There’s a reason why women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men for the last 20 years. It’s forecasted that women will create more than half of the 9.72 million new small business jobs expected to exist in the United States by 2018. And they won’t be doing it in corporate, office environments – they’ll be doing it from the comfort of their own homes.
Are You One of These Women?
According to a survey conducted by BMO in 2012, 71% of women in Canada want to start their own business.
As of 2004, in the United States, women were starting businesses at nearly twice the rate of men. (And that was over 10 years ago!)
Laurel Douglas, CEO of B.C.’s Women’s Enterprise Centre, says that for women who start businesses, it isn’t money that’s the primary motivator, it’s flexibility.
A self employed mom is one who has total control over her schedule. She can care for her kids and manage her household – on her time.
At Home vs. Outside the Home
When you work at home, everything about your day is more efficient. You maximize work time because you don’t have to commute anywhere. You maximize quality time with your kids because even if you have a quick work task to complete, it’s just a flight of stairs away. You maximize money because you’re not spending on gas, transit, parking, etc.
And who doesn’t want to work in their sweats anyway?!
Steps to Start a Business
I’m going to walk you through a series of steps to start your very own business so you can become the work at home mom you’ve always wanted to be. These are actually the steps I took so I can tell you with confidence that they work. And I’ve got 6+ years of successful at-home, entrepreneurial, self-employed work under my belt so far. I hope it continues because I can’t imagine my life any other way…
Do Something About It
The first step to start your own business is action.
Make a move.
Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year…right now.
It might be something small such as researching about your interests or seeing how many other companies like the one you want to start already exist. Or it might be something larger like brainstorming a company name or registering a domain online. In this early stage, what’s most important is momentum. Even if you only allot 10 minutes every day to your new endeavor, commit to that. Don’t stray from it. And to make sure you never say, “Oh, it’s late, I’ll just do it tomorrow”, make sure your timeslot is early in the day.
1 – Define Your Business
- What is it?
- What do you want to do?
- How do you want to do it?
- Are you selling a product or a service?
- Does it already exist or is this a brand new concept?
- Where will you offer your product or service?
- When will your business operate? Year round? Seasonal? Now? In a year?
- Is it something you will make or do personally or will you need to hire a team?
- What makes your business different? (This might be THE single most important question you need to answer so take your time on this one!)
- Why do you want to do this? (Another extremely important question. In today’s business landscape, you need to connect with your customers on the why factor. Have purpose. Have direction. Have a story. Have a deeper meaning behind your business. And communicate this to your target audience.)
Check this out:
- What value will you provide?
- Are you solving a problem?
- Will you provide advice?
- Will you be cheaper or more expensive than your competitors?
- Will you focus on quality, or efficiency, or saving people money, or getting people to do something differently than the way they do it right now?
- DEFINE your business. (Think of every aspect of every part – it all needs to be defined.)
2 – Name Your Business
I used to think that a company name was just that – a name. It doesn’t dictate success. It doesn’t make or break your business. And it doesn’t really matter what it is because a) people will grow into it and b) what you do with it is what counts.
But my take on business names and domain names has changed drastically.
My husband recently renamed and rebranded one of his companies. He spent the better part of a year (yes a year!) coming up with a new name. And in our house that means a year of thinking about it, debating it, brainstorming it and talking about it – to death! Needless to say, I learned a lot about naming – or renaming – a business.
I’m now here to tell you that your business name IS important. And it’s important on two sides of the spectrum:
- It’s important internally. (For you and your staff.)
Your business name needs to be something you and your partners, employees and contractors can get behind. It should be something you and your team can resonate with and relate to. Parents spend months (likely 9) coming up with the perfect name for their child, so it makes sense that business owners should also spend ample time making the right choice for their companies. After all, as entrepreneurs, aren’t our businesses our babies? And if you choose wisely, you’ll never have to go through the hassle and cost of rebranding.
If you’re passionate about your business name, I’m going to argue that it might just positively affect your performance. I’m not saying it’s everything, but it’s something. Once my husband’s new brand was launched, things started to happen – from the very first week. New leads rolled in, projects were closed, motivations were sky-high. There were a lot of factors at play here, but just from a personal standpoint, right down to how he answered the phone with the new brand name, he oozed confidence and authority. There was a change in demeanor. And it was damn good. Don’t underestimate the power of the psychology behind a solid brand. It might just make YOU perform better, and therefore, contribute to greater success down the road.
