By The Creative Anthology Staff
Make no mistake, even small business can be a big pain in the ass, and it can be all too easy to give up hope when you’re solely responsible for everything from establishing your carefully curated social media feeds to ensuring that your stylishly decorated walls meet the safety specifications handed down by the draconian order of public security officials who seem to want nothing more than to harsh your budding business vibes.
The good news is that all those long, sleepless nights when you're just too busy to grab a bite to eat, the hours spent learning skills you never thought you would need to know, and the seemingly unending lifetime of wading through line after bureaucracy-laden line, become so much more than worth it in that final moment when you throw open the doors to your adoring public for the very first time.
How to Start a Stylish Business
Plot A Course - Well before you take your first steps towards building out your stylish space, or perfecting the manufacturing process for your carefully crafted products, you're going to need to get to know your end goals a little better.
Even if you've already got a vision in mind, if you're ready to do this right, then the devil is in the details, and there's a whole lot of details you're going to need to nail down before you're ready to start building things up.
What kind of space will you legally need to run your business?
Do you need a license from the state or local government?
How much cash are you going to need to invest to get things running?
Will you need employees, or can you get started on your own?
Find out what resources you're going to need, and have at least a rough outline of how you're getting from here to there. Knowing you need a special license for your new business now can save you pain later, unless you're ready for a sudden and unpleasant plan change when your shiny new building has the wrong kind of ventilation or isn’t zoned for the liquor license you need.
Creative Tip: While it may be hard to find the time now, finding it later is going to be all but hopeless, and going in blind could end up costing you a lot of time, and money, that neither you nor your brand new business can afford to give up.
Getting The Digits - The next step on your journey to the top is to make things official with the first people who need to know and the last people who you care to tell, the federal government.
If you're ready to take the plunge into getting your beautiful new business up and running, you're going to need to get an EIN RTFN so that you can be down on the books and keep your legal ends on the up and up.
Your EIN (also known as a Tax ID Number) is basically the Social Security Number for your business.
It is a unique identifier used by the federal government to track everything from permits to taxes, and after you get done filling out all of the paperwork (everything from setting up vendors, to getting a business bank account so that you can get your fiscal fitness up to par), you'll know it better than your own SSN.
Creative Tip: Fill out your registration forms online and as early as possible to get the entire process started. Once it’s submitted, sit back and wait for the red tape time to fly by (read: crawl by at the speed of a rush hour traffic jam) while you move on to the next part of your project.
Bankrolling It - While you're waiting on your EIN, don't just sit back and idly daydream, start putting some serious thought and effort into where you're going to get the cash for this venture.
Real talk, business isn't cheap.
It doesn't matter if your big idea is to start the fanciest restaurant in town or your own online boutique, if you want everything to be perfect come opening day, you're going to be shelling out some cold hard cash, and that means you need to have a pretty penny built up in your own accounts, or know where you can get funded on short notice.
Creative Tip: From investors to loans, there are plenty of options for snagging up some quick cash if you're confident in pitching your plans, or have something to offer for collateral. Unfortunately, loan payments mean a fairly sizeable cut in cash flow right when you need it the most, and investors mean profit sharing down the road, so pick your financing options carefully, and pinch your pennies where you can to keep costs well in hand.
Banking On It - Once you've done your time, and your EIN has finally found its way to your well-appointed doorstep, you're going to need to snag yourself a way to keep your business funds and transactions separate from your personal account.
That means it's time to take a trip down to your favorite banking branch and ask about opening up a business account.
Every institution is a little different in terms of what you'll need to know, but your banker should be able to walk you through any balance requirements, fees, and differences between your shiny new account and your personal checking that you need to be aware of.
While you're on the topic of banking, if you're going to be in need of a processing system for payments, now's the time to ask your bank for recommendations, some banks work with specific vendors, while others may have an in-house solution, but don't just jump on the first one they offer, shop around and compare rates and fees before you make any solid decision.
Creative Tip: Outside of banks, there are a number of third-party vendors, including clover, square, and Shopify who all offer options for accepting both cards and cash in physical and digital shops, so don’t feel like you’re beholden to your bank just because they’re where you store your cash.
Spacing Out - Your new business baby is going to need some space to start growing if you ever want it to become a full-fledged company, and that means it's time to do a little real estate hunting.
If you're running a physical store or company, you'll need a commercial space, but a digital company may not need a full-fledged set of offices just yet, so you may be able to save a few of your hard-earned dollars for building out your digital real estate by setting up shop in your own home, or in a shared office environment.
When the time comes to pick something out, you'll need to put in a little careful consideration of your needs and find the right location at a price that can keep your monthly budget balanced.
For any potential space, look at neighboring businesses (another bookstore right next to yours will spell split profits for both businesses), foot traffic, and in space amenities.
Creative Tip: Always be sure to ask about the responsibilities of the build out before you sign any contracts, or you may find yourself paying for a plumber or electrician you weren't expecting with funds already budgeted for another part of your project.
