How to Start a Small Business
Starting a small business begins with an idea. The trick is turning that idea into a successful stream of income and growing it as you go. While the first sale can be a rush, after that, it can get overwhelming. You don’t know where to take it, or even if you can take it to the next level. The vast majority of small businesses stop here when people freeze up under the weight of trying to figure out how to get off the ground.
There’s good news — it’s actually a lot easier to get up and running than you might think, and the key is to break everything down into small tasks, checking them off one at a time. By keeping it simple, you’ll make steady progress, and before you know it, you’ll be a business owner. Discover the steps to take to start a small business, the pitfalls to avoid, how to manage risk and how to have the best shot at success in your endeavor.
The Basic Steps to Start a Small Business
There are basic steps you can take to start a small business. First, you want to define your overall vision — what’s the end goal? Where do you want to go with this? Are you looking to make some money on the side, or is financial independence your final goal?
Next, write a mission statement. This outlines and defines the entire reason your company exists. It’s the product or service you offer and the way in which you want to offer it. It’s what sets you apart from other businesses and makes you stand out from the competition.
Third, set your individual goals. How can you get to the final vision you’ve got for your business? Keep your goals small and manageable, so you can reach each one. Then outline a strategy to check off each box on the list. It’s okay if one strategy requires accomplishing the goal before it first.
Finally, put it all together in a solid plan of action. This will give you an organized way in which you can approach your business. It can also be a solid outline to create a more detailed business plan. Even better, it can help to calm you down and create a clear vision of where you’re headed.
This initial step to starting your business is called your strategic plan. After you have it in place, jot down some notes analyzing the market. Consider whom your customers will be, your competition, what hurdles you have to overcome and the barriers you face. In light of these obstacles, what’s your approach to marketing? How can you incorporate media and technology? How are you going to generate new leads and sales?
Establishing a Budget
Once you have your basic plan of action down, you’ll need to know what you can spend to get your business started. No business runs without expenses, and you’ll need to make an investment. Certainly, you want to control costs as much as possible, especially at first. This means you need to be realistic about your numbers, your expenses and what you can afford. Add an extra 20 percent on top of your costs to give yourself a realistic rate of burn.
Naming Your Business
Before you start your business, you’ll want to make sure the name you want is available. You can do a trademark search to make sure your business name isn’t already being used by someone else offering a similar service. If it is, choose a different name. It will save you all manner of headaches down the road. Of course, if you never intend to do business outside your state, you can sometimes get away with just searching your state government’s registry. Regardless, it’s best to avoid any name that’s already in use.
You may also want to start using a trademark for your name. The moment you begin using your business name in commerce, you can protect it with a trademark, or the ™ designation. This provides some level of protection against others stealing your name, slogans and the like, but you must be consistent in use.
In addition, you may want to investigate registering your trademark to provide the full level of government protection. This will ensure that nobody can steal your name or even your business by creating a substantially similar mark and causing brand confusion.
Make It Legal
You can certainly start a business under your own name, or even just use an alias. This is called “DBA” or “doing business as.” However, it doesn’t provide you much legal protection. That is, if you run into problems with your business, all your personal assets are at stake.
You’re much better off filing official paperwork to incorporate your business. The costs for doing this can vary wildly by state and by the type of business you’re looking to register, but in the end, it’s an important investment. Incorporating your business helps protect your business name, but, more important, it helps to shield your personal assets from business liability.
If someone, for example, gets hurt using one of your products, and you’re working under a DBA, they can come after your house. If you’re incorporated, your personal assets are protected and they can only come after your business assets.
Types of Business
There is a near-infinite number of business structures, but the most common are a sole proprietorship, a partnership, an LLC or an S-corp or C-corp (standard corporation). Every structure has pros and cons that go with it, and you’ll need to determine the best option for you. LLCs are the most popular form of small business for good reason, as you’ll see.
Sole Proprietorship: This kind of business is owned and run by just one person, and there’s no distinction between the person and the business. This is the “DBA” we discussed above. You can create this kind of business just by starting to do business. Unfortunately, you may have a lot of trouble raising capital, and you’ll be taxed as a self-employed individual on your personal tax return, as well as being personally responsible for the liabilities associated with the business.
Partnership: Two or more people can get together to form a partnership. It’s an easy kind of business to start up and lets you pool resources, get additional skills and expertise, and share responsibility. Again, however, when things go bad, everyone involved shares full liability and your personal assets are at stake.
LLC: The LLC, or limited liability company, is relatively new. It’s somewhat more complex than a proprietorship or partnership but isn’t as complicated as a corporation. It’s often referred to as a “pass-through entity,” because it’s not subjected to a separate level of business tax. Most states don’t put ownership restrictions on LLCs, so the members can include just about anyone and can be one or multiple people.
