Written by Courtney N. Shale // 11.25.19
Critical Steps to Starting Your Business – My Story
Have you ever dreamed of starting a business, but aren’t sure where to start? Hop on board sister, you’re not alone!
So many decisions to make, so little time… or so you think! Time is on your side, and trust me, use it to your advantage.
The beauty of starting a business is that everything you do, including WHAT you do, is entirely up to you. You get to call the shots.
So, before you work yourself up and get overwhelmed, let’s chat about what I did, step by step, that turned my biggest business dreams into my reality in just two short years.
I’ve been told my story is a good one, so grab your favorite cup of hot inspiration and let’s get to work!
What I Wish I Knew – Getting Started
I always joke and tell people that what got me started in this whole “figuring out how to start a business” madness was a shit ton of curiosity and a laptop, but the fun part is that none of that was a joke.
One day I finally said “ok, let’s try and figure this out”. I threw my hair up, opened up my laptop and started Googling things and searching “how-to” videos on YouTube and the rest is pretty much history.
But don’t worry, this wouldn’t be much of a useful tool if I just left it at that.
Before we get down to specifics, I do want to preface this whole thing with what I wish I knew when I got started. You might be thinking I should save this for the end, but instead I think this serves as great affirmation (plus I’ll wrap up with some of my best advice), because, again, starting a business is no easy feat!
I wish I knew that doing the fun stuff- like making your logo, deciding on brand colors, fonts and designing a website is NOT where you should start. In fact, doing all the fun stuff first will actually be, spoiler alert, a waste of time.
A business is only as good as its PLAN. And we all know plans change, right? Well, imagine building a house without a plan, no prior understanding- just slapping things together because you have an idea, only realizing, eventually, something doesn’t work and now you have to start over. Same concept applies here. Do it right the first time, and you’ll be building on solid ground (see what I did there?!).
As my dad would say, don’t half-ass it!
Your business is your baby- your labor of love. NO ONE starts a business with a plan to FAIL, so neither should you!
You’ll thank me later (aka. learn from my mistakes! If you haven’t already heard my story, I would say that, starting out, most of what I did was long-term conceptual design versus establishing (most of) the basics, which eventually led to me doing a complete re-brand, re-launch. And then one more tweak to the brand before I finally got it right, but more on that later).
Another thing I wish I knew was that it wasn’t going to happen overnight.
In today’s world, it is so easy to hop on social media and find someone who is doing what you want to do. Almost instantly after finding that person, you start comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle or their “enlightenment” (that’s what I like to call once someone figures it out and it appears to have happened overnight, which, let me restate, IS NOT A THING!!!).
Comparison is such a trap, and we all fall into it. I am constantly working to not fall into it over and over when my mindset isn’t right.
Furthermore, this whole “it won’t happen overnight” leads to burn out and discouragement when you don’t see results right away.
GIRL PUMP THE BREAKS.
Starting a business is like baking without an easy-bake oven. Sister, starting a business is a fine-tuned process that takes time. You can’t microwave this shit.
I mean, you could, but I would then tell you to stop yourself and go re-read the first thing I wish I knew.
Let me segment for a quick moment if you still feel like there is an easy way out.
Chances are you have eaten pizza rolls before. Chances are you have had them when they have been cooked in an oven just as you have probably had them when they have been cooked in a microwave.
Which one tastes better? Which one is more durable? Which one LOOKS better?
The oven cooked ones. Duh.
Again, same applies for your business!
I’m going to keep what I wish I knew to these two points and I will hit you with some one-liners when I get to the advice section.
Keep reading for what I did “planning” and what I did “execution”.
What I Did – Planning
Note: I did know what I wanted to do when I got started- if you aren’t sure on what you want to do specifically, do not worry about continuing to read. Instead, click here for more on how to figure out what type of business you should start.
Here we go with specifics.
Planning is THE most important aspect of starting your business, and as mentioned a few times above, we tend to want to skip majority of this step and go straight to execution.
DON’T DO IT.
