Starting up a creative business can be a whirlwind of information overload and to-do lists running off the page, with no end point in sight. You could fill up a 300-page journal with pending tasks to conquer, look into, or give further thought to when it comes to starting up a business. And let’s face it – if you’re like most people and you’re working in another job that monopolizes your time, effort and focus each day, it’s incredibly difficult to get everything in properly prioritized order, and decide where to start.
It’s all about smart planning and understanding the transition process as you start your business and essentially bring it into the world. So if you’re finding yourself stuck in your chair with big ideas, and little traction, these 4 exercises will help you inject some momentum and focus into your business planning.
Create a Vision for Your Business Using the 5Ws
You have to know where you’re going before you can build an effective plan of action to get there and start taking steps toward that end goal. Many people start with a couple of ideas for their business or product verticals, without much of an understanding of how they all will mesh together under one brand. And this is absolutely normal. Your products and services are often the first things you find yourself marinating on when you’re thinking about starting a business, and maybe even the inspiration for starting the business in the first place. “I want to start a business where I can use my creative background to offer art classes to kids in Brooklyn,” for example.
The first thing you really want to do when you’re trying to get your business idea off the ground is to clarify what you actually want the business to look like. This is your vision, and it’s centered around the 5W’s – “Who”, “What”, “Where”, “Why” and “When”. Answering these questions and really thinking about it will open up those ideas and help you get a better sense of what you want out of your business, and how you envision it taking form.
- WHO do you want to serve (your core customers)?
- WHAT do you want to offer to them (your products or services)?
- WHERE do you want to offer these (geographical reach, physical or online presence, etc.)?
- WHY is it important to you to engage with this audience (your value proposition)?
- WHEN do you want to start doing so?
Keep in mind as you’re going through this exercise that your business will continue to evolve and even change in its first few years, and the vision you created earlier on is likely to shift in any of the areas above as you learn more about your customers, what you can offer, and the market demands. You may have multiple answers for each of those questions, and that’s fine, as you will continue to narrow it down as your determine your niche. For right now, simply use this as a rough blueprint from which you can start building your brand.
Start Working on Your Financial Strategy
Part of figuring out what that transition will look like is knowing your financial situation inside and out, so that you can effectively plan out how you will juggle the financial responsibilities of being self-employed. You will want to create a hypothetical budget for getting your business started based on:
- Your estimated monthly personal expenses (rent, utilities, loans, credit cards, health insurance, transportation, spending money, etc.)
- Your estimated one-time startup costs (business licenses and registration, website design, new computer, supplies, etc.)
- Your estimated monthly business expenses (rent, supplies or materials, subscriptions, advertising costs, transportation, etc.)
It’s hard to know exactly what your business expenses will be, but make an educated guess (and don’t shy away from overestimating). Once you have an idea of how much money you will need each month to run your business and uphold your basic living expenses, you can determine what kind of income you will need to have on hand, or have coming in steadily to support you through the startup period. And keep in mind that on average it takes a business anywhere from 12-36 months to start turning a profit; so unless you’re absolutely certain that your business will be an instant profit machine (not likely), make sure you have a reliable alternative income source to fall back on. PS – here’s a nifty budgeting tool to help you out.
Know What You Want that Transition to Look Like
Creative ideas aren’t much good without the physical action to bring them to life. You figured out the 5Ws of your vision, and now it’s about determining the “HOW”. If you’re working in another career or job while starting your business on the side, it’s inevitable that you will eventually hit what I refer to as the “tipping point”, where your business simply can’t grow any further without dedicating more time and energy to running and nurturing it; chances are, you only have so much time in your week that you can dedicate to the business without it impeding upon your “day job”. Clients will require your attention during the day, meetings will need to be held, and emails will start to pile up. So what is the reality for you when you hit that plateau point?
This is essentially about figuring what what the next phase is for you, whether it’s saving up enough money to leave your job and dedicate all of your time to working on and in your business, taking on a new job that offers more flexibility for your schedule, or perhaps taking on a part-time job that provides a steady income, but leaves you several full days per week to focus solely on your business. Whatever your financial or professional situation, this is phase 2 of the process, and it’s an exciting stepping stone toward your end goal of building a sustainable, creative venture!
Determine Your Timeline for Launch
Once you have a solid grasp on the financial responsibilities of launching your business, and how that will shape your move into the next stage of entrepreneurship, you can determine a reasonable timeline for transitioning into your business part or full time. If you’re chomping at the bit to leave your job and start channeling your creative energy into your own venture, it’s a huge motivator simply to have an end date in sight.
Mark it on a calendar, or put it on a piece of paper and keep it with you in your planner or above your desk at home, somewhere where you can reference it visually and remind yourself on a daily basis that all the hard work and planning you’re doing is bringing you one step closer to that bigger, better, more creatively fulfilling end goal.
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