Category Archives: Entrepreneur

Big Changes

Wow, July was a busy month. The biggest change for me was I bought my partner’s share of our event business (Deckci) so now I own it all by myself. I’ll discuss the specifics of how that process went down and tips for others later this month. It’s been a little overwhelming juggling everything but I’m finally getting into a groove with things and am looking forward to moving forward with sole control.

We’ve had some excitement on the home front as well. My baby girl, who turned 10 months old two weeks ago, took her first steps last week! It was pretty exciting for us.

Chase has continued to be very picky – but I’m discovering new tricks to get him to eat well. This week I got a great deal on Chobani orange vanilla greek yogurt which Chase refuse to eat. He spit it out crying. So, I pulled out our popsicle maker, poured the yogurt into the molds and froze them. A few hours later we had popsicles – which Chase happily devoured 🙂

 

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Building a community of followers

Building followers and building community are not the same thing. You can have thousands of followers that are uninvolved and don’t check your page – or have a dozen that comment on every post and check your page religiously. Ideally you’ll have both – thousands of active and involved individuals. So, how do you get there?

Building followers: You don’t want to be talking to yourself, so the first step is to get followers. There’s no magic bullet to getting followers. It just takes actively working on it. The first and most obvious thing you should do is ask your friends, customers, family, etc to “like” or “follow” you. Hopefully this will get you started with at least a hundred people following you. From there, you’ll want to continue ask people as you get new customers and friends. You also could consider running a campaign to get more followers. Many businesses have done this quite successfully. For example, some businesses will have coupons but you can only see them if you like their page on Facebook. Another business I am familiar with offered a steep discount to the person who got them the most likes on Facebook. You could also have some sort of competition to incentive people to post about you. For example, have a prize for the best answer to “If our business was an animal, what type of animal would it be and why?” Then people would have to answer it linking your name on Facebook – which then puts you in front of all their friends.Lastly, you could consider purchasing a Facebook ad asking people to like you for coupons, etc.

Building community: Having an active group of followers is ideal for any business. Not only are they frequently posting on your page, responding to your posts, and posting about you – they are also loyal to your brand. By them posting about you/on your page, they are getting your name out there in front of their friends – basically doing marketing for you. Getting that active community is the tough part. There are two essential components: 1) Frequency 2) Content.

Just like blogging, you want to update social media frequently. For Facebook, you’d ideally be posting stuff daily – if not a few times a day. What can you post about? Lots of things. For example, your blog posts, pictures of customers at your business, pictures of new products, articles relevant to your business/customers, polls/questions for customers, contests, funny jokes/pictures relevant to your business, trivia, etc. With many of these things, you can use them to build your followers. For example, when you ask customers a question/poll you can also ask your friends on Facebook to answer it (there’s a button for it) and it will show up on the page of anyone that answers it. The nature of your content will also determine whether your community is active. If you just post an article link, it won’t inspire participation. But if you post an article link, share some thoughts on it, and ask others what they think – then you might get some comments. Similarly, running contests, polls and trivia will also get people to comment. The key is not doing these things just once a week – you should do something daily that encourages people to comment. Obviously you shouldn’t ask a trivia question every single day – but asking one a couple times a week – or at least once a week “Trivia Thursday” will help build commentary. If you post interesting, comment inspiring stuff frequently, it will help pave the path to an active community.

Wondering about social media for your business? Check out 30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Promoting your business through social media

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30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Full post list and wrap-up

Starting a business is an unbelievably rewarding experience that I hope everyone can experience at some point in their lives. Once you start one business, it’s hard to stop. I know I definitely have caught the entrepreneurship bug 🙂 I have many business ideas that I am considering for my next business – two of which are in process. As my plans begin more concrete I’ll post more information (likely later this fall). I hope you have found this series to be helpful in your pursuit for entrepreneurship! Below is the full series post list:

30 Days to Becoming an Entrepreneur Series Introduction

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30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: My biggest regrets

I will never regret starting a business. Not only did I learn a tremendous amount about entrepreneurship, but I met so many amazing people along the way and learned what it is like to become self-sustainable. There’s nothing better than knowing that all of the extra work you put, the late nights, and long hours are going towards your own personal success – not your employers. With that being said, I do have some regrets about how I did things in the beginning, that I would change if I could. My biggest regrets are:

