In the second part of “The In Between” series we are going to show you why you shouldn’t skimp out on boring content and informationi.
By nature, in any given situation I first asses the situation, and then automatically go into problem solving, organization and delegation mode. This is not an auto-instinct for most people and in most cases I’ll say lucky to those of you who missed this trolley ride. But being 100% real right now, it’s 2017. Accessibility for anyone, literally anyone, to become a business owner is within reach. The opportunity to share and capitalize on any given idea is available.
If you decided to take your idea to the chopping block, this is something that the bravest part of you believes to be true. As a self funded passion-pusher balancing working full time and building my brand, I will proudly protest that I am a fan of the less is more mentality. This isn’t just about how you delegate tasks or shred minutes by scheduling tweets. I am about to share with you a few of the most important decisions you will make along this transitional paved road to a profitable business.
The glitz and glam that outshines the foundation building will do it’s best to distract you from laying a solid foundation. And as a newfound friend, I’m here to tell you, whatever you do, Don’t Skimp on the Boring Stuff.
You’re flying high on an idea that keeps you up at night. You’re telling all your friends about it, they think it rocks. You’re feeling confident and ready to take on the world.
The In Between: RULE #1. Protect what’s yours. Period.
This is a non-negotiable. From someone who dreams and schemes all day long, ideas come to me as natural as breathing. And because of this, I casually share ideas without any hesitation. I confidently and openly welcome someone to bring any of these ideas to fruition. Why? Because I’ll have a dozen other ideas today and a dozen more tomorrow.
But my BIG ideas. These I keep a little more under wraps until they are organized and protected. I take the time to formulate a strategy on how they’ll be presented to the world. I advise you do the same.
I’m talking about the spine shivering topics of legal protection and internal structuring. This is the lull and dull. The stuff you WANT to bypass as it is about as exciting as watching paint dry. But as boring as it may be, these decisions are a few of the most important ones you will ever make.
Whether you decide to seek help from the outside or take on the tasks yourself, make sure you begin by laying your foundation with basic legal protections and organizing your infrastructure.
Getting organized is for the grand majority of people. You’ll find yourself ahead of the game if you go about the un-fun stuff the right way and set it as a priority from the beginning. And when it comes time to expand your team, pitch to investors or partners or hand over your tax information to your accountant, the preparation will be minimal.
Here’s a few things that every beginner business owner should start with to build a foundation for a well oiled machine that runs a world rocking product or service.
- Push the Legal to the front of the line
This is something that is:
- Like speaking a complex foreign language and
- Not necessarily what the everyday Joe or Joella who’s just wants to take their recycled fabric sweatshirt designs to manufacturing and sell them through an online marketplace would label as “fun.”
But, the last thing you want is to find out a few months into hard work and brand building is that your business name was already taken or that you’re losing a cringe worthy amount of dollars because you didn’t have the proper paperwork to seal that deal on a high dollar partnership. Making sure that you have your ducks in a row BEFORE you start handing over those designs to the manufacturer, the buyers and the consumer is key.
Begin by doing some research and identifying your needs for the type of business that you are seeking to build. There is a selection of ways you can establish your business so make the best decision for what is right for your long term needs in order to save time, money and work down the road.
For some, an online a la carte pick services like those offered through LegalZoom, Nolo or Legal Match provide an affordable, minimal fuss rate and pretty speedy turnaround time. The upside to this is that if you know your needs and enough about the game of starting a business, you can piece together the best package for yourself and save a few bucks. The downside is it can be a little overwhelming, time consuming and the support is a little less personable than what you might find working with a firm.
For me, time is money and my peace of mind comes with knowing that I didn’t skip any important steps. This is why I decided to work with a firm instead of online outlet for establishing my business and managing my legal needs. This has allowed me to save my energy for where it shines the most; the creation and delegation of building out my brand. Knowing that all the important things are being taken care of has allowed me to do this at full speed and anxiety-free.
When I came to the realization that Stranded on Land would become more than just hobby, I reached out to my friend and now legal adviser Christopher DiSchino of DiSchino & Schamy for a little direction. His firm specializes in Business and Intellectual Property Law. Their expertise is ideal for my legal needs and comes with bonus consultations to assist me with things I’m uncertain of or didn’t know I needed. Working with a firm has afforded me the ease of not only having someone do detailed searches on things I didn’t even know I should be considering, but also come with an added benefit of monitoring my trademark and immediate action if someone else were to file to use the name or something like it. Additionally, my legal team updates me when certain pertinent documents are close to expiring and keeps me posted on any urgent matters so that I can properly budget and not miss important filing dates.
Whichever you decide is the best option for you, make sure you start begin with the bare minimum legal protections. According to Chris, the most important thing to make sure that you don’t bypass when you’re starting a new business is to “make sure you choose a legal structure that will suit your long-term business goals and personal tax situation.” He says, “Often times, entrepreneurs will use online services to incorporate without getting proper legal advice. More importantly, startup owners should make sure that their corporate documents (for example, partnership’ agreements, employment agreements and standard services agreements) are properly drafted. Having a properly structured company before starting operating will save time and expenses down the road.”
