Navigating the early stages of business ownership can be daunting. As an entrepreneur who owns and operates multiple businesses, I fondly remember the journey of starting my ventures from scratch. I also had to navigate the stresses that come with life in industry.
Yes, it was fun. But it was also a lot of work.
As someone who has experienced these challenges, I wanted to take this opportunity to relay advice I have learned along the way. The road to success in business might seem scary. But if you identify the right resources and make connections in your community, the chances of reaching your goals will be much higher.
So aspiring entrepreneurs, listen up!
As a new business owner, I can promise you don’t have all the answers. You might think you do, but there are always lessons to be learned.
According to a 2013 survey, 80 percent of CEOs have said they received some form of mentorship in their careers. This is clearly a trend. The chance to make connections, receive needed advice and glean some moral guidance are just a few of the ways a mentor can help.
One problem: You might be reading this and thinking, ‘I do not know anybody in the industry I am joining.’ But that’s okay; you have to start somewhere. There are plenty of places to meet business professionals. You can seek out mentors at business associations in your area, non-profit organizations, or your college or university. Community groups, like a chamber of commerce, will also offer opportunities to connect with potential mentors. I have been a member of many chambers including the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, which has been priceless in building a strong network of local professionals.
When you identify a potential mentor, be open and honest when trying to start a relationship. Do your research ahead of time, and let them know you are looking for career advice. As an established professional, they will remember how they started out in the industry themselves and likely will want to help out.
Where to Work
Most aspiring entrepreneurs have a dream of someday working in an office with dedicated staff, comfortable furniture, and professional conference rooms. But when you are first starting out, your office might be your own home or apartment.
Where will you hold important meetings with potential clients or business partners?
Common meeting places like coffee shops can be noisy, and you might not know ahead of time what space will be available.
One good alternative in many communities is a shared working space. In River Falls, the St. Croix Valley Business Innovation Center is an excellent example of a facility designed specifically for entrepreneurs and small businesses. And it offers more than just a space to work.
The St. Croix Valley Business Innovation Center is a collaborative partnership among the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, the City of River Falls, Chippewa Valley Technical College, and the regional economic development community. The idea for the center started in 2010 when these civic leaders and organizations began looking at critical strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for small businesses in the region. Construction on the facility launched in May 2017 and the center officially opened for business in February 2018.
How can it help you? If you have that pesky space issue we touched on earlier, the innovation center’s shared space opportunities offer a solution. The center has a variety of options for rent, including co-working space, offices, and rooms for meetings and events. Yes, they are not free, but many are affordable. A conference room, for example, is available for a reasonable $25 per hour.
You can find other business help there as well. The center is teaming up with UWRF’s Center for Innovation and Business Development, conveniently located in the new facility. Resources available through this partnership include business planning, coaching and mentoring assistance, software help, and financial advisory services. These resources, along with the added chance to network with other local business professionals, would be a great asset for any budding entrepreneur.
Community Small Business Development Opportunities
Many communities offer additional resources to help small business owners, whether you are a newcomer or have years of experience.
As a business owner and University of Wisconsin-River Falls alumnus, I recommend the support provided by the school’s Small Business Development Center.
The Small Business Development Center is part of a statewide network supporting entrepreneurs and business owners through consulting and targeted education training programs. These consultants are paid professionals and experts in marketing, finance and business planning. Many of them have been business owners themselves.
More information about these classes and consulting opportunities are available on the organization’s website, which is linked above. So if there are areas of business ownership where your knowledge is lacking, then check out a local resource like the UWRF Small Business Development Center.
Almost every business today needs an online presence to succeed today. Shocking, I know.
A majority of your customers use the Internet to find whatever it is they need. It can hurt your chances of success and even damage your credibility if a simple web search of similar keywords does not reveal your business.
Buy a domain name right away. Even if you can’t afford a website you can reserve a domain name for around $10/year. You should try to get a .com if at all possible. Having a website for your business is the first step to growing your internet presence. But beyond that, SEO practices will help you show up near the top of search engine results. Google My Business is one of the most essential and straightforward steps to SEO. Google My Business builds a profile that shows up when customers search for similar keywords on Google Search and Maps. This profile will let you post updates, respond to reviews, and highlight what makes your business special.
Maintaining a good reputation on your Google My Business reviews is critical. Positive reviews will help you build brand loyalty and gain the trust of potential customers.
A Facebook Business Page will also help grow your reach online. The page can be set up in minutes and includes the name of your business, a quick summary, profile and cover photos, and a call-to-action that directs your page visitors to do something, like visit your website or make a phone call.
When the page is set up, you should invite your Facebook friends to “like” it to grow your presence.
Your Facebook Business Page will have more credibility when you complete the steps for verification. A verified page will have a gray badge next to its name and will let visitors know the page is not a fake. Follow these steps to finish verification.
Growing Your Network
I realized the importance of maintaining a healthy network early in my career as an entrepreneur. These connections have more than paid off for advice and increased business opportunities. Perhaps the most significant factor in small business success is who you know and how much these individuals trust and respect you.
If you are new to the industry, it is crucial to identify the people involved in the community and find out what makes them tick. Start by scheduling meetings with few like-minded people, even if it is only for 15 minutes.
Keep in mind that relationships involve an exchange of value, even in friendships. While you might not have the experience, you have value to bring to the table. Once you identify your best qualities, growing your network will be that much easier.
For all you budding entrepreneurs, congratulations on taking a step toward what could be the most rewarding decision of your life. I hope you learned something here that will help you reach your goals as a business owner.
Remember, if you work to grow your network and identify the resources available in your community, the possibilities are endless. Your hard work will pay off, but make sure to have some fun along the way.