It’s officially been a year since I stepped out on my own to start a business around personal branding and growing influence online.
There is no denying that entrepreneurship is a hot topic right now. You see it all over social media: glamorized versions of people who are “working for themselves,” while also making a ton of money, and living a beautiful, nomadic lifestyle. There is also a contingent of entrepreneurs talking about how much “hustle” is required and how “hard” the life of an entrepreneur is, but no specific details on what exactly that entails and how to avoid some of those early business mistakes.
Prior to my current venture, I worked at VaynerMedia for almost 3 years, the majority of which was spent working on Gary Vaynerchuk’s personal brand team (Team Garyvee) and the personal branding arm of the agency. I am also a non-practicing attorney and transitioned through a variety of roles in Hollywood before finding the career path that was right for me.
Despite working closely with some of the most public names in the entrepreneurship space on their personal brands, and watching them inspire others to start that journey, I really didn’t know the foundational elements that go into building the foundation of a real business. Hard work and a marketable skill does not an entrepreneur make.
I want to share some of the most valuable business advice, foundational lessons, and insights I’ve learned over my first year in business. These elements of business might not be as sexy from a content standpoint, but will ultimately save you time, money, and headaches. These tips are absolutely imperative to success in business.
Top 5 Business Tips for New Entrepreneurs:
1. Take it seriously.
I’m going to be as blunt and direct with you as possible because once you’re on your own, there will be no one to sugarcoat it. Once you are really on your own, you are responsible for everything. Literally everything. This path isn’t for people who just want to talk about it on Instagram and it’s definitely not for the lazy. Depending on your business, you are now sales, operations, customer service, marketing, HR and finance (and that’s not an exhaustive list). If you have any dependencies like family, loans, debt, or employees, that’s on you.
There is a lot of talk online about building a business that allows you to pursue your passion and focus on your strengths. I fully subscribe to the idea that we should not have to be miserable at work. Depending on what you want in life, you might just want to consider finding a job you like better in someone else’s business without the additional responsibilities. Be honest with yourself.
2. Lawyer Up
I don’t practice, but I am an attorney. I went to Georgetown Law and I passed the New York State Bar Exam. I‘m not telling you this to brag, I’m telling you this because even with all of that legal background, I still didn’t fully realize how necessary it is for a business owner (at any stage) to have a lawyer on the team. And not just any lawyer, you need one that understands both you and your business.
Hiring a lawyer seems to scare the crap out of people. It might seem intimidating or expensive, but if that’s the case, you are speaking to the wrong lawyer. If you are genuinely thinking of starting a business, or if you have started one and don’t have a lawyer, you need one. This is nonnegotiable.
Can’t I just use LegalZoom?
What about Rocket Lawyer?
It’s insane how many opportunities exists for you to open yourself up to liabilities that you didn’t even realize existed. And just in case you didn’t know, ignorance of the law is not a defense.
Don’t look at attorneys as people who are there to fix things when they break. A good lawyer will help you build a smarter business which, in turn, can make you more money.
This person should be a trusted counsel to achieve your vision. Find one who understands you and your business and not when you are desperate to find one when something goes wrong. (Side note: Don’t just use your parents’ attorney – you know if I’m talking to you).
3. Not Your Parent’s Accountant
No one messes around when it comes to money and the IRS doesn’t play. Do you parents still do your taxes? I’m not too proud to admit that mine did up until I went out on my own. It’s all well and good when you work for someone and they hand you a W-2, but now that you own a business, you should have more than a few questions about your incoming and outgoing cash flow.
Just like with the lawyer, an accountant is an integral member to your new business team. Not just any accountant, you need one who understands you and your business. Doing this the right way sets you up for long term success and mitigates potential issues.
Do you have a separate bank account for your business? Are you going to incorporate and if so, did you talk to both the accountant and the lawyer about it? Does a 1099 or a Schedule C look familiar to you? Do you know what puts you at risk for an audit?
This is the honest truth: If you are too lazy to speak to a professional to know exactly where your money is going, what can be deducted, how much to set aside for taxes, and anything else related to finance and business formations, you have no business being in business.
4. Kill Your Competition (With Kindness)
Entrepreneurship can be lonely. Which is a big reason masterminds groups have become so popular. It’s not only beneficial to gain knowledge from people who have already paved the way, but also to speak to people who are at the same level to trade tips, tools, and tactics.
Trust me, when your family or significant other or friends don’t want to hear about your business anymore (or have no clue what the hell you do or why you’re doing it), having a support system of people who can truly celebrate your wins with you and commiserate on the not-so-glamorous parts will be key.
Some of my best a-ha moments have come from conversations with people who do something similar to what I do or what I want to be doing. Depending on your business, I use “competition” loosely here because you might not want to hang out with your most direct competitors. However, I’m of the mindset that success is not a zero sum game. No two businesses or business owners are exactly the same. I often talk about collaborations related to growing on social media; the same goes for business. You might offer the same services, but to different audiences. You might speak to the same audience, but offer different services. There are creative ways to collaborate so both parties win.
5. Embrace Change (and Be Nimble)
Changing, pivoting, adapting, evolving – you can call it whatever you want, but it is inevitable. You need to be prepared to change any and all aspects of your business that aren’t working. If the market is telling you it doesn’t want “X” package or “Y” service, you need to be prepared to offer something else. This goes both ways. If something has changed in your life and you don’t want to be offering a service or product anymore, you need to take the initiative to construct something that works for you (and the market). You need to be constantly assessing where you are and where you want to go. I hate when people say “it is what it is” – but it is what it is and that’s completely fine. You just make it work.
This list is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of lessons I learned this year. This first year has been incredibly challenging in many ways, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. The good news is that if you are considering starting a business or if you are still early on in your business, you can most likely correct any foundational mistakes by being proactive. Most entrepreneurs have to learn these lessons the hard way; it’s one of my goals to make that journey slightly easier for those that actually want it.
My business attorney Nico Becerra and I are working on providing you with resources to make sure, if entrepreneurship is actually the right path for you, you set yourself up for success right out the gate. We created this free checklist with questions that all new entrepreneurs (or potential entrepreneurs) should take the time to consider.
*Free new business checklist HERE