These kinds of companies protect you from personal responsibility related to financial and legal issues that arise. It protects your house, your car and your personal finances from liability. In addition, you still don’t have to file separate taxes; you’ll file business taxes right along with your personal taxes.
Corporation: A corporation is a legal entity unto itself, separate from owners and staff. It has many of the rights of an individual person — it can enter into contracts, borrow and lend money, be sued and file lawsuits, pay taxes, etc. It’s more complex to set up and is usually best for bigger companies with many employees. It’s often easier to get financing for a corporation, and you have the maximum separation of your personal assets. However, it can be complicated to set up and run. It’s also subject to the most expensive level of business tax structure.
Another important question to consider is staffing. Can you do this on your own, or will you need help? Understand that the first stages are going to be expensive and time-consuming. Don’t hire people you can’t afford just to make things easier. That will come later, once the cash is flowing. Only consider management and staff help where you aren’t capable of doing it on your own.
You’ve heard it said many times: it’s all about location, location, location. This also comes down to the kind of business you’re running. If you’re running a craft business that will only sell online, your living room might suffice for now. But if you’re looking to have an on-the-ground location, you’ll want affordable office space.
If you’re offering a service-based business, you’ll want an office to meet with customers; it will make you look more professional. More important, it’ll give you a place to have your business mail delivered so you don’t have to hand your home address out to every potentially disgruntled customer that comes along.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get office space. Just about every major city now has shared-space locations where you can lease your own space for a reasonable rate.
As you set up your location, check into any permits or licenses you need to operate your business in your state. The last thing you want is fines for failing to have the proper permits, licenses and certifications. Failure to get such licenses can ruin your small business.
Separate Your Funds
This brings up another vital step you need to take. Separate your business funds from your personal funds. Create a different bank account and never mix personal assets and business assets. It’s important that you keep these distinct, both for tax purposes and for purposes of liability issues.
Most local banks and credit unions offer free business checking accounts, so all that’s required is some filing paperwork and licensing information, plus an initial deposit. At this stage you don’t want to pay for lines of credit or accounts; you just want somewhere you can keep your business funds separate and secure.
Set Up an Online Presence
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re starting, if you don’t have an online presence, you’re not likely to succeed in today’s market. A lot of people consider it a red flag if a company doesn’t have a website and social media presence. Many popular online hosting platforms offer inexpensive options for setting up a website and even templates that can get you up and running fast.
Set up a Facebook account, an Instagram account and a Twitter account. Make sure you use all of them and do what you can to connect all of your various accounts together.
Business cards are important, and they’re often overlooked until they’re needed. The last thing you want is to have to scribble your name, number and email on a napkin. You can get inexpensive business cards through a variety of services both online and at office supply stores. You can even get templates you can use to print your own if you’re good with graphic design.
Experiment With Marketing and Sales
Now it’s time to experiment with your operations. Get the word out as creatively as you can. Get involved with local professional organizations, such as the chamber of commerce and small business chapters in the area. Look for resources in your network to get the word out. Try local flea markets, swap meets and other unusual markets to test things out.
Use your social media to drive traffic to your website. Don’t overspend, but don’t eschew sponsored ads. Use Facebook, Google AdWords and any other avenues you know. Just be aware of your budget, and if something isn’t working, don’t push it.
Getting Help to Start a Small Business
If you follow, these steps you should be able to easily start your small business. To make sure your small business can hit the ground running, your first step should be to apply for a small business loan. With the right loan in place, you should be able to cover your starting expenses and kickstart your small business.
The Best States to Start a Small Business
It’s fairly easy to argue that most U.S. states offer good opportunities to run a small business. In fact, it might be fair to say that the best state is an entrepreneurial state of mind. However, if you have the option to form a startup or relocate your business, you may be interested in information about some states with particularly business-friendly climates. In some cases, positive aspects of different locations may include friendly taxes, a plentiful supply of employees, or a less-restricted regulatory climate.
Business-friendly states for SMBs
This list isn’t meant to exclude any states from consideration for small business owners. Hopefully, it will simply give you some ideas about the ways that differences in regulations, taxes and economies may make some states friendlier to specific businesses than others. This list also strived to highlight states from different regions of this large country because many small business owners would prefer to stay close to home if they can.
The Lone Star State is famous for its business-friendly economic climate. The relatively low cost of living in many areas and supply of workers helps companies get started. One other factor that helps Texas make many business-friendly state lists is the fact that it contains several large economic centers. In addition to Dallas and Houston, there are also plenty of smaller cities scattered through the state. It’s possible to grow a small company into a larger one without having to cross state lines.
