One of my favorite things to do is create vision boards – it’s like permission to daydream. And while that’s a great way to find out what your heart wants, a lot of us need something more solid, a plan to get to our dreams. After all, that house in the French Mediterranean probably won’t buy itself, right?
When I decided to branch out as a freelancer, there were so many things to do before I even got down to the business of starting my business. It was mind-boggling.
And honestly, if I’d been better prepared, I would’ve done a lot more of that work before I quit my full-time job. So if becoming an entrepreneur is on your vision board, take it from me: Start early on your dream, because there’s plenty you can do while you work your 9-to-5.
1. Write Your Business Plan
Maybe when you hear this you think (as I did) boooooooring! Who wants to do all those nitty-gritty details? Who’s even gonna read it? Well, if you’re looking for financial backing, the bank will be interested, for starters. And maybe your significant other or anyone else relying on your income.
But even if you’re not financing your business with a loan, a business plan is something that every entrepreneur, solopreneur or freelancer can benefit from. Why? Because it gets you looking at your business from angles you hadn’t thought of before.
You’ll find the answers to questions like:
Who are your competitors and why are you different?
What your salary will be?
How much do you plan to spend on advertising?
What will you outsource?
Some of the best insight I’ve heard was that most people who start a business are not business people. They are folks who are good at making a product or providing a service and think they can do it better than others.
Most of us aren’t really skilled in business sense, and writing your business plan can give you a better sense of where your strengths and weaknesses are as well.
2. Take a Class
After you have an idea of where you excel and where you could use some help, look into taking classes on running a business. A lot of community colleges and learning centers have night classes on accounting, marketing, HTML and many other business skills. Small business centers often have weekend seminars.
Just a few hours a week over several months can get you to a place that will help exponentially in the future of your business. Plus the skills you learn while you’re juggling classes with work – time management and prioritizing to name a few – will get you prepped for being your own boss as well.
3. Create Your Financial Action Plan
A lot of us don’t have a timeline for when we’ll be able to start our business because we don’t know when we’ll have the cash to do it. Using your business plan as a guide, look at what you’ll need to invest initially and open a savings account for your business.
Start contributing to it monthly, even if it’s only $10. Add any extra cash you make (tax returns, gifts, etc.) to the pot as well. Create a fund-raiser-type thermometer to tell you how you’re doing and update it quarterly. This will help you get in the habit of reviewing your business finances, and it can encourage you to save even more.
4. Find a Mentor
Unless you went to college for business, you probably don’t have a lot of people in your life who are successful business owners. Most of the folks you know probably work for someone else, and while that’s fine most of the time, you need someone in your life that understands your drive and desire. Because entrepreneurs are special people – they like to take risks, they value their freedom.
Finding someone who has already done what you want to do is invaluable, not just for honing your business acumen and improving your network, but also for camaraderie and encouragement. Check with your local Chamber Of Commerce, Small Business Development Centers or Service Corps Of Retired Executives for names of people who might be able to help you.
Ideally you want someone within your industry, but more importantly, you want a person who has good business sense and time to mentor you. Reach out to a few of these people in a respectful and formal way, almost like you would approach a prospective employer.
Know that most of them are busy, so be sure to stay on point and assure them that their help would not be wasted on you. Then slowly get to know them over coffee, lunch or some other industry-specific activity. Come armed with questions, and be sure to always follow up with thank-you notes with specific insights you’ve gleaned from your visits with them.
Remember that so much of being a successful entrepreneur is keeping the back-end of your business running smoothly – not just providing goods and services. Starting early, while you’re still getting a paycheck from someone else, will help put you in the position to make more money later because the business of running your business will already be handled.
If you would’ve told Ann Leggett ten years ago that she’d be the co-creator of a natural skin-care line — one that was stocked up and down both coasts of the U.S., she would’ve laughed at you.
“Never in a million years did I ever think I’d be in the natural skin-care business. Never. And sometimes, at the end of a crazy week, I’ll think, How did I do that? How did that work out?”
