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Ultimate Business Guide for New Entrepreneurs: 11 Kickass Rules for Starting Off Right and Marketing Your Business

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Entrepreneurship 101

Setting yourself and your business up for success

So you filed for your LLC or SCorp. Now what?

As someone who recently made the jump from a full-time employee with a side hustle to a full-time business owner, I understand the struggles that entrepreneurs are facing. There’s a long list of to-dos and what seems like not enough time to do it.

Others have warned me about a “feast and famine” cycle--where you don’t have any new business, so you spend all your time working on your assets and scouting new clients. And then when you land a bunch of clients, you don’t have time for your own business upkeep.

I’ve also heard from many entrepreneurs that when they set up to start their own business, they found out that they spend half of their time doing the job they love and the other half running the business (bookkeeping, new business development, marketing, etc.).

To echo these struggles, someone recently posted in a Facebook group I’m in:

I just recently made a commitment to creating my online business. However, I'm struggling as to how I should organize my checklist of to-dos. What do I do first? Do I write a business plan, network, create a website, send out my portfolio, etc.? I know there's no "one size fits all strategy," but any pointers are greatly appreciated.

I offered her some tips from my short experience in personal entrepreneurship and from working for many SMBs and startups, but I thought I’d expand more here.

Here are my 11 rules to help new entrepreneurs save time, money, and heartache:

1. Start with Your Goal in Mind
2. Pick a Specific Client Type and Get to Know Them Really Well
3. Use Your Website as Your Business Plan
4. Stop Throwing Away Potential Income
5. Use Your Audience’s Language to Explain What You Do
6. Build a Network for Support and Partnerships
7. Ask for Referrals: You Don’t Get What You Don’t Ask For
8. Stop Saying Yes to Stupid Shit
9. Systematize and Automate Everything You Can
10. Delegate What You Need To
11. Create a Schedule for Yourself

Want to get your business off on the right foot? Schedule a free startup digital marketing consultation with Carolyn today.

1. Start with Your Goal in Mind

Most entrepreneurs start their own businesses because they aren’t satisfied with their day jobs. They know they can do more, do it better, do it differently, and/or do it for a different group of people. Whatever your goal is for starting your own business, start with that in mind and keep it top of mind every day.

I started my own business because I’m passionate about helping women-owned SMBs and startups succeed. I’ve worked in and for startups and small business my whole life, and I love giving entrepreneurs an inside-view into digital marketing that helps them grow their businesses and make more money.

Whether you went out on your own to make more money than you ever have or have more freedom to do what you want or to work with your dream clients… Write down your why and your goals. Hang them up. Set up a schedule of micro-goals that help you work toward those larger goals: sales dollars, number of clients, size of clients, type of clients, etc.

Keep an eye on those goals throughout the entire first-year process. Anytime you glance up at them, ask yourself if what you’re doing at that moment is moving you closer to your goals. If there’s something in your business that’s not serving you or moving you toward your dreams, Thanos it ASAP (see #8 below).

2. Pick a Specific Client Type and Get to Know Them Really Well

Audience research is crucial not only to establishing your business but marketing it effectively, too. Many entrepreneurs start their businesses because they see a population that’s not being served the way the business owner thinks they should be.

Good audience research means asking your target client questions to truly understand their problems. A lot of times, a casual conversation can open up a deeper dive into issues you might miss otherwise.

For example, I offered an on-site interview with a physical therapy client of mine. We sat in her office and went through her programs. She then showed me the exam rooms and medical equipment. As we were wrapping up, we were just chatting about seemingly random topics, and I got some useful information.

“Many people don’t know that they don’t need a doctor referral for physical therapy,” she said. “A lot of times insurance will cover around 6 visits without having to go to a primary care provider first. That’s a barrier to entry for a lot of people.”

This seemingly random comment could be a total gamechanger for her practice. People who would look up her practice didn’t have to leave the site and schedule an appointment with another doctor just to get to the physical therapist. By emphasizing that potential patients didn’t have to get a referral, we could potentially convert even more website visitors on their first visit.

