Several years ago, I thought about starting my own business. I knew that I was deeply committed to helping businesses and nonprofits that create positive change grow through innovative marketing strategies and excellent customer service. The name NEW Consulting popped into my head and stayed there.
A little over a year ago, I left my job at the Auditorium Theatre due to COVID-19. Instead of applying for full-time work, I started designing a website. I reached out to a friend (thank you, Lynda Van Duerm!) to help me create a "mini-brand" (logo, color palette, typography) and get advice on the website's layout. I wrote a business and marketing plan for myself. To me, it was more fun than job searching in the middle of a pandemic and terrible job market.
One year ago today, I wrote posts for NEW Consulting's social media pages and shared them to my personal news feeds. I also made a couple of phone calls and joined the Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce.
And wow, what a year it's been! A year of hope, heartbreak, excitement, uncertainty amid a raging pandemic and tumultuous (to say the least) election. A year of learning lessons, retraining my brain, making new friends, having sincere catch-ups with old friends, getting comfortable with uncertainty, putting myself out there.
Much is written about starting a business and entrepreneurship, and I thought I'd offer some reflections on what I found deeply fulfilling and what I've struggled with during this year-long journey.
You need to have a vision for your business, and you will work harder than you'll ever imagine through some of the longest hours making that vision a reality - especially as your business grows. There's no one (ahem, your boss) to hold you accountable, and you must be at your workspace at whatever timeframe works for you and your customers.
With that said, long hours, hard work, and stress are a recipe for burnout. A rested brain means you'll perform more creatively and efficiently, and giving yourself permission to take a break is better for you, your family, and your business. This has been a significant lifelong challenge for me, especially now.
Your business model, website, brand, pricing, process, elevator pitch, purchase pathway, and everything else that goes into starting a business will not be ready or close to perfect at the beginning. The best way to start a business is to get started, put yourself out there, and listen to feedback so you can further redefine and finesse your model, services, products, messaging, and brand.
You will have to promote yourself, even if it's uncomfortable for you. I prefer to be behind the scenes. Promoting myself, showing off my website, posting NEW Talk episodes, or posting about what I'm doing or achieved is difficult for me. I also recognize that I won't find clients if I don't step into the spotlight more often, and I learned that most people are supportive.
You will constantly network. I went into this expecting that I would be alone, and it would be hard to find clients and a support system. I was pleasantly surprised when other business owners reached out to me shortly after joining the Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce, gave advice, and made some introductions. I've had many wonderful, interesting conversations with other driven, kind, and supportive business owners. That said, I'm an introvert and I struggle with keeping up my energy level after back to back Zoom calls even though I enjoy talking to people.
You will need to become comfortable or at least tolerate uncertainty. This is another lifelong challenge for me. A new friend of mine reminded me that business ebbs and flows (Thanks, Jaclyn Beattie). This made me realize that while "slower" periods are not comfortable mentally (or financially), it's an opportunity to work on business development projects, improve operations, and other projects you don't have time for when you're busy.
And from a practical standpoint, make sure you protect yourself! Register your business as an LLC, so your personal assets (like your home) are separated from your business. Work with an attorney to at least look over contracts. Find a good CPA to help you with taxes (Michael Reeder). Get to know your business banker (Patrick Heraty). Make sure that you have commercial insurance (Mike Downey). As you can tell, I now know some great people who can help you in all those areas and more.