How to Start a Business When You Have a Full-Time Job – Guest Post

By Guest Author Callum Mundine, the head of marketing at Warble Media. They are a boutique website design and digital marketing agency based in Dubbo, NSW, Australia. If you have any questions about marketing, feel free to contact him on callum@warblemedia.com.au

 

How to Start a Business When You Have a Full-Time Job

You’d be surprised at how many successful businesses have been started by people with full-time jobs (Google, Spanx, Twitter, Salesforce… just to name a few).

If you’ve come up with a great idea but you’re not ready to give up your stable salary (smart choice), here are a few tips that can help you juggle the craziness of starting your own business whilst working a full-time job.

 

Create a schedule, and stick to it

Be prepared to work long, unsociable hours. That means weekends and any spare time you have between finishing your working day and going to sleep. One of the hardest parts of working on your own business at the same time as being in full-time employment is balancing your home and social life with all your work.

The best way to combat this is to make a schedule, and more importantly, stick to it. Look at your week ahead and prioritise your time. You still need to eat and see your family and friends, so schedule in any important commitments and use your time wisely.

You may have to miss the odd barbeque here and there, and your friends may complain they never see you anymore, but be patient, as your hard work will eventually pay off.

 

Do I really need a business plan?

Creating a business plan will help lay the groundwork for your startup and is a crucial step for anyone who is serious about starting their own business. This is where you’ll brainstorm tough questions such as: where will your financing come from? Is your product or service unique? What problems does it solve? What will account for your main costs? What’s your target audience?

There are many online resources which can help you structure a business plan and make sure you include the most important information about your future business. If you’re struggling to find answers to many questions, you may need more time to figure out how to make your idea viable.  

Remember, if your first idea fails but you still have a stable income from your full-time job, you can still afford to explore other avenues.

 

Before you leave your current job

You may be itching to finally quit, become your own boss and follow your dreams. But don’t be too hasty, and make sure you understand the legalities of quitting your job before you tell your employer you’re leaving.

Make sure you work on your business during your own hours. If your employer thinks you’ve used their time or equipment to work on your startup it could cause legal problems down the line, so it’s just not worth doing.

Also, take into account any non-disclosure or legal agreements you may have signed. Be completely sure you’re not breaking your contract by leaving, and if you have any doubts, it’s best to consult a lawyer first.

 

Get networking

Make some time for networking and meeting people in your industry. Local business communities offer great opportunities to collaborate and gain insightful information that could help you in the future.

Don’t wait until you’ve quit your job before attending networking events and gaining exposure to the right people, it could give you the push you need to perfect your product or find a solution to a problem.  

 

Commit to your idea

If you really think your idea for a new product, service, online business, etc… is worth pursuing, it needs to become more than just a hobby. Creating your own business can be fun and fulfilling, but if you’re planning on drawing an income and becoming financially independent, you need to take it seriously.

That means you need to set goals, allocate your time, stick to your schedule, and know what’s coming next. If you keep putting off working on your startup, the chances are you won’t get very far.

 

Take time to test and develop

It’s quite probable that your initial vision won’t become your final product. Take the time to test, develop prototypes, and continually work on making your idea better. Keep soliciting honest feedback and researching your market.

There’s no point rushing to get your product market-ready and missing the needs of your target audience, so take the time to make improvements and understand what your customer base truly wants.

 

Is there a right time to quit?

Taking the leap from full-time employment to focusing on your own business can be terrifying. It may never feel like the right time, but if you’ve taken the steps to prepare for this moment properly, you might just be ready.

But before you decide to make the leap, be sure to follow your strategy, make sure any legal ends are tied up, and be confident in your financial projections. Grow your network, create a stable customer base, and test and perfect your product.

You’re sure to be faced with unknowns, but being as prepared as possible will greatly improve your chances of success.

 

The Bottom Line

Many people come up with great ideas but don’t have the time or energy to see them through. Those who manage to successfully juggle their startup with full-time jobs understand that certain sacrifices need to be made until they can quit and jump in head first.

Is it possible to do both at the same time? Absolutely. It will take good planning, commitment, and the confidence to back yourself once you’re ready to go from employee to entrepreneur.

