So a few weeks ago I realized that I was starting my seventh year in business! Holy cow! When you consider that, on average, only 50% of small businesses are still around after 5 years, it leaves me feeling pretty optimistic that I will be serving people as an Education, Career and Life Coach for years to come!
So how did I do it? How did I set up my business that still endures today? And what suggestions do I have for fellow entrepreneurs?
There is a bit of a backstory to my business start-up. I am a creative, independent person with an entrepreneurial spirit. For years I had been thinking about owning my own business. So when the time was right, I was ready to jump in!
The first step I took in starting my business was to do a review of my skills and experience to see what I could offer that people would be willing to pay for. I also had to make sure I had enough passion for my business concept to carry me through the challenges of getting it up and running. I knew that I likely would be creating a service-based business, as I didn’t have the funds to start a product-based one.
Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to realize what I wanted to do. Having worked to support college students for over 20 years, I realized that my absolute most favorite thing to do was to talk with people about what they wanted for their lives and how they could make it happen.
And as luck would have it, this favorite thing is called “life coaching” and there is an entire profession built around it, complete with specialized training and professional standards and associations.
Once I determined I wanted to coach people, I read everything I could to learn more about what it was like to be a coach, how to become a coach and run a successful coaching practice. As part of my research, I interviewed several people who were in various stages of their coaching career to get their perspective on the profession and suggestions for training opportunities.
Next, I needed to figure out exactly how to set up my business, since I did not have a degree or background in business. The good news is that there are many free resources to help people get started on creating a business plan, establishing business practices, marketing, etc. Two resources I used were the Small Business Development Center, which has offices across the US, and the Entrepreneur Fund, which serves communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
There are also great books out there that walk you through each step of developing your business. The one that really resonated with me is The Boss of You by Emira Mears and Lauren Bacon. The book is extremely practical and inspiring. You may learn more at https://www.laurenandemira.com/
After all this preparation, it was finally time to dive in! My first step was to develop my website sarahvandermeiden.com. It was important to me to have complete control over the development and content of my website. I had heard too many stories about entrepreneurs having to wait for days before updates were made to their website, or - even worse - the person or company that managed their website was no longer in business and they had no clue on how to access or manage it.
Therefore, I decided to create and maintain my website on my own. After extensive research, I decided to use wix.com as my website platform. Wix is known for being extremely user-friendly due to it’s intuitive technology and built-in tools. I can attest to this as I am not technologically inclined but I have gotten a lot of positive feedback on my website, which has proven to be my top marketing tool.
A note on websites: Yes, you need one. I can’t tell you how many people talk themselves out of needing a website, saying that a social media page is “good enough.” No, it’s not. How many businesses do you take seriously if their only presence is on Facebook? Having a website adds legitimacy to your business and you won’t have to worry about shadow banning or other tricks favored by the tech giants.
I am going to be completely honest here: Most people who are dragging their feet on developing a website are simply intimidated or overwhelmed by the prospect of doing so. Look, I get it - I felt the same way. But I pushed through the fear because it was such a high priority for me to be able to manage my own website. And you know what? It feels so great to know that I created my website, that I don’t need to rely on anyone else to maintain it and to have also gained some great skills along the way.
As the years have gone by, having served dozens of clients, I find myself continually evaluating my business practices and marketing plan to ensure I remain relevant. I have focused on different target markets, advertised on Facebook, joined the Chamber of Commerce, put up flyers and distributed business cards, joined networking groups, developed my own groups, and had booths at various business and community events. In the end, my website has been my most effective marketing tool as I help people figure out who they are, what they want for their lives and how to make it happen.
In summary, starting a business from scratch isn’t easy. If you are interested in starting your own business, pick something you are passionate about and utilize available resources to develop a solid business and marketing plan. Keep going through the tough stuff and be sure to ask for help when the going gets rough!!
Sarah VanderMeiden, M.S., BCC is a Board Certified Coach passionate about helping people identify and accomplish goals. She loves helping entrepreneurs get clear on their business ideas and move from concept to reality. She can be contacted at sarahvandermeiden.com