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Starting Your Business – Planning the What/How/Why

Starting a Business - What/How/Why

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a small business owner or considering starting a business. Or you’re a blood relative and it’s a slow day. (Hi Mom!)

It can be overwhelming to figure out how to start a business, what you need to do, and a step I’ve found a lot of people skip is the “why.” Where and when is up to you, so I won’t get into ALL of the “5 Ws.”

Do You Really Need a Business Plan?

A lot of contemporary advice starts with a business plan. But I’ve read quite a few articles from other creative entrepreneurs who skipped this step altogether. My advice is somewhere in the middle.

I think you need to know what you’re getting into and have a plan of action. Running around with a head full of half-fledged ideas is a recipe for failure. Beyond that, if you haven’t defined what success looks like for your business, how will you even know if it “succeeds” or not?

So no, I don’t think you need to make a Word doc with sections organized by roman numerals outlining your company structure, budget, and so on. Unless you need a business loan. Then your bank is going to want to see the numbers.

But I DO think you should have certain key elements outlined somewhere. Doesn’t matter if it’s a notebook, a Trello board, or a Google doc. You should have one central place to keep tabs on your business and to fully flesh out your ideas before acting on them.

What to Do BEFORE Even Writing Your Plan

Don’t waste time writing a comprehensive business plan before you know why you want to start a business. This is the time to think about what it is you want to do, whether it’s feasible, who will buy from you, and if you really want to do the work involved or if it sounds better in theory.

Things to ask yourself:

  • What do I want to sell?
  • Who will buy it? (You can read more about target markets here.)
  • Why will they want to buy it from me and not someone else?
  • Do enough people want this product that I can make money doing this?
  • How do the costs of running this business compare to the potential proceeds?
  • How much effort is involved with the work both in and on the business?
  • Do I really want to wear all the hats that come with being a solopreneur?

If you’ve asked yourself all those questions and want to continue, you can continue to the next step of actually planning.

Things to Include in Your “Business Plan”

I have an official business plan. I’ve researched to see what information should be included and revised it countless times. And then… I never actually look at it for day-to-day business management.

So instead of telling you the BS sections that everyone else will tell you “need” to be included in your plan, I’m going to tell you the sections I have actually used and revisited.

Mission Statement

Also called elevator pitch, this is your one or two sentence statement that clarifies what you’re doing, for whom, and why. It’s easy to waste a lot of time here, so don’t worry about pretty phrasing just yet. What’s more important is to figure out what exactly you’re doing so you have something to base the rest of the plan on.

It’s also the most fun piece of this and, if you’re like me, sometimes it’s easier to keep going when you get started with something enjoyable.

Financial

Yep, it’s budget time. This is much less fun but equally if not more important! Things to go over in this section:

  • Business expenses
  • Taxes
  • The baseline income you need to live on
  • The goal lifestyle you hope to achieve with your business
  • The pricing range you can charge between surviving and thriving (you’ll probably start closer to the first number and raise your prices to the second as you gain skills and experience)
  • How this compares to your competitors’ pricing

Marketing

I think this is a good section to include right after budget because now that you know what to charge, you have to think about who will buy from you. Of course, you might need to adjust your budget after considering marketing costs, but that’s ok. Flexibility is a good thing!

Things to include:

  • Target market
  • Where to find them
  • How to connect with them
  • Costs of customer outreach
  • Competitors
  • Plan to differentiate yourself (Why should clients choose you over competitors?)

Licensing and Permits

Technically this could be “business structure” but if you’re a business of one, you don’t need to lay out each board members duties and how to split finances and so on. You DO need to figure out what kind of business you have, and what kind of license and/or permits you’ll need to run that business in your current location.

Things to include:

  • Do you sell products or services?
  • In what state are you operating and are there rules that pertain to your type of business in that state?
  • IF you need a business license (in Delaware, sole proprietors do NOT need a license because their income gets rolled into personal taxes), do you want to register as a sole proprietorship, an LLC, an S-Corp, etc.?
  • Registered agent (you can hire one or register yourself)
  • Will you need an operating agreement? (some banks require this for LLCs, but in my case, it was a little ridiculous since it was an agreement with myself)
  • Will you register your business name?
  • Will you sign up for an EIN? (sole proprietors can usually use their social security numbers, but it varies by state)

Next Steps

If you’ve laid out all these details and you’re ready to go forward, great! There’s still a lot of work ahead of you, but you’ve also got the fun stuff, like naming your business and branding and doing the actual work you’re signing up to do.

 

Balancing Business and Baby – My Tips

Balancing Business and a Baby

My number one, top tip for working from home with a baby is DON’T DO IT!

Seriously.

If you’re like me, you probably won’t listen to this advice, but you can better prepare yourself than I did. So I’ve made a list of things you should know before attempting this and some tips that might, hopefully, be of help.

