7 Things One Year of Business Ownership Has Taught Me

If there’s one thing I am, I’m honest. Sometimes to a fault. If you want honest feedback on how a pair of pants fit, I’m not the person who will tell you that they fit great, skirting the point that they’re baggy in the butt and too tight around the waist. I’ll tell you to change.

I don’t think I was always like this. But for the last almost 1.5 decades, critiquing has just been an essential part of my line of work. I’ve learned to take it, and give it honestly, just the same. In critiques, the point isn’t to criticize the person or project or design. It’s to give good, intelligent feedback so they can make it better.

And like feedback for improvement, I also like to openly share my experiences. I don’t really feel they’re unique, but talking honesty about them may help someone in the same situation learn something new about theirs and make it better.

So here we are ONE YEAR after officially starting my business -albeit a side-hustle at the time - and I thought I’d share the top things that this last 365 days has taught me. It’s mainly so that others who have just started theirs, or are still just thinking about starting a business, can maybe learn from my mistakes and from my achievements.

1. Just start.

This is my first bullet because this is a motto I learned and I tell everyone who will listen. If you do not start, sure, you have nothing to lose. BUT if you do not start, you also have nothing to gain. So, just start. This time last year I still had the one friend I was doing a little logo work for here and there, but no “clients”. And I still wasn’t registered with the govt. (see below), BUT I consider this my anniversary date because this was the month I finally just started.

I took some cash I had saved (no debt in this business), and purchased my first year of website hosting and domain name with Squarespace, and started just writing up a list of tasks I could make a part of my business. Now I only do a handful of what I originally wrote, BUT that list got my juices flowing and helped me to continue to pull together my website. If I hadn’t just started, I’d still be without business, no Instagram, and no clients.

No cash saved? Ok, well work what little side hustle you can to start saving up, or you can get a free website, or even just a Facebook page. But excuses aren’t going to get you anywhere.

2. Getting legit is great, but paying taxes sucks.

It’s probably the sh*ttiest part of owning a business, but becoming a legal entity with your state not only makes you sound more professional (hello, LLC!) but protects your personal assets from your business assets in the event that god forbid you go bankrupt or get sued. The sucky part is that you gotta make sure you continue to put a portion of your revenue away for taxes. Of course, whether you register or not you still need to pay taxes, so make sure you plan accordingly.

My accountant (not necessary if you’re good with your books and organization, and you’re the only one getting paid), said to put away close to 50% just to be safe. It’s my first year, and since thankfully we’re not too dependent on my income, so it’s easy to do. But keep that in mind when you’re pricing a service or a product - close to half of what you pay yourself will need to go to taxes!

3. Have a few key systems in place before you get too busy.

I created a blog post a while ago with a list of tasks you should have in place before you get started, and I pretty much still stand by it. Wish I had them a little more cemented, and more of these in place before I started, but like my first bullet says, “just start”. So I did, and don’t regret it.

4. Get well organized.

I’m a really organized person. But for some reason, I didn’t really have a plan for how I was going to organize, save, and share back my client’s work. Once it started coming, I kinda just put it on my computer, and sometimes on my Gdrive too, but nothing was, and kinda still isn’t, consistent. Like my systems, I wish I had planned this out before getting too deep with too many clients, and now I need to go back and reorganize.

5. Really think about how much work you can take on.

Granted, I had 2 little kids when I started my side-hustle, while working a full-time job, and then baby #3 joined us pretty early on in my business venture, however, I did plan for how many hours I could take on each week (“Ok, so I can work evenings, when the kids are asleep, during naptime, and weekends…”) However, things don’t always go as planned. So with a baby who didn’t nap well, me being too exhausted to work too late, and at the same exact time Brooks was born, my husband’s workload increased substantially, I wasn’t pulling the hours I thought I would.

Thankfully, I didn’t have clients knocking down my door. I managed with what I had, and at a point, decided not to take on anymore new ones. But even today, I don’t work the hours I once thought I’d be able to - that is, not yet. As soon as this 6 month old starts dosing off for longer stretches I may be able to fit some more time in.

6. As long as you’re productive, it doesn’t matter how nice your office or your hardware is.

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know my laptop is failing. I’ve been using it for as long as I can, but when it restarts itself during a video conference with a client, you kinda give it the last straw. You may also know my office is far from Pinterest worthy… BUT you know what? Besides a conference call delay, I’ve been able to get all the tasks I need to get done without problem. Sure, I may not have as many likes when I post a picture of my free IKEA desk I scored on Facebook, and it’s certainly not getting any re-shares, but I’m also making the same amount of money, and not spending it on new stuff for my office… yet. I do have plans to invest a little, but I’ll be using my husband’s old laptop (new to me) once I save everything over, and I’ll be painting and decorating myself.

7. Do what’s right for you and your business.

Let me say it this way:

Name the top 3 closest grocery stores to your home. For me, it’s a Klein’s Shop Rite, a Safeway, and another Klein’s Shop Rite. But you know what? Today, I drove all the way to Aldi’s Grocery because they’re WAY cheaper, and have just as good produce as anywhere else. (WAY cheaper meaning my grocery bill is only 2/3 what it was, even with Walmart, and most of which is healthy veggies!)

“OK, so what?”, you say. “They’re a cheaper grocery store.” Yeah, but do you know how they get their prices so much cheaper? 90% of their products are Aldi branded but meet big brand standards, they have a cart “rental” system so they don’t need to hire someone to continue to collect carts, and encourage customers to bring their own bags by charging for their paper or plastic bags, all of which create savings that are then passed onto the customer.

