If you are new to your small business or are thinking about starting one, hopefully these learnings will help you with your new and exciting venture.
During the New Zealand Covid-19 self-isolation here over the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on my small business and some of the lessons I have learnt since starting a side hustle in June 2018. Some are ones I wish I had done earlier and some are ones I am so glad I did from the start.
SEPARATE YOUR EXPENSES
Do it as soon as you start.
I had my small business for about 10 months before I finally opened a separate account and this is something I wish I had done from the start. Prior to this, I used my personal account for all expenses and revenue which made end of year tax returns a wee bit of a nightmare (especially as I had returned to my job prior to maternity leave during this period).
I started by opening a business account with ANZ as they were offering a Business Start-up Package with no account fees and access to MYOB accounting software for the initial year, (valid for small businesses that are less than 2 years old). I had originally been thinking about using Xero, however fees across both Xero and MYOB are pretty similar and as I was getting it for free, I thought it was a great way to gauge if and how I would use it. The ability to link the account’s transactions and MYOB together truly makes reconciling incomings and outgoings a breeze.
If you are hesitant to open a business account to start, you can keep everything separate by simply opening another personal account with your current bank and use that for all incomings and outgoings. Similar to opening a savings account with your current bank, but choose one that is suitable for everyday use. Name this whatever you like, but only use it for things to do with your business. It’s also a good idea to give yourself a start-up budget that is realistic and practical and popping that amount into your ‘business’ account to start. It will also allow you to track your start-up costs with ease if you need to look back on this later. For example, some of these expenses may be able to be depreciated and help with your end of year tax returns.
LIMIT + PRIORITISE YOUR COSTS
You will most likely have to spend some money whether it’s little or a lot to start your business. You will know how much to spend depending on your financial situation and also what kind of business you are starting. Some type of businesses will naturally require more start-up cash.
For me, I started this as a side hustle and I didn’t mind if it was a slow and steady journey to success. (I am also more cautious and risk averse in general and had saved money from my day job before resigning and taking this business on full time.)
Whatever your budget, it’s important to think about what you NEED first instead of the beautiful nice to haves. Yes, packaging and the opening experience of the customer is truly important for your brand, however you do not need to spend a lot to get something simple and beautiful to start. You will need a well designed logo as that becomes the face of your brand. But, you do not also need a business card, different sized tags, thank you / note cards, branding collateral, wrapping paper, tissue paper, branded boxes, the list goes on. Try to get branding collateral that you can use in 2-3 ways. A branding stamp that you can use on all your packaging and stationery, or a small printed card in a matte finish that you can use as a business card, hand write as a thank you card, or ask your printer to punch a hole in some of the cards and tie it on to your products for branding. Getting a larger volume of printing done will also save you money in the long run.
Whenever you are spending money, always ask yourself if it is necessary. If it is a nice to have, then ask yourself, can you use it multiple ways.
It’s so natural to want to offer and have everything when you first start, for fear of missing out.
Instead of letting it get me down, I wrote a wishlist and then as I started to get sales, I would spend it on the next most important item. By doing this, I learnt a couple of things. One, each purchase was a small milestone in itself and should always be celebrated and two, I was surprised at how I no longer needed some of the things as time went on. It helped me to stay focussed on spending where I truly needed to.
HAVE YOUR OWN URL WEBSITE + EMAIL
A website with your own URL is something that you should absolutely have as a priority. I had a website from pretty much day one of my business and I am so glad that I did.
Whether you are marketing with Instagram, Facebook or not, a website will make stock inventory, payment options, collating customer information and shipping so much easier, leaving you with more time to be creative and work on your business.
There are so many options for a DIY professional website now, that with a bit of time and a lot of google, you can have yourself a website with integrated payment options for a few hundred dollars.