Spend the time talking to your target audience to figure out the minutiae behind how their businesses work, what their pain points are, what they struggle with, and what success looks like to them. Write it all down because this can be copy not only for their website--but for yours, too.

Similarly, choose your target audience deliberately, and you will become known for serving that population with your specific product or service. If you're someone who’ll do anything for anyone, then you’ll never be known for serving a specific group or being an expert in a specific service or product area.

When you chose a very specific client, you’ll become known as the expert in helping that population and will be top of mind when someone needs a product or service like yours.

Think about who you really want to serve the most and why--and go after that audience hardcore. When you’re a master, then consider expanding.

3. Use Your Website as Your Business Plan

Ok, this is not exactly 100% best practice for everyone, but I think it’s a good way of framing it to figure out one or the other. It makes the transition easy if you already have a website or if you already have a business plan outlined.

In a previous post, I talk about the best ways to build your small business website. When creating a business plan, I like to think of a website’s architecture as the baseline for your plan’s ideation. Both should include the main intro, an about section, the services you plan to offer, who you’ll serve, etc.

If you only have one, use it to build out the other. I never created an “official” business plan for my company. I worked with a lawyer to make sure I was filing for the correct business type (and doing other business-related actions legally and compliantly), and from there have been using my website as the main base about which my business revolves. This will vary based on industry and product/service, but I believe it’s a great way to get started.

In fact, some experts recommend not creating a business plan (especially if you aren’t looking to raise funds):

In his book Burn the Business Plan, Carl Schramm says...

“The business planning process is largely generated as a preview for venture capital. As I show in my book, from empirical studies, much less than 1% of all new startups ever see a venture capitalist. Much less than 1% of all new companies every year have venture backing of any kind. So, I largely view the creation of a business plan as something of a waste of time.”

By getting your website in order and thinking about how you want it to grow as your company grows, you allow yourself to be nimble and change the business recipe as you go.

4. Stop Throwing Away Potential Income

I’m in quite a few entrepreneur and freelancer groups across the web, and I feel like this question comes up A LOT.

  • “How do I price my services?”

  • “What do I charge per hour?”

  • “What if I can do the work quickly?”

If there’s one thing that grinds my gears, it’s people (especially women) not making the money they deserve or overworking themselves to make ends meet. When considering your pricing, think about what you were paid at your most recent pre-entrepreneurship job and how much you want to make annually.

Think about how many hours per week you can and want to work. And based on that, figure out what you need to make “per hour” that you work to meet that salary goal. Remember that you’ll have to take taxes into consideration--because you’ll be the one taking those out of your income now.

So, if I want to work 20 hours a week on client work, and need to make $10,000 a month before taxes, then I need to make $125 an hour.

But here’s the catch. If you can and it works for your business, don’t quote clients an hourly rate. Quote them packages for what they want to accomplish. Your packages will take into consideration how much time it’ll take you to do that work, but also what the market rate for a package that includes everything you’re offering them.

When you outwardly price yourself by the hour or by the word or by the XYZ, your work becomes a commodity:

“The worst characterization of a service is to be ‘a commodity.’ A service is a commodity when it is equivalent to what all the competitors offer. A provider of a commodity service can easily be exchanged for another provider of the same service who offers a lower price.”

Your client is not paying you for the time it takes you to do something. They’re paying for your knowledge, expertise, and the years experience that it took you to learn how to do it as efficiently and accurately as possible. Keep all this in mind when you are figuring out your prices.

5. Use Your Audience’s Language to Explain What You Do

Heather Physioc has a great matrix for helping agencies and consultants figure out their clients’ “Search Maturity,” or what level of knowledge they have about the services SEOs offer. Essentially, this model helps us establish a baseline of client knowledge of what we do. And based on that, we can tailor our recommendations and language to meet them where they are and help them continue to grow and learn.

