When you first step into the world of online business it can be overwhelming, to say the least. There is so much you “need” to do, or “should” do when you have an online business.
I want to encourage you, if you are just starting out, congrats to getting this far –but don’t get distracted with all the “shoulds” cause trust me, there’s a lot.
One of the things you may think is necessary to invest in, is branding. As a brand designer, having a polished, professional brand can really take your business to the next level, but it’s not the most important thing when you’re first starting out.
Let me share with you 6 things I have found to be the most important and necessary when starting your business.
Starting a business can be daunting, so I encourage you to write down your goals. Start with a big overarching goal, then break that down into 3 smaller goals to get there, then daily tasks. It all boils down to getting super specific and taking action every single day.
The 6 things I’m going to share with you are both very easy and very hard. What makes them easy is that they sound relatively simple. What makes them hard is that you need to do these things daily or often, which can, at times be discouraging because you can always grow and improve, rather than check them off a to-do list.
1. Make real connections
When I say make real connections, I mean have a real conversation with someone who you are interested in learning more about. A quick “nice pic” on an Instagram feed won’t get you too far.
Making connections and finding friends – especially in the business space – is SO important. They are the ones who you can trust, who have your back, who will be the foundation and the support you’ll need when you need a helping hand, a word of encouragement, or someone who just understands your industry or challenges.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of friends, peers, and those you can count on. For me, it’s been game-changing. Not only have my friends encouraged me so much especially when I feel down, they’ve also partnered with me in projects and sent work my way.
I have a dear friend who is a copywriter, Amanda of Rough Draft Solutions. We met through a Facebook group and I have yet to meet her in person. When I was making some website updates last year, I asked if she would look over my site and give me some copywriting tips. Not only did she do that, she shared a Google doc with me and showed me which phrases I could improve, elaborate on, and she explained her reasoning behind each comment she had for me.
Now, THAT is a friend who cares. You want people like that, who not only will offer their encouragement but who truly value your success.
When you do make an effort and reach out to connect, be sure to follow through. It’s way more easy to say “we should hang out sometime” than to say, “what’s your availability this week?” But practicing follow-through is huge and necessary when making connections, finding friends and making lasting relationships.
2. Be the best in your field
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of marketing, promoting yourself, and being on all the social media platforms, but it’s vitally important that you make time to practice your craft and hone your skill.
This is the one I struggled with in the beginning. I was so concerned about everything else I wouldn’t be working on website platforms or perfecting my graphic design skills but ultimately that’s what I was selling!
It sounds counterintuitive and such a no-brainer that it may seem ridiculous to mention, but it’s very important you do this in the beginning. Don’t let those other things distract you from being excellent in your field.
When you are detailed, passionate and talented, those qualities come through in your work and you WILL be recognized. Qualities such as those take time to develop, so I encourage you to make the time.
Whether you’re working on a side hustle and maintaining a full-time job, or just wanting your hobby to one day become a business, work at your skill every day.
3. Market Research: a solution to someone’s problem
No matter how great your ideas are, you need people who want your solutions.
So do your homework and TALK to people who you would like to work with. Are they interested in what you have to offer? Does it make sense to them? Is there something you need to change about your offering so it’s more appealing? Maybe you just need to tweak some copy - but ultimately, you want to know if what you’re offering is needed and wanted.
How do you find these people? Start with people who comment on your blog or social media accounts - if they’ve interacted with you in some way, they already know a little about you and what you offer.
Try Facebook groups or emailing someone who has shown interest in what you do or even someone who you may think may be interested in what you have to offer.
The key is to not be shy. This is market research and THIS will shape all of your offerings and products to be the solution to the problem of the people you talk with.
I do want to mention that we often hear that you should fine your “dream client,” but when you’re starting out you don’t know who that is. Even if you think it’s one type of person, it may be someone completely different. I recommend working with a variety of people. Only then will you have the actual experience of working with different types of people so you can narrow down who you want to target.
