Entrepreneurial anniversary inspires top five lessons learned
LinkedIn recently informed my connections (and me) that I was celebrating a work anniversary — eight years as the owner of my consulting business, Susan Hill Public Relations and Marketing. That’s not entirely or technically true, however. I did begin my business eight years ago, but left it in “Park” for four years while I served as director of marketing and communications for the University of Nevada School of Medicine.
Having retired from that role at the end of 2016, I reignited Susan Hill Public Relations and Marketing and am happily consulting again.
This introduction makes a point: a business owner has the wonderful flexibility not available to employees, to stop the enterprise and then restart it at a later date. That and many other satisfying advantages lead millions of people, and increasingly women, to take the plunge into the entrepreneurial waters each year. Women now are the majority owners of 38 percent of the nation’s businesses, up from 29 percent in 2007.
I am celebrating my entrepreneurial work anniversary by passing on some of the lessons learned, some more painfully than others, in my journey as a marketing and PR consultant. Women face different challenges than men in succeeding in business ownership. I hope that whatever I have to share will help anyone and everyone, but especially women who dream of being owners of their destinies.
1. Get registered. Started your business legally by registering as a sole proprietorship or LLC with your state. The State of Nevada makes the process relatively painless at nvsos.gov/sos. This will set you back from $200 to $500, and several hundred more if you hire an entity formation firm to do this paperwork for you. However, this can be a worthwhile expenditure for the handholding and education that you may receive from these experts — plus, they send reminders when it’s renewal time. If you’re the type who misses deadlines due to CPD (Chronic Procrastination Disease), you may find the additional fee to be well worth it.
2. Get your finances structured with a business bank account and bookkeeper. Even if you’re great with numbers (and I’m not, as proven by the hundreds of points separating my SAT verbal and math scores), you want to be working on your business success, not sweating over a decimal point in your mileage reimbursements. You also want your billings to be sent in a timely manner. This is your paycheck, so it’s nothing to be trifled with. If you already have an accountant, your bookkeeper can work with this individual, and generally at a lower hourly rate, to gather all of the necessary data for tax filings. Knowing that I have a monthly deadline to send my business banking statement, billings and expenditures to my bookkeeper keeps me accountable and organized — certainly moreso than if I were doing it by myself. If left to my own devices, I would be obliviously creating at the keyboard — the area with the letters, not numbers, forgetting all about who’s making it possible to be paid.
3. Get a network. I was the first person in my immediate family to leave corporate America for business ownership, so I began the adventure feeling alone. I instinctively sought to remedy the isolation and need for support by networking. I was a certified networking victim for the first few months of my life as an entrepreneur, attending every known mixer and business event in the greater Reno-Sparks area. You may need to give away a stack of business cards, with any luck fewer that I did, but you soon will discover one or two groups which you find simpatico as well as productive. I luckily discovered ewomennetwork.com, whose “give first, share always” credo resonated with me. That philosophy infuses the eWomen “structured networking” events with a mutual helping attitude in which members listen to each person’s needs and constantly search their mental contact list for referrals who could help with any need — from business quests such as a computer expert to personal ones, such as a dog groomer. It’s not who you know, but who they know. The people in your network can be your mentors and femtors – the eWomenNetwork term for female mentors. They will introduce you to folks who can help you expand your business, overcome obstacles, offer critique and hold you accountable. And it’s enormously rewarding that you can do the same for others in your network. It also doesn’t hurt that the events are designed to be fun as well as enlightening, often featuring interesting speakers, music, food and adult beverages.
4. Market yourself and your business every day. As an entrepreneur, you are your company’s chief brand ambassador. There’s no end of information available on this topic, and you don’t need to do everything at once, but here are a few nuggets from what I’ve found to be most effective:
• Set up a WordPress or other easily updatable (by you) website. I found a web designer who built my site, then handed me the keys so that I could carry on with adding blog articles, news releases, photos and endorsements. You can design your own using templates or your own artwork if you’re graphically gifted, but otherwise, ask for quotes from people recommended by your network. Rates vary wildly, and you shouldn’t have to spend a fortune to establish a solid website with the basics such as homepage, about, services, endorsements and contact pages.
• Speaking of graphics, spend some time and money if you can on a professionally designed logo. This symbol will help build your brand – which is far more than your logo, as the total impression of you in the minds of your customers and potential customers, influencing their decisions to choose you over your competitors. You can find huge rate differences for this work, so ask for commendations from people whose logos you find particularly expressive. You logo will go on your website, Facebook business page, business cards, name badge and more, so this an early project that needs some thought.
• Get active on LinkedIn, with its mighty power for bringing people together for business. You can post articles from your website on LinkedIn, expanding further your potential reach and influence.
• While I have focused on my website and LinkedIn for business marketing and have used Facebook for personal connection, many people have been successful in using a Facebook business page in lieu of or as an adjunct to a website. The only rule is that you create an online presence, making one or two social media platforms a great reflection of you. Use tools such as HootSuite to schedule posts in advance if you need help with time management.
• Take advantage of marketing opportunities offered by your networking groups. Offer to be a program presenter. Find out whether the group offers member spotlight articles in their e-newsletters or online member profiles on their websites. Jump on opportunities for free or low-cost webinars focused on marketing and related topics that will expand your horizons and sales. Your group can be an ideal venue to audition different elevator pitches, your brief, compelling business statements about what makes your product or service irresistible.
5. Take time to be good to yourself. The entrepreneurial life isn’t easy. Choose self-care activities that make you feel great and are within your budget. Remind yourself that you are fabulous with a monthly facial, massage or pedicure, lunch, a movie with a friend or an inspiring new book. Look for Groupon deals to keep these treats affordable. Take a few moments every day to be grateful. Keep a journal and record what makes you thankful. Thank your mentors and those who recommend or endorse you. Pay back your community by helping other entrepreneurs, lifting as you climb.