 

 

How to Make an Enforceable Contract – Guest Post

Guest Post by CoWork Springfield Member, Denise Presley, Attorney

Fair AND Enforceable

I’ve been a commercial arbitrator for 15 years. Simply put, my job is to hear both sides of a dispute between two parties to a contract and decide which side wins. Sadly, I often have to rule in favor of the party who behaved badly because they had the law on their side.  The purpose of this article is to help you understand how to ensure that any contracts you sign are not only fair, but enforceable under the law.

 

Let’s start with the basic elements of an enforceable contract.

  1. The parties must be competent and have the capacity to make a contract.
  2. The parties must be named, and they must all sign the contract.
  3. The terms of the contract must be clear. In other words, what are the parties promising to do for each other, and by what date?
  4. Is there legal “consideration”? You’d be surprised how many contracts are ruled invalid because they lack adequate consideration (usually $) to prove that the parties intended to bind themselves to perform per the terms of the contract. More on that later.
  5. Some contracts must be in writing.

 

Who’s competent and has the capacity to contract?

In Massachusetts, you must be 18, you must be of sound mind and capable of understanding and agreeing the terms of the contract. In other words, it’ll be tough to enforce a contract made by a 15 yr old … or a person that’s too sick to actually bargain for the terms in the contract.

The latter is important. There are certain contractual provisions that under the law are against public policy. For example, our Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that contracts that name a state other than Massachusetts as the place where lawsuits must be filed will be against public policy if having to take the dispute to another  state would be unreasonable or unjust.  So let’s say you sign a two year maintenance agreement to have your high speed printer/copier serviced for $79/ month, but the contract says all disputes under the agreement shall be heard by a court of competent jurisdiction in North Dakota. You can likely challenge an action on the basis of forum non conveniens, but call a lawyer immediately so s(he) can file an answer the complaint in such a way that protects your rights.

 

Naming the Parties to the Contract

Include the name, state of incorporation (if applicable), and the mailing address of the parties to the contract. Generally, only the parties named and signing the contract can be bound. If your business is incorporated, a limited liability company, or a limited partnership ALWAYS sign in the name of the entity, i.e., THE ABC GROUP, a Massachusetts corporation, By Its President, Mary Jones. This way, the debt belongs to the corporation- not you personally.  Some companies will ask the officer of a corporation to personally guarantee the debt. Actually, the better your credit history is, the more likely you can avoid providing a personal guarantee. You might also try to offer prepayment of the 1st year, which is plenty of security.

BTW, never contract to perform work that you are not legally allowed to do. I’ve been disappointed by having to rule in favor of a party that avoids paying a contractor because s(he) was not licensed to perform the work. But it happens all the time. In those cases, the only thing the contractor can recover is the cost of any goods and services provided. Happily, the law doesn’t allow the other party to be unjustly enriched.

 

Contract Terms

At a minimum, the contract must clearly set forth the names of the parties, what each party is agreeing to do, and by when. However, the level of detail depends on the complexity of the contract i.e., what’s reasonable and customary in a particular industry.  John Doe agrees to pay Landlord Holyoke, Inc., $500/ month, payable in US dollars on the first day of the month to rent office number 110a for a term of one year. Once both parties sign the written agreement, they have an enforceable contract. But few office leases are that simple. Forty five page documents governing the details of the relationship are not unusual. Before you sign the contract, always read each provision, think about what can go wrong, and agree on how the parties will handle problems- in writing.

 

Consideration

In short, Consideration is the inducement for the parties to enter into the contract and evidences their agreement to incur a legal obligation to one another. For example, Sally Davis agrees to pay Charles Barker to replace the tile in her 80 sq ft kitchen, labor and materials included for $1,600. Here, the consideration is $1,600 in exchange for the replacing tile. Once Mr. Barker replaces 80sf of tile in Ms. Davis’ kitchen, she has a legal obligation to pay him $1,600.  Obviously, there’s a few details missing (i.e., the actual size of the kitchen, what kind of materials, start/finish dates) but this is only an example of consideration. When a contract lacks ‘consideration’ the contract will not be enforced.

Also, the parties must agree that the consideration is adequate. Normally, the contract will contain words like: “$1,600, the adequacy of which is acceptable’ … or, ‘the parties agree the consideration will be $1,600”. Moral consideration is not adequate. For example, while installing the tile Mr. Barker noticed a minor leak in Ms. Davis’ kitchen and fixed it. Morally, most people would think Ms. Davis would be required to pay him more money. After all, if he had stopped and called a plumber to fix the leak she would have paid hundreds more. But he’s only entitled to $1,600 unless he can show that Ms. Davis was unjustly enriched by his efforts and he couldn’t have delivered on his promise to install the tile properly without fixing the leak.

