First Steps In Starting A Business

I recommend that before you start a business, you do a few important first steps.

Just a quick side note. This isn’t necessarily the order to do things. This was the order I thought of it when I was writing it down.  You’ll figure out what needs to be done for your state and situation.

And before I go further, let me state that you may want to get some good professional advice on business entities. You will want to figure out what’s best for your situation right now and as your business grows.

Personally, my first business was an S-Corporation and a big pain in the butt when it came to paperwork. So when I reincorporated for my second business, I did LLC.  It’s not nearly as bad with the taxes. It still costs me $800/year to the state of California, but there’s nothing I can do about that right now. (Except make so much money that I don’t care.)

So, do some research and put together an action plan with your steps. Here’s my suggested steps that you include.

Phone Number

You will probably not want everyone to have your personal phone number. There are three things you can do.

Google Voice

You can sign up with Google Voice and have a separate phone number that will allow you to use their app to place and receive calls with that number. You can also receive faxes.

One feature I love is that if someone leave you voicemail, you get an email with an attempt at speech-to-text. It has gotten a lot better over the years.

Another positive is that if you outsource part of your business, other people can retrieve the messages and use the number to call customers.

The downside is that some places will reject a Google Voice number as not a real number. I ran into this when I signed up with hirewriters.com

Separate Cellphone

You may want to get a separate cellphone with a different number just for business calls. This can be great at first since you can hide the phone when it’s not your business hours.

The downside is that if you outsource, you will have to figure out how to pass over the phone.

Virtual Phone System

There are programs out there that you can access on the internet or with an app that will act like a business phone system. I use RingCentral.com so I can have a toll-free number. It costs me about $250/year. I’ve used it to send faxes as well. There’s a nice app that allows me to receive calls.

I can set up multiple extensions and voice mails. I can forward calls to cell phones.

Others highly recommend Grasshopper.com.

Whatever you choose, find one that is affordable. Google Voice is free and could be a good way to start. Some cell phone packages have a certain number of phone lines free. That could be a good way to start and then transition to a virtual phone system. Spend time thinking about it.

I made the mistake of using a second home line for my first business. I cancelled it years ago but still get phone calls. And I wish I hadn’t used my personal cell phone number for my business.  Maybe I should get another line for my personal.

P.O. Box

I wish I’d done this sooner. You want to keep your business separate from your home. You can get a P.O. Box from your local post office. They’re reasonably priced. I think I spend about $150/year.

I’m thinking of switching over to The UPS Store. They used to be called Mailboxes, Etc.. There’s one half a mile down the road. One thing that’s nice is that it’s a street address.

Some agencies won’t accept registering to businesses with only P.O. boxes. And if you want something shipped UPS or FedEx, they don’t deliver to P.O. boxes either. It is more expensive. But then you look like you have an established business address.

Name Research

At some point, you may want to have a separate business. I chose Lodestone. Funny story. I originally was thinking “keystone” since I wanted to be the important part of the arch that holds things together. But I goofed and came up with lodestone. That turned out well since lodestone is used in compasses.

But do spend some time thinking. Originally, I was a software programmer for hire. I wanted to name my business Cobbler Systems. Dear hubby put the kibosh on that. I thought a cobbler is a skilled artisan.  He said no one wants systems that are cobbled together.

So come up with a few names that are meaningful to you and then run it past someone who will be honest with you.

Business Checking Account

Once you have a business name, you should set up a business checking account. You can update it as you update your business. For example, you may want to start out as a sole proprietor and then become an LLC.

This ensures that you’re using only business funds for business and not commingling personal funds. The Tax People frown upon that.

Website/Domain

Once you have a business name, look at what domains are available. Then you can get creative. For my LLC, I used a hyphen. All the people say that’s a big no-no these days.  (lodestone-cs.com isn’t that bad) So what I did do was also register lcs2.com so I had a smaller domain if I had to read it out over the phone.

It’s easy to redirect email from one domain to the other.

But if you see what domains are available, that may impact what you name the business.

PayPal Account

It helps to have a business PayPal account. That allows you to let your clients pay with credit cards. Yes, it’s not the cheapest way possible, but it is very convenient.

You can add in Buy Now buttons from PayPal on your website if you want to directly sell your material.

And I got the PayPal debit card. I use that for when I buy items on AliExpress. I’ll go into that in more detail in the next post. There’s a goldmine with using AliExpress, drop shipping and Facebook ads.

But for now, I’ve got to get back to work.

Leave your questions and comments. I appreciate you.