Certainly, the state is home to many opportunities for energy, transportation, high-tech and agricultural businesses. Some of the largest companies with headquarters in Texas include Exxon, ATT&T and both American and Southwest Airlines.
According to Forbes, the state and local tax rate as a percentage of income is low in Texas, which tends to please entrepreneurs. Texas doesn’t have an individual income tax either, but some areas may have relatively high property and sales taxes to make up for that. Compared to other large states, the regulatory climate is considered relaxed and friendly to growing companies.
Georgia has a relatively high startup rate density, so it often pleases entrepreneurs to enter markets where other small businesses are growing and thriving. Like Texas, Georgia also ranks well for the supply of labor that’s available, modest living costs and the relatively soft regulatory climate. The Atlanta airport ranks as the world’s busiest by passengers, and Atlanta also provides a home for such major companies as Coca-Cola, UPS and Home Depot.
Georgia was ranked third-best in the country for business-friendly taxation by The Tax Foundation. Relatively low wages in the state may be a mixed blessing, depending upon if you’re hiring or trying to court local customers.
3. North Carolina
So far, our list started with southern states. Companies that want proximity to the Eastern U.S. and somewhat lower costs may consider locating to North Carolina. Geographically, it’s both east and south.
One positive factor is that business survival rates are ranked in the top 10 for the entire nation. This is mostly sparked by the famous business centers in Durham-Chapel Hill-Winston and Asheville. Some larger companies that call North Carolina their home include Bayer, Bank of America and Duke Energy. In this sense, the economy of North Carolina is very diverse.
The Tax Foundation ranked North Carolina fourth in overall taxes and eleventh in corporate taxes, so this may provide an incentive for small business owners to locate companies to this state. The state ranks fairly high for quality of life and labor supply, so it may be easy for startups to attract employees.
Some small business owners might be surprised to find that a relatively small state by population often gets featured as one of the best states in the country to start a company. Still, Utah ranks third in the United States for the density of startups, with over 93 for each 1,000 residents.
One factor that helps businesses succeed is the energy prices, which are 20 percent below average for the country. The state also ranks relatively high for average education levels and low for the percent of state and local taxes as a portion of income. Notable companies with headquarters in this state include Sinclair Oil, Smith’s Food and Drug and Skywest Airlines.
The state also ranks fifth in the country for available labor and second for pro-business regulations. Utah also can boast of one of the highest educational attainments in the United States, so this can be a plus for companies that need an educated, local labor supply.
Businesses that would like a location on the Pacific side of the nation might consider Washington. Some benefits that this state can provide are a high supply of available workers and high average productivity. Of course, such well-known companies as Starbucks and Amazon began there.
Drawbacks include a relatively high corporate tax rate; however, overall tax rates are a bit lower than average. Average energy costs are almost 30 percent lower than the U.S. average. Seattle is known as the home to many high-tech companies, and recently, it has made the news for drawing a lot of tech talent. One reason may be more affordable living costs in Washington.
Several Midwestern states provide good opportunities for small business growth. Nebraska ranks first for a business-friendly legal environment and ranks very well for average business costs.
Despite harsh winters, Nebraska also ranks seventh in the country for quality of life, so companies may be able to attract employees. A good quality of life and a relatively low cost of living can help keep starting wages lower.
Some notable large companies that started in Nebraska include Berkshire Hathaway, Ameritrade and Mutual of Omaha. Thus, Omaha has established itself as a notable center for finance companies. The unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country, so that may make it good for sales but tougher for local recruiting.
The Best Cities to Start a Small Business
This section was contributed by Deborah Sweeney. Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @mycorporation.
Earlier this year, the Kauffman Foundation released their 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity: Metropolitan Area and City Trends report. Inside the document was a peek into startup activity as it followed the rate and opportunity share of new entrepreneurs and startup density. The report also surveyed metro areas with the highest startup activity and those that experienced upward movements in the index’s rankings. Aside from what we learned in the document, we did a little extra digging to find out which cities are making waves in the small business community and what they have to offer entrepreneurs setting up shop there.
- Austin, TX
Talk about staying power! It’s pretty hard to find a listicle on cities to start a business in that doesn’t include a shout out to Austin on it. In the 2017 Startup Activity Index, Austin is one of five metro areas with the highest startup activity.
What is about Austin that makes it such a thriving hub for small business? One word: millennials. As the eighth most popular city with recent college grads, Austin offers its educated workforce tech and music-friendly industries to establish a startup in and a lively nightlife scene for those who work and play hard. Need an added bonus? Austin is also state and corporate income tax-free.
