New Businesses

20 things to do before starting a business

Something is changing in the professional world today. Many professionals are quitting their corporate jobs to work for themselves.

Technology has made possible to run a business from anywhere and reach clients everywhere. Parents can now look after their business while they spend time with their kids. Young professionals can travel the world and take their jobs with them.

New business can be started with a minimum investment, few resources and no inventory. Setting-up a business is now easier than ever, but it also requires a lot of planning.

In today's post I'll take you through 20 important things to do before starting a new business. If you're thinking about quitting your 9-5 job and starting your own business this post will help you get ready for the transition.

1 | Choose a business name + entity

Coming up with a great name can be difficult, finding a name that is not taken even harder. To find my own business name I used this Name Brainstorm Worksheet, by Fuze Branding, with 4 simple steps for naming your business.

As soon as you find the name, register your business name and your domain before someone else takes it! If you are based in Australia, you can download my Business Registration Checklist (for Australian businesses).

2 | Find your ideal niche

Trying to sell anything to anyone can result in selling to NO ONE. Finding a niche will give you an opportunity to offer a more refined solution for particular problem or satisfying the needs of a specific group of people, where the competition is lower. In this other post I take you through the process for finding your ideal niche.

3 | Decide on your product or service offering

There are thousands of products and services available to consumers today. To enter the marketplace with a new product or service, you must be able to offer something that's different or better in some way than what's already being offered by your competitors. Don't try to sell anything, only sell your best product or your best skill.

4 | Study your competition

There are other professionals who are probably helping your ideal client to resolve the same kind of problems that you are. Know who your competitors are and how they are already helping your ideal client, and come up with other different and better solutions for the same client.

5 | Find your differentiation

In today's over-saturated world, it’s very difficult to get noticed. The only way to stand out in your market is by finding a differentiation. Find what values and benefits you can deliver that no one else can.

6 | Establish a clear brand direction

Purpose is what differentiate a superficially pretty brand from a meaningful brand with strong personality and clear direction. Define your brand direction by putting together your vision and mission statements, as well as your core values.

7 | Design an effective logo

Your logo is the heart and soul of your brand. It identifies your business in its simplest form. In spite of its simplicity, a logo is always full of meaning. An effective logo design needs to be simple, memorable, timeless, versatile and appropriate. In this other post I share my process for designing a effective logo.

8 | Build a professional visual identity

Your brand can be styled by adding other visual components like typefaces, colour, patterns, etc. These components are assembled within a set of guidelines - a style guide - to determine how to apply them in different mediums. You can download my template to create a professional visual style guide here.

9 | Brand your business

Every piece of communication that your clients see speaks volumes about the way in which you do business. Make a list of documents that you will need put in front of your clients and create branded templates, email signatures and printed business stationary to show how much you care about your business.

10 | Invest in high quality images

Images are the most powerful way to deliver your message and the number one thing that can kill your business image if they are not right. So hiring a professional photographer to get high quality photos of your products, your work and yourself will be the best business investment you can do.

11 | Decide your pricing

Pricing is a sensitive aspect of any business that can significantly impact in people’s perceptions. Before starting your business you need to determine how much your products, time or expertise worth. Make a price list and have a quote template if you sell services. You can download my quote template here.

12 | Choose payment system and set conditions

Invoicing clients and getting paid on time are challenging aspect of any business. Before starting your business, decide your pricing structure, payment methods, return policies - if you will sell products - etc. In this other post I shared some strategies to build steady income as a freelancer.

To invoice clients you can use free invoicing software like Wave and Paypal.

13 | Start a cashflow statement

As soon as you start your business you need to keep a record of the money flowing in and out to know how much much you made after expenses. If you're unsure about how to keep track of your finances, you can get my Finance Planner for small businesses, available at my Etsy shop.

14 | Get your contract ready

If you're selling professional services, a contract is extremely important to ensure a satisfactory professional relationship between you and your client. This document clarifies the terms of service and sets expectations and limitations. You can get a Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services from AIGA.

15 | Establish a communication workflow

A good communication process can set the basis for a successful - or disastrous - project or client relationship. Having a good communication process in place will save you time and headaches and deliver a great client experience. To learn how to streamline your business communications also read this other post.

16 | Launch your website

Your website is the base of your communications and needs to go live before creating any other brand element, as you will want to include the website address in your stationary and other marketing materials. To ensure you get your website right from the beginning read this other post, with things that you should do before getting a new website.

17 | Create social media profiles

Social Media can be powerful and cost-effective tool to promote your business. However, keeping your profile active requires time, dedication and resources. Before taking your business to social media, determine first which platform is best for your business.  You can learn more in this other post on Which Social Media Should I Choose To Promote My Business?

18 | Start a mailing list

Your email list is the most effective way to connect with your audience after visiting your website. Building an email list can take time and a lot of work. Connect your website with an email system, such a Mailchimp, and start collecting email addresses as soon as your new website goes live. Learn more about how to build your email list in this other post.