When I pulled out that laptop, I searched anything and everything that came to mind.
“How to start a business”
“What type of business do I need?” or “What type of structure do I need?”
“How to know if you should be a sole proprietor or an LLC?”
“What is a sole proprietor? What is an LLC?”
This list goes on and on.
Legal + Financial
While I cannot give you legal or financial advice, what I can do is tell you a little about what I did and what I highly recommend you look into.
First off, for any and all legal questions about your business (like answers to some of the above), hiring an attorney is a FABULOUS first step!
If you don’t personally know of any small business attorneys, chances are someone you know DOES and can make an introduction for you. Don’t be afraid to use your network to find people who can help you.
Your attorney can help with lots of things, including but not limited to: helping you establish your legal footprint (I became an LLC) and draft your first contract (I am a service-based business, so I will not conduct business without a contract in place that outlines the services, the scope of the services and some other things that are important to protect me and the business) and give you recommendations on business insurance (I carry multiple forms of insurance for my business).
Remember, each business is different- there is no one-size-fits-all. Find an attorney!!
Same applies with anything financial- financing, loans, invoicing, banking, etc. Find an accountant and work with them to establish an outline of what you will need to do and look into to get set up the right way.
These steps are super important because they dictate everything else moving forward.
For further information on what you will need to be an official business in your state, visit your state’s Secretary of State website and view their business resources. That’s about all I can leave you with here!
Your Offerings aka. Services
After I had my legal and financial plans in place, then I got down to planning for what I was going to be offering, also known as my “services”.
If you found this post, you probably know a little about what I do, but in case you don’t, I own a wedding planning + design business.
There are many words that get thrown around when it comes to wedding planning- wedding planners, wedding coordinators, wedding designers, day-of coordinators, month-of coordinators… while they all sound similar, each is actually very different. But that’s not why you are here… if you are curious, click here to learn about different types of wedding planning services and the differences between them all.
One of the first things you will want to do when determining what products/services you will offer is doing a quick study on the industry in your geographic region- who is doing something similar to you and how will what you do be different?
Differentiating yourself is super important when starting a business- you want to show your ideal clients how you are different from everyone else doing what you do and how you will provide value in your own unique way.
This can often be done by writing up a vision statement, mission statement, philosophy, purpose… a few quick sentences are all it will take to get your creative gears turning!
Website + Social Media
Once you know what you’re doing and what you are offering, you have a great foundation built to begin to find your voice and branding. The next step is to plan for your website and social media. After all, to win business, customers and clients must be able to find you and SEE you!
Starting a website couldn’t be easier with platforms like WordPress, Wix, Square Space etc. You don’t even have to pay for your domain right away, which is SUPER awesome, because figuring out your name is what I recommend saving for last.
Now, you’re probably thinking you should know the name of your business before you do any of this, and I am telling you “nope!”.
It is 10000% times harder to name something when you don’t know what it will be, do or look like. By spelling all of this out, you will have a better idea of the concept, allowing names to come to you more freely. Plus, naming it too soon will likely result in you getting stuck and basing everything off of a name versus the other way around. I hope this makes sense!
Social media will be where you spend the most of your time. Why? Because it is FREE advertising! Having a good content strategy will be huge.
How do you plan to position yourself?
What do you want to show off?
Who is your target audience?
The list of questions will go on and on but getting really specific with finding your voice and branding will help with all of this and more.
What I Did – Execution
Once you have your plans in place, it’s time to execute and take inspired action to make it all happen! If you ask me, acting on your dreams is highly enjoyable, but it is most enjoyable when there is a plan, so you have purpose and direction in what you are doing.
Let’s talk action based on what was discussed above as told by my story.
Legal + Financial
I won’t lie, if it wasn’t for Google and YouTube I am not sure I would have had a damn clue as how to establish a business legally let alone finding an attorney to make it happen.
Luckily for me, my grandma is a retired lawyer. I reached out to her and after giving her the thorough run down of my business plan and what I wanted to do, she tapped into her network and found someone who practiced in small business and could help me get my legal footprint in place.