But Ann is one of those people who loves a challenge. “Don’t ever dare me,” she laughed. “I’m crazier than I look.”
And Ann has certainly seen her fair share of challenges. She has been diagnosed with breast cancer — twice. Because of that, she woke up to more than just her own health but that of all women. She found a very big niche that needed to be filled.
“It was kind of humorous in an odd sort of way. I had just read several articles about toxic ingredients in skin-care products, so I sat on the floor of my bathroom and read labels.”
What she found stunned her. Every single beauty product she owned — from the soap in her shower to her trusty facial moisturizer she’d used for years to the lip balms lying all over her house — contained at least one of those toxic ingredients.
“I couldn’t believe it. I had to empty my trashcan three times! My bathroom looked like a bomb had gone off. And then I had nothing left. It was an eye-opener, and that single day is responsible for starting this company.”
Ann worked together with her son, Nic, to develop Plus — a modern natural skin care that wouldn’t end up in somebody’s trash can later. One that could wear the natural label without shame. Their products contain none of the toxic chemicals she’d thrown out. They started by creating what Ann couldn’t find alternatives for.
“I had to make the products that I needed the most first. That meant a lip balm, a body butter and a face cream came first. I live in Colorado — the driest place ever.”
Starting Plus was a special way for Nic to deal with his mom’s diagnoses. It was a way to take something terrible and turn it into something positive. People who have loved ones diagnosed with cancer often aren’t sure how to act or what to do. Ann offered this advice:
“Listen to them. Give advice only when they ask for it. Be patient. Try to understand the dramatic ups and downs. There’s a lot going on in their head. Let them know you are always there for them, no matter what.
Disappear if they don’t want anyone around, but don’t take it personally. Help with even the smallest request, as crazy as it may sound. My husband totally understands when I say I MUST HAVE mashed potatoes now. You’ll never be able to really understand it all unless you’ve been there, so just do the best you can. And know that they appreciate you so very much.”
When Ann isn’t wearing one of her many hats at Plus, she’s stand-up paddleboarding on all kinds of water — she highly recommends the Guadalupe River in Texas. But really, her favorite bodies of water are the seas — the ocean.
“It takes me away. It calms my soul. I can be in the Pacific Northwest, on the coast of California, on the Cape or in the Gulf of Mexico. It doesn’t matter. The ocean is my salvation. It keeps me sane and balanced.”
She’s also a big fan of her dogs — these furry beings are the angels of her life, along with her family, friends and the countless medical practitioners who helped her through her illnesses and the ensuing lymphatic condition that followed. She finds comfort in a lot of ways, big and small.
“There was a lot of fear during those dark times. It’s funny how your perspective changes after two bouts with cancer. Oh, and West Wing helped. I binge-watched every single episode after the second surgery! Like I said, it’s the small things.”
Ann’s products are for all women, but with her special background she offers beauty tips to those going through cancer treatment:
“Use only natural, non-toxic skin-care products to soothe your skin, especially if you are going through radiation. Try to eat simply and cleanly, but if you need gooey comfort food, eat it! Give yourself plenty of time to heal.
“It doesn’t always just get better and better each day, so don’t beat yourself up on the low days. It’s OK and normal to have not-so-good days during the recovery process. That’s a tip I have to remind myself of all the time. It’s a long, tough road. But above all: never lose hope.”
Ann’s goals for the future of Plus include a makeup line, which they’ll kick off with an all-natural, non-toxic lipstick in several amazing colors. But Ann and Nic aren’t dreaming small. Their vision includes luxurious Plus-branded spas and wellness centers in special locations.
This makes sense considering Ann’s attitude toward life and business. In fact, when she thought about what she’d tell women who want to start their own company, she said this:
“Set your sights high. The sky is the limit. I set my sights on some crazy and seemingly impossible goals. But I go for it. And 99 percent of the time those goals come true. And once a big goal is realized, it is the best feeling ever.”
