With the Fourth of July this week, perhaps you’re thinking of your own independence. Have you considered starting an entrepreneurial venture? You would be in good company. Since 2011, the overall number of independent workers has grown more than 15 percent, to 17.7 million, according to a survey from the business services firm MBO Partners. If you aren’t ready to leave your existing job (or salary) at this time, you’ll want to make some carefully considered plans to plot out your future move.
Karla Trotman, owner of BellyButtonBoutique.com, an online business with a global clientele, launched her business while working full time. Here are her tips to help you do the same:
Keep track of your ideas. Trotman suggests you carry a notebook to record your thoughts, ideas and inspirations. As your idea takes shape, you can refer back to the points from your brainstorming sessions. “My notebook became the basis of my business plan," she says. "I wrote in it during my lunch hour or while waiting for the kids to finish their activities. The notebook lived in my purse and I would pull it out whenever I had to get an idea out of my head and onto paper.”
Leverage your library. “Google is great, but the library is awesome,” Trotman says. Visit a university or community college library, or see if your local system runs a business library. Ask the librarians to direct you to resources to find information pertinent to the business that you're about to start. “You will want to know who your competition is, what products and services are available but do not have wide spread distribution, what demographic is best to target, etc.," Trotman says. "Library professionals are trained in the art of utilizing databases that are not available to the masses. Hoovers and Mergent are great resources that you cannot access without a subscription, however many educational institutions and public libraries do provide access.”
Read business books. “When I launched my business, I devoured any and all books that had to do with online business, search engine optimization, social media and small business," Trotman explains. "Six years later, I'm still reading and its helped not only my business, but also my family's 28-year-old manufacturing firm. Knowledge is power and books are the key.”
Avoid distractions. When you’re planning your business on the side, it’s tempting to sit down in front of the TV or to spend hours aimlessly reading Facebook updates after working a full day. You’ll need discipline if you want to launch your own business, so don’t let yourself fall down the proverbial rabbit hole when it’s time to get some work done.
Be selective when choosing confidants. “There were people who pretty much laughed at me when I told them my idea for my online store," Trotman says. "Had I not been so driven, I would have quit.”
Plan for launch. Once you’ve researched your client base and competition, investigated all of the ins and outs of your business idea and decided that entrepreneurship is for you, put a launch date on your calendar and schedule your deliverables backward. Trotman explains that she wanted to launch her website on August 8, 2008. "My registration, website creation, supplier agreements, packaging, branding and everything required for the launch needed to be ready by that date," she says. "By establishing a hard finish, I kept the project from lingering. I got everything done from start to finish in four months.” It may take you more or less time, depending on your plans and schedule, but the important thing is to give yourself a deadline.
Invest in professional-looking visuals. “People want to know that you are a legitimate business. You can't pull that off with a ClipArt logo and a website that looks like your seven-year old designed it,” Trotman says. She suggests exhibiting professionalism and polishing anything related to your brand or business.
Seek and implement systems. For example, if your business will require someone to answer the phone, make sure you set it up ahead of time so you aren’t stuck trying to respond to calls when you’re at work. “I use Solid Cactus as my call center," Trotman says. "They created a Wikipage for their staff and have answers to all of the most frequently asked questions. They can also access parts of my ordering system and will elevate any issues they cannot handle on their own. Utilizing this service, which only costs around $75 per month has given me more free time.”
Network and attend conferences. It can be a challenge to work all day, run your business and network, too. Conferences can be expensive for a startup owner. However, you never know what you can learn when you spend time with like-minded individuals who are driven similarly and dedicated to the growth of their businesses. Trotman also benefitted from connecting with a group of other women who were also starting businesses. “Most of my friends couldn't relate to my entrepreneurial vision, so it was nice to have a core group that understood my journey," she explains. "A few years later, members of the same group shared their media connections. One connection even helped me land a monthly feature on the evening news in my city.” When you network, make sure you make a point to give as much as you take.
Miriam Salpeter, owner of Keppie Careers, is often quoted in major media outlets for her job search and social media expertise. Author of three books and a sought-after speaker and coach, she leverages her extensive background and successes to teach job seekers and entrepreneurs how to easily use social media marketing to accomplish their career and business goals. Salpeter also provides strategic advice and support regarding interviewing, résumé writing and personal branding.