How To Incorporate a Business

The first and most important step to starting a business is filing papers with your State, the IRS, and opening a bank account to ensure your financial security (we don’t like to think about a threat like bankruptcy or being sued when just starting out, but separate accounts are a necessary precaution).

As someone who has been through this process many times, I can say this is the easiest part of starting a business.  Yet in talking to mentees and co-mentors, I realized that if you don’t know how to take these steps, it may seem daunting to get involved in legal forms.  So I made this guide.

Step One:  File Articles of Incorporation

This is the part in which it would be good to talk to a lawyer and / or CPA.  I have completed this stage with and without the advice of a lawyer, but it’s helpful to know some things before you start.

The most important decision here is whether or not you want to incorporate as an LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, or B-Corp.  This step also has the option of filing as a nonprofit corporation should you so choose.  I personally filed for an S-Corp because I knew the structure of my business would take advantage of its taxation structure.  If you’re planning to include altruism in your company, a B-Corp may be appropriate.  I can’t advise you on this since it’s a legal matter, but you can probably find a free resource in your city that will help (in Michigan, the SBDC and Michigan Women’s Foundation are good options).

A lawyer will also help you decide if you want to include a board of directors.  Regardless, the incorporation papers provided by your state are ‘fill in the blank’ style and easy to follow.  Michigan’s fee is $60 for filing a for-profit corporation, and you can expect to receive a validated copy in approximately one month.

Step Two:  Get Your EIN Number from the IRS

This also sounds daunting, but it’s even easier than filing your state papers!  Plus, it’s free.

Once you receive your incorporation papers back from the state, you’ll need an EIN Number from the IRS to do pretty much anything.  You can’t open a bank account without, nor can you take online payments or file taxes.  Even nonprofit corporations need an EIN, so don’t skip this step!

With your incorporation papers in front of you, head to the IRS website and begin the process of applying for an EIN Number.  The site will walk you through a series of questions you will need to answer, including your business state ID (should be at the top of your state papers).  You will receive a PDF to download at the end of the process that officially states your EIN Number and IRS status.  Print this immediately and save the file.  The IRS will also mail you a copy, but that takes a while and multiple copies is always safer.

Step Three:  Open A Bank Account

So why was I talking about bankruptcy and suing at the beginning of the article?  There’s a business best practice called “piercing the veil”.  Essentially, by keeping your personal finances and business finances separate, you not only make things easier on your CPA (which is good because s/he’ll bill you hourly) but keep your personal savings and assets safe from any business mishap.  I say this not to scare you but to start you on the right foot.  If you spoke with a lawyer at Step One, you may have been told this already.

You’ll want a bank account for other reasons, too.  It makes tracking your business’ progress much easier since it’s not mixed with anything else.  It also makes business purchases more clear and easy for tax write offs.  Finally, it makes you look official, so when someone writes you a cheque or pays you online, they get a transaction notification and receipt from your business, not you.

With your State Papers and your EIN Number documentation, go to the bank of your choice.  I find it easiest to use the same bank for everything.  It’s one number to call, one system to memorize, and some banks charge you for digital transfers outside their system.  When at your bank, wait to sit down with an official, not a teller.  They’ll walk you through the paperwork and get you set up.

One last note, here.  Please oh please do not buy personal items from the business account, or vice versa.  This would ‘pierce the veil’ and blur the lines for any legal action.  Bad.  Instead, pay yourself by making a bank transfer from the business account to your personal account and annotate the transfer as income or owner pay.  Talk to a CPA to get even more advice about this (I’m not able to provide more because I’m not legally certified and can only tell you from my personal experience).

That’s it!  If something’s missing, please let me know in the comments below so I can help.

How to Pivot Your Business: Part Two

This is the second installment in a three-part series to help you pivot your business.  Check out the first article on planning, and subscribe to get the final installment!

Part Two:  Launching

Why am I jumping from market research to launching?  Every business is different, which means I can’t tell you how to implement your market research.  I can suggest that you will want your mentors (if that’s me, great!) and staff involved in processing the information you gather and setting it in motion.  In between week one and week two comes a lot of planning, strategizing, and developing new systems.