  • Being extremely cheap.Yes, it is important to be frugal. That does NOT mean you should sacrifice on important things and put in cheap finishes that won’t even last a year. I wish we would have just taken out a small business loan to invest in the infrastructure for our business. Instead, we used our own personal investments – and credit cards to pay for everything. Because of that, we had limited funds to work with and were forced to choose things because they were cheaper – not because they were the best. We have learned our lesson the hard way as we have had many, many things we needed to upgrade, replace, or fix because it was cheap. Remember, there is a difference between frugal and cheap – make decisions for the long-term and don’t go cheap just to save a small amount.
  • Not spending more time doing due diligence before starting. With Deckci we had no idea how to treat linens when we first got started. We didn’t take the time to figure out how to clean them and that led to us throwing away a significant amount of linens that we could not get stains out. Now, we have a process stained linens go through that gets out almost any stain. If we had taken the time to do some testing early on we would have saved that money. Similarly, we didn’t spend enough time researching business structures prior to starting and less than a year after starting we had to switch our business structure to an LLC which took some paperwork and time. If we had done more research to start we would have started as an LLC to begin with.
  • Needing efficient processes. We have had many, many mistakes over the past few years with both businesses and oftentimes it is because we do not have a well-defined process or policy in place, so the ball gets dropped somehow.

While it was hard to learn these things as we went, I’m glad we did. Now I know that the next business I start won’t (hopefully) have these issues. I also want to add, that I think it is more important to take the plunge and start a business cheaply than to not start one at all. So, if you know going in you’ll have to do some of these things because you truly have no other choice – then that’s ok. You’ll be able to plan to replace things sooner, etc. Just start your business, don’t wait, because before you know it someone else will start it for you.

Next, 30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Full post list and wrap-up

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30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Promoting your business through social media

Every business should include social media in their marketing strategy. Social media can be a valuable tool to promote your business. It can help you create a community that people enjoy being a part of and want to participate in. There are many options for social media ranging from YouTube to Facebook, Twitter to blogging. You need to figure out what will be the best fit for your business.

For small businesses, I think Facebook and Blogging are the best options to consider when you first start. While tons of people are on Twitter, it just isn’t a good fit in my opinion for small businesses. YouTube can be a good fit for advertising – but it could be a costly endeavor unless you or someone you know has some skills in video making. Blogging is a great fit for some businesses – but not all. We have blogs for both The Woof Room and Deckci Decor. The Woof Room’s blog focuses on highlighting dogs that visit us, promoting dog events, and providing dog tips and advice. It helps create a community with our clients providing them with useful information and featuring their dog. We’ve had many clients comment to us that they love reading about all the dogs that visit us. Our blog is also helpful in providing a forum for us to explain changes in our policies and pricing. Deckci’s blog provides wedding tips and advice, and features pictures from the events we do each weekend. Since weddings are a one day event that people invest significant time and money in planning, clients want to feel confident that we know what we are doing and can provide what they need. The blog satisfies this as they see that we do many events each weekend and are able to see our work.

Facebook is the best all-around option for a new business. It can be used similarly to a blog by providing pictures, updates, and information – but allows you to get in front of people daily. Facebook can be used to run promotions to get more likes – and do polls of clients. While it does take time to manage, it’s a free service. We have a Facebook page for The Woof Room – but haven’t focused on it for Deckci yet. For The Woof Room we have linked our blog to Facebook so that anytime we write a blog post, it automatically gets posted to Facebook. We also will add random pictures of dogs in daycare, run contests, or ask clients questions. We have found Facebook to be very useful in reaching our clients.

The most important thing to remember about social media, and specifically about Facebook and blogging, is that you need to be active. Do let weeks or months go by between postings. If you want to build your community and raise awareness about your business, you need to be active in promoting it!

Next, 30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: My biggest regrets

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30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Navigating the world of business partnership

Should you have a business partner (or several)? As you start your new business, this will likely be a question you ponder at the beginning. There are many pros and cons to having a business partner and it’s absolutely critical you think beyond the first year. Consider:

PROS

  • More manpower. You won’t be the sole person responsible for everything. You’ll be able to work less than you would if you didn’t have a business partner.
  • Less risk. When you start a business with someone, you share the risk. If it fails, it’s not just all on you.
  • More money. You likely won’t have to fork over as much to start your business since the start-up costs will be shared.
  • Skills. Your business partner might bring some special skill set or knowledge that is important for your business – or that you can’t afford.
  • Support. When you are up at 2am working like crazy and feeling like your business is a failure, your business partner will encourage you and sympathize with how you feel.

