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Starting your own business, Part 2

...and counting. Here's a little update on what I've been busy with lately, and what's still in store. Maybe it can help you get ideas for your own next steps in running your business, or maybe you even feel like sharing your experience by leaving a comment. Thank you in advance!

Last time I left you with the firm intention to work on a proper business plan. Remember this is a tool not only for when you're looking for funding, but also a roadmap to refer back to along the way to keep checking your progress (financial, marketing, product or otherwise). I'm happy to say that I spent a considerable amount of time on my first draft. I thoroughly researched my market, had a look at the competition, what how and when I was going to offer to whom, and wrote it all out in what I considered nicely put-together paragraphs, citing references and providing quotes from various reputable sources. I also came up with estimates for the various financial statements, which to me was the hardest part of the whole thing.

This is as good a time as any to share with you that I learned two new words related to the preparation of financial predictions: WAG and SWAG. The former refers to a "wild ass guess", the latter to a "scientific wild ass guess". I find these terms very funny, in a maniacal sort of way, because they are so darn appropriate. Anyhow, I gave it my best SWAG, was conservative in guessing income and more generous on the expected expenses and eventually presented this first draft, a labor of love, to the SBA consultant.

He swiftly ripped it to shreds.

In a constructive criticism sort of way, obviously, and I thank him for it because he had a point: my market is a difficult one to get into, so it will pay off in the long run to compartmentalize and find an appropriate niche as soon as possible. As you may have guessed, for me that means expats, because I am and have been one for so long myself. "Write Coach what you know" is the motto. And since I gained that perspective, it has been easier to focus my activities and channel them in a way that makes me feel more productive.

I've revisited my business plan and rewrote it in bullet points. I'm attending meetings of international clubs, I've filed for a Limited Liability Company and obtained my employer identification number (both without the help of an online incorporation service, since the necessary forms are readily available on the secretary of state and IRS websites). I participated in accounting and tax workshops, made more use of the networking sites I'm a member of, and I've even joined Toastmasters in order to work on my public speaking and leadership skills. I am still looking for professional insurance cover and a business bank account (suggestions are very welcome) and will further start contacting companies in my area, contact information of which I've obtained through the various chambers of commerce.

When you read this, are you thinking: "enough with the preparation already, let's go out there and get things done!"? That's a fair point. Depending on your personality you'll be more comfortable with either taking it slow or taking the bull by the horns. Either way, there are lessons in both approaches and I'm going to leave you with a few I've learned:

1. Find your niche and make yourself comfortable. 2a. Consult with various experts in their different fields, but do follow up with your own research. 2b. Listen to as many people as you want, but make your own decisions. 3. Enjoy the ride and don't put too much pressure on yourself; even Rome wasn't built in one day.

Til next time!

Free Image: Bogdan Lazar

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Starting your own business, Part 1

Here's something I heard in a lecture recently: "I'm SO looking forward to retirement! Absolutely canNOT wait." - "Aha, so you're not really enjoying your job then, are you." Well, if it's time for a change and you feel ready and inspired to become self-employed, let's have a look at the bigger picture.

First of all, I'm not going to try and talk you out of it. You're clever, you know if being self-employed were easy, everybody and their mother would be doing it. But they're not, and there are valid reasons to remain in employment: a steady paycheck, paid sick-leave, regular working hours, a union to ensure proper working conditions, weekends and paid time off to name but a few. Who in their right mind would give all that up for 100-hour-weeks, fitful sleeps, panic over monthly bills and private insurance, and inevitable cutbacks in lifestyle?

Entrepreneurs, that's who. Those amazing creatures who seem to radiate motivation, passion, knowledge, joy and, let's face it, a usually coffee-induced buzz. Entrepreneurs, creative geniuses, who have great ideas and see possibility where others don't. Who, even if the idea isn't that great, make things work through tenacity, perseverance, optimism and opening their mind to learning opportunities.

If that sounds like you, there's plenty of information on the web if you'd like to give it a shot and make it big under your own steam. Do you have a great idea already? Do you know of a specialty niche that's not being serviced yet? Or maybe you're most interested in setting your own hours. Because let's face it, once your business is established, you still have to work to keep it going, but there are definite perks (job satisfaction, anyone?)

Something that I've come to appreciate is that starting up my own business is not quite as linear as I had thought. Yes, there are checklists I can follow, and some things (like opening a business bank account) can only be done after certain other things (registering with the Secretary of State and obtaining an EIN from the IRS, for instance). But on the whole it's a very fluid process where many things happen (and can be prepared) at the same time.

It's easy to get discouraged and give up in the face of that mountain of work that precedes the glorious freedom of self-employment, but children of the information age that we are, rejoice: we are not alone. Somebody has done it before us, and they've documented how! I strongly encourage you to check out your local libraries, the internet, and your local SBA chapter. The folks at the Small Business Administration are friendly and helpful in all areas of the start-up, be it legal, financial or marketing advice. They've encouraged me to take a closer look at developing a business plan, even though I'm not looking for a bank-loan, so that's what I'm going to do now.

Til next time!

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