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How to start a business doing what you love and keep loving it

How to start a business doing what you love and keep loving it

When she was 22, Sophia Amoruso began selling clothes on EBay under the name Nasty Gal Vintage. At the age of 28, she had amassed $250 million. How did she do it?

Simply put, she took a culture that she loved–vintage, hip, girl culture–and made a business out of it. She continued being fresh and relevant to her audience of Millennials. She did this by staying true to herself as an empowered Millennial woman–a #GIRLBOSS.

Like Amoruso, you can take what you love and make it a business without sacrificing your love for it. But beware. The journey isn’t easy. It takes vision, courage, smarts, persistence, and organization. You may have to sacrifice some of your idiosyncrasies to appeal to a broader audience.

At first, you may feel a twinge about making money from a purely passionate activity. But ultimately, if you truly love what you’re doing, you’re giving something valuable to people, something worth more than money. You’ll keep adapting to make it fresh. The world, and you, will be better because you’re doing this.

Examine yourself

Do you really want to do this? Have no doubt. The reality is you’ll be embroiling yourself in the world of business; you’ll be taking what you love and attaching numbers to it. You need to make money to live. Are you doing it because you love it, or because you want to make money?

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Do what you love because you love it. The money will come because you’ve taken the right steps to make it a business. Making what you love into a business is just required for you to be able to do it all the time. The real question is: do you want to do what you love all the time? Of course you do.

Set your expectations

This won’t be easy and you won’t even necessarily make money. You can expect to take what you love to the next level. Your art will get better. Your writing will improve. Your people skills will flourish. Expect to excel at what you love. If you don’t find yourself excelling, keep at it. If you find yourself excelling, keep at it. This is what you love and you know it. You can expect to excel when other people know it, too. They’ll see what you love for what it is, like when people are immersed in a painting. You’re just a conduit for something truly independent of you.

Get down to the nitty-gritty

You knew this was coming: there are practicalities to making this a business so you can do it all the time. These things aren’t what you got into it for. They’re the necessarily evils of the system. Keep your eyes on what you love–but get the practical stuff right.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has a gateway to the logistics of starting a business. You can use this as your push-off point. Here you’ll find advice and links on everything from how to start a business to hiring and retaining employees.

Determine your business structure. If you’re not going to have any partners—say you’re a visual artist—you’ll want to register as a sole proprietor. This simply means that what you do as an individual is your business in the eyes of the law.

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But say you’re in a band. Then consider registering as an LLC (Limited Liability Company). The LLC means each partner, or member, shares tax responsibilities. But any debts accrued won’t rest on your shoulders. Instead, they’re on the business as an entity.

Once you’re officially setup as a business, head over to the IRs site and get your Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes. You’ll also need to register your business with your state.

Prepare to accept payment

As a small business owner and an entrepreneur, it’s important to be able to monetize your work. If you’re selling your art, an EMV (Europay Mastercard Visa) card reader allows you to do so from anywhere. With a credit card reader, you’ll be able to take payment from the many people who don’t have cash and prefer a card. EMV is the evolution of the card readers you see on seller’s phones at farmer’s markets and concerts. EMV is now mandated by banks, because it reduces fraud. If you don’t have it, you may be liable for fraudulent card transactions.

Find funding

There are multiple ways to get funding for your business:

  • Crowdfunding—Kickstarter, Indiegogo, PledgeMusic, Sellaband, etc.
  • Competitions and grants—colleges, government organizations, trade organizations
  • Venture capital—MicroVentures, VCapital, FundersClub, etc for online; and see Wikipedia’s list of traditional firms
  • Microfinancing— Kiva, Accion, Opportunity Fund, etc.
  • Angel investors—angel groups, e.g. AngelList, Gust
  • Venture debt investors—firms such as Trinity Capital Investment and Kauffman Fellows provide financing even if you don’t have positive cash flows or assets.
  • Bank loans—most local banks have funding for their account holders

The type of funding you pursue will depend on the nature of your business. There’s all sorts of crowdfunding available for any sort of venture, but a site such as Kickstarter is best for artists who have a physical product to promise investors. If you’re going to take on venture debt, have a clear view on paying it back, or you’ll have to liquidate or declare bankruptcy.

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The SBA also may provide financial assistance to you if you:

  • Operate for profit
  • Are doing business in the US
  • Have some owner equity to invest

Try out the other options, including using your own assets, first

Overall, there will be funding for you if you’re willing to buckle down, do the research, fill out the forms, and go for it. Just make sure your business plan is in place before gunning for funds.