CONS

  • Less money. When your business starts to show a profit you’ll make less. When you have a partner you may not be able to pay yourself as soon as you would without one – and when you do finally pay yourself, you won’t make as much because your partner is getting paid as well.
  • Less power. You are not the sole decision maker. It won’t matter if you feel strongly about something if your partner doesn’t agree.
  • Inequity. In many business partnerships someone does more work than the other person. This often leads to resentment because you are putting in more work, but not getting more money – or a bigger share of the business.

Deciding whether to start a business with a partner should be a long-term decision. I strongly feel that if you can start the business on your own and without a partner, you will be better off in the long-run. I say that from experience. I am friends with my business partner and have known her since high school – but friendships will be tested when owning a business, and for many, many reasons I wish I started them on my own. So, if you can do it solo I strongly encourage you to do that. However, if you simply aren’t going to be able to start a business without a partner – then it might be better to do it, because between having a business with a partner and having no business at all – it’s better to have one.

If you do decide to have a business partner, make sure you 1) Have a partnership agreement that spells out roles, responsibilities, selling the business, percent shares, etc and 2) Check in regularly to make sure equitable division of tasks.

Next, 30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Promoting your business through social media

Photo Credit: Jo Christian Oterhals

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30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Standing your ground with customers – good customer service vs. being a doormat

Dealing with angry customers is never fun. When you open your business, you’ll experience a wide range of people and the complaints they have about your business. There are typically three different scenarios when dealing with customer complaints:

  • You screwed up. Maybe your staff overcharged them, you weren’t open because someone didn’t show up for their shift, or they received a faulty product. Nonetheless, in this scenario it’s clearly your fault. The only option is to sincerely apologize and make it up to your customer. This is the easiest scenario because everyone agrees who screwed up.
  • The client screwed up. They didn’t read your return policy, showed up late after your store closed, or let their coupon expire. Regardless, it’s a situation where it’s obviously the customers fault. You did everything you could to make sure they understood your policies but they either didn’t listen, didn’t read, or didn’t do their own due diligence in some way. When people are complaining to you because of one of these type of issues, they usually know they are in the wrong – but just want to see if you’ll give in. Don’t. I know everyone always thinks the customer is always right – but that simply isn’t true. The customer is not always right. When it’s clear they are wrong, then they are wrong. You should be sympathetic, kind, and understanding but make sure they understand where they are wrong. If you let them break your policy in some way you are opening the door for it to happen again and again.
  • Gray area. Sometimes you’ll have customer issues that come up and it’s not clear whose fault it is. In these cases it’s usually best to appease the customer by giving them what they are asking for – or meeting them in the middle. If you definitely did screw up, you certainly don’t want to insist it’s the clients fault.

The important thing to remember about customer service issues is to be proactive. At The Woof Room, we have had new staff overcharge clients. Since I go over our daily reports with a fine tooth comb, I almost always catch this. I always credit the client and email them right away to know that I caught this and fixed it. Sometimes they didn’t even know they were overcharged. This shows customers that you are not just in it for their money – that you are a business that operates with integrity – and that is important to people because many businesses would just keep their money without saying anything.

Next, 30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Planning for ancillary sales

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30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Becoming part of people’s routine

Are you one of the millions of people that start their day by stopping in your local coffee shop? All those people didn’t always go to Starbucks for their morning coffee. It became their routine. They began planning to leave earlier than usual, planning to buy coffee instead of making it at home, and planning to go a little out of their way to get that morning fix. For many businesses, the key to building your customer base is by becoming part of people’s routines.

For The Woof Room, that meant getting people who didn’t normally bring their dogs to daycare to give it a try. But not just give it a try in one day – give it a try long-term. It takes around 3 weeks to make something a habit. That meant we needed to get people bringing their dogs to daycare regularly, to make it be a habit. Not only would it be normal for them – but that would give them ample time to see the positive effects of bringing your dog to daycare (less destruction at home, more exercise and socialization, etc).

