Tag Archives: 30 Days to Becoming an Entrepreneur

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 πŸ™‚ 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

Photo Credit: Gee Ranasinha

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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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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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30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Doing a daily deal – negotiation and preparation

Everything is negotiable. When we did our first daily deal we were desperate for new business and just took what they offered and did the deal they wanted. It wasn’t in our best interest – but we really wanted the deal. I wish I knew then, what I knew now.When negotiating with a deal site, there are three primary things you can negotiate on:

  • Deal specifics: It’s up to you what your deal is. Don’t agree to do a deal on something you may lose money on. At The Woof Room, we book out of our hotel suites for dogs every weekend the entire summer – and every holiday. Because of this, we will not do deals on boarding. We learned this lesson the hard way with our very first deal (which included boarding). You can also say it’s only for new customers and place limits (i.e. one per customer or cannot be used on Friday nights).
  • Percentage you keep: They will negotiate with you on what percentage you keep. They might not come up as high as you want, but as long as they come up – event a few percentage points – it’s more money in your pocket. It doesn’t hurt to ask and it’s just money you’re losing if you don’t.
  • Expiration date: They will tell you 6 months (or 1 year) is standard – but that doesn’t mean anything. You can choose whatever expiration date you want – within reason. So,Β  if Christmas is your busiest time then make sure your deal expires in November so you don’t get normal customers for Christmas at discounted rates.

Once you have hammered out the details and you feel comfortable with your deal you will need to prepare. You will get A LOT of inquiries the few days your deal is for sale. How many? It varies greatly. A good way to estimate is take the normal amount of phone calls, emails, and visits you get in a day and multiply that by 10 – 15. That will give you a good idea of what to expect in terms of increased traffic. You’ll also have a lot of work after the deal handling the new clients. Three tips to make this process smooth are:

  1. Make sure you (or a very experienced staff person) is the “voice” for your business during the sale period. The last thing you want is someone coming in months after the deal telling you an employee told them something was ok when it’s not. When we do deals we put together a fact sheet about them and focus on the rules and restrictions so that everyone is aware of them.
  2. Be proactive. You can see the list of people buying your deals as they buy them (while the deal is still live). If you notice the same person buy 7 deals or a current customer buy deals for new customers, deal with it right away! Contact the customer to let them know they aren’t eligible – or contact the deal site to refund the deal. Take care of it right away, but months down the road it won’t be very easy.
  3. Collect sales tax! The deal sites do NOT collect sales tax and explicitly state on the deal that they do not include sales tax. You are going to have to pay sales tax and you definitely don’t want to have that come out of the already small amount you are getting from the deal so make sure you and your staff collect sales tax from every customer bringing in a deal.

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

Photo Credit: Seth Anderson

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30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Developing a marketing strategy – ideas for getting the word out

How do you get people in the door when you open? As a new business, the plethora of advertising and marketing opportunities will amaze you. Advertising is everywhere. There are two strategies you’ll be focusing on:

Advertising

As a new business, you’ll likely have a small budget for advertising so it is especially important you use those dollars wisely. In my opinion, most traditional forms of advertising won’t give you as good of a return on investment. TV, newspaper, and magazine ads are costly – skip these in the early stages. I’d recommend you focus your advertising on three areas:

1) Online. I have had success purchasing advertising from Google and Facebook. They are pay per click – so you only pay if someone actually clicks on your ad and views your website. For a new business, this is perfect because you only pay for people that actually look at your ad and are interested enough to click on it to see your website. Google is much more expensive than Facebook – but for a reason. You can use Google to purchase advertising so that anytime someone types the key works you select your ad will come up in the sidebar or the top of the page. You can also put caps on how much you spend, so once you hit your budget maximum they just stop showing your ad. With The Woof Room we did this when we first opened, we wanted our ad (we had a coupon in our ad) to come up for anyone searching things like “dog boarding,” “dog daycare,” etc.

2) Related venues. Advertise in targeted locations. For example, we bought dog poop bags with our information on them and put them at all the local dog parks. Know your market and target it directly for advertising.

3) Daily deal site. Groupon, Crowdcut, LivingSocial, etc are all options for getting new clients.

Referrals

Word of mouth and customer referrals will be one of the most important – and sustainable ways to advertise your business. There are two ways you can build referrals to your business:

1) Customer referral program. Customers that love your business will tell others about your services/products. Oftentimes though, people don’t even think about it until they are asked. Turn your customers into proactive referrers by creating a customer incentive program. Give them a reward – and the person they refer a reward – once that person has purchased anything. We created a referral program at The Woof Room and it has been helpful in bringing in new clients.

2) Partnerships. Create partnerships with similar businesses and nonprofits. Help them whenever possible. With Deckci Decor we have several partnerships with event venues where they refer us to their clients and have us listed on their website. At The Woof Room, we partner with several local rescues and provide free daycare and boarding for dogs without a home.

Next, 30 days to Becoming an Entrepreneur: Daily deal site – is it worth it?

Photo Credit: Mark Smickilas

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