When that’s all complete, it’s time to implement and publicize the pivot.  Just as when you founded your business, you need to publicly launch your pivot.  Many of the tactics new businesses use to launch will be useful at this stage.  Here are a few ideas for getting the word out.

1 – Throw A Party

Parties set the public stage for a pivot.  Though internal company changes can be scary, a party says you’re excited, and your customers should be, too.  If you are a brick and mortar location, this is a great start.  Provide some sort of raffle, test station, or maybe just treats if you don’t offer a physical product.  Everyone likes free stuff, and if you give away product that is involved in the new business model, your public has the opportunity to check it out without risk.

2 – Digital Launch Week

Whether you’re a digital company without a physical space for an event, or you’ve done the event but want to carry on the momentum, a digital launch week can make a great splash.  This is where your email list comes in handy.  On the Thursday or Friday before Launch Week, announce it via email and social media.  Send a reminder on Monday / the start day, and the morning of the last day.  Why would they care?  Well, Launch Week can involve giveaways, discounts, or a slow roll out of features that your following will want to take advantage of.  If you have a physical product, the holiday season offers a special advantage for this kind of launch strategy.

3 – Get Them Involved

Your customer base follows you for a reason.  They are happy to support your brand.  Thus, if you’re making a visual decision (brand design, paint colors, etc), offer them the chance to further voice their opinion.  Facebook polling is useful in these cases, but you can also use a system like Typeform to gather longform input.  Make sure you track who is involved so, at the end of the month, you can pop some virtual champaign, say thanks, and show them the final decision.

Note that each of these suggestions keep your audience involved.  That is critical to a successful pivot launch. Stay tuned for the third installment of this series — the post-launch work.

How to Pivot Your Business: Part One

Over the next three weeks, I’m going to help you pivot your business.  Make sure you subscribe to get the final two installments!

Week One:  Planning

Let’s start by talking about what it means to pivot a business.  Eric Ries, the author of “The Lean Startup”, says,

“The hardest part of entrepreneurship is to develop the judgment to know when it’s time to change direction and when it’s time to stay the course… One such practice is to pivot from one vision to the next.”

My Pivoting Experience

I had to pivot my business a few years ago, and I did so alone (as I did most things in my early entrepreneurial days and the reason I built this site).  In short, I had too many ventures, which spread my efforts too thin.  By pivoting, I was able to maintain the integrity of the original company, while growing its offerings and customer base.

I also hired employees for the first time, which made the pivot slightly more complicated.  Hiring may sound simple based on what you know, but without any sort of employee handbook or guide, it’s really easy to dilute or lose the vision of your company.  More on that in a future post.

The hardest part of the pivot was the rebranding process.  I chose to rebrand because I were adding so much to what we already did.  I basically doubled my services.  Through that process I worked hard to convey to our clients (leads, current clients, and past clients) that we were the same company that would take care of their needs as if they were our own.  You don’t have to rebrand your business if you pivot, but you do need to ensure your customer base knows that the pivot isn’t changing who you are (see Part Three).

Why do you want to pivot?

The first step in pivoting is becoming clear as to why you want to pivot your business.  If you can’t explain it simply and clearly, your team won’t know how to follow you, and neither will your customers.

A local business in my city pivoted a few years ago.  They chose to stop selling soft products like clothing and instead focus on selling hard products like statuettes and multi-use items.  When asked, they stated they needed to downsize due to rising real estate costs and chose to specialize in the items that sold the best.  As a customer, I was disappointed by the downsize, but I also understood their reasoning and so felt comfortable continuing to purchase from them.

Start by clarifying your why.  Talk to your mentors about it, but also talk to people who know nothing about your business.  While it may be dangerous to ask family for business advice in most situations (they’re probably not entrepreneurs like you), this is a time when you need that general public opinion.  If they’re anything like my family, they don’t ‘get’ what it is to be a business owner, but they do get what it means to be a customer.  If they can’t understand why you’re making a change, you need to think it over.

Finally, get the opinion of your employees.  Do this after you’ve clarified with other parties — your employees need to walk this path with you, and if they feel that you’re just slinging around ideas, they may not trust you to pivot well and start looking for other career options.

