Category Archives: entrepreneurship

Experience report: Naming my company!

Ten months after incorporation, I’ve finally come up with a name for my company. I wanted to combine the different aspects that resonated with me and with other people during conversations and events. Consulting was easy to do under my own name and with a numbered company, but if I want to expand to channel opportunities to other people, it would be interesting to see if I can build something bigger than myself.

One of my favourite words for describing what I’m working on is Experiment. I like it because it combines openness and deliberate exploration, where even the challenges are opportunities to learn. Because this is an experiment, I don’t have to over-commit to a single option. I can try something and see what happens.

For this next experiment beyond consulting, I’m thinking of building a business around visual summaries and sketchnotes. The visual aspect of it is fascinating. Somehow these sketchnotes are more engaging than blog posts or talk videos. I think it would be wonderful to see where this goes.

I’ve been collecting different name ideas. Straightforward names like Visualize Business? Something punny, like Sketchup & Relish (turns out there are a few groups by that name)? Visualisto (playing on “alisto”)? Visualysis, referring to analysis? I looked up Latin roots and played around with prefixes.

After turning over all sorts of names in my head, I started playing with this one on Tuesday night: Experivis.

Why Experivis?

I like the way this made-up word lends itself to multiple explanations. Experience –> Visuals is the one that’s the most relevant to this next experiment. Experi- also evokes experiment, and combined with vis-, it’s kinda like saying, “Let’s try things and see.” It’s abstract enough so that I can use it for other ideas, too.

(W- said, “It sounds like a drug name!” I said, “Maybe people will think of experts or experience.” He said, “People tend to think of pros instead of experts.” “Provis?” “Now that definitely sounds like a drug.” So Experivis, then.)

Okay, now what?

I did a quick check to see if the domain name was available, if it was in use on the Web or as a trademark, and if there were any unfortunate meanings or translations. Only two pages of Google results, and no one was using it as an exact word.

Then I slept, because it’s good to give your brain time to play around things like that.

When Wednesday morning came, the name still felt okay. Great! I spent a few hours setting up the domain, registering it as a “Doing Business As” name in Ontario, and putting together a quick website at ExperiVis.com with a custom theme based on Pitch. I disabled the parts I hadn’t built yet, created some pages, imported some content from my main blog, and fiddled with the text. Whee! It’s fun to spin up a website so quickly.

Some next steps

  • Explore logo ideas
  • Draw the value proposition as a sketchnote
  • Add more links
  • Write and organize useful content

Level up!

Business experience report: Filing taxes!

I filed my corporate taxes and HST today, well ahead of the deadlines. The money will earn negligible interest in my business bank account and I don’t need it for cashflow, so I’m better off paying the government early and not missing any deadlines. I’m still looking for an accountant to work with in the future, but fortunately, my first-year taxes (no home office deductions, etc.) are simple enough that TurboTax looked like it would do the job.

After reading and re-reading and re-reading the T2 corporate tax return it prepared, I took the plunge and e-filed it with the Canada Revenue Agency. For good measure, I also filed my HST taxes even though they’re not due until next month.

Paying that much in taxes triggers the monthly/quarterly installment requirement, which happens even though they don’t send you a notice. This has tripped up enough new business owners that people have written lots of forum posts about it. I’m glad I found out about that requirement—it pays to watch small business boards! (Actually, it would probably also pay to have a great accountant, but I’ll keep looking.)

There are several options for how much to pay in each installment, but according to the Internet and to the CRA agent that I called to confirm, the safest way is to pay a proportion of what you owed the government the previous year. That way, even if it’s less than your actual taxes owed, you won’t owe interest.

I think I’m eligible for quarterly installments of federal tax, but to be sure, I scheduled monthly payments for federal tax and scheduled quarterly payments for HST. I’ll pay a little extra in terms of bank fees, but it’s worth the peace of mind.

It is a large chunk of money to set aside for taxes. I don’t expect to make as much income this fiscal year because I’m forcing myself to experiment with more uncertainty, so it’s good that I’ve left practically all the money in the corporation.

