Header image: my first round of Antares logos, which some may recognize and which were retired after only a few short months of use when I finally took the hint because I got tired of people saying, “oh, it’s some kind of fox?”
Make no mistake – I am fully aware that this post will go largely ignored by the overwhelming majority of people out there. Since I am fresh out of the box, the only people likely to see this are my ever-faithful cheerleaders: my parents (hi guys!).
But, despite that, here we are. One day, this archival post may prove useful to someone just starting out who is inspired by my work, wit, and success (one can dream, right?). So I’d like to take a minute to look back over the last year of my journey, when this whole endeavor started out as a vague fog in the back of my mind and has slowly grown into something real and almost-tangible.
It takes a lot of time to rearrange the puzzle pieces of your life to accommodate a dream that you never even thought possible so don’t let slow progress deter you. At the end of the day, patience and exactness really pay off when you’re fumbling your way through those first couple of months.
So here it is, my top three tips for those poor souls that are furiously Googling how to branch out on their own for the first time, feeling lost, a little afraid, and really, really excited.
Get yourself a good lawyer.
In all seriousness, this was one of the biggest steps for me, not only in terms of legal viability but also for my own peace of mind. I got a recommendation from a local business relation of mine and decided to take the leap into becoming a ‘real’ company.
Don’t get me wrong, those guys and gals are not cheap. Expect to pay a good deal of your hard-earned – and very often meager – income for their time, advice, and services. However, I have found that the amount I invested in my lawyer was well worth it in the end because I no longer wake up in the middle of the night fretting about the looming potential of losing my dream to some legal nightmare.
I especially recommend a lawyer to help you get your business ‘on the books’ with your state, such as becoming an LLC, corporation, or any of the other wonderfully confusing entities that you can classifying yourself as.
At least do yourself a favor and have them look over any contracts you use (or write them for you if – heaven forbid – you’re not already using some sort of legal shield).
Get your finances in order.
This is a pretty broad to-do so I’ll try to just touch on the highlights. One of the biggest fears that a lot of new start-ups have is just earning enough money to stay afloat financially.
However, try not to be daunted by the yearly salary number and just take it a week at a time – how much do you need to earn each week to stay at your current level of income? When you break it down this way, it’s much easier to set realistic goals and I think you’ll find that the dollar amount is surprisingly low.
Next, keep track of literally everything that you buy for your business. New computer? New desk? A small business class at your local community college? Keep track of all of it using an organizational system that makes sense for you and that will be easy to reference. One of my biggest expenses each month is the software I use but lovely Adobe makes it very easy to keep track of the amount of money you spend with them. If you work from home, you may be able to even mark down things like electricity usage as an expense for your business.
Remember how I said you need to keep it all organized? It’s always the right time to invest more in your business and get some serious accounting software. I use QuickBooks myself and, while I’m not advocating them specifically, they do have some excellent features that I found to be essential for my business. First is the ability to keep track of all those expenses we just talked about. Second is the ability to generate quotes through them, which I can then magically turn into invoices. These invoices allow people to pay with a credit through a big ‘ol button right there in the email and I cannot get over the simple beauty of that. Finally, QuickBooks organizes everything for me – income, expenses, tax write-offs, etc. – in a fancy quarterly statement that I can plug into my tax documents and move on with my life. I cannot stress how important it is to keep track of and stay organized with your money.
And, if all else fails, I’ve got a lovely CPA that I call from time to time with questions that likely seem silly to a veteran but are things that newbies have never even thought of until someone casually mentions it at a luncheon and you have to awkwardly giggle and pretend you know what they’re talking about. We’ve all been there and your CPA understands.
Get in the right mindset.
I know the prospect of launching off the edge into worlds unknown is incredibly daunting – so much so that many people fear that they could never do it. I know this may seem like a cliche piece of advice but at some point you’re going to need to take the leap and decide to believe in yourself and your capabilities. I’m not saying it has to be today or next week but at some point, all of the planning and thinking and budgeting and seminars will all fall away and you’ll have to rely on your own personal capabilities.
Don’t let this scare you. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. If you’re anything like me, I spend a stupid amount of time thinking about my business – how can I market, expand, keep the fabulous customer I already have, and thrive in an ever more competitive world. Keep your mind in the right place and remember the reason you started on this journey to begin with.
It’s not an easy road by any means but every mistake is a chance to learn and every challenge is a chance to grow. Seize these chances and get out there! Go live your dream.