 

The Statute of Frauds

Oral contracts are valid, but they can be hard to enforce. It’s always better to put contracts in writing to ensure there’s no misunderstanding between the parties. In fact, in Massachusetts, some contracts must be in writing. They include (i) contracts to sell goods and services in excess of $500, (ii) a promise to pay the debts of another, (iii) a promise to do something based on a promise of marriage, (iv) agreements to sell-lease-license real estate, (v) contracts that involve performance that won’t be completed for more than a year, or (vi) getting an executor- administrator- or assignee to pay for a breach of contract out of his or her own pocket. I’ve had arbitrations where there was a clear breach by a party who said ‘yeah, I breached, so what’. If you breach a contract, the first thing your lawyer will do is ensure that it’s even enforceable.

 

Five Simple Rules:

Contract law is complicated, but you can save yourself a lot of grief if you remember this:
  1. If you’re handed a contract that has writing on the front and back … read the back. That’s where the risky provisions are. [These are called ‘adhesion contracts’.]
  2. Never sign a contract without knowing what it’ll cost if you can’t honor it (breach or default).
  3. The non-breaching party has a duty to mitigate his/her damages. In other words, s(he) has to try to find someone to take on your responsibilities. The contract must contain this provision.
  4. If there’s a mandatory arbitration clause, agree on who pays the costs. You might have a great case, but if you can’t afford to file a claim, you’re SOL.
  5. Can you assign the contract and what’s involved in doing so? Let’s say you’re a sole proprietor and you get sick, but a friend or relative is willing to take over the business. Can you assign the contract?
Okay, 6 rules … know who you’re doing business with. Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints, local court filings, Yelp and any other sites that might give you a sense of who you’re dealing with.

If you’d like help with your own contracts, you can reach Denise here.

 

 

Now Accepting Applications!

Springfield’s Office for Mobile Workers

 

CoWork Springfield is home to a diverse group of businesses across industries and sectors. We offer maximum flexibility with no long-term contracts and unlimited access to networking events, workshops, and best of all, a variety of workspace options to choose from.
We are accepting applications for a limited number of coworking desks!
Interested in becoming part of this dynamic community? Come by our space at the Scibelli Enterpise Center on Friday, September 29th from 2-4pm.
Pick up an application, see the vision of a productive shared workspace, and learn what it takes to become a member! Reduced application fee of $25 this day only.
Address: 1 Federal Street, Scibelli Enterprise Center, Springfield – 1st (bottom) floor

 

 

Marketing vs. Advertising vs. Communications

Contributed by: Mary-Liz Murray – Owner/Principal, Streamix Consulting

As a consultant I meet with lots of business owners and managers who want to be doing more to get the word out about their services and products. Most of the time they have answers to questions I ask about their work – questions like, “Who is your typical customer?” or “What have you learned people value about your service?” or “What is your best selling product?”

But when I ask questions like “What are your strongest platforms for marketing?” or “What’s your advertising budget?” or “When did you write your latest communications plan?” I usually don’t get as a clear a picture. Most folks I meet with aren’t clear about how their marketing program is working, they buy ads when it “seems like a good deal”, and they’re not really sure what I’m talking about when I ask about the communications plan. And more often than not, they use the three terms interchangeably.

From my experience just getting clear on the differences between marketing, advertising, and communications is a big step forward in improving the effectiveness of your efforts to sell more or gain new clients. So – here’s a crash course.

Communications:

In its simplest form communications is the umbrella term used for any efforts to talk to people about your business.

This includes ‘internal communications’ which is the way you talk to employees, board-members, contractors, and other stakeholders about what’s happening in the company. This means being forthright about  how you expect these people to talk to each other. This can include things like outlining expectations for how to communicate about what issues (i.e. what can be sent through email vs. what should be a phone call), a social media use policy, and a guide as to what’s considered offensive or unacceptable workplace conversation and what the consequences are for violating these policies.

It also offers a set of guidelines for how employees are expected to talk to the public about your business.

This is where we switch to ‘external communications’. Effective external communications includes clear concise brand messaging and a communications plan. The communications plan is developed to help guide the people in your company tasked with creating any customer-facing material (sales people, marketing staff, social media managers, copywriters etc) on how to implement your brand messaging. When I help a business create a communications plan the main pieces we flesh out are: Goals, Timelines, Brand Awareness; Marketing; Advertising; and Media/Press Relations.