- It’s important externally. (For everyone else.)
What will leads, customers, competitors, colleagues and the media think of your business name? Does it make sense? Is it meaningful? Do you think it’ll make your target audience say, “Hey, I want to buy from them”? Just like anything else, a business has a chance to make a first impression, and oftentimes, this starts with the name. It could be through an email, in online search results or on a store sign. Bottom line: when people see or hear it, what’s their immediate reaction?
These days, it isn’t quite as easy as simply coming up with a good name. You’re going to want a website for your new business (obviously). And what do you need to put up a website? A domain name! Well guess what? The very first domain name was registered on March 15th, 1985. By 1992, fewer than 15,000 .com domains had been registered. As of January 2015, according to the Web Server Survey, 876,812,666 websites were in existence. Point is, not only is it difficult to come up with an excellent business name, but also one that isn’t yet taken online! Another thing my husband’s rebranding initiative has taught me is that web real estate is valuable. It’s worth money. So if you find the perfect business and domain name, don’t be afraid to pay for it. (These are called premium domains and you can learn a little more about them here: https://ca.godaddy.com/help/what-are-premium-domain-names-2878). Thinking of, finding and/or purchasing the perfect domain name is a challenge to say the least, but one very well worth the time investment to get it right.
So what makes a good business name?
- It’s short. Too lengthy and people won’t remember it.
- It’s easy to spell and pronounce. Imagine every time you tell someone your business name they answer with “huh?” or “say that again”. If you need to spell it out every single time, then it isn’t simple enough and you’ve overcomplicated things. You should be able to say it and instantaneously people know what you’ve said – no questions, no confusion.
- It makes sense. While some big brand names are totally meaningless such as Kodak, Amazon and Google, for us smaller fish in the sea, it’s best to stick with something that has meaning in your industry so you can be memorable right from the get-go. Take my writing business for example: Striking Content Inc. I think you’ll agree that I’ve got the two points above down pat AND this name makes perfect sense in my industry. In fact, I’ve had a lot of compliments about my business name from clients, and people I work with often make it into a pun by saying something like, “Katie, I need you to write striking content for my website.” Yeah!
- It’s comprised of real words. Notice how the three examples I gave above are all made up words? These are remarkably successful brands but again, for branding success on a smaller scale, you want to make it easy for people. Stick to words or combinations of words that already exist. Examples of big brands that have done it this way: Apple, Facebook, Evernote, Twitter.
3 – Register Your Business and Secure Your Domain Name
Enough planning! Now it’s time to solidify your decision. Wherever you’re located in the world, there’s a way to register your business.
To register a business in Canada, get started here: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/bsnss/tpcs/bn-ne/bro-ide/.
To register a business in the United States, get started here: https://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/starting-managing-business/starting-business/choose-register-your-busi.
To prevent any issues down the road, you might want to consider consulting with a lawyer about your business name. Make sure you’re not in conflict with other business names in your industry. Before you spend money registering your company, you want to know that everything is legit.
So you’ve got your business name. You’ve legally registered your business with whatever governing body is applicable to your location. Maybe you purchased your domain name first or maybe it’s your final step but whatever the case, make sure you can buy the domain name that is EXACTLY what your business name is. Don’t fall into the trap of “Oh, strikingcontent.com isn’t available so I’ll just get the domain contentthatisstriking.com”. No, no. Bad decision.
4 – Choose Your Business Structure … And DON’T Incorporate too Soon!
Are you on your own?
Do you have a partner?
What kind of liabilities or risks is your business subject to?
How much money do you expect to make in your first year? Or two? Or three?
Given your current business situation, think about what structure is best. Just a quick word of advice: don’t rush into incorporating. Yes, there is a certain stature and permanence that comes along with the “Inc.” tacked on to the end of your business name but incorporation is at least a little bit about timing.
Remember that an incorporated business costs more to set up, more to manage and more to file taxes on an annual basis. Plus, you need to know all the right ways to pay yourself (which often comes with more headaches too). It’s a common misconception that corporations give their owners tax breaks. Yes, this is true. But only if you know exactly how to legally take advantage of those opportunities and you usually need to make enough money so that you can leave some of it INSIDE the business. If you’re just pulling everything out, it often defeats the purpose. The decision to incorporate is multifaceted and it’s one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Reasons for or against incorporation at any stage in your business have to do with liability, financial, personal and so many more.
