The best part of starting my own business? Making all of the decisions. The worst part? Making all of the decisions. When you run your own business, everything rests on you—your successes and successful failures. What are "successful failures?" When your best laid plans don't turn out they way you thought, it tests your dedication and business savvy. But you learn from these experiences and become better at business because of them.
Here are a few of the lessons I learned from my successful failures:
1. DO research your industry and competitors
Who are your main competitors and what are the current industry standards? I spent countless hours trying to figure out whom I'd have to compete with for clients. But the funny thing was, since I didn't really fit into a specific industry or category, I basically created my own. I've been called everything from a life coach to an organizer to a counselor to a teacher. In the end, I’m really a little of each and so much more—and that works for me. If you don't fit into a carefully defined category, you have to decide if you're comfortable with that.
2. DO hire a lawyer to help with startup documents and contracts
You can avail yourself of the many online sources that will guide you through the maze of contracts, articles of incorporation and such. But know that you may not have the benefit of having someone to turn to for counsel if something unexpected happens. There are also legal clinics, usually run by local universities, that may be able to offer free or reduced-fee services. In any case, know what fees and costs are associated with the service and if you're able to afford them.
3. DO assess your finances
Do you always know the exact amount of funds available, or do you rely on the “rubber” method of bounced checks and overdrafts? If the latter, it’s the time to start instituting changes. I became best friends with my banker because I was calling so often.
Know your credit score. If you’re thinking about securing outside financing, such as a loan, this is critical. There are many free resources that will monitor and alert you of your scores if you’d rather not pay for such a service. As a new business owner, free was almost all I could afford, so I researched for ways to get that information emailed to me for free. Each time my score changes, I get an e-mail (it's a perk of one of my credit cards).
4. DON’T become an island
Being a business owner is one of the most rewarding experiences, but it can also make you feel isolated. The first few years CAN be extremely difficult and draining financially, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Have a clear and concise written plan and support system in place before you start. I have a few friends who are also business owners, so I do my best to schedule lunch with them or get their input on an idea by email.
5. DON’T listen to naysayers
When I first started out, I had a few people who questioned my sanity. “Are you really ready to do this? What if you fail?” They meant well, and I understood their concerns. But I couldn't allow those people who couldn't or wouldn’t support and encourage me to hinder my plans. You may have a few of those encounters, but remember that to be successful in starting (and running) your own business, pleasing naysayers is not your goal.
6. DON’T give up
I still have the first draft of my business plan, which looked so nice and professional in the new binder I purchased. Know that running your own business has many rewards, but there will also be drawbacks and hurdles to overcome. It takes time for a business to become successful. My first year, it was not unusual for me to spend 18 hours in my home office. If I hadn’t been prepared for the times when things didn't work out as I'd hoped and planned, I would have given up a long time ago. Being prepared with a solid plan of action can help you when you hit a stumbling block.
7. MAYBE you’ll only be a part-time business owner in the beginning
This was a rule I could’ve followed, but I was way too happy to take the plunge and leave my day job. Some may say that holding on to your day (or night) job means you’re not committed or don’t fully believe in your dream. Remember, creditors don’t care about your dreams, just your ability to pay. Keeping an income source doesn’t mean anything more than maintaining your ability to provide for yourself and family. You truly have to weigh the benefits of both scenarios and make the best decision for your situation.
OPEN Cardmember Dr. Darnita L. Payden, is the Owner/Executive Director, of Dr. DClutter Life Management, a company providing life management and organizational trainings, workshops and on-site coaching for organizations and individuals.