Equipping your business with a clear internal communications policy and an external communications plan is the foundation for success. Many small business owners operate without either of these, which can lead to “crisis mode” when an issue (internal or external) pops up. Which is a position no business owner likes to be in. Being prepared with a strong communications strategy will save you headaches later on, so if you’re operating without one – make it a goal for this year to start working on putting one together.

Marketing:

As you can see from above, marketing is only a piece of the communications puzzle. But “Marketing” is in and of itself is another big umbrella term. It encompasses every way that you touch a client or potential customer. This can include things like: signage in your window, your website, your email newsletter, bumper stickers with your logo, print postcards announcing a sale, and building and maintaining a social media presence.  

Effective marketing is the result of a multi-faceted process that includes:

  • Analyzing your product and sales information and choosing target audiences for you.
  • Identifying opportunities for you to reach new or different audiences.
  • Setting the pricing and sales strategy for your product or service.
  • Deciding on which platforms (digital and non-digital) will help you best connect your products and services to your target audiences in the marketplace.
  • Designing and creating visual and text assets to distribute via your chosen platforms.
  • Tracking how customers and potential customers are interacting with those assets and how they are impacting their decisions to purchase.
  • Offering support and answering questions about your products and services to customers and potential buyers.

Advertising:

So where does advertising fit in? And how is it different than marketing? Well, the dictionary definition of an advertisement is, “a paid form of a non-personal message communicated through various media. Designed to be  persuasive, informations and meant to influence the purchasing behavior and/or thought patterns of the audience.”

See that word paid in there? That is the key to understanding how advertising separates from marketing.

Advertising is a very specific part of your marketing – and is defined by the fact that your business pays for placement (hopefully in front of your target audience) in exchange for the ability to directly promote your products and services.

Traditionally advertising placements were things like radio spots, television commercials, magazine and newspaper pages, and billboards. Many of these options were cost prohibitive to small businesses. But today’s advertising landscape is constantly shifting. Of course those traditional outlets are still available but now you also have things like paid email placement, Google and search-engine ads, sponsored social media content, influencer promotions, in-app advertising and more. An upside of this expanded advertising landscape is that many of the newer, digital options, are less expensive to try. They also can offer much clearer tracking on the effectiveness of your ads (things like getting reports on cost per impression, cost per click, and even cost per conversion (sale)!) and much more specific targeting options that your traditional outlets.

But be careful – without a set advertising budget and an understanding of your overall communications and marketing strategy it’s easy to throw money at things that seem like they will get the word out, but you won’t have the tools to be able to track how effective your efforts have been and what impact they’re having on your bottom line.

So, now that you, a savvy and ambitious business owner, are equipped with the distinctive definitions of communications, marketing, and advertising – what do you notice about how you can improve your efforts to grow your business? Do you need help fleshing out the communications plan and brand messaging? Or do you need to re-evaluate your target audiences and marketing platforms? Maybe you’re ready to look at your paid advertising strategy and set a budget to support your overall marketing? Or perhaps you just have a couple questions you need feedback on to get all three of these pieces working together? Whatever your communications or marketing challenge, feel free to get in touch with me to see how Streamix may be able to help you build the business you dream about.

Streamix Consulting is a boutique Digital Communications and Social Media Marketing firm specializing in serving businesses and organizations that want to integrate cohesive messaging, communications strategy, and a variety of digital tactics to build a multi-dimensional marketing framework. Their combination of creativity and experience will help tie your business goals to your digital marketing and communications goals in order to deepen effectiveness and ROI. streamixconsulting.com

 

 

 

Two Must-Have Areas of Excellence for Budding Entrepreneurs

Back to Basics:  Two Must-Have Areas of Excellence for Budding Entrepreneurs

By Guest Author, La’Wana Harris

 

The world of entrepreneurship is one of constant change, risk and opportunity. We brave the tides of customer trends, innovation and market place conditions— and we love it. However, the opportunity to succeed as an entrepreneur doesn’t come easy. There are conditions that apply to small, emerging businesses that don’t apply to other sectors in the business world. There are a few “musts” that entrepreneurs are required to practice to stay float amongst the odds.