Time For Research

You didn’t think I’d let you pivot your business without having done market research, did you?  No way!  Pivoting is already a stressful endeavor, so we need to be sure it’s the right idea before we do anything public.  Not only will research give you more confidence in the move, but it will give your business the best chance at doing it right.

What do I mean by Market Research?  This could mean a lot of things, depending on your business and its current base, but the simplest form is a survey.  The easiest place to start getting answers is the captive audience of an email list (crossing fingers that you have an email list).  These are people who have signed up to stay informed about your business via newsletters, blog updates, coupon alerts, and more.  Personally I feel I get too many emails, but when someone asks for help in the form of my opinion, I’m game – especially if there’s a prize.  My favorite digital survey program is Typeform.  It can be embedded or linked to for ease of sharing.  If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ve probably filled out a Typeform survey.

Another place to gather information is social media, but you’ll probably see a smaller response unless there is a prize or reward.  Social media doesn’t allow us to ask a specific group of people what they think, at least not for free.  When your customers are surfing social media, they probably don’t have the time or attention span to focus on a survey, so cut it down to a couple yes or no answers.  Even better, do a week long campaign of single questions at peak times — one at 8am and one at 6pm.  Yes or no questions are great, “like this if…” questions are even better.

Talking To Strangers Is Ok

If you don’t have an email list and your social media following is either too small or unresponsive, it’s time to talk to strangers.  This is the scariest thing for a lot of us, but if you love your business, you’ll do it.  There are two ways you can do this.

The first is in-person surveys.  The best time for these is on weekends when people are least likely to be rushing to or from work.  Put yourself in a crowded location with a clipboard to record the answers, and tailor your survey to two versions — short and long.  Your opening questions should be the same on each, and the person’s response will tell you if they are willing to talk for more than 30 seconds.  Smile, state right off that you’re not selling something, and let them know that you are looking for their help.  Most people like to ‘help’, most people hate soliciting.

The second survey method is over the phone.  You’ll be surprised how little you’ll be hung up on when you’re not selling something.  Again, most people want to help.  With phone surveys you have to be quick — folks are almost always in the middle of something else and have limited time.  Introduce yourself, say why you’re calling, and dive right into the questions.  Keep a spreadsheet.  Don’t call during dinner.

So what should your survey say?  The basics are this:

  1.  Introduce yourself, your business, and the reason you’re asking questions in one or two sentences.
  2.  After the intro, do not talk about yourself again.  This is the time to ask about THEM.  Your biggest concern is your customers, and people love talking about themselves.
  3.  Keep questions simple.  If you can frame them to accept ‘yes’ or ‘no’, do it.  If not, try to simplify as much as possible.
  4.  Determine what the essentials are — what do you absolutely need to know in order to confidently move forward with your pivot.  If this is a Typeform or other written survey, you may be able to get away with more questions, but don’t overdo it or people will stop halfway through.

Next week, find out about making the pivot happen — all the way through the launch!

Cheap or Free Apps

This is an ongoing repository.  If you have any suggestions for subjects or resources, leave a comment below and I’ll add it!

When starting a new business or venture, your budget is really tight.  The most important thing to know is that you should not feel bad for penny pinching.  I personally feel there is too much pressure to spend in our society, and sometimes it can feel weird to not get the latest and greatest.

I’ve worked hard at discovering hacks so I retain the freedom to grow my business in the right way.  Businesses, like children, take a lot of love and attention – and money.

Below are the hacks that I’ve used, either in the past or currently.  I hope they make growing your business easier!

Surveys & Forms

typeform

Typeform // Free

Typeform is my absolute favorite form and survey builder.  It’s super easy to use, with a drag and drop form builder, and it has a friendly interface for even the most tech illiterate user.  There are some paid options, but 80% of your needs will likely be met with the free app (I haven’t paid for it, yet).

googleforms

Google Forms // Free

If you already love Google, then you’ll love Google Forms.  It’s also very easy to use, easy to share, and comes with a lot of options.  The nice thing is that all your forms will exist in your Google Drive, as will the answers you receive.