How Not to Start a Business

I was going to write a series on goal setting the last week of the year. And I will get to that tomorrow.  Today I felt inspired to write about a small business that just failed near me.

It’s kind of sad. And I have to say I don’t know exactly why it failed. But I have my suspicions.

I sincerely doubt they did their homework before opening up the shop.  It was a small bakery that specialized in allergy free products.  So no nuts. No gluten. And no customers. So now it’s stripped bare with an eviction notice on the door.

There was a heartfelt plea at the end of November on an online community forum for people to go support a local business. And how yummy the food really was.

I don’t have food allergies. So I never felt like it spoke to me.  Plus, I don’t eat many baked goods.  Honestly I’m more of a deer. Waive some pretzels or chips in front of me and I’m a goner.

Don’t Be Negative

Anyway, when this store opened, they highlighted all of the gluten free and nut free and how it helps people with food allergies.  They had banners and signs and handing out samples extolling the allergen-free-ness of it all.

When talking with my husband, he pointed out that it’s negative. They kind of excluded a lot of people who didn’t have allergies. They should have focused on delicious baked goods.  Oh and it’s healthy.  Oh and it’s allergen free.  But first, hook people in with something positive.

It is good to have something unique to stand out.  And that’s something your business and marketing plan will cover. But if you’re trying to go head to head with the supermarket bakery next door and the Starbucks baked goods at the end of the strip mall, you need people to immediately think “Yum” not how healthy it is.

Don’t Ask Friends

I suspect that it was someone who learned to bake for their family. And then had a friend or two who said “Oh these are so good. You should open a shop.”  Anthony Bourdain mentioned this syndrome in one of his books. And it was in the chapter on why most restaurants fail. Just because you bake good things that your friends like doesn’t mean it will work as a business.

Plus, friends won’t be truly honest. I had a client who was working on a liquid vitamin business.  All of his family swore they’d buy if he made it.  Well, he invested $10,000 in product and filing for a copyright and setting up a website, etc. etc. etc.  Being a good marketing consultant, I recommended talking with stores where it would be sold.  He didn’t.

And sure enough, his family reneged and no one bought any of it.

Do A Real Marketing Study

You need to find out if your target market really will buy from you.

One program I’m a part of is Internet Business Mastery Academy.  You can listen to their podcast on iTunes. I’ve been listening to them since 2005 and have learned so much.  But I digress.

Jeremy Frasden talked about a friend of his who spend thousands of dollars making yoga mats. And then was astonished when no one bought them.  He designed what he thought would be the ideal mat. But he never asked the people if they would buy it.

Asking people also helps you identify your price point.  Maybe a yoga mat is worth $100 but no one would ever think of spending more than $40 at the local studio or gym.

You also need to find your partners as well. .Who will refer customers to you. In the case of the specialty bakery, I would think about partnering up with nutritionists and doctors. (I mean, if they can pass out free samples of medicine, why not pass out coupons for food which is nature’s medicine).

Know Before You Need to Know

I’m a huge follower of Michael E. Gerber and the EMyth. He just released a new book which I’m about 1/3 of the way finished. But start with the basics with the EMyth Revisited. I enjoy my Audible version for when I’m walking. You can find it for free in your library, I have no doubt. It’s a well known book.

Then there’s the Emyth Mastery which goes into a ton of detail about what facts and figures you need to put together.  But by the end you’ll have a solid plan. You’ll know what people are willing to buy and for how much.

Also if you want to open a brick and mortar store, learn from the big companies. You can’t buy into a franchise unless corporate is certain it is in a good market.

Lessons

  1. Really know your customer before you open your business
  2. Don’t rely upon negative advertising
  3. Understand that it’s a business and the rules are different

I suspect the former owner of the bakery wouldn’t have opened it up. Or perhaps she would have known better ways of finding customers. I won’t know personally. And I doubt I’d ask.  When I was actively looking for marketing clients, I found that most people wanted to do everything themselves and really didn’t like someone coming in and asking them questions about how things were going. Despite what a lot of sales training tells you.

I hope she keeps on baking. She could publish a cookbook. And have a website with an email autoresponder to generate revenue. She could publish baking classes on Udemy or Skillshare.

We’d all be stuck in the dark if Thomas Edison hadn’t been afraid to keep failing.  Just because the initial idea doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you should give up the dream.

Why We Work From Home

Woman Using Telephone In Home Office With Laptop While Young BoyI don’t care who tells you what. Working from home isn’t easier than working at an office.

At the office, you can signal people that you’re working and they won’t interrupt you.  At the office, at the end of the day, you can close up your laptop and walk away (ok, that’s in theory). I am partially kidding with these examples.

