Starting your own business

@BarCampEarthToronto, Brooke Gordon, serial entrepreneur

  • Business plan. You are trading money for value. You need to be able to clearly articulate what you are translating money into. If you can’t articulate that clearly to friends and family, you will never be able to do that for investors or customers.
  • Find a mentor. Ask your professors who they know. Go to your local business development center. Find people who have started their own company. You’ll be shocked at how many people will spend half an hour talking to you. Camaraderie. If you ask for help, you will find help. You’ll probably find someone who can share with you best practices.
  • A business is a business is a business. Get yourself an accountant. Make sure that you’re following all of the business rules that apply to the industry. Find out what all the tax rules are and the task breaks are. There are some absolutely fantastic R&D tax credits that people don’t know about. I tried doing the books myself when I was starting out, and that’s a mistake, at least for the first time. Make sure that your accountant knows small business. Whatever you get, make sure you ask for a receipt. You must have copies of receipts. Keep good records of things. That’s what your accountant is there to help you with – your industry. Any time you ever hire someone, interview them, and interview more than one person. Do your due diligence. There’s a lot of risk, but there’s so much reward. You want to mitigate that risk. When you’re doing that mentorship, ask around. Do not ask a corporation. Ask other people who have their own business. Ask for referrals and references. Ask!
  • Do a lot of time at first with your wording. Value proposition. Your company name is an important thing. Try and think about things like common misspellings, pronounciation misspellings, how you want to be perceived. Everything you do, you test. Whatever you choose to do, write it down, go and tell someone. Take someone out for coffee and say “Here are my thoughts; what do you think?” Constantly ask, ask for genuine feedback, and ask for honest criticism. People you trust care about you and don’t want to see you fail. Other people aren’t going to give you that feedback. Good or bad, thank them for it, and take it to heart.
  • Don’t use your name as your company name.
  • There are free seminars that you have access to that you wouldn’t believe. Go to learn and listen and connect. Be very open to that and continue going. There are lots of things out there for free.
  • Government grants and loans for people under 29!
  • Check out TD and Royal Bank for programs for small businesses. They can mitigate their risk if they act as advisors. Don’t discount your bank.
  • Networking. Part of the reason why Dana and I met. Bag design. Women’s networking group.
  • BNI. Business Networking International. Givers gain. When you go to a networking group, don’t just talk – listen. Introduce yourself not just with your name, but with what you do.
  • “So, tell me about your business.” You can tell a lot about a business by how well they can articulate their value. “What do clients of yours look like?” Keep thinking about how your clients might be good clients for them. That’s what networking is.
  • For example, our value is phased implementations for projects.

Know what your value is. Know what your customer looks like. Create
scenarios. Find out what a typical customer looks like, so you can
tell other people what you look like. Make sure that you get involved
in networking. Get those government resources.

Dana: Clients.

  • People respond when you’re not aggressive or overbearing. Your product is not impressive. Treat people as people, not sales.
  • Keep a client database. I used to work for a customer-relationship management system. I missed it when I started my own business. I love Sugar CRM, which is online and open source. Get something so that you can keep track of your clients. Schedule your followups. That way, they don’t only hear from you when you’re asking for money. You want to show that you care about them. Make sure your clients feel valued. Send an actual paper thank-you.
  • You don’t want to be too close to your client also, because sometimes you have to say no. You really should say no. A project that you thought you should’ve said no will drag you down and kill you. If you have that feeling, don’t do it. Or get really good specs.
  • Get a lawyer to review your contracts. Do not do this yourself.
  • Put everything you can on paper before you implement it.
  • Protect yourself with sign-offs.
  • Don’t go into business with friends, if you can help it.
  • Go through scenarios in order to mitigate risk.
  • Engineering entrepreneurship and education at McMasters! Experiential program. ALWAYS take notes and offer to do the first draft. Then get your lawyer’s intern to look at the stuff for you. Ask lawyers what you’ve missed.
  • Outsource your overflow capacity.
  • Know enough to know if the people you’re outsourcing to do good work.

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