My Own Startup Experience - First Two Months
I proclaim to know what's best for others a lot, but I try to keep my advice to areas I am qualified to speak to. I thought it would be nice for those who follow me to understand how I can empathize with you through the telling of my own recent startup experience.
We all have our reasons for starting off on our own, whether it is because of the economy, want more flexible hours, or are at that stage in our lives where we are capable of starting our own business. My personal reasoning is not an uncommon story. When I was applying to jobs as I neared the end of law school, I learned three important facts: (1) There are no legal jobs, (2) I don't qualify for any additional credit to support myself through the bar exam, and (3) there really are no legal jobs. I was one of the lucky ones though. I had a job lined up. I met a guy and somehow managed to gain his trust. He offered me a job that would start mid-October. I did some math and made up some findings, but somehow I decided I had enough money saved up that I could manage to live from May until November without any income, but that was it. If November 1st rolled around and I had no money, I was done for. It's nearing November 1st and I'm still around, but we'll get to that.
The Bar Exam
The Bar Exam was the first major obstacle. I knew I couldn't dedicate enough time to the bar exam if I were to also work a full or even part time job. This test was that important to me that I abandoned my social life, my financial life and some of my eating and hygiene habits. I'm right with you, it was kind of gross. Fortunately, I have a very supportive girlfriend who didn't get too angry with my panic attacks or complete disregard for the outside world. So, I paid rent, bought food, paid utilities and watched my savings go down between May and July. But, when you take the bar exam, you still have to wait. I applied to several part time jobs around, but call backs are apparently a thing of the past. The results for the bar exam came nearly a month after the exam, but the waiting wasn't over. As it turns out, you still have to wait to get your license and get sworn in. So a few weeks later, I was finally able to get sworn in, pay my state and local dues, and become a full fledged attorney ready to start my own law practice. By this point, it was September, and I was considering a lot of unsavory options. It was also at this point that I realized my job may have disappeared. Although I stayed in contact with the guy who was supposed to hire me, I heard very little about the position when I inquired about it. I was overly optimistic when I got the offer and stopped applying elsewhere. This would have been my dream job. I would get to work from home doing general legal work as an independent contractor while being able to start my own law firm. Starting my own firm was always part of the plan, I just never thought it was the plan.
The business cards I bought off of vistaprint with a 25% coupon, I make my own letterhead and logo, and I know enough about computers, web design and programming languages that I was able to make my own websites. I filed my articles of organization on October 3rd, 2012, but that wasn't the start. Before I even got started, I networked like crazy in this area. Somedays, I had 4 different events planned. My calendar was packed, and it paid off. Then my car died. I didn't anticipate having a $2,500 car repair bill, so I left it broken. I look back at this being the biggest mistake I've made so far. My number one source of clients is from face to face networking, and in this area, you need a car to do that. I thought I can redirect my efforts to areas like Hubpages, WebAnswers, my own website and forums, but those were too slow by comparison. Although some people are referred to my website, there have been 0 conversions, albeit it's been less than 3 weeks without a car at the time I wrote this article.
I've earned some income, but nowhere near enough. My personal and business finances suggest I need to bring in a bare minimum of $1,400 every month. (Spreadsheets are key in this game, and it's good that everything I do is on a spreadsheet.) While I haven't hit that mark, I can prolong how much I have in my account by doing work for the clients I already have and continuing to do what I've been doing to seek out new clients.
I was lucky enough that my parents and girlfriend were able to provide some support, so they kept me afloat while I sought out my first few clients. I now have 5 clients in the month I've been around and have made several beneficial contacts in the area that might lead to referrals later on.
What I have planned is similar to what I have done, but more. I plan to get back out to the face to face networking because that is my greatest source of clients. I'm continuing to do an expansive, yet free, internet marketing program. And, I'm planning on utilizing tax season to my advantage, either through a job/partnership at H&R Block or some other established tax firm, or by letting as many people know I also do taxes and can do them for less than the firms out there. Though it won't be a million dollar idea, I believe it is the small steps that bring us the furthest in our dreams.
The most important part of being a startup is keeping my mind open, so I read other hubs just like mine for ideas and I interact with others so that I may learn from them. Feel free to comment ideas you have, or suggestions on what worked or didn't with you as well.
What I Would Do Differently
First, I would have taken a loan or found some way to get a car so that I could get to the networking events like I was. I'm an introvert, so I probably didn't have the highest intrinsic motivation to get back to the events. The numbers, however, do not lie, and they tell me that networking events have the highest return per hour spent, and the cost is minimal.
Second, I wouldn't have been as shameful of what I was doing. Everyone at these events was trying to make a sale. My approach was "I'm just here to meet people," whereas it should have been "I"m a lawyer. I help my clients start their businesses the right way so they can worry about the stuff that brings in the money and not have to worry about legal issues down the road." It's as though I was worried about what people thought about me too much, though it is very important for self-branding, it shouldn't be the only concern.
Third, I should have started the web advertising the same time I started the networking. There is a delay in the results of my efforts, so my web advertising might start paying off soon if it has the same delay that in person advertising had.
Forth, I should have made my business cards myself or had them made at Staples for $5 more. I attended the first week of events without business cards and handed out cards printed on resume paper. That had to have hurt my image significantly.
Tips I've Found for Saving Money
- Business Cards at Vistaprint with coupon codes you can find online. Only buy a small amount to start because you don't need 5,000 right away.
- Skype phone number and Skype calling plan. With the number forwarded to my cell phone, I'm always near it and it's significantly cheaper than a second line. I'd never use my own phone as a business phone because I don't want clients calling me at all hours.
- No office. I can use coffee shops when I need to get out, and I can seem very catering if I meet my clients at their home or place of business. Disadvantage is having to travel really far sometimes. When I do get an office, I'm looking to Regus or similar office situations to continue to keep costs low.
- Only buy what you need. This goes for paper, office space, marketing, etc. I'd say the first expense that should be expanded is marketing because it yields a direct increase in revenue to pay for itself.
- Do it yourself websites. Use wordpress, drupal, basekit or one of the many free ones on web hosting sites. It'll cost you $10/month to host plus the $12/year for the domain name, but it is significantly cheaper than having a professional do the site for you. Until you have the money, these websites can look just as good with limited features. My website is done on BaseKit which is free with any HostGator plan.
- Do it yourself articles of incorporation or organization. If you don't have any partners in the business, don't plan to hire any employees, and don't plan to seek investment from outside sources, then you can generally get away with doing your startup yourself. You can always hire an attorney to help you if you get stuck, but most states make it very easy now. Your attorney (me) helps you structure business arrangements like how your company will operate if it has multiple owners or if you have a silent partner who invested all the startup capital, and so forth. That's where you don't want to get it wrong, or you'll have an expensive legal battle down the road.
- Do it yourself accounting. If you're good with numbers, do your own accounting until you need to hire a CPA. Accountants aren't cheap, just like lawyers, so if you have very few items in your cash flow, you can probably do this yourself for a little while.
- If you need software, consider using a free product that is similar, or if you're tech savvy, can you make it yourself? That's what I did. I needed firm management software to keep track of client data and billing, so I built it myself. I needed legal research software, so instead of using the name brands, I used Fast Case which is free if you're a member of the North Carolina Bar Association.
I hope my experience is helpful to at least someone out there, and I plan to write again as things change, for better or for worse, so that my experience can help others. To receive notifications on new posts as we write them on areas of asset protection, business law, fair debt collection law and estate planning, please follow me on HubPages or subscribe to our newsletter at www.bobholzlaw.com/contact-us.