I own and operate an online business that offers a service, not a physical product. Through my journey, I have learned a few business lessons that can be extremely useful for those just starting out with a similar business model.
When you start a business, you will need to spend money, but it is important to invest in the right areas. I’ll admit, my personality leans toward perfectionism and liking shiny new things; this has definitely influenced my business in both positive and negative ways. One negative aspect being that I spent money where I shouldn’t have.
Here’s a look at seven areas where I could have spent my money more wisely:
To be clear I run an online business – online. I was so excited to get started I got busy procrastinating on all the pretty things I wanted for my business. This included a new logo and new business cards (500 to be exact). I’ve probably given out 50 of those cards to-date. Don’t get me wrong, business cards are useful if you have a brick and mortar location; or for giving your phone number to that hot guy at your local coffee shop.
Lesson Learned: When you are just getting started with limited funds, if you purchase and handout business cards your number of first dates will probably increase, but you should focus on what will really move business forward instead. Consider need vs. want. Will you use these?
Another form of procrastination took form in my company website. I paid for approximately four different website design themes and purchased a course on how to do-it-yourself (DIY). Then I spent hours and hours (time is money) creating a website that was live for only 3 months. I suffered from the common thought process of a new business owner: I should get new clients before I design a website, but how will customers find me with no website? And how will I pay for a website with no clients? It’s the chicken vs. egg dilemma at its finest.
Lesson Learned: As business owners we put a ton of pressure on ourselves to occupy multiple roles: graphic designer, social media expert, web designer, administrative assistant, marketing maven … Oh right! and that “thing” your business actually produces. You have something people want, so you need to get busy doing that thing! Start with a simple company website, scrounge some cash to hire someone, and get over negative thoughts. Reach out to those around you to support your grow, initially. Don’t get so lost in the pile of “business hats” that you fail at the business, itself.
Too Many Online Courses
I admit … I am an excited, forever learner that is over-educated in things that I find interesting. I learned that most startup courses have tons of value. Some even teach you how to fill each role in your business. But …
Lesson Learned: Consider the utility of a new online course. Is it what you need right now?! Don’t get ahead of yourself. Don’t get overwhelmed. You have time to learn everything you will need to make your business successful, so there’s no need to take it on all at once. Instead, ask yourself: “What is the one thing that my business needs the most right now?”
Loads of Business Books
Again with the information overload. Zillions of business books bought, started but not finished, or never cracked open at all. You only have so many hours in the day. You have a ton of roles to cover and lots of work to be done. Regulate, my friend. Regulate.
Lesson Learned: Be an effective information gatherer. Skim books for the information you need most. Read the whole damn thing if that is what you need for your business. But prioritize this area of your personal development as an entrepreneur.
Professional photos were a big issues for me. I was so nervous about getting photos because it was my first time paying a professional to do it. Meanwhile, I needed the photos to build my personal brand online … for the Internet (the big, judgmental Internet). I thought to myself, “They must be perfect.” But today, I have beautiful photos that I don’t use. And they didn’t hit the brand image I needed for my website, they didn’t capture my vibe.
Lesson Learned: A photo is worth a thousand words and branding is super important. Decide what your business style will be before you hire a professional photographer.
Lame Networking Events
Some paid networking events can be amazing and will help you create important connections. Others aren’t equipped for a lot of mingling; while many are prone to bringing all types of similar people to them (which frustrated me in the beginning). It’s great to meet like minded entrepreneurs, but not like minded people within the same industry! I didn’t need to know more business coaches. I needed to meet new clients. Choose networking events wisely. You may not get clients, but collaboration, partnership, or mastermind opportunities instead. So in that case, certain networking events might be worth it.
Lesson Learned: Define your networking purpose before attending an event. Look at past events and tweet prior attendees about it for input. What is your desired outcome? Who do you hope to meet?
Every small business owner wants the latest gadget, app, or computer. I had a slow laptop when I started out. It was effective for writing and watching movies; nothing more. Loading a page from the Internet? I would go make a pot of coffee while that was happening. So, I bought an iPad. It was a cheaper option and worked for most of what I needed at the time. Then business started to increase and I needed a new computer. So, I bought it.
Lesson Learned: Think about the end game. I know it might sound counterintuitive, but don’t waste money on cheaper short-term fixes when you will eventually have to trade up to a device that meets your needs. Consider what is worth the investment for your business in the long-term.
Ultimately, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that this whole business thing is a process. You can’t get too hung up on what isn’t happening. Focus on where you are now in business and appreciate it because this stage won’t happen again. You are learning and everything will come together if you work hard and remember that you have something wonderful to offer. People need what you have. Believe it.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Makenzie Chilton is a business coach and the owner of Makenzie Chilton Coaching, a consultancy that aims to help people find careers worth working in and to love their Mondays. She believes that you deserve to start your day with excitement. To fill it with tasks that have meaning for you, and to fall asleep knowing that you left a piece of your heart on this earth, that you made an impact. We all have something to offer and we should thrive and be excited about our work. Connect with @makenziechilton on Twitter.
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