Some youth interviewed me yesterday and asked me why I work with kids. This along with many questions and advice I am often asked prompted me to want to share my perspective and thoughts on starting a business. This will be one of a series of posts where I hope to provide some insight from my own experience so feel free to email, tweet or comment with other questions or things you’d like me to include.
For those who may not know, I began a web company called Innovatec Services in 2003. The following year I developed it into a full marketing and technical consulting firm, also making it an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).
I will say this, in starting a business, you should either 1) be thorough in doing your homework in how you want to set up your company or 2) have a designated lawyer and accountant to advise you. This is important if you are truly serious about being in business for yourself. I chose to do both. I wanted the advantage of truly understanding what I was doing, how I wanted it to be setup and why. A lot of MBAs I know say the truest way of earning that degree is actually starting your own business. I’d have to agree. After doing my own business registrations, licenses, articles of organization, acquiring EIN #, developing internal business documents (contracts, agreements, etc), acquiring my clients/customers, setting up and doing finances & taxes, you just about learn everything they teach you in acquiring an MBA, but also have the experience of actually doing it versus simply learning about it in the classroom.
Now, not everyone may be interested in completing all that paperwork, doing your own Quickbooks, and the like, which is why if you don’t, I say at least have your trusted advisors that can help you make the best decisions for what you want to accomplish. I’m not going to give the whole breakdown of sole proprietorship vs LLC or getting a trademark vs servicemark. You can and maybe should do that research so you truly understand the differences. I will say that for me, though it may cost a little more, I wanted the flexibility of an LLC because you never know who you may later want to be involved in your business or how the structure may change and I also didn’t want to have any liability for people to come after my personal assets in the event of some outstanding circumstance. I think if you’re serious about being in business for yourself, it’s important to be informed of these things.
I will also say that there are a few things that are key in moving forward:
– Having a business plan. Even if you’re not presenting to anyone, it’s always good to have a write up about your business. Writing it out allows you to clearly define & understand what it is that you/your business seek to do, offer or accomplish.
– Having basic marketing. At the very least, you should have business cards with a designated phone and business email. I can’t tell you enough how many people have told me they don’t even take people serious who don’t have this. Some even feel a website is necessary so they can see online what you do, especially if you don’t have a physical location they can visit (ie. store, restaurant)
– Having existing clients, previous experience or work. This is almost like common sense. How many of you would pay when you haven’t already seen proof of that person’s or business’ work? Ideas are nice, but portfolios, samples, previous work, customer recommendations all serve as endorsement to encourage people to do business with you.
These are simply fundamentals and for those that are interested in the area of non-profits, this is even more essential. The reason I say this is because, people often think of nonprofits as a way for people to contribute and donate money for a cause, issues, or need. However, it is still a business.
Like my for-profit, I started my non-profit in 2005, InnovaTeen by learning and doing the ins & outs of setting up the business. Doing that 50-page 501(c)3 paperwork, paying the $500-$1000 fee, establishing a curriculum, marketing, admitting youth, creating documents, and more was not a walk in the park. People often think of non-profits and think to present a proposal for people to invest or get grant money to help them get started. Honestly, I tell people it’s the other way around. START actually doing what it is you seek to do, set up your business, and then people, organizations and companies may invest. If you need help to get your business off the ground, you can try to use resources around you, but I often ask people “Would you invest in something for someone if you didn’t see that they did or could themselves?”
With InnovaTeen, I had a proposal and curriculum and took that to a few community organizations that needed youth programming. I already had connected with an organization that gave computers to schools & organizations. In exchange for space at a park district and agreeing to work with their youth, I brought in computers, my curriculum, invested in materials/services and promoted to get a set of 12 teens and did a pilot of 15 weeks of this program. That’s how it began and from seeing what we were doing, people became interested and it grew from there.
Having an idea on a sheet of paper is nice, but the best way for others to see your vision, is for you to already have something tangible or that they can see. That gives others incentive to want to support you and your work.
Well, this is some basic & initial things to help those that are seeking to branch out on their own get a little jumpstart. However, I definitely can go deeper and get more detailed for those that may have specific questions or want to shoot out their thoughts and ideas. Again you can comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Innovatec Services, LLC or InnovaTeen online.
Don’t just reach for your dreams, put them into action…