So there’s another business milestone – surviving taxes! It’s better to plan for a future audit than to assume there won’t be one, so I’m happy to get my books in order. Next year, I’ll learn more about capital cost adjustments. It would be good to have an accountant who can explain these things and make sure I’m doing things right, but it’s good to know these things too!

Someday, when I need to get money out of the corporation, I’ll learn about payroll deductions and T

Thinking about wild success

The more I explain this 5-year experiment to others, the more I understand it myself. =) I thought I’d spend some time thinking about what I wanted out of experiment and what wild success looks like, so that more people might be able to help me along the way.

I think the period of five years because it usually takes about that long before a business can be solidly established. Shorter, and I might mistake the fluctuations of figuring things out for long-term difficulties. Longer than that, and I might drift aimlessly without self-imposed goals or deadlines. Telling myself that I’ll take a close look at where I am and reevaluate my decisions in five years means that I can plan and budget for a fixed time period. Controlled uncertainty.

So where do I want to be on February 19, 2017, the 5th anniversary of starting my own business? What do I want to be able to say? What do I want to have done? Let me fast-forward to my future 34-year-old self and think about what that blog post might look like.

Here we are, five years after I started. I’ve learned a ton in the last five years. It turned out that making things happen isn’t anywhere nearly as scary as I thought it might be. I’m looking forward to bringing even more awesome ideas to life.

I’ve been so lucky to start with something that people immediately wanted and needed. Through consulting, I was able to help people take their businesses to the next level. I worked with amazing people who not only helped me take advantage of my skills and experiences, but also helped me develop new skills. We successfully transitioned all of my responsibilities, and they’ve turned that work into wild successes of their own.

Consulting allowed me to self-fund further experiments. I shared opportunities with other people, working with virtual assistants and other team members in order to get even more out of each day. In the course of training them to take over many of my processes, we built an operations manual that makes it even easier to bring new people on board. Many entrepreneurs’ growth is limited by their ability to trust and delegate, and by the network of people they have. Although I’ve also had my share of rough relationships, I’ve had the pleasure of building an amazing team with skills and passions that complement my own, and I reached out to an even wider network of people I can help and who can help me. Many of the people I’ve worked with have grown their own businesses into something they love doing.

Although I was tempted to continue consulting because it was familiar and comfortable, I eventually pushed myself to try other business models. I learned how to validate business ideas by talking to people and prototyping concepts, instead of simply building something and hoping people will come. It was also tempting to continue with the first new business as a job, but I pushed myself to grow out of it, bringing other people in so that they could make the most of those opportunities when I learned even more about creating businesses.

I learned so much along the way, and I’m glad I’ve been able to put them together in different books – at least one for every year of my experiment. I’ve shared what I learned about networking, productivity, delegation and automation, visual communication, entrepreneurship, business, and making things happen. Taking notes along the way really helped, and so did pushing myself to have interesting and novel experiences. I’m glad that so many people have found the books useful, and I’m sure my parents get a kick out of seeing me in print.

I’m now much more comfortable with reaching out to people and inviting them for lunch or coffee. I always learn lots of things in the conversations, and following up has become its own pleasure. I even host events so that I can bring people together.

In terms of paperwork, my attention to detail and comfort with numbers really paid off. The accountant helped me keep all of my books in order, and the CRA auditor found it easy to verify my records.

In my personal life, I continue to be the luckiest person in the world. W- is fantastic, and home life has somehow managed to keep getting better and better. We’ve got a solid financial foundation, and are excited about the possibilities.

What do the next five years hold for us? I’m not sure yet, but I’m sure it will be a good adventure.

My future 34-year-old self on Feb 19, 2017

We’ll see how it goes!

Planning how to learn about validating business ideas

I’ve been taking notes at business events and sharing them on my blog. People tell me that they really like the notes. They’re engaging, memorable, and easy to share. I want to see if I can start capturing and sharing paid events as well, eventually turning this into a visual communication business (sketchnotes! videos! workshops!) that could provide opportunities for other people to create value. Other people have built businesses around graphic recording and explainer videos, so why not?

