So, you’re starting a business. Or a passionate hobby. Or you’re simply putting yourself out there more and want to know the right way of doing it. The easy answer is that there is no right way, and that anything you do will work out in the end. And while I do believe that is true, I also believe that certain tips could help tremendously in not spiraling downhill.
When I started my business I had no idea how to go about it. This ended up being mostly a wonderful thing. I am so glad that I didn’t have a business model to follow because if I had, I might not have pursued exactly what my passion was. But what I do wish I had were a list of potentially big problems that I would want to avoid no matter what I was pursuing or how I was pursuing it.
1. Understand Copyright.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an artist or not, copyright is something that should be understood at least in the most basic sense. Copyrighting my pictures is one thing, but copyrighting information is a whole other ball game. If you put yourself out there in any public way, and you share what you have to offer, someone else may take that information and run with it. Before you know it, the information you worked so hard to create could be making someone else money, which means you’re losing money. Don’t be paranoid, but at the same time, do be smart. Talk to a lawyer about what your rights are and how you can best protect yourself.
For example, I teach workshops. This is a concrete way that I compile information that is specific to my business and share it with others. Before each workshop I have all participants sign a release form saying that the information provided during the workshop is for private use only and is not to be distributed publicly in any way.
2. Organize yourself in a big way.
When you are starting a business, it is incredibly difficult to foresee all of the problems that might cross your path. For me, some of those potential problems were keeping track of print sales, understanding print editioning, and backing up my work. If I had thought enough about the business side of what I was doing then, I wouldn’t have had so many headaches along the way. Think logically, and get second and third opinions. Talk to someone who has been there. Attend a business class or workshop.
By looking ahead and organizing your business, you prepare your business to grow. Some really helpful things that I did were to create a file and folder naming scheme to organize my images. Now I know where every image is from 2009 on to now. Something else that helped was to choose prices and stick to them, perhaps raising them each year (or not, just depends), but never swaying from what was chosen for consistency.
3. Save your domains.
When you decide to pursue a passion, hobby, or to make those into a career, it is very important that your social media stay consistent. Once you have your business name, save that business name on all the websites.
Mine is just Brooke Shaden, so when I sign up for a new site, like Twitter, I would make my username www.twitter.com/brookeshaden. That way when someone wants to find me, they simply type in my name and I will be the first one that pops up. Even if you don’t think you’re going to use a website, claim your name anyway. It can’t hurt, and you don’t want to fall down in the searches.
4. The moral code.
Understand your limitations before you begin putting yourself out there in a big way. Understand what you are comfortable with, what your business stands for, and how important it is to stick to your beliefs. If you are uncomfortable with doing something, stick to your gut. Your business can suffer long after a poor decision is made.
A great example of this is the Internet, and how simple it is to get sucked down a negative hole. I want my business to stand for kindness, creativity, and promoting passion…because that is who I want to be as a person. If someone engages with me in any negative way, I either ignore the situation or write a few nice words and kindly bow out of the argument. I won’t engage in a negative experience, because when you own a business on the Internet, it is never only between you and the instigator. Your business is public, therefore your opinions and how you handle the opinions of others is public as well. Represent yourself in a genuine and business-savvy way.
5. Do the math.
When you start a business, math is a big part of that process. I am terrible at math. So, this was not my strong suit. Understand exactly what you are investing in, because every business is an investment in time, energy, and money. Understand the costs of your startup and how much money you need to make to get past that hurdle.
My startup costs included printing, framing, and shipping prints for exhibitions, driving costs, equipment, and location rentals. I thought that the profit I would be making from print sales would balance everything out, but I was very wrong. The money wasn’t rolling in as I had hoped, but instead I spent thousands of dollars with no way of getting it back at the start. This was a shock to my career, and could easily stop anyone in their tracks and make them reconsider.
Be smart about the money it takes, and research all potential costs as well as profit margins that are reasonable. My advice is to expect nothing in terms of profit, and expect the worst in terms of expenses. This is not pessimistic thinking, it is realistic, and can lead to starting the career of your dreams so long as that career isn’t sunk before it hits the water because of bad budgeting.
What business startup tips can you share?