Storage Solutions

dropbox

DropBox // Free (up to 3GB)

I love DropBox.  I love that it syncs to all devices, it looks like my other file structures, and I don’t have to worry that it’ll be there.  I also love that it’s free!  If you need to take work with you, or show something off to a client, this is an easy solution.

drive

 

Google Drive // Free (up to 15GB)

Google Drive is also free – yay!  It also provides more storage for its entry level and typically sync’s well across devices.  I sometimes feel its storage structure is clunky, but it could just be me.

evernote

Evernote // Free

Evernote offers storage and documentation options.  It’s a little more complicated than the others because it was developed to ‘save’ rather than ‘store’, so explore it well before you choose to use it in this manner.  The upside is that it is fantastic for note taking and keeping track of tasks, inspiration, and system development.

Accounting

wave

Wave // Free ($15/mo for payroll)

Wave Apps is a great little accounting program.  It’s cloud based, and they have several iOS and Android apps that allow you to manage some (but not all) of your affairs.  It’s structured like Mint, and can send invoices and receive credit card payments.  However, I’ve noticed I have to really stay on top of it for my CPA to find it useful.  I don’t have a lot of time, so I use it mostly for invoicing.

bank

Your Bank // Free

This sounds really obvious, right?  Since Wave got to be a mess for me, I ended up pushing everything in and out of one bank account, then exporting a spreadsheet on a quarterly basis.  I annotate it manually for my CPA, and he is able to use it to run taxes (yay!).  If you’re running a physical business or selling products, you will need balance sheets and profit / loss margins, so Wave will be a better bet.

spreadsheet

The Ol’ Spreadsheet // Free

I’m not numbers minded, so this sounds insane to me.  But if you’re a sole proprietor, you can probably get away with keeping track of things via a spreadsheet.  There are a lot of examples on Google, so I would search for examples before setting yours up.  Oh, and make sure your CPA is ok with this before you make him/her go insane.

Phones

fi

Google Fi // $20/mo unlimited talk and text – $10/mo for each GB of Data

This is my current love affair.  I actually sold my iPhone to do this (gasp).  I was really sick of paying $60-90 a month for cell service.  Google Fi utilizes TMobile and Sprint towers (as of now) so you have better coverage.  They also include international data in your plan so you don’t have to buy ‘special’ data.  Calls are made on wifi when possible, and there is no term limit.  It’s just fantastic!

gvoice

Google Voice // Free

Before there was Google Fi, there was Google Voice.  This is akin to an ‘internet phone’ and works through your Gmail account.  You can make calls and text from your computer, have calls forward to a physical phone, and use their app to text.  It’s not a perfect solution, but if you want a separate number for work this definitely is a great first step.

Email

gapps

GSuite // $5/mo./user

GSuite (formerly Google Apps) for business used to be free.  Now it’s not.  Sadface.  But, it’s still extremely affordable.  Why would you use this over a Gmail account?  One reason is the power of managing a team’s set of emails from an easy to use platform.  Beyond that, you can manage your domain through Google Apps.

zohomail

Zoho Mail // Free(ish)

Zoho is a knockoff of Google Apps.  Its email function is free, but some of its other modules are not.  It’s nice to be able to utilize different programs from one place, so it may be worth the extra cost to use them.

CRMs

zohocrm

Zoho CRM // Starts at $15/mo./user

As I alluded to above, you may prefer to use multiple programs curated by one company.  Zoho’s CRM integrates into their email, so you can have everything organized.  And we love organization.

streak

Streak for Gmail // Free(ish)

I use Streak.  It’s a very simple, very configurable CRM that integrates into Gmail.  You can set up pipelines for different organizations, and boxes in those pipelines for different clients.  I have four pipelines, all color coded and organized differently (I meant it when I said ‘serial’ entrepreneur).  There are some things Streak tries to upsell you for, but if you don’t have a large team, they’re not needed.

Share what’s worked for you!

Doers vs. Dreamers

Scroll down for the worksheet.