My point? They are running a grocery store - one of the most common and long-time businesses there is. BUT they’re doing it differently, and the customers notice!

There are tons of others out there doing services or selling products that are similar to yours. Trust me, I’m right there with you. Figure out what sets you apart, and what’s right for your business, and of course makes you happy. However, I’m pretty sure if it makes your customer’s happy, it’ll make you happy too

For me, it’s that I have a strong love for branding, but I have the long-term professional experience to back it up. Not many can say that. So sure, I can do graphics, and social media, and websites, but I understand how to make it cohesive, and how to incorporate and strengthen your brand. How many can say they worked with well known brands for 13 years?

I hope this information has taught you something, or if anything given you a heads of of some things you might encounter on your first year of business. Have you started yet? Or are you in your first year? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email - I’d love to hear and respond to you.

 
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Taking Maternity Leave Owning A Business

I understand this topic doesn’t truly fit everyone. But I also know there isn’t a lot of information out there for those who run a small business and need to plan a self-scheduled maternity leave. So here’s how I did it.

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When my husband and I found out we were expecting Baby #3 in January 2018, we knew so many things would change for our family. Besides adding yet another mouth to feed and tiny human to love, one of those things would be leaving my full-time, 13-year, nine (well eight) a.m. to five p.m., corporate career to stay home with our 3.5 year old and 2 year old daughters, as well as this new edition, a baby boy who was due in September. Daycare for three kids is just too expensive.

We actually calculated we could fortunately live off my husband’s income alone, but would need to cut back our monthly spending quite a bit. But being able to bring in additional income would allow us to continue our lifestyle and continue to pursue our personal financial goals. And to top it off, owning my own business has always been a dream of mine. I just never had the big push to do it.

However, this time, the new baby on the way somewhat forced my hand (in a positive way) and I finally took the plunge and started Lauren Austin Creative, LLC in March of 2018.

But there were so many questions. Here I was with a really new business, my first one, and I was planning on taking a leave of absence only 6 months into it. There were so many questions I had to answer.

How much time should I take?

Corporations, like the one I worked for over the last decade, have mandated state and federal laws they must follow regarding leave, and additional benefits they offer. For my past two children’s births, when I was working for that corporation, I received 6 weeks paid leave and the option to take 6 weeks of unpaid leave as well, which fortunately for my family I was always able to take. But when running a personal business, even just 6 weeks off isn’t feasible - both for both my clients and for me. That’s 6 weeks of time away from my clients and 6 weeks of time I’m not being paid. Plus, that’s 6 weeks that I’m leaving the business I’ve worked hard on the last half year, and I didn’t want to backtrack on any of that time I put in.

At the same time, bringing a new baby home is life-changing, and sleep depriving, regardless of how many kids you already have. I was scheduled to have yet another repeat C-section, which results in a more involved recovery. I knew I’d have to take at least some time to heal and get into the flow of a new baby. Considering this, plus being that I’m a virtual, online serviced-based business with part-time hours at the moment, I factored I could take a full 3 weeks off before diving back in and getting into the swing of things.

But of course, figuring out a number is going to be based on the type of business, how you work, how many customers or clients you have, and how long you feel you can be away from your business.

And there’s also more options than cut and dry, opened and closed. You could take half-days or come back part-time. Or if you feel up to it, answer emails, but not do work. And although I seriously thought about subcontracting my work during this time, I didn’t feel like it was needed. But subcontracting to someone else while you’re out, or at least for your day-to-day work can be valuable. Definitely research your options.

How do I prepare my clients? 

This summer, a few months after I officially launched Lauren Austin Creative, I was already working with a few clients. I was open and honest with them about the baby and taking leave from the beginning, and reassured them the plan was to organized and plan for them as much in advance of my leave. And you know what? They still hired me knowing I’d be taking time off in September.

Sure, it took more work up front on my end, creating and scheduling social media content moving around 3 weeks of hours to the earlier part of September and into October. But it allowed my clients to continue on as regular while I was actually out. And of course I can’t thank them enough for being flexible and understanding enough.

Again, this is going to depend on the type of client you have, and how much work you typically provide them. Do you need to stay in contact with them? Are you more project based, or do you help them daily? All questions you’ll need to ask yourself.

How do I prepare my business?

My clients always come first before my own business. But I also knew I couldn’t leave my “virtual baby”, my business, in the dust either. So a month or two in advance, I started letting my subscribers, followers, and potential new clients know my plans as well - that I’d be “closed” for a few weeks, but that they could always contact me for when I return. And so that I didn’t seem to fall off the earth, and that I stayed in my customers daily viewing, I started creating and scheduling my own social media content to post while I was out.

I also knew, like this post, I’d probably have to do a little work while on leave, but I honestly enjoy it, and love having an outlet to work on that doesn’t involve feedings and rocking a baby (although, there’s plenty of that great stuff too!)

If you have employees, which I do not, that definitely gets quite complicated. Either you can leave someone trust worthy to manage the business while you’re gone, or keep a solid foot in the door on your leave to keep your employees going.

If you’re a product based business, you could always close down shop, but take orders, letting customers know they won’t ship until your back. Or you could bulk up all your handmade wares before you take leave, so all you’re doing is shipping during leave, still making sales.

Do what you want.

The one thing that’s true for all small business owners is that there’s no cut and dry answer, and no one-size-fits-all. Being a business owner, you make your own rules. Take leave, don’t take leave. Take a week or take a year. Or just cut back hours, or change services. Bring the baby to the office, or hire child care. There’s so many options for you.

My biggest piece of advice is to plan, and plan early. The more time you have before your leave, the better organized and prepared you can be, and in turn, run the best business you can.

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