 

Let’s review a familiar scenario. You’re on the phone with a specialist who doesn’t know what they are doing. After being transferred multiple times you finally request the manager. You’re excited to resolve your issue when the manager says, “I’m sorry, I need to transfer you to the department that handles these requests.” We’ve all been there.

 

As entrepreneurs, most of our customer interactions are first impressions for our brand. We don’t have the luxury of having a preceding reputation that can withstand an interaction like the one described above. We must deliver every time we have the chance. Here are two ways to ensure that you always deliver excellence.

 

1. Whatever you do, do it well

This is Business 101 right?  It should be. Yet many entrepreneurs on their quest for the “next big thing” fall into the trap of pursuing speed to market and low cost instead of value.  You don’t have to be an expert in everything—just the thing that you are doing.

 

As entrepreneurs, we must ensure that everyone who represents or supports our brand is well trained and fully competent.  No doubt all organizations strive for the same result, but we don’t have to look far to see that many are failing miserably.  In an environment where excellence in execution and delivery is often the exception, we as entrepreneurs can establish a competitive advantage by simply taking the time to ensure that our brand is associated with knowledgeable, competent professionals.

 

Excellence begins with you.  You are leading from the front as an entrepreneur and this requires a commitment to two key competencies: self-awareness and self- development.

 

Self-awareness:  There are really good options available to learn about yourself and how you “show up.”  It really doesn’t matter if you choose a tried and true tool like Meyers-Briggs or one of the more recent assessments like Insights.  The impact is the same.  You get to learn about yourself, your preferences and most importantly your potential blind spots.

 

The insights you gain about yourself and your preferences allow you to improve your ability to adapt and connect with others.  You will also acquire valuable feedback that will help you flex your communication style resulting in improved interpersonal skills.  Finally, the application of the key insights and enhanced interpersonal skills will lead to strong relationships with your employees and customers.

 

Self-development: Staying abreast of industry changes, market trends and the latest technological advances seems almost impossible in the current era of information overload.  However, we can overcome this seemingly impossible task by adopting a few simple best practices.  Our credibility and impact will soar as we dedicate time for ongoing training and development.

 

As entrepreneurs we are accustomed to operating in “get it done” mode.  This natural propensity fuels our success as a business owner and it can also hinder our ability to slow down.  One best practice that works well for me is my commitment to the “Sacred 20.”  Block 20 minutes on your calendar everyday to learn and grow your capabilities.  You may review something that you have done in the past to refresh your knowledge or explore something totally new.  Either way it will be time well spent!

 

2. Excellence in customer service must be resurrected

How many times a day to you find yourself interacting with people who appear to be stuck in jobs that they hate?  There seems to be a secret training class on how to not deliver good customer service based on the high number of customers who report being surprised when they receive good service.

 

In fact, there’s a whole litany of sidesplitting examples of poor customer service. Many of which have contributed to some of the most famous satire.  Real life experiences with inept employees or business owners are usually not funny at all and result in loss customers.

 

We also have an amplifying factor in the importance of resurrecting customer service.  Social media outlets have given customers an immediate platform for voicing their opinions—and the world is listening.  Many businesses have found themselves in crisis mode following a bad review going viral.

 

Who could ever forget the scene in Pretty Woman when Vivian (Julia Roberts) strolled into a posh Rodeo Drive boutique in search for some “appropriate” attire?  Vivian points to an outfit on the mannequin and asks, “How much is this?” The sales woman replies, “I don’t think this would fit you.” “Well,” Vivian says, “I didn’t ask if it would fit. I asked how much it was.”

 

The clerk even went as far as saying, “I don’t think we have anything for you.  You’re obviously in the wrong place.”  The looks Vivian received as she asked about the cost of the outfit coupled with the condescending tone in the store clerk’s response resulted in the loss of a huge sale.  This spelled bad news for the boutique’s bottom line.

 

Vivian’s story, while fictional, is not a far stretch from many real-life customer experiences. The good news is that entrepreneurs can set the stage for resurrecting customer service within our respective industries.  Cloud Cherry shared some great tips to help you along the path to excellence in their  “Top 11 customer experience resolutions you need to make for 2017” infographic.

 

There are many more keys to success as an entrepreneur.  Focusing the fundamentals such as doing what you do extremely well and establishing a service culture will help you develop a sustainable competitive advantage in the increasing demanding entrepreneurial marketplace.

 

To learn more about La’Wana, visit lawanaharris.com