Do research and networking

As you’re preparing to start your business, and once you do start your business, talk to anyone you can find who has done something similar:

  • Access internet forums
  • Research local entrepreneurs and reach out to them on LinkedIn
  • Find Facebook groups
  • Look at their websites and physical locations
  • Send emails, introduce yourself, ask for advice
  • See about sitting down with them for coffee

Anything you can do to find a mentor will help you immensely. Mashable has a list of entrepreneur social networks for just this purpose. Ask about every stage of starting, maintaining, and excelling.

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Understand your brand and audience

The branding process is ongoing. Your brand strategy is essentially a roadmap for how you plan on adapting to an uncertain and volatile marketplace.

Your name is a big part of your brand. Like Sophia Amoruso, make your DBA (Doing Business As) name a reflection of what inspires you. In Amoruso’s case, it was funk singer Betty Davis’ 1975 album, Nasty Gal.

If what you love is art, you have a set of ideals. Your ideals are related to who you are, they’re related to your views, and they determine your aesthetic. Understanding your brand is a matter of identifying your aesthetic. Write it down in pencil so you can go back and change it. That’s because your aesthetic can, and should, change as you and your audience evolve.

Evolving with your audience is important. It shows you’re paying attention to what’s happening around you. It will also help you keep loving what you do, because evolution keeps things fresh and exciting.

Featured photo credit: Wikipedia( via en.wikipedia.org

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Dan Matthews, CPRP

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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Published on March 20, 2019

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

Have you ever felt lost in the minutia of your job?

As a business owner, I can relate to getting bogged down in the day to day operations of my business. Things like inventory, payroll, scheduling, purchasing and employee management take up the bulk of my day.

While these things are important and need to get done, focusing too much on the details can make you lose sight of the big picture. This is why having a good mission statement comes in handy.

What is a Mission Statement?

Put simply, a mission statement is an internal document that provides a clear purpose for the organization. It provides a common reference point for everyone in the organization to start from.

In other words, after reading your company’s mission statement, managers and employees should be able to answer the question “What are company’s main objectives?” For example, Southwest Airlines mission statement reads:[1]

“Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.”

In this single statement, Southwest conveys the company’s goals of providing the highest level of customer service as well as providing a good working environment for their employees.

Mission Statement VS. Vision Statement

While the mission and vision statements are related, there are subtle but distinct differences the you should be aware of.

First of all, a mission statement is designed primarily as an internal company document. It provides clarity and direction for managers and employees.

While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your company’s mission statement with the outside world, its intended audience is within the company.

While a mission statement provides a general framework for the organization, the vision statement is usually a more inspirational statement designed to motivate employees and inspire customers. Going back to Southwest Airlines, their vision statement reads:[2]

“To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”

This statement inspires good feeling from the customer while motivating the employees to achieve that vision.

What Does a Good Mission Statement Look Like?

When coming up with a mission statement, it’s important to take your time and do it right. Too often, people (especially entrepreneurs) just write down the first thing that comes to mind and they end up with worthless or (worse yet) a generic mission statement that is utterly useless.

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Remember, a mission statement should provide a common framework for everyone in your organization.

When writing a mission statement, you should always try to incorporate the following;

  • What we do?
  • How we do it?
  • Whom do we do it for?
  • What value are we bringing?

Now, you can see how tempting it is to just come up with something generic that ticks off those four boxes. Something like “We provide the best widgets available online for the consumer.”

After all, that did check off all the boxes:

What we do? Provide widgets.

How we do it? Online.

Who do we do it for? The consumer.

What value we bring? The best widgets.

The problem with this mission statement is that it could apply to any number of companies producing the same widget. There is nothing to distinguish your company or its widgets from any of your competitors widgets.

Compare that mission statement to this one:

“We provide the highest quality widgets directly to the consumer at an affordable price backed up with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If our clients aren’t 100% satisfied, we’ll make it right.”

What’s the difference?

Both mission statements answer all the same questions of what, how, whom and value. But in the second statement, they are differentiating their company from all other competitors by answering the question “what makes us unique”.

Another way to read that is, “Why you should buy from us.” In this example, it’s because our widgets are of the highest quality and we stand behind them 100%.

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You might have noticed the statement didn’t say that we sell widgets at the lowest possible price. That’s because we are emphasizing quality and satisfaction over price.

A different company’s mission statement may emphasize selling widgets at the lowest possible price with little to no mention of a guarantee.

Hallmarks of a Good Mission Statement

1. Keep It Brief

Your mission statement should be no longer than three sentences. This is not your company’s magnum opus.

You should be able to distill the what, how, who and why questions into a succinct message.

2. Have a Purpose

A company’s missions statement should include the reason it even exists.

Make clear exactly what the company does with statements like “We strive to provide our customers with …….”

3. Include a “How”

Take this as an opportunity to differentiate your company from its competitors.

How do you provide a product or service that’s different or better than how your competitor provides it?

