So you're smart. You've got an idea and you want to change the world (or at least your world my making some cashish). These days, it takes more than an idea to make it happen - especially when you are competing with the Kardashians and the Republican presidential candidates (and their inverted sense of elegance and poise) for air-time.
If you are wanna be starting something but aren't sure where to start, you might find the following helpful.
Make a list of what you do well and stick to those things.
This might seem like a dumb thing to say, but you'd be surprised. Most people who go into business don't actually like business. They may like the subject of their business (example: cooking) or the object of their business (example: to end world hunger) but when it comes to invoicing clients, sourcing raw materials, marketing, etc, they want to put their heads in the sand.
The purpose of making a list of the things you do well, is so that you can post it on your office wall, and stick to those things. If you need help doing the things you are not good at, and you can't afford to hire someone to do it for you, remember that there are plenty of creative ways to exchange services and goods. I have traded web work for massages, cooked dinners, a summer of salad greens, and house cleaning.
Make a list of what you will need and find creative ways to make the things you do not want to do yourself, happen.
- Don't pay for software that you can get for free: I have been using free software as an Internet and design professional for the last 5 years and counting. Before paying for software of any kind, you would be better served to do a quick search online (using the words: Open Source Software) and see if you can't download it immediately without having to pay a cent. If you REALLY want to pay, you can donate to the software project. :)
- Cheap Invoicing and Business Systems: Invoicing systems are expensive, but the truth is that you don't need one if you know how to use a spreadsheet (keeping your data) in conjunction with a word processing program (form-letters and form-invoices). When I said 'spreadsheet' just now, did you automatically think I should be speaking with someone else? If so, please reconsider. I know that spreadsheets aren't the sexiest buggers, but knowing how to use them effectively will save you cash, time, frustration, etc. It is worth learning. You don't need a class, but you will want to use google to get unstuck. If you have not yet taken my first piece of advise to heart and converted to non-proprietary software, there are invoice templates and all sorts of goodies here.
- Marketing: A lot of folks will buy an ad in the alt weekly backpage, build a website (that's next on the list), and make a couple mentions on facebook that their job is done. That is far from the case. In almost every instance, word of mouth is your best friend. You would be better off being more talkative at parties about what you are doing than you might be taking out an ad (not to mention that the former is much more fun and less expensive). When I was really desperate for work in Atlanta, I would go to my friend's restaurant (kinda ritzy) and sit alone at the bar. Not only did my friend kindly slip me samples, I would inevitably have 5-7 conversations during the evening about what I 'do' (it's the first thing people ask) and would invariably leave with 1-2 leads. Get creative and have fun. If marketing feels hard or boring, you are probably setting yourself up to make a very weak impression.
- Your Website: First thing you should do is read my web primer 101. It basically goes through a lot of your options in terms of tools that you can build your website with, including pros and cons. Creativity, both in terms of making the tools you decide to use work for you, and also in terms of making creative barters with folks who can help you get where you need to go, will take you far. I would also say that money or energy spent trying to get systems to all exist under one roof (ei: invoicing from your website or enrolling people in classes from your site) is always money well spent IF you carry it through to completion. But remember, that last part is a big IF. Make sure you are committed.
The second rule of a website is it will only be as dynamic as what you put on it. You will be creating content, images, writing and plans for your website for the life of your website, and if you are not, your website will become very uninteresting very fast. If you do not have mechanisms in place to let people know when you publish things (RSS feeds and posting/tweeting on your social networks when you put something up you like) make sure that you make that a goal/focus because it will be an important driver of users and energy to your site.
- Hiring a consultant: If you decide to hire someone to help (which is a fine decision) do not move forward if you feel at all like you are unsure your needs have been heard. They likely have not, and getting clear early-on and before contracts are signed is always a good idea. If you are not being heard, tie up loose ends (pay them for their time) and move on.
Make time to get things done little by little.
Unless you are getting help from Aliens with supercow powers, you are not going to be able to do this in a day, a week, and likely not even a month. Make sure you give yourself time. You will need both a regular space in your schedule to work on these tasks byte by byte, and also a realistic understanding of how long things will take. The only thing that will ensure your failure is if you give up, and the reason most people give up is because things don't happen as fast or smoothly as they had planned.