I recommend we take that concept and implement it when it comes to describing our products and services. It’s Messaging 101, but it’s crucial that we meet our potential target audiences where they are--and describe our businesses on their terms.

Using industry jargon that makes no sense to someone not in your shoes won’t do you any favors in driving more traffic to your sites and more clients to your business. Sure it makes you sound smart, but what good is sounding smart when your clients have no real idea of the value you’re bringing to them.

Back to point 2, when you talk to your target audience, listen to the language they use around your industry and theirs. Reuse that language in your own marketing materials, messaging, and website copy.

If you’re stuck, think of how you’d explain your product or service to a 5-year-old. Start at the most basic level and the most boiled-down version of your business, and add on from there.

6. Build a Network for Support and Partnerships

Working for yourself is great. You have the freedom to work when you want, make creative and professional decisions, work on the projects you want to, etc. Then, one day, you’re sitting at a coffee shop for the 10th day in a row, and you realize that working for yourself can be very lonely.

Having a supportive group or friends and family is crucial. Having a buddy who can meet you to work is awesome. And having a digital crew of other entrepreneurs and experts in your area is a requirement. Join local Facebook groups for people in your industry. Join entrepreneurship clubs or groups. Find Slack channels that revolve around your industry.

You can ask questions like the one from the entrepreneur at the beginning of this article, get honest answers, tips, and advice from those who have lived through it and who are experiencing some of the same struggles and successes that you are.

As with anything, having a support group of those with a similar mindset or who are going through the same thing can be super helpful for mental health and overall happiness.

But it can also help you grow your business. If you have a client who needs something you don’t offer, you can find partnerships in these groups. Say you’re a website developer and your client needs a new site with best in class SEO. You can partner with an SEO expert in your network to give your client exactly what they need--and you and your partner will continue to reap referrals from it.

7. Ask for Referrals: You Don’t Get What You Don’t Ask For

Word of mouth is one of the best forms of marketing for small and local businesses.

If there is a client whose type of work you really want to do, but they don’t have the budget, think of ways you can help them with the price (like payment plans), but also ask for referrals as a part of their package.

If you are in personal training and want to work with more elite athletes, but are having trouble finding emerging athletes who can pay at your price point, one option would be to offer a small discount or payment plan with the contingency that they refer 5 of their training friends to you for a free consultation.

But even when you have a stellar clientele of those who understand and can afford your price point, it’s important to ask for referrals and reviews. This is a great guide from HubSpot to asking for referrals from clients. Remember to ask for referrals only for the type of work you really love to do, and...

8. Stop Saying Yes to Stupid Shit

A great piece of advice I received from business coach Tallia Deljou was to stop saying yes to things that don’t serve you and don’t move you toward your business goals. It’s hard to say no to businesses when you’re just starting out. We want to make money, don’t we?! But we have to keep in mind that the business we accept begets more similar business.

If you’re a graphic designer who loves creating entire branding packages and guidelines, stop accepting things like one-off logo projects or updating other designers’ old work. If you’re a photographer dead-set on wedding photography, don’t say yes to business headshot sessions. If there’s something about your work that feels like it’s a big old waste of your time, no matter how much your client is paying you--take that off your menu of services.

“Eighty-five percent of the small businesses surveyed said customers learn about them through word of mouth,” according to a study by SmallBizTrends.

But you’ll get referrals for the type of work you accept, so if you’re doing shit you hate, you’re just going to keep getting referrals for more shit you hate

You may experience a lull while you transition to accepting only business you WANT to do, but then it will produce even more of that type of work. Accept more of the things you want to manifest in your life--including in your work.

9. Systematize and Automate Everything You Can

This will evolve as your business grows, but where you can—systematize processes to save time. I use tools like Calendly and Zoom to help with booking calls and meetings. All I have to do is send someone a link and they get a calendar of my set availability. They can choose a day and time that works best for their schedule, and the Zoom integration means that the meeting and conference line are ready to go when it’s time.