I sat across from my friend at the trendy hipster coffee shop with white subway tile walls and blonde wood craftsman tables.  I had just vented about being exhausted from working so. damn. hard. all the time.  The treadmill was going round and round and I was at its mercy, juggling everything from finances to implementing new processes.

“Veronica,” he said, “There are Doers, and there are Dreamers.  You need to decide which you are, and play to those strengths.  Find help for the rest.”

I looked at him with my ‘what do you mean I can’t do everything?’ look.  My ideas were mine, my business was mine, my clients were mine.  I’d done it all myself and was damn proud.

And damn exhausted.

I’ve thought a lot about what he said since that day.  Turns out, he was right.  This is what I’ve learned since.

I’m a Dreamer.  A big ideas person.  I want to create and then run with new projects, events, and goals without checking myself.  When I presented a new event idea to the board I serve on, they were stoked, but then began asking questions like “what is the budget?”, “which demographics should we target?”, and “how can we front load the attendees so they know what to expect?”  I didn’t have answers.  I’d done the biggest part — the creation part — and stopped.

On the flip side, my friend is extremely task oriented.  She loves systems.  She would rather stay in the office and make sure all boxes are checked and all ducks are in a row than go meet clients.  She guides her team like a rock star, and everything gets done on time.  She is a Doer.

Doers and Dreamers are both critical to the success of a project, event, or business.  But you MUST know which you are so you can find your opposite to fill in the gaps.  You don’t have to hire someone full time or find a cofounder, but you will need someone.  Dreamers may find help from a Virtual Assistant (my favorite being Fancy Hands) especially useful.  Doers — you may need to find a mentor who can help you ideate when it’s time to pivot or shift your work.

It is important to note that, like everything, this is a spectrum.  For example, I enjoy creating systems — just not running them.  Conversely, I’ve seen some Doers come up with amazing ideas for solving problems.

Start by getting your free membership to my Resource Library, where you can download the Doer Vs Dreamer worksheet (and many others)!

My List of Entrepreneur Support Resources

This will be an ongoing compendium.  Stay tuned for more!

This is the start of my official list of favorite Entrepreneur Support Resources.  While it may seem like I’m talking myself out of a job, as an entrepreneur you need all the support you can get.  My job is to work with you on specific pain points or personal blocks, to make you feel empowered and supported so you can be your best business self.  I can teach you to network like a ninja, help find your business blind spot, and bring big level thought to the table, but I can’t offer you community (yet).

Entrepreneur Groups were pivotal to my confidence.  I was too young when I started my business to have many friends doing the same.  I believe in the below groups, and hope you find the support and advice you need to continue your amazing work.

Membership Forums

Fizzle — I discovered Fizzle through its podcast.  Immediately I was amazed at the great content delivered by people who sounded like me.  It wasn’t stingy or straight laced, made me laugh, and gave me great direction for my work.  They offer podcast listeners a 5-week free trial, so I thought “why not?”  I was not prepared for the amount of content provided.

Fizzle offers a compendium of courses akin to the Lynda structure but detailed for entrepreneurs, a forum where you can get questions answered and build community, and a really amazing blog.  It’s worth looking into if you’ve been feeling alone, but be prepared for the time commitment to make the most of the investment.

The Female Entrepreneur Association  Carrie Green runs this show, and offers a good deal of support to her members.  The FEA also features a forum and videos, but is designed specifically for the needs of women entrepreneurs.  The FEA also publishes a monthly online magazine called This Girl Means Business highlighting amazing entrepreneurs and offering instruction and stories.

The cool thing is that the FEA is decidedly international, meaning you may suddenly network all over the world.  You also have access to ‘Ask the Expert’ modules so if you need more detailed help than the forum might provide, you have the chance to get it.  The FEA is competitively priced with Fizzle.

The Rising Tide  A community for designers and creatives.  Great for freelancers especially so you don’t slowly sink into your desk chair and never emerge.

Communities

Tuesdays Together A subset of The Rising Tide which meets locally in each city to instruct and support creatives on a variety of topics.  For example, my local chapter does monthly lectures and biweekly coworking at cafes.

la FEM collectif  A new organization geared toward supporting women’s careers in the film and multimedia industries.

