Following Through on Expert Advice

This entrepreneur finds out through her own business how difficult–and time consuming–it is to implement expert advice.
June 14, 2012

I’m a journalist specializing in entrepreneurship, and I write lots of articles filled with expert tips for business owners. That means I’m privy to more expert advice than the average entrepreneur.

Tracking down great advice takes legwork, but following it is even harder—as I’ve discovered at the $200KFreelancer, a new site for independent professionals that I co-founded with a fellow business journalist, Elizabeth MacBride, in January. And that’s especially true when it comes to operations.

I’ll give you an example. Not long ago, I wrote a how-to column called “Getting the Most Out of E-newsletters.” I know some great experts on this subject, so I dutifully called them and asked them for their best tips. I was glad I had learned so much from them about e-newsletters when we started setting one up.

Discovering the Value of Free Advice

We followed one expert’s tip and opted for a MailChimp newsletter. Signup was easy. Plenty of features. So far so good.

But as we moved onto another tip—“Jazz it up inexpensively”—we found that it wasn’t so simple to make the newsletter look pretty. Just watching all of the tutorials on how to use the newsletter took time. We kept putting it off, so one day, Elizabeth and I both got on the phone and watched a tutorial together. We discovered as we poked around the MailChimp site, that there were a bunch of other ones we needed to watch, too. Sigh! So those are on our to-do list now, too.

Tasks Piling Up

We realized it would be a good idea to put up a privacy policy before we sent out the newsletter, which turned into a whole other project. We’re still working on figuring out how to make our newsletter look good, getting that policy drafted and learning how to send the newsletter out. We plan to get the most out of our e-newsletter, but, as I’ve found, knowing what to do is quite a bit different from actually doing it.

Banking Ought to Be a Snap, Right?

Another piece of expert advice I’ve dished out: Set up a business bank account. Sounds simple right? Kind of like going into your bank and opening a personal checking account. Fill out a form, get a bank account. Well…no.

At my bank, applicants have to bring in LLC formation papers and a federal tax ID number. And that meant we had to form an LLC and get a federal tax ID number, which was a project in itself. Because we live in different states, we had to coordinate the delivery of the documents between two bank branches.

All in all, it took us several weeks to get the bank account up and running. (And then there’s the matter of filling it with revenue, but that’s another story).

New Questions for the Experts

None of these tasks were insurmountable. We’re both freelance writers, after all, so we live the scrappy, do-it-yourself existence of many independent professionals.

But running a startup that we aim to grow, after years of writing about other people’s businesses, has been humbling, to say the least. Now when I’m gathering small-business advice, I ask the experts different questions, better questions—like “How long does that really take?” Hopefully, running my own business will make me a better, more empathetic journalist—and Elizabeth and I will find a way to act on all of the great pieces of advice that are on our to-do list, sometime soon.

Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist and editorial consultant who specializes in small business, entrepreneurship and careers. A former editor at Fortune Small Business magazine, she has written recently for Fortune, Money, Crain’s New York Business, Working Mother and many other publications.

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