Business Planning is a Business
This article originally appeared on the Women On Business,a blog on Forbes.com list of the Top 100 Websites for Women
Starting a business seems easy enough. Obtain a business license and do what you like forever all while making money. Sounds like a dream come true. That’s pretty much what I thought when I started my first business 10 years ago. No, I wasn’t quite that naive, but I did think it would be easy. It was far from. There were easy parts of course, building the website, marketing, and getting the business license (keep in mind, these are the things I’m an expert in), but when it came to accounting, legal, sales, and staffing (all not in my area of expertise), it threw me for a loop. Don’t forget the unexpected business costs.
I seriously thought, “I can do everything myself. I don’t need to spend money on anything.” HA! Because of these reasons, my business failed. That saying, “you need to spend money to make money,” is a real thing. I’m the queen of expense shortcuts. I can barter for anything, and I love to learn so teaching myself graphic design was fun. But it took time, and a lot of it. As a successful, money-making, small business owner, I’d love to share my experiences and tips that helped me along the way.
First things first, creating a business plan. No, I was a moron and didn’t create a business plan. I thought, “I’m alone in this, why do I need a business plan? It’s all my idea, anyway right?” Boy, did that come back to bite me in the backside. A business plan keeps you on track. It gives anyone willing or wanting to work with you an idea of what you’re about. Most of all, it would have made me realize what I was missing.
Finding business plan templates online is extremely easy. All you have to do is take those templates and add your information. Just make sure you’re specific in your search. Also, don’t confuse a business plan with an investor pitch. If you’re starting an accounting business, search accounting business plan templates. Sites like Legaltemplates.net offer great free plans to get you started.
If accounting is not your business, keep in mind, software like Quickbooks is great but there is so much more to it. I have been doing our family’s taxes for years, and I thought business taxes would be just as easy. I was wrong.
Where I live in Washington State, we don’t have state taxes, but that doesn’t apply to business. Filing took twice as long as I was used to. I also had to learn what were considered deductions and what weren’t. For example, claiming my car mileage seemed to make sense, but I soon found out my lender doesn’t allow that; I could have lost my car loan, which is something I never would have thought of on my own. I highly recommend hiring an accountant or taking a course at a local community college.
I’m a marketing professional, so I didn’t need much help with this topic – especially considering this was my business. However, I do have advice here. I often have people come to me to ask for free help. No one ever wants to pay me because they think marketing and public relations are expendable. Then why are you coming to me asking for help? You know why? You NEED marketing. If no one knows you exist, how will you get business.
Marketing is more than paying for a Facebook ad. In fact, just buying a Facebook ad is a waste of money if you don’t know how to do it correctly. There is actually a science to it. A science that literally changes several times a year. Oh, and public relations…. or better known as “free marketing.” It’s not free; it’s earned. It takes time and connections to get earned media. If you have the time and connections, great! Use it to market yourself. However, as I always say, you’ll get 50 no’s before you get that one yes. That yes might be Bill’s Barnyard Blog because it’s the only one willing to read your page-long email (that’s a bonus tip, keep your emails short and sweet).
Legal. This is a huge topic that includes accounting, business plans, and even creative. This, unfortunately, is a subject that has come up for me several times — not because I did anything illegal but because people were doing illegal things to my business. One big example is while operating my magazine, I had a young woman working for me in the U.K. We decided to launch a British version of our magazine. It was a lot of work using the creatives I already had in place.
The launch went wonderfully, then dead silence. She went rogue, literally removing me from everything (minus the website because only I had access, but she just created a new one). She took everything I built and started her own magazine. I contacted an attorney, but because I didn’t already have one on retainer and because she was in a foreign country, the cost was not even an option for me. In the end, I had to let her steal it from me. I did everything in my power like contacting everyone I could, putting information on the website I owned, and more. Without the legal help, I was out of luck.
This was hands down the hardest lesson I learned. It led to many more problems, and ultimately, the magazine ceased to exist. Luckily in the end, she failed too, but it didn’t make my situation any better. Doing foreign business is something on a completely different scale.
There were many other situations like people using our photos, people claiming we used theirs when we didn’t, using a quote or picture someone didn’t like, and so much more. The point is, unless you’re an attorney specialized in everything related to your business, you can’t possibly know what will come up until it does. You need to protect yourself and any employees, if you have them; an attorney will do that. A $2500 retainer could save your business in the end. It may sound like a lot to add on top of everything else, but I promise you it is worth every penny.
I hope this small post will help you see the importance of the things that may seem insignificant in the beginning. Just remember, every business is different and what worked for me might not work for you and vice versa. What matters is that you’re prepared. Don’t rush. Just because you’re an expert in your field doesn’t make you an expert in all aspects of your business. Study, read, research, and take courses online (some are even free). They could change your entire scope for the better. There are many things needed to start a business, and now you know exactly what you need, because it’s in your new business plan. Good luck!