19 | Promote your business

Let everyone know that you are about to start a new business. Then you can develop a 12-month marketing plan for your business that combines some online and offline actions To help you create a comprehensive marketing plan you can get my Small Business Marketing Planner at my Etsy shop.

20 | Find your first client

You won't officially in business until you don't have your first client. Your first referrals and clients may come from people close to you, so ask your family and friends to help you promote your services or shop. If you can't find any client start doing some charity work to build your portfolio or simply help people with small jobs. Most of us started that way.

If you dream about having your own business but don't feel confident enough, join my Creative Business eCourse. I'll show you all the secrets to build a creative business from scratch and set yourself for a huge success!

My 6 module program has been designed to fast track your creative business and help you achieve an elusive work-life balance.




Lessons learnt from my first year in business


I like hearing stories about how new businesses were started. I always find it interesting and inspiring to hear about how intrepid start-ups chased dreams, followed their own paths and managed to do what they love for a living. Some of them succeeded, others failed, but every single one made mistakes and learned lessons along the way.

Now that my business has survived it's first year I thought I would share my own story too. This isn't exactly about how I got started, but about the mistakes I made and the invaluable lessons I learned during my first year in business.


Lesson 1: It takes time to build a business

My first mistake was to think I could have my business up and running in three or four months, when it took me almost an entire year. I completely underestimated the amount of time it would take.

Why did it take me so long? Because before I could even start looking for clients there was a lot of pre-work and preparation that had to be done beforehand around two essential areas:

1. Understanding my market

After working for more than a decade in marketing for large international corporations I thought I was ready to help small businesses with their marketing activities. However, just because I learned a lot about marketing and design during all those years in the corporate world, I didn’t know anything about small businesses yet.

I had to take time to research my target market and understand specific small business owner’s motivations, needs and challenges.

2. Differentiating myself from everyone else

I also had to understand how competitors were already helping small businesses with marketing/design solutions and what I could do for them that others weren’t already doing.

So by way of differentiation, I decided to target creative businesses. I studied how photographers, designers, artists and lifestyle bloggers work, the insights of their businesses, the reasons why they do what they do, and so on. And I finally found a clear direction for my own business: a design studio specialised in lifestyle clients.

Once I had a good understanding of my market and a clear direction for my business, I was ready to build a brand and a website to appeal to this market. I was also able to find opportunities that I hadn’t initially considered, like selling online workbooks and planners to help those creative businesses plan their marketing activities.

In conclusion, knowing how to “do the job” is not enough to start a business. Having a deep understanding of your market is key to avoid important mistakes that can make you waste money and time. This understanding requires a lot of pre-work before you can even register your business name.


Lesson 2: Simplicity is key

Over a decade I worked in different areas of marketing, covering branding, digital marketing, event management, etc, I was confident I could help small business owners with their marketing activities in many ways. So this one was my first business description on my website:

“Grafika Studio is a full service agency that provides comprehensive branding, design and online marketing services in one-stop shop so that you only have to work with one agency.”

That description was followed by a long list of marketing and design services that covered many different areas of my own expertise.

After a few months I changed my website description and reduced the number of services to Branding and Web Design only. Why? Because the wider the offer is the more confusing the business gets.

So after a few months offering help with different marketing areas I decided to focus only on the services I know best. This way I can ensure the best quality in everything I do.

Top quality restaurants usually have very brief menus; they don’t offer a bit of everything, but only their very best dishes, the ones that set them apart.

Does this mean I cannot work with clients from other industries or help them with other areas of marketing? Of course I can, but branding and design services for creative businesses are my specialties.


Lesson 3: Relationships are essential to build a business

When I started my business I thought about so many ways to promote myself, but I overlooked the most important one: networking and relationship building. Until I realised that word-of-mouth and referrals were actually the way in which I was finding my clients.

In the professional service industry, people choose small businesses because of whom they know, and because they think they will make a great team working together. People want to know you before working with you.

So if you’ve just started your business, launched your website and are relying just on, for example, some SEO marketing to find your first clients, you may be about to learn the same lesson than I did: relationship marketing must be the priority in your marketing agenda.

Even if an SEO guru manages to take your website to the top of the ranking, this may lead more traffic to your site, but your website may still be failing to convert visitors into clients.

A relationship-oriented website could improve your conversion rate and get more visitors enquiring about your services. What’s a relationship-oriented website? They're websites designed to engage visitors by starting conversations – through blog comments, social media, chats, etc, and to stay in touch after leaving the website – through newsletters, social media pages, and more.

In this other article on relationship marketing for small businesses you can find more information about how to build a relationship-oriented website.

Every small business owner is in a continuous learning process since they start a new business. Learning from mistakes and improving your business on a daily basis is vital for any small business to survive.

Are you a small business owner? What lessons did you learn from your first year in business?