Written by: Heather Swick
After years of dreaming and planning, I finally launched my full-time freelancing business last summer. I spent time in a few different corporate positions picking up practical skills that would help me when I branched out on my own. Still, there were plenty of lessons I had to learn (and am still learning every day) as I went.
The first year is crucial in the lifetime of a business, and for many start-ups, it is also their final year. There are a few checkpoints to keep you on track when you’re getting your business up and running. Help your business thrive in its first year and beyond by keeping these goals and milestones in mind as you go.
Create a Business Plan
If you aren’t seeking funding for your business, you may attempt to dive right in with only a vague idea of what needs to happen. But whether you’re setting up an Etsy shop or working to become the next titan of your industry, you are going to need a clear-cut plan to fall back on. Some things to consider are: What matters most to you? What areas of your business should take priority? Are you filling a void in the market? Do you have a full-time job you plan on leaving to fully take the reigns of your business? Sort these questions out before you dive in, and you will have a quality blueprint to refer to when you’re feeling stuck. But don’t forget to be flexible; plans can change dramatically in the first year, so consistently update your plan when you have the chance.
Know Your Customers
Prior to launching your business and throughout the first year, you will begin to determine who values and benefits from your products or services. Use this knowledge to reform your plan as you go. Don’t forget to study your biggest competitors and figure out what sets you apart from them. Is there a segment of the market they’re missing? Could you fill that need? Take the time to learn about the needs of your customers and gather as much information as possible.
Determine Short and Long-Term Goals
It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day minutia of running a business. At the very beginning, you might be wearing the hat of every role your company needs. That level of overwhelm can trap you in the short term, but looking years down the line can help you focus and prioritize your duties. Sit down once a month and determine your goals for that month, as well as what you want to achieve six months, one year and five years down the line. These goals will change and evolve as you go, but keeping your eye on the bigger picture will help your business plans succeed.
Harness Your Productivity
There is an old joke that says entrepreneurs only work half days – they choose whatever 12 hours they’d like. If you’re making the transition from a traditional 9-5 job, the first year going in it alone can be a struggle. Your work hours become whenever you want them to be, and there are plenty of opportunities for distraction. Not only that, but you will most likely work harder than you’ve ever had to because now your business rests on your shoulders. Take this opportunity to learn about your own productivity. Do you get the most done first thing in the morning, or late at night? When do you feel the most energized? What tends to pull you away from work most often? The work-life balance is tricky when you’re an entrepreneur, but if you work out a schedule that suits you, you can get into a routine that keeps you on track.
Understand Your Taxes
When tax time rolls around your first year in business, you should strongly consider working with an accountant to make sure you’ve covered all your bases. Depending on the industry that you are in, you could have to pay quarterly taxes or fill out forms you’ve never dealt with before. If your side work is becoming your full-time job, don’t forget about this transition. If you’ve incorporated or hired employees, it’s vital that you have your taxes prepared correctly. Work with a professional to potentially save yourself money and major headaches.
Your first year as a business owner is an exciting, stressful, and emotional time in your life, but it is also incredibly rewarding. If you feel prepared to take on that endeavor, don’t be afraid to make the leap – you will adjust your goals and gain wisdom along the way.
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