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The very first thing you must do when you launch a business

When you launch your business, there is something you must do at the very beginning, and it’s not what you’re thinking a lawyer would advise.

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As a lawyer, you’re already anticipating my answer. You’re wrong.

If you know me as a business attorney, you might expect that my answer to this question would be “incorporate.” If you know me as a partner in a small business lender, you might expect that my answer would be “raise money” or “capitalize the company.” You likely have your own answers – design a great logo, create a website, invest in great accounting software… the list goes on.

I had a “meet and greet” with a prospective law firm client a couple of weeks ago. The company sells audio fixtures and equipment for music shows and festivals. Their work is apparently top notch, their reputation and brand are growing, and they have more work than the three founders can handle right now.

After telling me all of that great news, one of the founders, somewhat sheepishly, confessed that they hadn’t spent much time getting their legal or financial house in order. He was noticeably ashamed that they hadn’t done anything along these lines – hadn’t formed an entity, hadn’t opened a business bank account, nothing.

It’s refreshing to see founders think this way

The founders looked at me, waiting for me to tell them that we needed to get right on these things. I probably should have followed their cue, piled on just the right amount of additional shame, thrown in a healthy dose of fear that the IRS and a slew of unnamed (but aggressive and formidable, mind you) regulators would be right on their tail, and signed them up as new clients straight off. But I didn’t. I patted them on the back. Not literally, but I had no shortage of praise for them.

It’s refreshing to see founders with their hearts and minds rightly focused – on sales, landing customers, wowing customers. So many entrepreneurs spend far too much time behind closed doors, tweaking pro forma models, sprucing up pitch decks, writing wonderful form customer contracts, etc.

All these things have value, but they are a distant second to getting out and finding a customer. In my book, that’s priority number one – get a customer, make a dollar.

You’ve been trained to think about liability, and I don’t blame you

I can hear you now – “But, Brett, if I don’t form a corporation or limited liability company to house the business, I’m personally liable if something goes wrong.” Yep, you might be. But you are also going to be personally liable for a business failure if you spend all your time focusing on back office stuff and don’t get out there and bring in some income. Besides, a company with no customers and no operations is in very little danger of being sued.

I realize that it doesn’t take long to form an entity, so obviously I am being a tad extreme to make a point. And since I am a business lawyer, I want you to form an entity. Better yet, lawyers like me want to be called upon to form that entity. Those other things I talked about – pitch decks and marketing strategies – are important, too, so go do them. But you better be out there operating, selling, and closing at the same time.

Businesses don’t build themselves. They need customers and income.

The Lean Startup Method gets a lot of attention these days. What I love about it is its focus on action. Do stuff, try stuff. Put products and services out there, sign up customers, gather feedback.

Don’t spend two years behind closed doors making your product perfect, particularly if you’re creating a new product or service that the market hasn’t seen before. Guess what? “Perfect” is perfect in the eye of the beholder. The market may flat out not want what you are building, at least in the form in which you are planning to initially put it out there. So make something and get it out there. Keep some of your powder (money) dry to make changes based on feedback.

What do the most successful brands have in common?

In the business classic, In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, Jr. identified a common attribute of hugely successful companies – they have a bias for action. They try stuff, they tweak it, they learn from it. They aren’t afraid to fail, and a lot of this failure should occur in the marketplace, with real customers.

When I launched a mortgage company in 2001, my first startup where I had the reins, I initially spent too much time behind closed doors when I should have been out selling. I was fresh off a stint with one of the largest corporate law firms in the world. In the world of high-end law, you spend a lot of time making things perfect, dotting i’s and crossing t’s. That’s what our clients wanted us to do and they were willing to pay us well for the work. Everything is overstaffed – at least it used to be. Documents get revised again and again, fixing punctuation, making everything beyond perfect.

That mindset cost my own company dearly

That mindset is in sharp contrast to the “git ‘er done” mindset most companies should have when they launch. I brought that bias-for-perfection mindset into my new venture and it cost my company the strong start it needed. Plus, there was that part of me that didn’t want to get my hands super dirty, wrangle with customers, etc. I wanted to build something pretty and let others do the heavy lifting. I wanted to play puppeteer and direct others from on high. Customer service? Sales? Ugh.

Think you need your website just right to get out there? Afraid to show up without your business cards, which are still at the printer? Think your logo needs a little work and don’t want to launch without it being done? Get over it. No one really cares about your logo. It’s so unlikely to make a difference in whether or not you close your first sale.

“But, Brett, what will I say when they ask for my business card?” How about, “I ran out.” Or, “I’m having more printed.” Don’t feel comfortable with those responses? How about, “Business cards? We’re not using those anymore. We’re getting ahead of the curve. They’ll be extinct within three years.”

Say anything. Or nothing. My point is, don’t use any of these things as excuses for not getting out there and landing customer number one.

