a company that you hate instead of taking a risk and putting yourself out front. The biggest issue that potential new small business owners have shared with me is what if I can't find any clients who want to take a chance on me or do I have to quit my job and lose my salary and health benefits.
What seems like a lifetime now, 16 years ago I started Promotions West, a boutique public relations and marketing firm in San Francisco where I work as a consultant and mentor to businesses. It was a bit scary for me too. I was so frightening that I kept my full time job and started doing the business at off times, little by little. One of my mentors said to me over lunch, "When are you going to put both feet in the same place and take a chance on you." I wanted to run and hide in a dark cave. I couldn't think of anything worse than going rogue and being my own boss. After shaking in my boots for a year, yep a year, I finally made the leap to trust myself like I have trusted so many others when getting hired to work a 40 hour shift. I quickly learned that failing is and have never been an option. To help me to provide realistic tips, I reached out to loyal colleagues in the field of public relations, marketing, promotions and social media for their advice. Here is some of the knowledge that they shared with me.
"To thine own self be true Don't try to deliver services that are not in alignment with your expertise or mission. Work from the inside-out building your market base from folks nearest you, beginning with employees, shared Jackie Wright, award winning journalist, producer, publicist, filmmaker and founder of Wright Enterprises.
Beverly Lancaster-Jones, a Washington DC public relations and marketing guru and a great colleague said, "Don't neglect your loves ones while building your business. It's never worth it." "Drink lots of wine, preferably with me" is what Kami Griffiths, owner of Community Technology Network suggested. FYI, Kami is simply brilliant and I have had the opportunity to work with her and watch her build the business from the ground up and never stop, except for a glass of wine and to gain more energy to keep pushing. She is about to relocate to Austin, Texas so get ready Austin for a tornado of wonderfulness. Garry Curtis, CEO of GRC Strategies and one of my mentors added, "Hire smart people and get out of their way.
Roberta Silverstein, Owner of Brain to Fingers in Novato, CA and a longtime colleague and friend had a lot of tips to share. Silverstein recommends the following tips:
Have a game plan (business plan) yet be open to change and new ideas. You never know who you are going to meet who can help you, give you new ideas or network you to a client.
Be kind and considerate when networking. While you may be super hungry for customers/clients, if you cal a meeting, be aware of your contact's time.
Stay in contact - find out how your contacts want to be connected - occasional text, email or phone call.
Build up your own area of expertise or tap into an existing body of knowledge with your additions. You may have a contrary point of view or are looking for additional input. Ask. Use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and your own contacts.
Pick up the phone! Although there are many nonverbal ways to contact people - using a phone to call your contacts is still the best way to maintain a relationship, even it it is a quick hello.
Let your friends know what you are doing to start a business. They may have ideas and tips or know someone who might help or need your services.
Contact the Small Business Administration in your area. They are folks with a lot of knowledge. To reach Roberta: firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Ray Mar, Product Marketing Manager at Pure Storage in Mountainview, CA, he recommends having a:
Business plan - to outline your overall strategy, goals, business / revenue projections so you know where you are starting out and where you want to go as a business. Helps set your vision and road map.
Marketing plan - to understand your target market (who you want to sell to); understand their pain points and how you are going to solve it. Develop a go to market strategy to includes how you are going to generate awareness (social media strategy, print advertising, web presence, etc); once your get leads for your pipeline how are you going to follow-up (email nurture, sales call)
Should understand your competition - How is your product or service differentiated so you can position yourself from the competition (could be related to pricing, unique product/service)
Location - to sell product/service, encourage to conduct feasibility study to determine in whether location is easily accessible, it is easy to find, is there high traffic.
Financing - If you need cash to fund your venture, banks will want your business plan to review. Alternative funding sources could be through crowd-funding (e.g. Go Fund Me); family/friends (though not highly advisable unless you have clearly written agreement, payment terms, exit strategy).
Also remember to:
1. Dream Big Successful small business owners are dreamers. They wholeheartedly believe they can turn those dreams into reality. If you can dream it, you can create it.
2. Identify Opportunities Today’s most popular products and companies seemed like rather unlikely or even bizarre concepts when they were first introduced. But successful entrepreneurs are willing and able to think outside the box and see potential in ideas where other people don’t.
3. ExecuteLots of people have ideas. Taking an idea and figuring out how to bring it to market – and then getting people to actually buy it – is a completely different thing. It is this ability to execute that separates successful entrepreneurs from mere dreamers.
4. TakeBaby StepsEven if their ideas are big, business owners know they aren’t able to achieve everything at once. Remember how difficult it can be for a one year old trying to walk or run? Ever notice how they fall down many times but continue to rise and try again. It's the same principle. It takes time and lots of planning before, during and after you accomplish your goal. There is never enough money. Never enough people. Never enough time in the day. Prioritizing and taking baby steps is a sure way to gain success.
5. Ask for HelpThe circle of true friends and colleagues can play a major role in helping to make decisions. I encourage people to create a circle but consider the type of people you want in your circle. Circles can be comprised of friends who love you, those that won't agree with everything you say, those with experience in the area that you are hoping to enter. It's important to fill your circle with people who have experience in their industry and find business partners that complement - not duplicate your skills.
6. Be FlexibleLike everyone, successful business owners make lots of mistakes. The difference, however, is that they are willing to learn from and accept those mistakes and change course – sometimes quickly. No one is going to care about stumbles along the way if the venture was a success at the end of the day. Remember, most successful people and businesses failed many times, but they kept getting up and trying again.
7. Be Confident. It's important to not let self-doubt or naysayers get in their way. All your persistence and strength to keep you focused and shove you forward, even when things get a bit difficult and full of challenges. Remember, you can do it.
8. Not be Afraid to FailFear of failure prevents many people from starting a business, going on a first date, leaving a bad job, or trying new things. Successful entrepreneurs understand the risks and try to mitigate them. Remember to not let perceived risks drive you into a mental roadblock.
9. Build a Strong TeamAs companies start to grow and hire more people, owners know they can’t take that too lightly. Their employees and managers are the backbone of the business. During your adventure, take the time to figure out what traits, values and skills you want in your consultants or employees. Great staff makes a world of difference in being successful. At Promotions West, we also look for fun people with a strong drive to succeed. Laughter is good for the soul.
10.Ask for HelpIt’s often hard for business owners to let go. They built their companies from the ground up, after all. But the most successful ones know that the work must be shared as no one can do everything. The best advice I was ever given was to hire the best people and allow them to to do their jobs well. It allows the business owner to focus and prioritize.
A huge THANK YOU to my contributors who spent time providing me with great tips throughout my entire career. Good luck in following your dream and organizing your circle. And remember...