Build It Up - It's time to throw on your civil engineer hat, and take a crack at doing a little bit of floor planning.
Walls, fixtures, and shelving, oh my, unless your space is already fully built out, you're going to need to do some serious work to get everything up to code.
Once you're sure you've got everything planned, and your CYAs double checked, pass it off to either your building's new manager or find a contractor of your own if you're on the hook for the buildout process.
You may need to go through a few revisions before you get the exact results you need, but once you've got your aesthetics down, and everything up to par legally, you can start to think about the finishing touches.
Branding, decor, and signage will all play a part in your end design to give your new space a unified look, and wow your potential clients from the moment they walk through your stylishly designed doors.
Creative Tip: Be sure to triple check all of the city and state codes and regulations before you build, no one likes an unexpected fine because of a missed clause.
Picking Product - Once your space is ready to go, it's time to fill it up with whatever you're planning on selling.
If you're looking to break into the world of retail, you'll need to have a few shipments from wholesalers well on their way to you so that you can get those shelves filled up before opening day, and if you're looking to run your own products, you'll need to turn up production to eleven and get your goods out there ASAP.
If your business is service based, never underestimate the power of a good upsell, and don't leave your shelves bare just because physical goods aren't your main focus.
If you've got decorations going in, make sure that you keep them on brand, and don't clash with your wares; creating a space that is confusing isn't going to drive your sales up.
Creative Tip: Remember that not all products are physical, and just because you're not planning on selling something tangible doesn't mean that you don't have menus and services to plan in lieu of a physical product.
Hiring Season - Don't leave the process of building your team for the last moment, hiring isn't as easy as you might think, especially if you'll be bringing on team members that need specific licensing or training that you can't provide on site.
Having a team standing by in the wings to spring into action will take some of the stress off of your shoulders in the run-up to opening day, and between wrapping up the buildout, getting your decorations set up perfectly, and finalizing any advertising, you’re going to have your well-manicured hands more than full in those final hours.
Start your search through online boards like ZipRecruiter, indeed, and monster, and keep an eye out in your local community for potential candidates that come with a recommendation from other local business people and organizations.
Creative Tip: Prep your questions, and hold mock interviews with friends and family before you start your first real-life interview to get used to being on the boss side of the desk.
Building Buzz - In addition to the many, many other tasks you're now facing, it's time to do a little advertising to get a groundswell going.
If your space has a storefront with high foot traffic, you can use window clings, and simple signage to at least get things started (though you're going to want to put in a bit more effort if you're trying to build towards a blowout opening day), but if you're out of the way, or your office isn't exposed, you'll need to start weighing in with other options.
For local businesses, try mass mailing campaigns, door hangers, and spend some time at local events to find your ideal audience, and get them interested in what you've got to offer.
If your business has got a more digital bent, local campaigns probably aren't going to win you the kind of interest you're searching for, so you may need to spend a little time casting a wider net.
Social media advertisements work wonders for pre-existing businesses, but if your homepage is just a landing page right now, you're not going to see the sort of return on investment that you're hoping for.
Instead, now's the time to focus on building up your mailing list.
An email capture placed on that landing page now can transform those Facebook and Pinterest ad dollars from wasted to cold hard cash later in your website's life cycle, so make your best optin offer, get those names and addresses, and keep your new readers interested with regular updates to hold their focus.
Creative Tip: If you’re planning to use door hangers or flyers, check if your city allows for the distribution of marketing materials first, a pre-opening day citation is not a good look.
The Big Day - Once your space is coming together, your team is on standby, and your products are starting to fill out your once bare shelves, it's time to think about how to start things off on the right foot.
Opening day is your big celebration, and your first chance to seriously impress your soon to be clientele and competition, so you'll need to run through a few last minute checklists to make sure that everything is ready to go right from day one.
Make sure that you've got your whole team trained and ready, invite the local press, and anyone who worked with you to get your doors open, and make sure that all of your carefully chosen decorations and signage are in place.
Creative Tip: If you're planning on bringing in the media or busy personalities like your local representatives, get on your planning early enough that they'll be able to work you into their schedules without inconvenience.
Watch Your Follow Through - Once you've got past the party, and are starting to see your steady stream of customers come flowing through your doors, it's easy to sit back and feel as though you've got this business thing in the bag, but you're far from done if you want to see lasting success rather than a momentary boom.
Now it's time to start getting feedback from your clients and staff, fine-tuning your product or merchandise, and making sure that the customers’ experience lives up to the expectations you promised when hyping things prior to the big launch.
Opening day is just the beginning, and no matter how beautiful your business is now, there's always room for improvement and expansion, so don't dazzle them once and let them walk away, keep your clients coming back with a consistently fantastic performance.
Creative Tip: While you may have cause to celebrate, you don't have cause to stagnate, so keep up your hustle, and start thinking of your next expansion now to build your business from a small operation to an entrepreneurial empire.