- Name and Trademark Your Brand
Building a brand isn’t something that happens overnight or without strategy. It takes blood, sweat and tears glued together with legal backing to make sure that all the muscle you’re putting into it reaches its maximum potential. Once you’ve decided on a name for your company, you should reach out to the experts to make sure that you are not infringing on anyone else’s property. Simultaneously, you should begin the process and trademark your brand before launching the business. According to Chris, “[When] choosing your brand name, start-ups should have an attorney run a comprehensive trademark search and apply for their trademark at least three months before launching their business. In this regard, start-ups can make sure they own the rights to their trade name and avoid conflict with other trademark owners. “
Spending a little time and money upfront will save you headaches down the line like being served a cease and desist, losing your following or rebranding because you didn’t take the proper steps before you took the leap.
- Build your Brand’s Identity and Presence
Once you’ve received the thumbs up that you’re in the clear to blast out your trademarked name, you’re ready to identify and build your brand’s presence. This is an exciting, taxing feat that takes time, effort and proper structure to execute. Although it is a creative process and for those like me, a fun one, it’s vital that you from the beginning build a structure and standard brand guidelines. These guidelines will serve as a go to that will keep you, your future internal team and external collaborators in check, preserving the consistency of your brand’s presence.
Take the time, attention to detail and consistency to create this. The key building a consistent brand identity and presence is defining the groundwork so that no matter who is viewing or working on your brand knows exactly what it should look like and they have the tools to keep everything consistent.
I recommend starting with a moodboard, pulling and piecing together everything that inspires you and visually and verbally describes your vision of the brand you want to create. From here, you can then either hire a paid professional / team to build this out for you or work with your team or a trusted source to put together the foundational guidelines for your brand’s presence. Check out the Style Guides Every Startup Should See for a little idea on how to get started and 36 Great Brand Guidelines Examples for some visual stimulation and inspiration to help lead you in the right direction.
- Internal systems and structuring best practices
As someone who has come into several established and successful businesses running on haphazard systems, I can’t state enough how important internal systems and structuring is. It can seem like the only important detail to pay notice to when starting up is getting things off the ground and income through the door. But I will strongly argue that en tandem, establishing your internal structure is crucial.
And here’s why. The bigger and more successful you become, the less time you have to allocate to details like how or why something must be done a certain way and the harder it is to implement new procedures to an existing team. And in order for you to continue to grow, you must master the art of delegation. If you cannot articulate or demonstrate how to complete tasks and have them align with your brand’s identity, the success of your brand will always offer less than it’s full potential.
The best systems are ones that are not reliant on the person who created them to stay alive. If you build a structure that anyone can come into, study, take over and add to, your business will continue to thrive and grow. Incorporate shared documents, project management platforms and automated reporting systems into your daily routines when it’s just yourself or a small team of a few and define your company’s system.
Systems offer boundaries, guidelines and support for you, your staff, clients and external supporters like your legal or accounting team. Structure minimizes confusion, mixed communication and holds every person accountable by providing clear expectations right from the beginning. Which allows your team to thrive as they know what to do, how to do it and what purpose each task serves. Additionally, handing off tasks when someone is out on vacation or has decided to move on to other life endeavours becomes somewhat seamless.
There’s a plethora of project management systems that you can choose from. Figure out which work best for you and your team, but here’s a few starters that I use often and love.
- Expense Tracking:
I like Expensify because it’s simple, user friendly and can be shared across a team. It offers an app that you can download to your smart device, take in the moment photos of receipts keeping you organized on the go with minimal fuss. You can also link most bank accounts, track mileage and log hours. Customize your account, create your own company codes, send bills or invoices and manage multiple team members expenses all from one place. When it comes time to do your taxes, simply download a PDF file, send it to your accountant and in just a few minutes they have everything they need. Basic starter usage is free but you can upload for more and unlimited features at a fee.
- Cloud and Shared Document System:
For me, Google Drive is life! I use this for literally ev-ery-thing. Uploading and storing files, drafting documents, rough drafts, content calendars and questionnaires. Google Drive is user friendly and has smart features like spell and grammar check, teams and committing on edits. I most use Google Drive for forms, a secondary backup to the content for my website and working group documents like a social media content calendar. Drive makes it easy for multiple people to interact in real time on any given project and see in the moment edits, eliminating eating up storage space on your hard drive and confusions as to which is the latest version of a working file. You can download and access drive on your phone or ipad, also making it a perfect system for someone always on the go.
- Project Management System:
For the OCD in me, Trello gives me the warm and gushy feels that you get when you smell fresh baked cookies. Finding this project management tool was one of the best things that ever happened to me when I was working as a Design Project Manager a couple years back. Managing a team composed of multiple designers, a Creative Direction, Account Leads and clients was at times overwhelming. Finding the best way to organize communications, deadlines and needs for each individual helped keep me from drowning in hundreds of emails and meet client demands.
Through Trello, I was able to create project boards for each team, upload details and files, assign projects to team members and set deadlines to ensure everything was wrapped well before it was needed. If a project opened back up, all I had to do was pull the card with all the past details and add new notes so that no matter who took it on knew everything they needed to produce top notch work. I trained my internal teams and implemented similar practices with my clients to help streamline communications and speed up the processing of the work flow. I could go on and on about how much I love Trello (they should probably be paying me at this point) but I recommend you checking it out for yourself and incorporating into your task delegation and timeline setting regimen.
- Expense Tracking:
To conclude, if you’re going to start something, don’t skip steps for sake of initial convenience. Eliminate headaches that will inevitably come down the line by protecting and organizing your infrastructure before it grows into a money making beast by doing things the right way from the start. Build your dream on a platform that is strong, steady and easily transferrable to any internal team member, external partner or future buyer of your brand. Because the lull and dull’s luster will shine brighter the bigger and more successful you become.