There are a lot of articles out there about what to do when starting your own business, but they can be vague and leave you with more questions than when you started. So, I’m stepping in. A year and a half into running my own communications consultancy, I certainly don’t have all the answers but here’s hoping you can learn from my experiences in specific and actionable ways.
Running the Numbers: Taxes and Bookkeeping
Tip #1: Get Help
Taxes, so many taxes. All the taxes. When I was setting up my LLC, I did some basic research and knew at a bare minimum that I should pay quarterly taxes along with an annual return. But I had no clue how to do that.
My #1 suggestion for handling taxes and bookkeeping is to hire professional help. I lost so much time trying to figure out things on my own that I could’ve spent on business development, client work, designing my website, or taking a nap.
Spend your precious time on what you’re good at and let a professional spend time on what they’re good at. If you’re just starting out, you might think you can’t afford to pay a professional, but spending a little money now could save you loads of money (read: a huge tax bill) down the line. #WorthIt.
Tip #2: Make that Personalized Help
I would initially avoid the large accounting platforms and look for a small firm or fellow entrepreneur in your state. This can save you money and get you the personalized guidance you need.
For example, when I switched to a local accountant here in Alexandria, VA, she told me I was supposed to have a city business license. I had been operating for a year without one – oops. No one had told me, and I hadn’t researched it (hey, I didn’t know what I didn’t know).
You also want someone who lives and breathes taxes and could represent you in front of the IRS if it ever came to that. Look for someone who is an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), or an enrolled agent.
Tip #3: Ask Questions
Speaking of what I didn’t know… Don’t be afraid of sounding dumb and asking lots of questions. This can be tough – especially for women.
One of the first things the accountant from the big platform asked me was what my estimated income was for the year. I had no idea how to forecast that number but instead of asking for help, I threw out a random number. Based on that, we set-up my LLC as an S Corporation, which comes with its own requirements, filings, and processes (like running payroll). That became an additional stream of work that I had to figure out and manage on my own. I could have saved a lot of hassle if I’d asked more questions and come up with a more realistic income projection.
You want your tax/bookkeeper professional to run things, but you also want to make sure you understand what you’re getting into. You’re not being a b word. You’re being a smart business woman.
The Human Side of Things
Tip #4: Make Learning and Growing a Priority
In the first few months of being my own boss, I signed up for every webinar and course that came across my inbox. “Professional Development” called to me from the blue sticky note on my computer. But when the time came to log into the course, something else would take priority.
But I’ve realized that learning opportunities are just as important because they make me a better consultant and human which allows me to charge more, attract high-quality clients, and maintain my sanity. I’ve found time-blocking to be a useful way to manage and prioritize my time and keep me focused (no multitasking here).
As a sidebar, if you’re looking for learning opportunities, I recommend sites like MasterClass or The Great Courses. They’re reasonably priced and you get access to lectures and videos on just about everything under the sun (some from very famous faces).
Tip #5: Be Discerning with Your Time
Now that you’re your own boss, remember – you get to choose what to spend your precious time on. Seek out opportunities that will help you achieve your goals. Decline the recurring meeting where nothing gets done. Take a break and watch TV. Do what fuels you and say no to what drains you.
I recently signed up for a Facebook course on brand messaging because it sounded good. After email #318, I realized that I didn’t need help with messaging for my business. Instead, I decided to focus on a writing course because writing is what I want to do more of. So, I deleted those other emails and committed to an online course three days a week. My priorities and interests helped me wade through the noise and focus my time.
Tip #6: Give Unconditional Support to Yourself
When I made the decision to start my own shop, I had a full-time job that paid well but made me cry almost every day. So, I quit. With nothing lined up. I was so nervous to tell the people in my life – what if they thought I was crazy?
Overall, my family and friends were overwhelmingly supportive, but that’s not the point. I knew it was the best choice for me and that I’d be successful (and frankly, failing seemed better than being miserable every day).
What’s most important is that YOU support and believe in yourself. It won’t be easy and there will be days of doubt and fear, but unwavering belief in yourself can go a long, long way. Do not let anyone talk you out of pursuing your dreams or charting your own course. Entrepreneurs do it differently and that’s a good thing (I should put that on a T-shirt). Celebrate your choices and celebrate yourself.
So, there it is. Just some advice from someone who kinda knows what they’re talking about. I believe women, and entrepreneurs, are the future and it’s my honor to share just a little of what I know. Good luck to you!
About the Author
Deidre Huntington is President and Founder of Synergia Communications, a strategic communications shop in the Washington, DC area. A writer, content creator, communications strategist, and thought partner, Deidre believes in the power of good communications to make the world a better place.