After several emails back and forth, she helped me file for an LLC, which was a HUGE step in the right direction! Event Planning businesses carry a huge risk, so being set up as an LLC was the best option for me (as well as carrying different types of liability insurances- which I knew nothing about before talking to an attorney).
Once my business was established, she referred me back to the Ohio Secretary of State’s website to follow a few more critical steps to get the business fully registered. One of those steps included getting a bank account set up for the business for tax purposes, and my attorney was able to give me some ideas of banks to look into, which ultimately led to me finding someone to help with accounting and taxes.
See how easy that was once I got started? The people I found to help me knew all the other people I needed to help make it happen. I just had to be willing to begin.
Your Offerings aka. Services
This one was way more straight forward for me because I didn’t have to jump through hoops- I just had to decide what it was that I wanted to do (think of this as doing what you want to do regarding starting a business versus what you have to do to get started).
From my past jobs and internships, I had tons of first-hand experience on all things weddings and events. These experiences opened my eyes to the ins and outs of event operations, guest experience, logistics, communication, strategic planning and more.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out what I did like, what I didn’t care for and what I would change if I was the one in charge. That’s the exact mentality I took into determining what I would offer!
Some questions to think on and answer to get you started would be…
- What experience do you want someone to have when they work with you / buy your product or invest in your service?
- What problem is your service or product solving?
- What makes what you do/offer different from your “competitors”?
- Why am I doing this in the first place? Why am I passionate about my product/service?
How you answer these questions will say a lot about what you want to be doing, even if you can’t quite yet pin point it.
Remember, time is on your side. This doesn’t have to be determined immediately. Give yourself lots of time to think, reflect and refine what you come up with until you can state it freely without thinking about it. Let your passion and excitement do the talking.
Website + Social Media
Fun fact: before LCN Events (my wedding business) page was @lcn_events, it was @quoteswithcourtney where I shared encouraging, motivating and inspirational quotes about life and my journey to starting a business (which is even more ironic, because I now do that same thing on my podcast page @emipodcast).
With my business brand being so personal, I quickly grew a following of like-minded community members and the transition into @lcn_events was very seamless.
What am I saying? You don’t have to have the name or specifics figured out to start growing your community.
Fun fact: before lcnevents.com was lcnevents.com, it was courtneyshale.com. I started out with a free website, eventually purchased my domain name, and then once I got serious with the business, I bought lcnevents.com and started making the transition.
Hell, I built my first website two years before starting a business was an idea I was taking seriously.
I didn’t even know much about social media or websites at the time, I was just unafraid to ask for help. Sometimes that is all you need to do and the answers you are looking for will come to you faster than you think!
When the time was right, I slowly started making my content more wedding-focused and the rest was history.
My Best Advice
If you made it this far, I hope this content was super helpful and more than you were expecting. I had to stop myself because I got carried away and realized this post is already 8 pages… SO sorry! I aspire to be the mentor I never had, and I would say my mission was accomplished with this post!
Here are some of my favorite one-liners of advice I want to share with you:
- It doesn’t have to be perfect to start- take inspired action now!
- There will never be “ideal” circumstances- don’t give yourself excuses!
- The best way to learn is by doing- don’t be afraid to try things out!
- Work on one thing at a time- it doesn’t all have to be done right now!
- Remember, focus on the strategy and fundamentals BEFORE the fun stuff
- When it’s time to set prices, charge what feels aligned /even energy exchange – your time and knowledge are precious commodities!
- P.S. send me an email if you want me to write a blog on the topic of pricing – email@example.com
This blog post easily could have been longer and there is a lot of info that I didn’t get into, otherwise I might have been writing a book! What is listed here, though, are the critical steps to get you started.
If you read this and want to know more or have questions, I highly recommend you check out my coaching program.
Feel free to fill out the contact form and tell me a little about yourself and your dream business – let me be your guide!
I will leave you with this- starting a business and being an entrepreneur is hard. It is going to take everything you have. But what’s worse than giving up? Wishing you never did.