All I’m saying is don’t automatically assume you need to incorporate. To start, see if you can operate as a sole proprietorship. Minimize your upfront costs so you can evaluate whether or not your business is actually going to fly before you invest money into incorporating.
5 – Start Online
Self employment and entrepreneurship aren’t what they used to be. A hundred years ago, aspiring entrepreneurs didn’t have the Internet to just give things a whirl! They had to find a space, set up shop and deal with a whack load of overhead expenses right from the beginning.
But your situation is different. Sure, you could choose to rent a retail space, invest in inventory, buy all kinds of store supplies and décor and start your new business much the same way as your counterparts from the past.
You could take advantage of a powerful (and cheap!) tool at your disposal:
Again, minimize your upfront costs.
Not only is it important to minimize your upfront costs to avoid unnecessary debts but also to give yourself some breathing room. If you’re sitting on thousands racked up in loans and credit cards, how do you think you’re going to run your new business? Like a stress ball! And when you’re stressed out in business, your vision gets clouded. You can’t give your new company the gusto it needs to take off. You’re reluctant to really go for it because you feel way too much pressure to get that next sale or solidify that new client. When you’re coasting along comfortably, you know you’ve got nothing to lose. And that gives you the mindful freedom you need to perform better.
6 – Build a Website
The way I see it, there are three ways to go about designing and building a website for your new business:
- Buy a template and customize it.
Many years ago, “the thing to do” was to create a website using custom code. This is how my original websites were built for my businesses. Back then, the word “template” was forbidden – you’d be shunned if you used a template.
Things are different.
Have you seen the latest templates you can purchase online? Check these out. These are the most popular WordPress themes. Click “Live Preview” for any in this list and you’ll get a real eye opener into the calibre of the once-dreaded template marketplace. If you’re just starting your business and you’re new to the whole online world, this is great news for you! Because it means you can purchase a template for dirt cheap and then customize it any way you like.
My top recommendation of where to purchase templates today: www.themeforest.net. Sort by code type, website type, popularity, industry and more.
*Quick Warning*: Although these templates claim that you can literally customize any aspect of the design without any coding experience, be careful. I know a teency, weency, tiny bit about coding and I definitely couldn’t customize any of my previously used templates on my own. If you find yourself in the same boat, it’s time to hire a developer to help you. See how and where to do this in point number 2.
- Hire a web designer and web developer to run the project from start to finish.
If you want to take a little more of a hands-off approach, this option is better for you. Typically, you want to find a freelance designer and a freelance developer. This is the most economical way for you to do this, since if you find a larger company that has both designers and developers on staff, you’re already in another price category. And this post is all about saving you money as you embark on your new, uber-exciting endeavour remember?
So here’s what I recommend…
Create an account on any of the major freelancer websites you prefer. I started out on Elance.com (which is now actually just Upwork). Guru and Freelancer are also worth looking into. Once you’re signed up, follow the super simple process to post a project and then watch eagerly as tons of freelancers “bid” on the work. Then you can chat, speak with, drill and vet all those freelancers until you’re comfortable hiring the right one for your project. If you have a location preference, you can specify it. Or, you can let ’er rip and accept bids from freelancers all over the world.
A little side note here: when it comes to design exclusively, check out 99designs. If you have the time and you’re ready to have some serious fun, this site lets you run a design “contest” and then receive multiple submissions from designers on a global scale. Obviously, the cool thing here is that you get to SEE the designs before you award a winner. It takes time to go through all the submissions and then give feedback to keep the process rolling, but there’s something awesome about viewing several designers’ interpretations of what your website should look like. And ultimately, you’re the judge.
- Use an online website builder and pay a small monthly fee to maintain and run your site.
There are lots of website builders online, but I recommend GoDaddy: https://www.godaddy.com/hosting/website-builder.aspx. If you’re a total newbie to the online world and you don’t know the first thing about building a website, hosting that website and setting up a proper business email (and more importantly, you don’t want to learn how to do these things because you’d rather focus on your business), then this is the option for you.
There are three different packages you can choose, ranging from $2.99 to $14.99 a month. Big whoop! You don’t need to know any coding, no technical skills are required, there are lots of design templates to choose from and GoDaddy sets you up with your domain, hosting and business email.