I have worked at jobs where I was required to log in to work in the evening. I’ve had friends who have conference calls at 930pm at night. One friend has to get up at 315am because she has to drive 45 minutes to be at a worksite and the work starts at 430 (she’s a drywall contractor). You don’t have to be white-collar to change careers and work from home.

The bottom line is for both working at home and outside the home, you have to firmly set boundaries in order to get done what needs to be done.

It’s Not Easy

Often, you’ll have friends who call or drop by because you’re “not doing anything.” And they know you’re home so you can’t pretend by not answering the door. You’ll have to do something difficult and set boundaries. Let them know that they need to call before dropping by.  Let them know you have certain work hours where you’re working, just like if you were at a job. Because you do have a job.

Actually, you have more than a job. You have a business. A common mistake people make is treating their business like a job. That’s the fastest way to get into debt and lose your mind.

Why Are You Doing This

Whenever you have someone asking you to volunteer at the school or sneak off for lunch or shopping, before you answer, reflect on why you’re doing this. If you go out to do something now, will that mean you have to push to get things done later in the afternoon when you’d rather be helping your kids with homework or cooking dinner?

(I like cooking, so it’s a reward for me after the end of a busy day)

That helps make it easier to say “no” to the things that aren’t getting you closer to your dream.

I set up my own business to be more available to my daughter. As I’ve mentioned, she was diagnosed as delayed language and needed additional help over the years. By working for myself, I could shuttle her around. But that meant I couldn’t go out to lunch as often as some people would like.

And I still have that problem. I’m not perfect. I have problems saying no to my stepmom when she wants to go out and I have to write a newsletter for a client. I rationalize that I can write the newsletter faster than I really can. Don’t fall into that trap.

Well, You Probably Will….

I don’t want to be negative. The truth is we don’t always realize what’s happening until it’s over.  Ever been engaged or dating the wrong guy? Then you wake up one morning and go “Whoops.” Well, that can happen if you end up at the end of the week and not enough was done and you go “Whoops.” At least saying Yes too much is like a few bad dates. It’s easier to start to say No more often.

And don’t forget to block out sections of time in a calendar. When someone calls or messages you, stall for time and say you’ll look at your calendar. Then say “Thanks for thinking of me. Today won’t work. How about next Thursday?”

Or if it’s something you don’t ever want to do, thank them for thinking of you and you won’t be able to help them.

My husband is always trying to teach me to say No without any excuses. He says it’s more polite and keeps the door closed to negotiation. Let’s be honest. Have you ever bought a car? What does the sales associate always try and do. Get you to give a reason. And when you do, he counters it.

“I don’t really like the color.”

“If I can get you that car in a different shade, will you buy today?”

Then you’re stuck.

“I have to finish up this project.”

“If I put you on this smaller task that won’t take more than an hour a week, can I sign you up?”

Don’t let yourself get backed into a corner.

Another good resource is Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Read the chapter on putting first things first. He gives a lot of good examples of how his wife Sandra doesn’t get overcommitted.


Bottom line, don’t think things will be easier than when you went to a job. You will have to juggle a lot of expectations. Treat yourself like a business owner. And learn how to say no and feel comfortable with it. You got this.

The Hangup

Back in the early days, we didn’t have electronic faxes. I had an old fashioned fax machine with a phone attachment and two phone lines coming into the house. I also had DSL for internet. This was in the days of modems back in about 2001. I had posted my resume on sites like Monster and Dice. A company had found it and had called me to talk about a short gig doing web programming.phonefaxcopier

My office was and still is in a bedroom upstairs in my house. Hubby and I bought a 4 bedroom house back in 1995. We were DINKs and knew we hated moving. So we skipped the starter homes and went straight for the house we’d live in for a really long time. Hubby took the largest bedroom that wasn’t the master bedroom.  My office was the next largest. The smallest was the guest room. So that’s where all the computers were.

Originally after Amanda was born, I moved a desk downstairs into the family room where the television was, and where all the toys were. It had enough space to set up a crib. But as my daughter grew, I needed to have more quiet space for phone calls and such.

So while I was on the phone extolling my virtues, my daughter had snuck upstairs and into my office.  Then the little darling pressed the hangup button on the phone/fax machine.

I hurriedly called the woman back apologizing that we somehow got cut off. But the damage was done. Here I was promising professional behavior and I go and hang up on her.

I survived and found other clients. I never could bring myself to close the door and keep her out unless I knew someone else was home watching her.