Before You Open a Business

A number of people who read this blog started their business organically, ending up in business before they realised they were in business. I actually started this blog by writing about how we all got into this sweet mess in the first place. Today’s post is actually for those of you are not yet in business but are thinking and dreaming about it while working a traditional day job. It’s also for those of you who are in business without wanting to acknowledge that you’re in business – the ones who are taking money for their creations but not really admitting to themselves that it’s a business. (I know you’re out there. I’m not judging you, I promise.) 

I think there are a couple of things you need to do before jumping head first into the swiss meringue buttercream. Small businesses (and all businesses start out small) are risky on a few different levels, especially in the current global economic climate. So before signing the lease or applying for the small business loan, there are a few things I think you should do. I’m not talking about figuring out what equipment you need or finding some money to invest, I’m talking about the bigger picture things you need to do.

In no particular order, before you start your business I think you should:

Do Some Research: Find other people who own small businesses (and it doesn’t need to be in this industry) and offer to buy them a coffee and slice of cake. Sit them down and ask them to be brutally honest about what it’s like to be your own boss. Most of the people I meet have a very idealised, romantic notion about owning a small business, all about a flexible lifestyle and choosing their own hours and making way more money than anyone would pay them. I’d just simply ASK people who already own a small business to tell you what it’s really like. Some of them will paint a rosy picture, others will not – but you should at least start to get an idea of what the reality is like.  I’d also tell them outright, “I’m thinking about going into business for myself but I don’t have any real idea of what it’s like on a day to day level,” so they know why you are asking and they do not feel threatened.

Call a Family Meeting: even if the “family” is just you and your partner, or you and your parents. This is a thing which inevitably is going to become bigger than just you. You’re going to need these people to support and love you, and if they are in your inner circle, it’s important that they know what you’re planning. They don’t have to approve of it per se, but they should at least be aware – you know, so they forgive you when you fall asleep face first into the mashed potatoes because you were up till 3am wiring 600 gumpaste roses.

The scaffolding of our lives is often made up of our family in the first instance, so they deserve to know what they’re going to be holding up.

Do the Math: Small business has a way of creeping into our personal finances whether we like it or not. So… your commercial kitchen rent gets paid by your personal tax return refund (full confession: that’s how I paid my rent the second month I was in business) or you throw a few extra sticks of butter in the cart with your family’s weekly grocery shop. If your family is relying entirely on your income to cover the cost of daycare, or the groceries all get paid from your paycheck and you have no savings – maybe right now isn’t the best time to go into it.  You may never have a ‘best time’ financially to take the leap, but I’d suggest at the very least you want to be honest with yourself about it. Do you have any savings? Do you have family or friends who you might be able to rely on if you end up in a mess? Do you have assets? How will your family survive if you cannot bring home regular profit for 3, 6 or 9 months? Exactly how much money do you need to earn to replace what you’re currently bringing home?

Money is what makes or breaks a business, even if we don’t like to talk about it (certainly not as fun as talking about perfecting those wafer paper flowers.) BEFORE you go into business is a better time to have a cold hard look at the numbers than when you’re in the middle of it and can’t pay yourself a dime (because you already owe those dimes to a supplier.)

Remember You Can Choose Differently: I wrote a post about it being okay to be a hobbyist and I stand by that post. Just because everyone around you is saying, “You should SO sell these! You’d make a fortune!” this does not mean you have to actually go into business. You can choose to enjoy your craft and just keep it a craft.  My Dad once told me, “Everyone is potentially smart enough to go into business for themselves, but not everyone should,” and he was right. (By the way his next line was, “some people just don’t have the balls for it,” and he was right on that front, too. Clever guy, my Dad.)

All I’m saying is, if you’ve done your research and thought that being your own boss just didn’t seem as appealing as you thought it would – don’t feel pressured to do it. It’s really okay to choose not to. Similarly, if you’ve already gone down the road a ways, you can actually choose to stop.  You can choose to wind it back, close it down, decide to no longer be in business. I would NOT suggest you do this weekly or monthly (as some businesses seem to…) but I’d seriously consider not going into full-steam-ahead business mode unless you really, truly want that life.

and lastly….(and yes, you’ve heard me say this before)

Start Figuring Out the Why: If you’re considering opening a small business or legitimising the one you’ve already got, spend some time working out why you want to do it. It’s not just about the money and it most certainly isn’t just because you love making things. It’s about so much more than that (bbbbbiiiiiiiggggggg picture, right?) but knowing why you’re doing it in the first place is what’s going to keep you through the long nights, the lack of funds, and will keep you from punching in the face your well meaning Aunt Mildred who says, “Oh you make a few cakes,dear! How…quaint.”You may not have a definitive answer (it takes a while), but spend a bit of time thinking on it. Hint: If you struggle to get your answer beyond “I really just like making cake,” then you probably aren’t being very honest with yourself about what being a small business owner is actually about.

When my triplets were small, a nurse gave me the advice, “You’ve got to start as you mean to go on,” meaning that I’d be better off putting in place systems and values that I wanted to develop in my house and my kids as they grew right from the very start.  The same is true of business – start it as you mean to go on with it. That’s not to say you can’t catch up or change things in the future, but if you’re in the position of contemplating starting or only just getting going, you’d be wise to do the above things so that you’re starting from a solid base. 

I’ve not asked you guys to comment here in a while so I’m going to ask now –  if you’re already in business, what do YOU think the newbies should think about or consider before they start out?

2 comments on “Before You Open a Business

  1. I opened my storefront a year ago. I wanted to be legal and I what I was doing was not under our Cottage Food Law.
    I knew it would be long days and long hours spent. My dad is a business owner so I knew what it meant to be one.
    However, nothing can prepare you for all the times your kids have something at school and you can’t go, you’re hubby has two weeks of vacation and you can’t get off, that annual girl’s trip no longer, throwing in a cake for your mom’s birthday is now impossible…all because you are now in a storefront where people expect you to be there when they need you.
    Yes, it’s your passion and you love it and you’re good at what you do. But when the rent is due, taxes due, the outrageous lights and water bill that has doubled during the summer and guess what? You don’t get a check. Your employee gets a check but you your just not squeezing out enough. Only occasionally do you get paid.
    You’ll began to doubt yourself and your decision multiple times. These are some of the things people don’t consider. Working for yourself takes commitment. Please, think it through. Yes, I love what do, it’s just a lot of work.

  2. Before caking I have a background in media and marketing, and I should have realised starting a small business that these skills were going to be equally as important as making pretty cakes. If I was starting from scratch, Id be thinking carefully about how much "business activity" I wanted in my life, because to be a real small business you will spend as much time working on costings, tax commitments, insurance, market and promotions, forward planning, etc etc as you will actually making a cake.

    You are also making a commitment to your customers, I call it a promise. Its that promise that if they become a loyal customer you will be there for them, open at reasonable times, happy to answer the phone and listen to their very long winded cake details (even while your kids are drawing on your wafer paper) and not just disappear when you have had enough. This is the thing that creates the most stress for me as I am a loyal and giving person and I feel the weight of that pressure to be in business mode most of the time, even when its no longer fun.

    I hope that makes sense, they are my biggest pressures in business, and oh yes, I do like to sneak those extra few butters into the trolley 🙂

    K x

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