Books

I would be remiss if I left out books… mostly because I am utterly obsessed with them.

#GirlBoss — If you haven’t read this, do so now!!!  About the career of Sophia Amoruso and her skyrocket from rags to riches selling clothes online.

Fascinate  Sally Hogshead has had a fantastic career in brand design and PR.  In this book she shares some of her secrets, advises you how to wrap your noggin around your brand, and generally reminds you that you are a badass just the way you are.

The Success Principles  This is a tome.  While not written by a woman about a woman’s career, this book will help you organize your thoughts and direction.  For someone like me (a serial entrepreneur with all of the ideas), this book is a huge help.  I’ve recommended it to most of my friends (even those who aren’t entrepreneurs) and am sure I’ll be going through it over and over for the rest of my career.  Like I said, tome.

Please comment below if you know of a resource you’d like added to the list!  Include the link and I’ll take a look.  <3 

Focusing on Seeds Instead of Fruit

There once was a young woman who lived in a beautiful and fertile land.  She was a strong woman, someone who wasn’t afraid of adventure.  She loved her land and wanted to call a part of it her own.  When she was 25, she chose to leave her family’s farm and begin cultivating her own plot.

The young woman chose to cultivate fruit trees — they were plants she could climb and she loved the taste of their fruit.  At first, the land gave well.  It easily took the seeds she planted and they quickly sprouted.  The land hadn’t been worked in years and provided plenty of nutrients to her growing trees.

That first year was plentiful, and she had a large cache to store through the winter.  She shared the fruits with her friends and everyone knew she was successful in her venture.  So great was her praise that she soon forgot the hard work she had done to start growing the fruit — she began to rejoice only in the fruit.

Spring returned, and it was time to return to the soil.  Her neighbors began tilling their land to plant new seeds and carefully checked last years surviving crop to understand what was needed to keep the adult trees healthy.

But the young woman had forgotten how to do this early stage work.  Instead, she focused only on the trees that grew the year before, and only on the work she did in the fall to prepare the trees for winter.

As summer progressed, the young woman despaired.  There were no blossoms forming on the trees,  none of the signs of coming fruit.  With the advent of fall, the young woman could only weep, as there was no fruit.  Her stores from last year’s harvest hand worn thin, and she was starving.  What had happened to her beautiful fruit?


Are you able to relate to this story?  I am, because this happened to me in one of my ventures.  I started focusing only on the revenue of my business and forgot how to generate leads.  I forgot to plant seeds.

Every business is different so seeds for me means networking, being a member of local associations (or maybe national ones), giving back in some way (sponsorships, teaching), and encouraging referrals.  Can you think of seeds that are unique to your business?  What might they be?

Let’s start a conversation in the comments below about where your seeds may lie — you never know what ideas you’ll discover!

Stop Comparing Yourself to Older Businesses

This is something I continue to struggle with.  Yep, after four years of being an entrepreneur, I still have to step back and remember who and where I am.  Unfortunately, this is one of the easiest ways to sabotage one’s work.

Comparing yourself to others, in my opinion, is a human handicap.  In doing so, we discount our hard work and negatively pressure ourselves to be ‘more’.  Not only can it make you quite unhappy, it often comes from a place of dissatisfaction.  When I’m most dissatisfied with my business is when I most compare it to others — and quickly become even more dissatisfied.  It’s a problematic loop we have all been in.

Why You Should Stop

First of all, your business will always be different from any other venture.  That’s because it’s run by YOU.  You are made of experiences that no one else has had.  It’s what makes you uniquely good at that special thread that runs through your business.

What do I mean by a special thread?  Reminds you of Harry Potter’s wand, doesn’t it?  What I mean to say is that there is a reason you chose to go into business for yourself.  And there is a reason you chose a certain focus area.  Even within that focus area, you have a particular approach that no one else has.

Here is a first hand example.  My work with women entrepreneurs means a lot to me.  It’s pure passion, which means I work fiercely toward the growth of my clients and peers.  But I’m not the only “empowerer of women entrepreneurs” ever to grace the Earth.  In fact, I take strength from the existence of others.  But at low points, I may also compare myself to them.

