Alisa Ahlstone Lewis, Founder, Sweet Peas & Stilettos
By Alisa Ahlstone Lewis
Read Alisa Ahlstone Lewis’ earlier posts in this four part series, How to Start Your Own Business: Identify “Your Big Idea and Make Your Idea a Reality: Starting Your Own Business.
So, you’re ready to start your own business -- you have your great idea, you have the passion, and you have the confidence to put the pedal to the metal.
Here are 10 business basics to get you started:
- Review your current employment contract. If you plan on keeping your day job while you start your new company, you want to make sure you can legally do so. Many companies include clauses that specifically exclude you from doing anything that could be considered competitive to your current employer.
- Keep your day job and your new venture entirely separate. Do not use your work computer or phone to do anything related to your business. It’s bad business and you don’t need that bad karma either…
- Everyone will tell you to write a business plan, so it is probably a really good idea. I kind of skipped that step – woops!
- Know your target market or customer inside and out. Whom do you want to walk into your cupcake shop? Learn everything about these people – from what they eat and what kind of car they drive to what magazines they read, what they wear, and what their favorite colors are.
- Do all of the paperwork. They certainly skipped this part in business school! Who knew there were so many forms, licenses and general paperwork to fill out? Start by looking online at your city and county websites. You’ll need a business license, forms for establishing your company name, getting a trademark or a copyright, setting up a corporation or LLC, etc. There is a form for everything. And don’t forget your checkbook! You will be writing out a check with each and every form.
- Open up a bank account. You need to fill out all of the forms mentioned above and wait to get all of your official records back from the government or your attorney before you can actually open a business bank account. Nobody told me this either. I wasted 45 minutes at the bank trying to open an account only to be told I needed certain paperwork I didn’t have yet. I treated myself to a big dish of frozen yogurt afterwards to make up for my annoyance and frustration -- and everything was much better.
- Focus on your product or service and really nail it down before you focus on the hype. It is not going to do you much good if you have an amazing advertising campaign mapped out, but no real product to deliver. I actually spent about nine months working on my website before it went live. I know how important first impressions can be, and I didn’t want to disappoint any of my visitors.
- Use your friends (and friends-of-friends) to conduct free focus groups and to solicit ongoing feedback. When I was designing the look and feel of my website, I sent out mock-ups to friends whose style I respected and who I knew would be honest, truthful and actually provide feedback. You don’t want friends who are just going to tell you that everything is great and wonderful. One idea is to give them lots of choices – do they prefer “A” or “B”? Sometimes I took their feedback, and sometimes I went with my gut. Regardless, it would have been hard to make some key design decisions without having other people to bounce around my ideas with.
- Marketing is key – you may have a great talent or idea, but if you can’t market it, you won’t be successful. When you have your product or service nailed down, you can start to think about how you plan to tell the world about it. Public relations can be a powerful and inexpensive way to attract attention. You never know what doors it may open for you.
- Think about how lucky you to be doing this and how you can give back to your community. My mother was always incredibly generous with her time and resources in supporting great causes in our community that she cared deeply about. I learned from her the importance of giving back from a very young age. Do your part and think about how you can use your new venture to improve the lives of others. It is easier than you think.
Stay tuned for the last part in this series:
Part 4: Juggling It All
Alisa Ahlstone Lewis is the AVP of change management for a national insurance company, as well as the president of Sweet Peas & Stilettos – The Modern Mommy Guide.