I learned my lesson in the mortgage company and, for a while, I had the FICO score to prove it. We burned through our capital quickly and our perfect logo, ideal form independent contract agreement, and meticulously organized company files weren’t recognized as currency by our vendors. Those were some lean times for me.

If you have more money than Google, you may never have to get your hands dirty

But if you don’t have a bottomless coffer, you need to have a sense of urgency about getting out there and bringing in customers (and, if you’re the leader, you better be out there showing your team how it’s done).

We got it turned around after I got off my high horse, felt the fire under my arse, and started hustling to bring in customers and build relationships. Along the way, I happened to learn a thing or two about what our customers wanted. Imagine that: a president who understood what it was like to be on the front lines.

Sure, I learned. But I am hoping that you don’t have to sport a 508 FICO score for a couple of years because you learned the hard way like I did. Tweak your pro forma, spruce up your pitch deck, get the messaging on your website just right, hire an awesome business attorney (hint, hint), but, please, pretty please, get out there yesterday and land a customer. Bring in the first dollar. Yes, you. Get hungry, get dirty. Interact. Try. Learn. Tweak your offering. Sell more. Git ‘er done. Everything else can wait.

#BusinessLaunch

Brett is The Startup Shepherd – part startup consultant, part angel investor/financier, and part business lawyer. A six-time entrepreneur and recovering “left brainer,” Brett particularly enjoys helping startups and rapidly growing socially-conscious companies.

Business Entrepreneur

Google makes it easier to identify veteran-owned businesses

(BUSINESS) Finding veteran-owned businesses just got easier thanks to a new feature from Google (one that veteran business owners can easily take advantage of).

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Google My Business (GMB) is the main database for search engines. It’s a powerful tool used by consumers and businesses. To help customers and business-owners, GMB recently added a very important category. Businesses can now be identified as veteran owned.

The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that there are 2.5 million businesses majority-owned by veterans in the United States. In one report, these veteran-owned businesses employ over 5 million people and have an annual payroll of $195 billion. Texas ranks #2 in having the most veteran-owned businesses, following California.

The support that Americans give vets is inspiring. The cool thing about this feature from GMB is that it helps consumers find businesses to support. The men and women who gave service to our country deserve support once they’re civilians. Look for veteran-led businesses when you use Google.

Customers aren’t the only ones who will take advantage of knowing whether a business is owned by a former service member not. Fellow vets often go out of their way to support each other. Who better to provide information about resources and opportunities than someone whose been there?

If you’re a business using GMB, it’s easy to add this attribute to your listing. It’s under the About category. The instructions for mobile and desktop can be found here. The only other attributes currently available are family-led and woman-owned.

It’s unknown how many people actually seek this information out or will actually use it. It’s estimated that about 10 percent of small businesses in the U.S. are veteran-led. These businesses aren’t just providing an economic impact on communities. Veteran-owned businesses hire fellow vets in higher volume than non-veteran-owned companies. USA Today reported that vets thrive in the small business world, attributing success to their core values, such as discipline and organization that make vets able to commit to a business and serve customers.

We applaud Google for adding this attribute to their database of information.

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Business Entrepreneur

Transitioning from corporate life to freelance life

(ENTREPRENEUR) A look at what it takes to pivot your career from corporate cubicles to your couch at home.

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Freelancing is rad. I’ve gone into some depth on why I think that’s the case and even provided some thoughts and resources for my rush hour and necktie-averse kin.

Freelancing is also challenging, in many ways more so than office work. I’ve transitioned between the two, both ways, and while I’ve landed on the liberating, self-motivated (but insecure, complicated and confusing) freelance side rather than the dull, workaday cube farm side (with it benefits, job security and human interaction) I can obviously see arguments for both.

Here’s what I wish I’d known before I set out to navigate the minefield between corporate and freelance work. With any luck, it should help you do the same without hearing a click and having to offer a sad and final “oops.”

Have a plan.

This is where going corporate to freelance starts to differ from vice versa. Choosing a new corporate employer takes hard goals, but also flexibility: an ex-freelancer has to learn to accommodate other people’s plans, on account of, you know, working with other people now.

Entering the freelance world requires the opposite.

You don’t just need goals. You need a schedule.

You need deliverables, you need a budget, you need Plans B-Z inclusive for when you come in over or under, because you will.

In short, you need a boss in your head.

It is the best boss you’ll ever have: that cat (feel free to imagine it as an actual cat in a business suit; I certainly do) doesn’t care if you party til 2am on a Wednesday, or skive off for three hours in the middle of the day to catch “Fate of the Furious” at matinee prices. All your new boss cares about is hitting the numbers.

Have numbers. Hit them.

Go slowly.