In particular, Carrie Green.  She is leaps and bounds ahead of my work.  I sit and puzzle how she gained thousands of followers, garnered immense publicity, and a solid foundation of work.  From the outside it’s easy to envy.

But let’s take a step back — I said “she is leaps and bounds ahead of my work”.  That’s the key.  She has been working with women entrepreneurs since 2011.  I didn’t even start my entrepreneurial career until the end of 2012.  But the human psyche is build to make comparisons so we understand our pecking order and place in the universe.  It’s how we have survived for millennia.

Compare Your Work To … Your Work

While it may seem natural to compare your work to others’ in order to find mistakes or generate new ideas, the only true comparison you should be making is to yourself.  As sentient beings, we are constantly changing and evolving.  This makes us excellent subjects for comparison.

In fact, this is a critical step in goal setting.  The best entrepreneurs are those who reflect on their accomplishments, but also their failures, and learn from both.  The only way to do this is to compare yourself to your past self and mark progress.

I do this by using the Passion Planner, which I discussed in my post about goal setting.  At the end of each month I’m prompted to look back on what I’ve accomplished, but also on what I see myself repeatedly and unnecessarily doing.  By highlighting and putting it into writing, I’m able to take steps toward change — and to celebrate my achievements.

No one else’s work is comparable to yours.  It’s important to set goals, but do so within the realm of who you are and what you hope to become.  You’ll progress faster than if you try to be someone else.

What’s your comparison story?  Share it below.

Don’t Forget Your Online Following

Something I find easy to do, but in bad practice, is to stop posting for a while to the blog and social media.  There are so many things that seem more important – client relations, consultations, project management, quarterly taxes, invoicing, and more.  These are things that are in my face begging for attention each day.  Content creation, not so much.

While it can be frustrating to live in a digital age where everyone seems to be banging their own drum, it’s necessary to building your business as an authority in its field.  Not only is a solid online presence expected of businesses, it helps aid find-ability, credibility, and shows potential clients and customers that your company is trustworthy.

Thank Goodness for Scheduling

The best way to work around the issue of ignoring your online presence is to schedule it.  Many of my clients have told me they set aside a single day of the week for writing — I do the same.  While I choose Wednesdays, Mondays are a crowd favorite.  The week hasn’t grabbed your attention quite yet, and your mind is still clear from the weekend’s relaxation (hopefully).  Thanks to scheduling on nearly every social platform and CMS, you can take a half day to create a blog post and the week’s calendar of social media blasts, then schedule them to go out on various days and times.  I recommend WordPress for blogging and Hootsuite for Social Media Management.

Let’s not forget eBlasts.  Email marketing is a great way to reach your client base and market new products, but it can be just as time consuming as blogging.  Shaping the message so the subject line spurs engagement, and links inspire clicks, can take a lot of brain power.  I suggest adding this into your Monday morning routine as well.  CRMs like MailChimp can also schedule their eBlasts, making your marketing campaign simpler.

I understand that some weeks there just isn’t the time to make this happen.  Monday mornings are often victim to a hectic catch up after a vacation, conference, or email build up.  By putting it on the calendar, however, nine times out of ten you’ll get an update out and feel that much better the rest of the week.

P.S. – I scheduled this post last night!

Narrow Your Target Market

How many times have I felt the pressure to take on clients outside my target market?  Too many to count.  The business is alluring, and it’s easy to fall into the ‘how can I run a business by turning away business’ mentality.  But that mentality will eventually add stress to your work.  In this post, we’re going to work it out so you and your business always operate at optimum performance (sounds like sports shoes).

Aren’t I Giving Up Business?

No!!!

Now that my enthusiasm is out of the way, let me explain.  It’s really easy to get caught in the ‘take everything’ mentality.  It’s how I started my first business, and it was really hard on me.  I ended up working for several clients who didn’t understand the value of my work because I charged too little and took on projects that were too small for my business goals.  While taking on whatever came my way was at first great for gathering data about the market at large, I didn’t narrow soon enough and ended up with a big headache and small return for my effort.