Plan on a VERY Segmented Work Day

Babies “sleep a lot” but newborns also need to eat every 2 hours or so. It also takes 30 minutes to feed them, if you’re lucky, and upwards of an hour if you struggle with breastfeeding like I did. Plus changing diapers and soothing and so on. Realistically, you can plan for maybe 30 minute chunks to try to get work done.

As your child gets older, you’d expect those time blocks to increase, but the number also decreases. At 6 months my son takes 2 naps – a 30 minute one and a 60-90 minute one. So attempting to work during a nap feels like roulette. Will this be the long nap or the short nap? Can I get this project done in this time or should I just answer some emails?

Babies DO Need a Lot of Attention

I emphasize this because I scoffed at a friend when he said it. Surely he was just spoiling his child? Nope. Our pediatrician emphasized that you’re supposed to talk to your child once every 60 seconds that they’re awake. For the record, I find this quite impossible, but you see my point. Kids do take up much more time than you expect and they don’t “play quietly.”

As a 6-month old, my son has gone from needing constant feeding to just wanting attention all the time. I can’t even tell you how many days I’ve spent bouncing back and forth between my computer and the baby, feeling guilty because I’m not following the stupid 60-second rule. But even if he doesn’t really NEED a constant flow of chatter from me, he does need stimulation and interaction to grow. So even if you’ve got ears of stone and an iron will, you can’t count on leaving your baby to entertain him/herself while you work.

It Changes Constantly

You can’t make just one plan because babies are different month to month and sometimes different week to week. I had a couple good days during the second month where I rotated the baby through the feeding/sleeping schedule every 2 hours like clockwork and got in several 30-minute segments of work and felt on top of the world. Then his nap schedule changed.

Even now that we’re on something of a routine, I can’t with 100% certainty count on any block of time to do work unless someone else is watching the baby. The one night I sit down prepared for an all-nighter to meet my early morning deadline, he decides to wake up every 2 hours. Another day I just need a few minutes to get through my email and let my clients know that, Yes I’m still here and I haven’t forgotten you!, and that’s the day he’s so fussy I wonder if this is what teething is like. You just never know.

Give Yourself MORE Time Than You Think You Need

I tend to plan for the minimum. I budget the minimum I need to live, plan travel based on the fastest I’ve ever arrived somewhere, and price my projects based on a best-case scenario. It’s not good planning and, especially in the case of postpartum recovery, could be setting yourself up for a lot of misery.

I planned to take 6 weeks off from going into any offices, and started picking back up with my clients after 2 weeks. Phasing things back in worked fairly well for me, but I had an easy delivery and my body recovered quickly. If anything has gone wrong – a C-section, additional tearing, or even just a colicky baby – my plan would not have worked. It barely worked as it was and if I have any more children in the future, I absolutely plan on taking a full 3 months.

Your Brain Won’t Function as Efficiently

I’ve always rejected the idea of “pregnancy brain” or “mom brain” but, blame it on hormones or sleep deprivation, my brain is still recovering. The first couple months were absolute chaos. My husband and I noticed that we can count the number of photos we took those months on one hand, versus the mountain we take monthly now. Because we were too busy surviving to worry about whether we were “documenting the moment.”

None of which is to say you can’t keep working, but plan on being less efficient and effective and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t think of the word you want, or you know there’s a better solution to a problem. It happens.

Naps are Good for You Too

Severely sleep deprive anyone for long enough and they’ll go insane. Studies have been done. Having a baby won’t drive you to that point, but it can reach dangerous levels of cognitive dysfunction. I’ve had moments when I thought, “I shouldn’t be driving right now” and I’ve made plenty of stupid mistakes.

If you’re like me, naps make you feel crappy BUT according to a few different studies, a short nap once or twice a day can drastically reduce some of the side effects of sleep deprivation. Don’t force yourself to work every single time the baby is sleeping. Use some of those naps to get some sleep yourself.

Resources

And my last piece of advice is to find other resources! My experience will be different from someone else’s will be different from yours. Don’t expect your baby to fit into a mold any more than you yourself do. I’ve read tons of advice about “wearing” your baby while you worked – my son hated being in the body sling. Loved being held, just not in anything hands free. Go figure. So you can’t expect any one or even 10 people’s advice to work for you. You have to just keep experimenting.

I found these 2 resources particularly useful:

Hopefully some of this is helpful but if it’s not, the real point I want to leave you with is this: working from home with a baby is hard and it’s different for everyone. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t feel like you have to go it alone.

Have you tried working at home with kids? Do you have any extra tips from your experience?

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But what if I told you no could be just as much a positive as yes? That both have equal import in your life and business? I’ll start with yes.

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What Does a VA Actually DO? Expert Guest Post

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Virtual assistant is a job title I’ve run into several times on the Internet, but I had no clue what they actually did. Until I became friends with one, that is. Kelli, from 3K VA Services, runs her VA business entirely online and provides helpful tips for business management in her blog. I have learned so much from following along with Kelli’s posts, from using Wave for accounting, to Trello for project organization.

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