What do I need to do in order to explore this? I need to find out:

  • Who my clients would be: I think I can add the most value to marketing agencies and event planners who handle lots of events and can package this into their service. I can also talk to conference organizers in order to validate business value and demonstrate demand.
  • If they’re willing to pay: Do they perceive enough value? What can I add to make it a clear win?
  • If they’re able to pay: What does the budgeting lifecycle look like? When and how should I pitch to make it easy for people to say yes?

So let’s start with a narrowly-defined niche. I want to focus only on business-related webinars, conferences, presentation series, and workshops, and only for companies whose messages I can stand behind. (No get-rich-quick schemes!) I might even scope that down further – drop workshops, because those are much more interactive.

Possible value proposition: Sketchnotes offer an engaging, visual way to follow up with leads and increase the reach of your content. They are easy to review and to share. (Hmm, can I start testing and quantifying these things?)

Instead of offering graphic facilitation, which tends to require a larger canvas for greater interactivity, I’ll offer digital sketchnotes on my tablet PC. The advantages: quick setup, no distractions away from the speaker, no materials cost or logistics (blank walls, etc.), quick turnaround – images are available the day after the event. If people want the visual impact of a 3’ or 4’ sketchnote mural, I can refer them to graphic recorders or facilitators who work in Toronto or elsewhere.

How can I go about exploring this idea?

  • I can talk to people I know at digital marketing agencies who organize webinars and nurturing campaigns. I can describe my idea, ask them if it’s something that would help them add value to their clients’ campaigns, and offer to sketchnote a few webinars in exchange for statistics and feedback.
  • I can sketchnote the events that interest me a lot, and build connections through that. Who knows, maybe a business will be interested in sponsoring me independent of or in addition to sponsoring the event.
  • I can contact event organizers and see if they would be interested in having me sketchnote their event in exchange for admission. As I get used to negotiating, learn how to demonstrate value, and build relationships with event organizers well in advance of conferences, I might transition to being paid for this.
  • As I learn from conversations, I can set up part of my website to focus on those services.
  • I can build a collection of visual communication-related articles – partly for professional growth, and partly to share with others.
  • Why am I sharing all of this? Aren’t I worried that someone’s going to steal this business idea?

If you put in the work of testing this idea and it works out well for you, fantastic! I think the world is big enough – and even if it turns out not to be, then you’ve done the hard work of validating the idea and making this happen, and I don’t need to. I can move on to the next business idea that I want to build. =)

Besides, by sharing, I’m probably going to run into way more people who are awesome and who can help me learn how to make things happen than people who want to just scoop the idea. See? I have perfectly selfish reasons for thinking out loud.

Celebrating my fiscal year end; planning how to improve

When I incorporated my business last February 19, I chose September 30 as my fiscal year end. I’d read a number of forum posts that recommended avoiding December 31 as the fiscal year end because accountants are swamped with personal and sole-proprietor tax returns. Picking September 30 meant that I’d have no problems finding an accountant for return preparation, and they might even have time to sit down and chat with me about tax planning.

I’m a bit of a personal finance geek, so I was glad to dig into the numbers for my own business. When I started the business, I talked to several accountants in the city. I think most expected me to turn up at year-end with a shoebox of crumpled receipts. Since I couldn’t stand the thought of waiting that long to find out what was going on with business, I purchased Quickbooks, scanned copies of all of my business receipts, typed in transactions, and hired a virtual bookkeeper/accountant who could answer my questions as I got things going. I liked working with her, so now I’ve asked her to take on more of the bookkeeping and to help me prepare the tax return. I think it’s made a huge difference in terms of my potential stress level around the fiscal year end. =)

We’ve been working on closing the files. My accountant was surprised at how low my expenses were. She’s been sending me questions like: Where are the rest of your bank fees? I only see $1.80. You should have entries for every month. What about TTC transit passes? I told her that since I was using RBC’s eBusiness bank account, I really did only have $1.80 in bank fees (deposited paper cheques), and that I’d been biking to work, so no transit passes either. (Except for the one in March, which I’ll probably claim as a personal tax credit.) She said that she thought she was frugal.