Here are the three reasons a “take everything” approach is wrong:

  1. You will wear yourself out.
  2. People won’t know how to refer you.
  3. Your promotions will fall short.

Let’s unpack these, shall we?

Running Around in Circles

Being an entrepreneur means you’re already juggling a lot of balls – things like finance, business planning & projections, goal setting, customer service, digital presence upkeep… Why in the world would you add more to that list?

Working with customers and clients that aren’t in your target market means you will be doing extra work just to make them fit your model.  This means mental work to understand a demographic that you don’t identify with, or systems work to be able to handle their request.  If you have employees you may find yourself working extra hard to bridge the gap between their usual scope of work, too.  All this to say you’ll be stretched thin.

To add to this, your confidence will probably go down because you’ll constantly feel like you’re falling just below the standard you like to reach.  When you work within your target market, it’s easy to nail expectations.  But when you’re reaching outside that market, it can be a challenge due to too many unknowns.  The quality of your work will be sacrificed to all the time you’re spending fitting a square peg into a round hole, and that is a horrible feeling.  By specializing, you only get clients like your very best client.

How Do I Describe You?

The second issue with working with clients or customers outside your target market is a lack of clarity for what you do.  That is, your company’s mission and values will get lost, which means both the client and others who view your work later will be unsure of how to refer (or describe) you and your business.  Further, if you are asked by someone in your network if you will take a project and you say yes despite its scope, you are saying yes to all future projects in the same vein.  Suddenly your public business image is murky.

So what should you do?  Say no.  That’s right, I’m asking you to turn down business.  Sounds scary, right?  But this is the best thing you could ever do for yourself and your business.

I don’t just mean that your calendar will be more open for the right projects, but also that the requester will want to know why you said “no”, at which point you get to affirm your business model and mission.  That person will then think of you when something more appropriate comes across their desk.

Are You For Me?

In a similar vein, you will eventually want to run ads for your business.  More often than not, you will be doing so on platforms like Facebook or Google.  If your target market is too broad, you won’t know where to start — and neither will the platform you choose.

Platforms like Google and Facebook don’t offer much in the way of targeting your ads.  That is 90% up to you.  Once you know your target, these platforms will help you the final 10% of the way by providing keyword and phrasing suggestions, but the suggestions will be totally off if you don’t know your target.  You will ultimately end up wasting your money on ads that don’t work.

Ads that don’t convert aren’t just detrimental to your wallet – they also can hurt your company image.  If I see an ad that I can’t immediately say “yes” or “no” to, I start to wonder what the heck the company is all about, and why they’re running such a generic or wishy-washy ad.  That starts your public image down a slippery slope toward losing future business.  How?  I may not need your services, now, but someday things may change.  If you get an automatic “no” from me, that means I quickly understood what you were about and may remember you in the future.  Catchy language that builds on your targeting ensures my memory is hooked.

Case Study Time

Here is an excellent example of this in action.  I network my butt off (stay tuned for a Network Like A Ninja article), and so I meet a lot of other entrepreneurs in my community.  Last week I met an entrepreneur who owns a moving company.  His company only does small to medium sized moves, and describe themselves as being in direct competition with Two Men and a Truck.  He doesn’t want to do big moves.  He could, and he could make a lot more money from one move, but his system isn’t set up optimally for such a move and it’s not the market he wants to serve.  Essentially, he wants to move families in order to make an often stressful event simpler and calmer.

Two days later I was talking to a friend who is planning a move.  Immediately, my new contact came to mind.  Not only had I just talked with him, but his very specific target market made it easy for me to know when I encountered a ‘perfect customer’.  I could just as easily have recommended Two Men and a Truck based on past personal experience, but myself and my friend value local companies, and my new contact’s stood out.  I immediately made the recommendation, likely garnering him a new customer.

How to Narrow Your Target Market

One of my favorite entrepreneur help forums is Fizzle.  They publish a weekly podcast, blog, resources, and curate a membership forum for entrepreneurs of all walks.  Their article entitled “5 Questions to Narrow Your Target Market” is a great starting point if you think it’s time to get specific about your work.

Help other women entrepreneurs by telling them how you knew it was time to narrow in the comments below.

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