This is the one that everyone screws up, by which I mean that I did. It is so tempting to stick your boss’ tie in the shredder, shot put your least favorite appliance out the window and burn a sweet donut in the parking lot before you drive off to your freelancer future. Every office drone’s dream, right?

Don’t do it. Do not.

On my last day before I went freelance, I wore a Metallica tee and sweats to my shirt-and-tie day job. Joked with my cube buddy, what were they gonna do, fire me?

Thing is? That was the first time I went freelance.

As you’ll recall from the intro, I’ve done that twice. Thankfully, when I did have to return to the realm of gridlock and beige, I was in a different time zone. But the whole reason I had to return to the corporate world in the first place was summed up in that I didn’t prepare. I did the dream, cut loose, and burned the bridges behind me. Unwise.

It’s standard wisdom that you should build up savings before starting a business. Real talk: for an awful lot of people, that’s fantasy. Even in my coziest corporate days, north of the 50th percentile, between rent and urban cost of living my only shot at meaningful savings was retailing organs.

Keep your kidneys. Instead, bank your time.

I’m a writer. You may have noticed. Most of my day jobs involved that skill. If you think every character I typed into Word in my cube days was corporate-approved, as opposed to projects or practice for my freelance adventures, there’s this great bridge I’d like to sell you.

So for the first few months, keep your day job and build your skills.

Take small projects on your own time, buoyed with that glorious cushion of salary.

Train your brains out. You may even be able to do that at work: plenty of employers, especially in fields like tech and medicine that a) value certification b) translate nicely to freelancing, will shell out to train you up. Wade into the shallow end while you’ve still got a roof and a health plan. It’s vital experience, but more importantly, it’s how you figure out freelance IT or consulting or Etsying artisanal dog sweaters is actually how you want to spend 80 hours a week.

Keep a schedule.

Wait. 80 hours? Fraid so, at least early on. It will take serious legwork to get those artisanal dog sweaters off the ground. No client list means permanent hustle. No infrastructure means weeks on end of pure trial and error, figuring out what works. No employees means every last bit of it is on you.

That’s not what I mean by scheduling. You have a job, and, being an American Genius reader, are by definition intelligent and insightful, not to mention good-looking and possessed of impeccable taste. We don’t let just anybody around here. You know you’ll need that stuff.

When you freelance, you need to schedule life.

That boss in your head? Still your boss, which is to say a sociopath who can and will take every minute you’re willing to offer. For better or worse, an office job does work-life balance for you: come in then, leave now, this is due whenever. The nastiest trap in entering freelance work, the last, biggest boom in the minefield, is that it can swallow you whole. If you let it, it will take over your life, and it’s better at that than the cube, because it’s something you want to do.

Integrate both ways.

So, not every day but now and again, put down your dog sweaters and catch Vin Diesel. See a concert on a weekday. Spend a whole evening playing with your kid.

Whatever you like, with a single rule: no work allowed.

Freelancing means your job is much more thoroughly integrated into your life.Click To Tweet

Make sure your life is integrated into your job.

And that, my friend, is how you transition from drone life to freelance life.

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Business Entrepreneur

Study abroad, but for adults – a work abroad program

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) While study abroad may be a thing of your past, work abroad options are possible for remote workers.

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As my collegiate career began to come to a close, I started having regrets about not taking the opportunity to study abroad. I worried that I wouldn’t have the chance to travel in the same regard once I entered the busy “real world.”

However, I quickly learned that there are always possibilities, you just have to know where to look. I recently began researching work abroad programs, such as Outsite and LiveWorkFit, and realized there is still an opportunity to learn and travel – even if you’re no longer a student.

One of the more recent work abroad programs to come about is ExploreThere. Their tagline is to “work remotely, explore, and socialize abroad.” Each month, ExploreThere takes a group of individuals to work remotely and check out a new destination.

They seek for those participating to banish the uncertainties of working remotely, and work to make a productive live/work environment feasible.

ExploreThere creates groups of like-minded individuals who participants travel with and work alongside.

The first destinations on tap for ExploreThere are Medellín, Columbia and Buenos Aires, Argentina. ExploreThere scouts locations, connects like-minded coworkers, books accommodations and airport pick-up, and provides local advice. Participants book their flight, bring their work, cover their own meals and drinks, and choose their own exploratory experiences.

“One of the great things about the world today is that we have the opportunity to do most of our work remotely. Armed with a laptop, wifi and plenty of coffee we can work anywhere,” says ExploreThere. “With the right group of people, proper planning and bravery to chart new waters, we find ourselves with nearly year round possibilities.”

The goal is to allow remote work to be accomplished in a new and immersive cultural setting. Click To Tweet

Groups range in size from between six and 25 participants and are divided into different houses based on living compatibilities.

While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, opportunities such as this allow remote workers to see the world and work/network. It also continues to obliterate myths regarding working remotely.

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