Yesterday our little (but growing) agency celebrated three years in business. For some reason, three seems like an important number—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the longer a company has been in business, the more likely it is to stick around. And right now, I’m truly filled with gratitude for our clients, our team, and our family and friends who have supported us each step of the way.
This is not my first foray into the entrepreneurial life. I have started companies and ventures going back to childhood (I recall selling soap that I had painted with watercolors door to door when I was a kid—as imagined, it was not all that successful!). In my twenties, I started a small agency in Toronto prior to joining a large corporation, and when I was laid-off in the dot com bust in San Francisco, I started a small promotion company focused on small businesses and musicians. While it wasn’t a roaring success—although it was meaningful work—it sustained me financially until I secured full-time work again.
Starting Blu Pagoda was different. In some ways, it may have been even riskier—leaving the security of a large corporation (that I did enjoy working at for many years) in my forties. This time I didn’t have youth on my side. But this time I was bringing with me years of gained wisdom and experience, a commitment to learning (a beginner’s mind), and a community of fellow entrepreneurs and creative thinkers of all varieties—and, most importantly, a chance to thoughtfully create a business that serves a broader purpose of leaving this world better than we found it.
I’m often asked by friends and former colleagues who are choosing a new path—such as becoming a solopreneur or starting a side hustle—to spend a few minutes to share my advice on starting a new venture. Here are what I believe to be the six most important steps to consider when you’re thinking about starting a business:
- Have a defined client target (or ideal client/customer avatar) and know what type of business you’re going to create. If you’re not entirely sure, look at programs offered online or in your local community—they are often worth the investment. When I was first getting Blu Pagoda rolling, I invested some time and money into Marie Forleo’s B-School and it paid for itself within the first six months.
- Decide on a mission or purpose—it is what will sustain you and keep you motivated in the really challenging moments. You can revisit it when you need to.
- Establish an LLC or S-Corp. If you’re serious about getting started, you’ll want to have some form of corporate structure for three key reasons—protecting your personal assets, protecting your personal tax information (an EIN vs. a SSN), and tax planning. Of course, you should consult your own accountant or attorney (see next step) for your particular situation. Also, getting an LLC set up does not have to be super expensive—services like LegalZoom offer packages for establishing a corporate structure.
- Find a great accountant and, as your business grows, a great attorney. The guidance from our small business accountant has been invaluable to us over the years—not to mention the time savings.
- Set the rules for how your company is going to operate: what kind of projects and clients will you take on, how do you decide which freelancers and consultants to bring on, what will your guiding principles be? Every week in my planner I have written across the page “YOU make the rules for your business.”
- Find your tribe. A trusted community of folks willing to collaborate and share ideas, and just generally be supportive as you set out on your new journey.
Of course, every person and business is different, but I hope some of these steps will help you if you’re considering a new venture.
For us, the next big milestone is five years—about 50 percent of businesses with employees make it to their five-year anniversary. We’re now in our fourth, so as we say around our virtual office, “onwards and upwards!”