It is also worth getting yourself a custom email with your URL. This means that it has @yourbusinessname.com instead of @gmail.com or @hotmail.com. Yes, there is a small cost associated, but similar to a website, it builds trust with your customer who may have never heard of your brand and shows professionalism. If you have or are looking into starting a service based business, this should be a must have for you.
GROW YOUR MAILING LIST AS WELL AS ONE OTHER PLATFORM
There are so many social media and marketing platforms now, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Tik Tok just to name a few. How do you even know where to start, and once you start, how do you have time to keep up with all of them?
In my personal opinion, for starters, choose just ONE platform and do it well.
When I started my Instagram account in Jan 2018, I had no idea what it would turn into. I also had no idea about algorithms, hashtags, followers, influencers, you name it, I was clueless. So choosing Instagram was not at all part of a strategy, it really just happened organically. I wanted to snap a photo and post it on a platform that was both easy to use and aesthetically pleasing.
The most important lesson I have learnt so far is that consistency is the key. Consistency in both how often you post and the aesthetic of your posts. As a rule, I upload one post once a day, usually in the evenings after my toddler is in bed, this allows me time to engage with you guys without distractions. Some days, I may also post stories while I am working to show progress videos or behind the scene sneak peeks.
To keep your feed looking cohesive and ‘on-brand’, you need to first decide what guidelines your aesthetics will follow. Is it a colour palette, a particular filter, a pattern of image versus quotes or closeups versus blank space? Whatever you decide, it’s important to stick to it. This does mean that you will have to plan ahead and be strict on what you post. It also means that you may not post everything that you create if it does not fit in with your aesthetics. Yes, it can be such a bummer, (especially if your colour palette is very limited like mine), but that is exactly what you should use your stories for! You can showcase your work for 24 hours on each story and also save them to a highlight reel in your profile for your prospective clients to see.
For planning ahead and imagery consistency, I use the free app Plann to help me see everything visually and move images around. It is not always possible, but I generally try and plan the next 6-9 images and if I do not have enough, it allows me time to get some created and photographed. I am a firm believer in using your own or professional images of your work instead of images found on Pinterest, where you are not able to credit the artist.
Lastly, mailing lists are worth their weight in gold.
If you have your own website, you should be collecting email addresses for your mailing list as soon as you are able. Even if you do not have a newsletter or have an intention to send any emails to start (trust me, I didn’t send one for at least 6 months), the option to join should be there. Mailchimp is a marketing platform that allows you to have up to 2000 contacts for free.
Why a mailing list? It gives you access to your audience if something was to happen to either your social media account or the platform itself.
Also, even if you may have a large following on social media, there are many algorithms in the background that prevent many of your viewers from seeing your content unless you pay for ads. For example, on Instagram, only 7% of your followers on average will see a post or a story. Did you just do the maths on your own account? Yes, shocking right?
By building a mailing list, you not only have a much better reach, but they are usually your biggest fans. This is why you should give them the heads up on news and exclusive offers first.
TIME, GOOGLE AND PODCASTS ARE YOUR BEST FRIENDS
I am a pretty impatient person by nature and starting a small business has been testing at times because learning to do things take so much time. There have been many nights of frustration after hours of googling and feeling like I didn’t achieve anything.
The important thing that I always needed to remember, is that even though time may be scarce, it is free. There are so many hats a small business owner wears and so many obstacles that you will be able to problem solve simply by using the internet. You may decide to delegate tasks if you feel it is not a strength and prioritise it as a must have within your expenses budget, but there will always be smaller tasks that require just a bit of a can-do attitude, google and maybe a pot of coffee for an all nighter…..
There are also many free resources such as podcasts which have great actionable tips on different elements and stages of running a small business. You just need to find one that you can relate (or can stand listening to) which suit your business and field. I use both Spotify and the Pocket Casts apps to help me find, subscribe and download podcasts for personal growth and motivation.
These are just my learning and opinions from personal experience. I am not sponsored by or affiliated with any companies mentioned and this is not to be taken as financial or legal advice.