So now that the daily practices are done, let’s get down to more practical and actionable items that can propel you forward faster in your business journey.
4. Start an email list
I wrote a post about starting your newsletter that goes into detail about what to write about and the platforms out there and you can check that out here if you’re interested, but it’s important to know that when you’re building your list, you’re collecting people who are interested in hearing from you who are in your control.
When you collect email addresses, it’s the direct line between you and your potential customers. It’s not owned by Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.
Having control of your tribe is the way to go because they're already interested in what you have to say and you are directly tied to them. The more you offer information your audience wants to hear the more they will trust you and you can eventually sell your products or services to them.
Even if you don’t have a website, you can collect email addresses from people who are interested in what you’re offering. By sharing on Facebook, or your social media platform of choice you can begin gathering information of people who are potentially interested in your products or services.
5. Get a functional website
Having a website is very important, but notice I used the word "functional." When you're starting out you don't need anything crazy fancy, you just need a home base where people can find you online.
When you first start out I assume, you googled “best website platform to be on” or "web platform for beginners" and what comes up? Probably Wordpress… cause it's the most customizable and robust and it's the most inexpensive.
BUT, is that the best platform for you? I understand this dilemma, cause when I first started I was on Wordpress, it’s sort of the thing everyone does when they first start out, then they realize it’s not the best for them, like I soon realized for myself.
Now, if you code and that’s your thing, by all means, get on Wordpress. But, if you’re like me, you want something functional, easy to work with, and something you can customize easily without jumping through a ton of hoops to get your desired outcome.
If ease, professionalism and ability to customize are your top preferences for a web platform, I recommend Squarespace. If you wanna take a look at a compare/contrast of website platforms, check out this post.
Squarespace is one of the best platforms due to the amount of control you have over the look AND the ease at which you can make changes. A couple other great benefits are once you have a design, you can easily change templates and also when you design on the desktop view, it automatically configures for mobile.
Something I love so much is that Squarespace has an integrated blog, making blogging a breeze. Another nice thing is that there is built-in analytics, so you can track how many people are coming to your site, you can easily see your popular content, and you can find out how people are finding you. It’s super helpful.
When I started out, I went with Wordpress, then a variety of other platforms after that trying to find one that worked for me. When I finally got to Squarespace, I loved it and regretted the wasted time I spent on other platforms.
Maybe you will change web platforms in the future, but if you’re just starting out, and you want control, you want to make changes quickly and easily, and you want a simple blog solution, go with Squarespace.
6. Save and invest
One of the traps we fall into when we start our business is we spend money (without meaning to); a little here and there for DIY tools, courses, online education, when what we SHOULD be doing is saving.
Save your money for when you’re REALLY ready to do it level up your business professionally.
When you’re first starting your business, what can happen is you end up doing is spending more time and money than you ever thought you would for something that ends up being mediocre. You don’t need to go spend a lot of money in the beginning on branding and a professional site when it’s just not necessary.
So I recommend going simple in the beginning and focus on producing great content, hone your craft, and if you have clients, give them a great experience. The longer you’re in business, the more you’ll understand your client, your positioning, your service/product, and your voice.
Right now I'm working with a branding client and she's done exactly this. She is a photographer and she started her business several years ago without even a logo. She got to the point where she has outgrown her site and she is ready to take her business to the next level and she has a great portfolio and testimonials to do just that.
So when she came to me she knew what she wanted, she was ready to start from scratch with all the graphic design elements to collateral items, to brand photography to a completely new web platform, and she had saved to invest. Now that is smart.
It’s easy to get side-tracked with what everyone else is doing and what other people say you should do, but stay strong! Practice these things daily: Make real connections with people, be the best in your field, do market research, then you can start building your email list, get a functional website, and be saving so you can invest in the future for when you're ready to take your business to the next level.
I’m excited for you in your business journey and I would love to hear what you think of this list:
Is it hard for you to cut things out that aren’t necessary?
What are some challenges you’re facing as you’re starting your business?