7 – Get a Business Phone Line
Don’t make the mistake of using your cell phone and always picking up the phone saying “Hello?” Or even worse: “Yo?” Invest in a virtual phone number (VoIP) or a cloud based PBX. It’s a minimal monthly cost that’s well worth every dollar. When a business call comes through to your smartphone, you know it’s a business call, and so, you can answer professionally. The last thing you want potential customers to say when you pick up the phone is, “Oh, have I reached the right place?”
The top 3 VoIP services of 2015 are RingCentral, Grasshopper and eVoice. As a matter of fact, I can personally vouch for RingCentral, which is the virtual phone system I’ve been using since the beginning. Now that I think of it, there may have been one other company I used first but for so little time that I can’t even remember the name.
8 – Create Marketing Collateral
Okay, so you’ve got the idea, the business name, the domain, the website, the phone line…you’re all set up.
So what’s next?
It’s time to prepare to market your business. Naturally, before you just dive in and start spending a ton of money on marketing materials you’ll never use, it’s important that you think it through. Research it. Plan it. Wrap your head around it. Remember, it’s alllll new so take your time.
What form of marketing tends to be most successful in your industry?
How can you minimize costs upfront?
Is there a way to spend less money on production?
Use trial and error to figure out what’s working and what’s not.
Invest where the results are!
You might be in the type of business that screams social media success. Your marketing focus might be strictly digital. Or perhaps yours is an industry that still calls for business cards and print materials. Whatever it is, figure it out. Research the hell out of it. Make a solid plan so you can create and spend money only on what you need.
Take advantage of the online world! Don’t get fooled into thinking that you MUST have a business card “just because”. When I first started my company, I made the mistake of designing a beautiful business card and printing a thousand of them that I thought I’d rip through in no time. Well guess what? About 800 of them are still sitting in my closet:
- Run pay-per-click (PPC) ads in the major search engines – or at the very least, Google.
- Design your site to be SEO friendly.
- Figure out what people are typing in to find businesses like yours.
- Create social media accounts and get active on them.
- Write as much fresh content as you can and add it to your site on a regular basis.
9 – Get Out There (in other words…market your business)
“If you build it they will come.”
Is this what you’re thinking? Think again!
One of the biggest reasons entrepreneurs fail is because of their lack of marketing strategy, spending, drive and general know-how. Successful entrepreneurs are so special because they have skills on both sides of the equation: they’re really good at whatever it is they actually do, but they’re also really good at business – and more specifically, driving business.
Here are a few good-read articles that discuss some of biggest causes of small business startup failures:
Of course, there isn’t just one reason. There are many. But have a look. Notice the common thread?
Ineffective marketing or a lack of marketing altogether.
Without marketing, you ain’t gonna go far. No matter how good your idea is.
Once again get online (you’ve probably noticed by now that I simply cannot stress this enough)! Particularly in the beginning, you can’t beat the costs of online marketing in relation to the number of TARGETED customers you’re able to reach with your efforts.
- It’s affordable.
- It gives you the ability to reach a huge target audience.
- It supplies you with invaluable data that can help you tweak and customize your campaigns to continually improve things like click-through-rate (CTR), engagement and conversions.
- It has global scope.
- It’s a marketing medium available to customers 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
10 – Hustle and Bustle, Mama!
We all need a little kick in the ass every now and then. For some of us, it might be every morning (ahem, hem…coffee please!). For others, it’s a weekly or monthly need when we start to feel run down.
Whenever you need it, make sure you do everything in your power to stay motivated and on track. You’ve chosen your path. Now it’s up to you to make it happen.
Need a little motivation right now? Watch this:
Make no mistake…
This is the rockier road. It’s the uphill climb. It’s the swim against the current.
Entrepreneurship is the most rewarding career you’ll ever have. But with rewards come challenges. Big challenges. Challenges that will make you want to quit a thousand times over. So you’ll need some firepower beneath that sexy ass of yours…
A support network you can turn to.
Colleagues you can bounce ideas off of.
Motivational activities you can do on a daily basis.
Friends you can call on for a good distraction when you’ve just got to get away.
Most importantly, you’ll need that DRIVE within you. That determined little voice in your head that always keeps you moving forward even on days when the only thing you want to do is curl into a ball and give up. And it’s this tiny, yet all-powerful voice that will give you the hustle and bustle attitude you need to stay true to your vision. To keep your focus. To push for what you want. And to never, ever, ever, EVER give up.
Are you ready, Mama?