I also have a client intake form that I send out before initial consultation calls. This form gives me a baseline of where my clients are and talking points for our first call.

This system works for me and helps me save time. I don’t have to do the annoying (for all parties involved!) back and forth emails with potential clients where we say, “I’m free on Thursday at 10. Does that work for you?” “Oh, sorry, I have meetings all Thursday morning. What about Tuesday?” “Ah, Tuesday is an off-site for me. We could try Friday afternoon?” Etc.

I don’t have to worry if I’ve sent the conference line or if I’ve collected the phone number of the person I’m talking to, and they get an automatic email with the calendar invite so they don’t have to worry if they’ve added it to their calendar or not.

Zapier is a great tool for automation, but you can always check if the tools your using integrate with one another to make your processes and systems easier for everyone involved. Create systems and processes that work for you and help you do your job faster and better.

10. Delegate What You Need To

A few years ago, I spoke at an SEO for Entrepreneurs night with Six Degrees Society. After the presentation ended, I did a Q+A, and one attendee said something like, “I’m a lawyer, but I spend more than half my time doing things like bookkeeping, marketing, website, sales development, etc. And then in the time remaining, I actually get to practice law.”

When we first start out, we often think, “I have to do it all.” And a lot of times, you do. You’re low on budget and have some free time, so things all fall on your plate. But as our businesses grow and the referrals roll in, you start running low on time.

A lot of people think this just means they work 12+ hour days, 7 days a week. But going back to rule 1, think about why you’re in this business--and if working what feels like 24/7 doesn't serve you--it’s time to delegate.

Where automation doesn’t work, figure out how you can work with others to take some of the miscellaneous off your plate. Can you hire a bookkeeper for a few hours a month to streamline your financials? Can you work with a lawyer to create 3 or 4 contract templates to use for your new clients? Can you hire someone to set up the ad platforms for YOUR OWN marketing?

When you do finally have a small budget to work with, think about how you can better use your time and find someone to delegate certain tasks to.

11. Create a Schedule for Yourself

If you’re new to entrepreneur-ing, you'll soon discover that working without a set schedule can be difficult. In this great Ted Talk, Tim Urban explains how, oftentimes, when there’s no inherent deadline, we find it difficult to get all of our upcoming tasks completed.

By setting a schedule for yourself, you’re creating these inherent deadlines that may not otherwise exist. For example, you may only take calls on certain days or during certain times of the day to reserve the others for actually executing the work. You can reserve a certain day of the week for certain types of projects or clients. Mark them on your calendar and set your personal deadlines accordingly. Go to different locations for certain periods of time that you’ve set aside for certain work.

For example, if you’re a copywriter, you can set a schedule like this:

  • Schedule your own social media posts every Monday at 8am.

  • Take client calls on Mondays - Thursdays from 9-11am.

  • Write for clients from 11:30a to 4pm Tuesday - Thursday.

  • Send weekly copywriting to clients on Thursday by 4pm.

  • Use Mondays from 11am - 3pm for client revisions.

  • Reserve Friday for working on your own marketing.

  • Take a half-day every other Friday. ;)

By setting your “work schedule” for yourself, you are setting boundaries (important for entrepreneurs and especially solopreneurs!) and setting yourself up for success. Of course, it’s critical to be flexible, but by having a baseline schedule means you know what you should be doing at any time of the day on any day of the week. And it staves off the “just sitting here not knowing where to start” feeling.

Starting a Business is Hard. Set Yourself Up for Success.

Starting a business can be stressful. There’s no “official” guidebook and tons of opinions across the internet. Whether you’ve learned these lessons the hard way or have had the benefit of a business coach or network and community to help you through, you know these are things every new business owner can face.

If you’ve just gone out on your own or are thinking about it, use these rules above to start out on the right foot. And if you need someone to help you get your digital presence off the ground, let’s chat.

Carolyn Lyden