You can find Plus on Facebook and Instagram.
I’d always wanted to be a freelancer, but I had to wait years while I got my finances straight. I realized later I could have been doing a ton to get ready for my business while my cash settled. Because it takes more than just money to run a business.
If you’re like the many folks who are still saving your money, there’s still plenty you can be doing now to make your business thrive. Here are five skills I’d wish I’d honed before I started my business.
1. Time Management
It should come as no surprise to you that once you start a business, you will have very little time for anything else, particularly at first. Something few people know is that often the business of your business takes up a lot more of your time than creating the products or services you provide.
And if you’re anything like me, you will want to get every detail right, which means you’ll probably spend way too much time on way too many things, leaving you little time for friends, family or even lunch. What’s a girl to do?
Start practicing your time management skills now. Set timers for tasks. Put your appointments on a calendar. Research and find the systems that work for you and put them into effect now. That way, when you’re meeting with graphic designers, interviewing prospective employees and reviewing lease contracts, you’ll still be setting aside time for haircuts, grocery shopping and getting your actual work done.
You’ve got an afternoon blessedly free, and you’ve planned to spend it being creative — coming up with your next big product or project. But come 6:30 p.m. you haven’t done much besides answer your emails, check Facebook and clean your fridge (which, to be fair, needed to be done).
The problem is, if you set aside time to do one thing, you probably had a pretty good reason. Discipline involves following through even when you’re feeling distracted or less-than-motivated.
A good way to work on this now is to practice discipline with something you’re already committed to, like going to the gym, playing an instrument or learning a language. Set aside a time and follow through, even if it means rolling into the gym, throwing on your sweats and slowly walking on the treadmill. Show yourself you can count on you.
Remember that fridge you got cleaned when you were supposed to be brainstorming your next big business move? That’s a clear issue of prioritizing, and it’s something most of us struggle with, which is why our to-do lists often become prisons or sources of shame.
There is no need to feel this way. The first thing to understand is this: It is never all going to get done. What you must do, instead, is answer the question: What needs to get done today?
There are plenty of ways to practice this, but one I like is choosing three chores or things on my to-do list that must get done. This keeps me focused and feeling less overwhelmed. While there will probably be many more things to get done when you run your business, knowing that you’ve been consistently getting those three things done every day will give you confidence and keep you moving.
When I started my business, I didn’t trust anyone to do what I could do, even if it was something I would have to learn from scratch, like coding or business taxes. But the amount of time I spent learning those things cut drastically into the amount of time I could have spent providing services that make me actual money.
It’s a balancing act, delegation. Part of it is knowing your worth and part of it is trusting someone else to do what you could probably do. An easy way to practice this is asking friends and family for help with projects and chores you think no one can handle but you.
Another thing to do before you start a business is get quotes from other professionals and compare that to how much time you’d have to spend doing it. For instance: Would you spend $300 on a website or would you do it yourself in 80 hours? Because at that rate, you’re making $3.75 an hour. This part of practicing delegation will get you to understand more clearly that time is money.
If there is something that can improve every area of your business, it’s the ability to be honest with yourself and understand the person you are. Not the person you want to be, who codes and creates beautiful graphic design; not the person you should be, who always shows up on time and gets every job she bids; but who you are this minute.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses makes it easier to choose employees, contractors and even vendors. Knowing that you often get exhausted in the afternoon will stop you from scheduling important meetings then. There are so many benefits to understanding yourself, both in life and in business.
Start now by spending time with yourself, listening to your heart and asking trusted friends for insight on the person you are. Read self-improvement blogs and peruse the self-help section, talk to a therapist, journal — whatever it is that helps you be more honest and understanding of the you that you are.
There are so many things you can do today to start a business even five years from now. Don’t wait until the day your bank account says you’re ready. Start now and you’ll be a business superstar when you finally take the plunge.