So, how to get you people to suddenly start coming regularly? We offered an awesome deal. We offered a buy one, get one (BOGO) deal on our daycare packages. Everyone loves a deal – so of course we had a fair amount of people unfamiliar with us buy them to give us a try. By buying a large amount of daycare, they had to keep coming regularly since they expired in 4 months. This gave them an opportunity to try us out – and helped them form the habit of being a regular customer 🙂

When thinking about how to get people in the door – or keep them coming, think about this and how you can become part of their normal lives. Think of ways you can make things easier for them – and have a positive impact.

Next, 30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Standing your ground with customers – good customer service vs. being a doormat

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30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Should you hold an open house or grand opening party?

Should you throw a party? This will certainly be the most difficult question you will grapple with in your process to open your business 🙂

There are two questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether to throw a party – do you have the money and do you have the people?

Throwing a party costs money. Since it’s your grand opening you’ll like want to promote it, serve food, have prizes, have fun activities, have a photographer, etc. All these things cost something. If you have the time and you’re lucky, you can probably get sponsorships for the party (i.e. free photography, free food, etc) in exchange for promoting the sponsor. When Deckci Decor had it’s last open house, we had a local cake bakery sponsor the open house and they gave us a ton of free cake in exchange for having their business cards at the party. We also had a special for clients that came and booked that day – at the open house.

If you throw a party, you want people to be there. The last thing you want is to spend a bunch of money on this party and have no one show up. Not only is it disappointing for you – but it doesn’t look that great to the people who do come when there are only three people there (counting you). Make sure that you have a community of people that will come to ensure it is a success.

Are open houses worth it the time and money? Honestly, no. I don’t think it’s worth it for a new business. You don’t have a community of clients and don’t have tons of money to spend. If you are an existing business that is moving your location, then that’s a different story. But for new businesses, throwing an open house/grand opening party isn’t worth it in my opinion. You’d be better off just having a grand opening day discount – then you’d save the stress of hoping people show up and the money of providing a fun time for those that do.

30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Becoming part of people’s routine

Photo Credit: Jixuan Zhou

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30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Tips for hiring your first employees

Your staff can make or break your business. If you hire the right staff, customers will love your business and will come frequently. If you choose the wrong staff, you will have unnecessary stress and unhappy customers. You can usually weed out some of the “bad” staff in hiring. Most of this is common sense, but make sure to:

  • Have applicants complete an employment application. This is where you collect their job history, references, availability, etc.
  • Have a well-written job description. Make sure to clearly outline the details about the position, expectations, and availability required. If people know that you want someone to work 20 hours per week on M, W, F then you won’t waste time with those that want to work less or more – or aren’t available for those shifts.
  • Consider a multi-step interview process. At The Woof Room, we did phone interviews, then in-person interviews, then working interviews. The working interviews had someone coming in for a 4-5 hour shift to actually do what they’d be doing if they were hired (they were paid for this). This was an excellent opportunity to see if they’d be a good fit – and make sure the job is someting they’d want. We did have people decide the job wasn’t a good fit for them (and some we decided weren’t a good fit for us) so this was an important step for us.
  • Invest the time in training. Training is critical in hiring. Don’t skip this step or spend too little time on it. Create a training protocol to ensure each new hire is trained in everything they need to know – and has the opportunity to test that knowledge before they are on their own.

Don’t forget about the logistics of hiring! I highly recommend you use a payroll service. While I am all about doing as much as possible in-house, dealing with payroll taxes can be time consuming. Payroll services typically charge a flat rate and then an amount per employee. The cost is minimal, when we had less than 5 employees it was around $25-$30 per month. With our 10+ employees now with The Woof Room we pay about $55 per month. Considering the amount of work involved with payroll and payroll taxes (and keeping up with human resources notices for employees) it’s well worth the money.

Once you make your selections and have payroll set-up, you’ll need them to complete a W4. You should already have their employment application. You’ll also need to get proof of legal status – which is usually a social security card and drivers license – both of which you copy and keep on file just in case. Lastly, if they are doing direct deposit you’ll need a voided check and direct deposit authorization form from them. Make sure when you get this information to triple check what you write down and turn in to payroll. A typo can be costly – particularly when payroll does checks on their social security number.

Next, 30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Should you hold an open house or grand opening party?

Photo Credit: Daniel Ted Feliciano

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