When I made the decision to leave the comfort of a large company for my own adventure, I expected to spend a few years building sweat equity – investing time into learning the things I need to learn while drawing on my savings. Clients talked me into consulting immediately. It’s been a thrill to be able to help both really big and really small organizations using a combination of different skills: from technical work such as Rails, Javascript, HTML, and CSS to soft skills such as enterprise social software adoption, and even newly-developed skills in illustration and animation.

I’ve far exceeded my initial financial projections, but I know it’s because I’ve been staying close to what’s familiar. My experience at IBM prepared me for consulting, and advice from mentors and friends helped me transition into independent practice; but there are other lessons I’m looking forward to learning as well. It just means that my 5-year-experiment is probably going to be a 7- or 10-year experiment!

So, the things I need to keep somewhere on my radar: taxes due by November 30, HST by December 31. I’ve set aside money to cover those expenses, so it’s all good. Actually, I haven’t taken any money out of the corporation yet, since I figured it was simplest to get things off the ground first and then introduce payroll or dividends in the following fiscal year. One step at a time!

In the meantime, I’m making myself spend more (and spend more wisely), learning how to substitute money for time through connection, tools/automation, training,  and delegation.

For example, I want to connect with other entrepreneurs and help them make things happen. I can wait for the Brownian motion of bumping into each other at tech events to gradually help me build that network. Or I can speed it up through lunches and coffees and follow-ups, especially if I take things beyond a perfunctory e-mail conversation and invest real time and energy (maybe even other people’s time and energy!) into helping people.

I want to try new tools to see which ones will support my workflow well. Sometimes that means paying for tools that turn out to be less than what I want, but the things I’ll gain from the tools that work out will more than pay for those.

I want to learn more about drawing, sales, business, and other skills that can help me make even more of a difference. I don’t want to just sign up for courses or coaching. I want to have a clear, action-oriented plan for implementing what I’m learning.

I want to learn how to delegate and to share the opportunities that come my way. That means that I’m going to slowly transition my processes over to other people, even if I think I can do it better or it doesn’t take me that much time to do it. I can always take those tasks back if I need to trim my budget, but if I can document my processes and learn how to take advantage of other people’s talents, I think I’ll be able to grow a lot more. Many entrepreneurs struggle with going beyond what they can do with their own time or talents. Knowing how to share the load – and better yet, building a network of people I can trust – is more than worth the investment. Besides, if I get better and better at delegation, and if I use that time productively, I can grow the business even more.

What can the 2012-2013 fiscal year for my business look like? I have four more months of consulting planned at three days a week (although I’m taking December off, so technically, that’s just three months of consulting). I have a professional speaking engagement in November. I’ve got the beginning of a possible business idea around sketchnotes, and I want to practise validating it. For that, I’m going to want to set up more lunches and start more e-mail conversations. And I’m going to follow up on that budget, seeing if I can invest money in growing.

Both business idea validation and investing in people/tools/processes involve risk. At the end of the next fiscal year, there’s a chance that my balance sheet will be slimmer – but also a good chance that I’ll have learned a lot along the way, and possibly at a rate cheaper than an MBA. Besides, who knows? I might turn those experiments into earnings too!

So that’s where I am and where I want to go. Thank you for being part of the adventure!

Sketchnotes: Different Types of Entrepreneurship, Kerri Golden, Allyson Hewitt (MaRS ENT101)

Click on the image for a larger version of sketchnotes. This talk is part of the free MaRS Entrepreneurship 101 series (webcast and in-person session every Wednesday).

Feel free to share this! You can credit it as (c) 2012 Sacha Chua under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada licence.

Different Types of Entrepreneurship, Kerri Golden, Allyson Hewitt (MaRS ENT101)

20121017 ENT101 - Different Types of Entrepreneurship - Kerri Golden, Allyson Hewitt

Check out my other ENT101 sketchnotes, or other sketchnotes and visual book notes!

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