4. Talk About the Value You Bring to the Table

This is where you can really set yourself apart from the competition. This is the “why” customers should buy from you.

Do you offer the lowest prices? Fastest delivery? Exceptional customer service? Whatever it is that sets you apart and gives your particular products, services or company an advantage talk about it in the mission statement.

5. Make Sure It’s Plausible

It’s okay to shoot for the stars just to settle for the moon, but not in a mission statement.

Being overly ambitious will only set you and your employees up for failure, hurt morale and make you lose credibility. You will also scare away potential investors if they think that you are not being realistic in your mission statement.

6. Make It Unique and Distinctive

Imagine if someone who knew nothing about your business walked in and saw how it was operating, then they read your mission statement. Would they be able to recognize that mission statement was attached to that business? If not re-work it.

7. Think Long Term

A mission statement should be narrow enough so that it provides a common framework for the existing business, but open enough to allow for longer term goals. It should be able to grow as the business grows.

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8. Get Feedback

This is very important, especially from managers and employees.

Getting their input can clarify how they currently see the company and their role within the organization. It’s also a good way to get people “on-board,” as studies show that people are more likely to go along with an idea if they feel included in the decision making process beforehand.

9. Review Often and Revise as Necessary

You should review the missions statement often for two reasons.

First, as a reminder of what the essence of the company is. It’s easy to forget when you are in the day to day grind of the business.

And two, to make sure that the mission statement is still relevant. Things change, and not everything can be anticipated at the time a mission statement was written.

For example, if a mission statement was written before the advent of the internet, a company that use to sell things door to door now probably has a website that people order from. You should always update the mission statement to reflect these changes.

The Value of Mission Statements: Why Go Through All of These in the First Place?

It may seem like a lot of work just for a few sentences that describe a company, but the value of a well written mission statement should not be discounted.

First of all, if you are an entrepreneur, crystallizing the what, how, whom and value questions will keep you focused on the core business and its values.

If you are a manager or other employee, knowing the company’s basic tenants will help inform your interactions with both customers and colleagues alike.

Strategic Planning

A relevant mission statement acts as a framework for strategic planning. It provides guidance and parameters for making strategic decisions for the future of the company.

Measuring Performance

By having the company’s mission in a concrete form, it also allows for an objective measurement of how well the organization is meeting its stated goals at any one time.

Management can identify strengths and weaknesses in the organization based on the criteria set forth in the mission statement and make decisions accordingly.

Solidifying the Company’s Goals and Values for Employees

Part of a well run organization is nurturing happy and productive employees.

As humans, we all have an innate need for both purpose and to be part of something larger than ourselves. Providing employees with a clearly defined mission statement helps to define their role in the larger organization. Thus, fulfilling both of these needs.

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Now I’m not saying that a mission statement can overcome low pay and poor working conditions, but with everything else being equal, it can contribute to a happier and more productive workforce.

To Hold Management Accountable

By creating a mission statement, a company is publicly stating its highest values and goals for the world to see. By doing so, you are inviting both the public and your employees to to scrutinize how well the company lives up to its ideals.

So if you state that you only provide the highest quality products, and then offer something less, it’s fair for both the public and the employees to question, and even call for a change in management.

If management doesn’t take the mission statement seriously, no one else will either; and the legitimate authority that management rely’s on will be diminished.

To Serve as an Example

This is the opposite side of the coin from the previous statement. If the highest levels of management are seen taking the mission statement seriously and actively managing within the framework of the statement, that attitude filters down throughout the organization.

After all, a good employee knows what’s important to their boss and will take the steps necessary to curry favor with them.

Finally, use the company’s mission statement as a way to define roles within the company. You can do this by giving each division in the company a copy of the mission statement and challenge the head of each division to create a mission statement for their respective departments.

Their individual mission statements should focus on how each department fits in and ultimately contributes to the success of the company’s overall mission statement. This serves as both a clarifying and a team building exercise for all parts of the organization.

Final Thoughts

Developing a mission statement is too often just an after-thought, especially for entrepreneurs. We tend to prioritize things that we perceive will give us the biggest “bang for our buck.”

Somehow, taking the time and effort to sit down and think seriously about the what, whom, how and value of our business seems like a waste of time. After all, we got in the business to make money and become successful, isn’t that all we need to know?

That mindset will probably get you started okay, but if you find yourself having any success at all, you’ll find that there really is such a thing as growing pains.

By putting in the time and effort to create a mission statement, you are laying the groundwork that will give you a path to follow in your growth. And isn’t building long term success what we are really after?

More Resources About Achieving Business Success

Featured photo credit: Fab Lentz via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Southwest Airlines: About Page
[2] Fit Small Business: 10 Vision Statement Examples To Spark Your Imagination

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