- Miami, FL
Another inclusion in the top five metro areas list is Miami, which leads the pack as the second biggest city in the country for minority entrepreneurs.
Expert Market’s infographic on top cities for minority entrepreneurs revealed that much of Miami’s draw is the city itself. The metro area offers entrepreneurs the ability to launch a business while enjoying an inclusive and affordable lifestyle. Miami also ranks as the 12th best city for economic opportunities for minority entrepreneurs, with 2nd place rankings for startup density and 3rd place in the rate of new entrepreneurs starting businesses.
- Saint Louis, MO
One city that enjoyed the biggest upward movement this year is Saint Louis. It ranks at #7 on WalletHub’s best places to start a business and is the 10th most popular city among college grads due to its low rent and unemployment rates. Even Nate Silver’s blog FiveThirtyEight is going as far as to say STL is “the new startup frontier.”
How so? The Midwestern metropolitan area truly wants to help entrepreneurs succeed and has public and private sectors dedicated to the cause. The creation of the Missouri Technology Corporation, an investment fund that invests in small businesses, has allowed the city and state of Missouri to lead the way when it comes to startup financing initiatives.
- Seattle, WA
Amazon aside (although the company is a big draw), Seattle is growing as an entrepreneurial hub for all ages. Some of its major attractions include embracing startups of all kinds from tech to food and attracting billions in venture funding. And while housing may be a bit pricier, it ranks #6 with recent grads due to offering some of the highest starting salaries in the country at a little over $60k.
- Salt Lake City, UT
Ranked at #2 on WalletHub’s best places to start a business, what’s the draw to Salt Lake City beyond the gorgeous scenery? It’s also a winner with the educated workforce and boasts a low unemployment rate and high economic climate.
Don’t want to go into the skiing business here? That’s more than okay — Salt Lake City is actually turning into quite the tech hub. More than 4,300 tech companies call the metro area home along with craft breweries and restaurants. If your startup is seeking financial assistance, you’re in luck as many angel investors are here to help out. Watch out Austin, it looks like Salt Lake City is catching up to your step!
It can be difficult to know where your best chances of success are in terms of your small business location. The right place needs to see upward movements of your industry’s rankings as well as offering multiple benefits that outweigh the costs of running a business. If you’re looking to expand or open up a small business, check out these five cities. They’re making waves, and so can you!
Where should your small business make a home?
Most small business owners will probably start their businesses near where they already work and live. They know that they can enjoy the advantages of already having prior connections and a good knowledge of their local area. Through social media and the Internet, business owners can connect to customers, suppliers, financing opportunities and whatever they need from almost anywhere. Some states might be better than others for certain industries. At the same time, there’s really not a bad place in the U.S. to grow a good company.
Certainly, some types of businesses may find they have an advantage if they choose a starting location that can offer them lower costs, a better supply of the kind of employees they need or even access to capital. Small business owners who don’t have a particular reason to stay in one city or one state might compare the advantages of different locations that may suit their own unique business requirements.
Sizing Up Your Competition
Whether you’re starting a new business or just re-evaluating your marketing plan for your existing business, one of the most important aspects of marketing strategy is doing competitive analysis. Competitive analysis gives you the chance to see how your business compares with the competition and allows you to map out your overall target market.
It’s crucial that you have a good sense of the immediate local market where your business competes because it will help you make better-informed decisions about your overall marketing strategy.
Here are a few ideas on how you can perform an accurate and insightful competitive analysis to help grow your business:
1. Use a Competitive Analysis Tool
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a free competitive analysis tool called “SizeUp” that you can use to search by industry and by location to get local market information. For example, if your business is a pizza restaurant, you can search for “pizza restaurants” in your local city to see the average revenue of other restaurants, the number of employees, average employee salary, the cost-effectiveness of your employees, annual employee turnover and other key indicators of business performance.
You can use the SizeUp tool to compare your business’s performance with the average annual revenues from other companies in your city, state, and throughout the U.S. You can also measure the estimated total size of your relevant market and see how much money is being spent on certain categories of goods and services within your local area. For example, if you run a women’s shoe store and are trying to choose the best location for your next shop, you can get local information to see which parts of the city spend the most money on women’s shoes.
The competitive analysis tool gives you access to high-level information for free, and then you can get a more detailed analysis by signing up for a SizeUp account.
2. Ask the Right Questions
As part of your competitive analysis, you need to ask and answer the following questions:
What is the size of your local market?
- How much money is being spent currently on the products or services that you sell?
- Is your local market growing, stable, or shrinking? What are the overall trends?
How many total competitors are there in this market?
- Is the market already pretty “saturated” with lots of companies trying to sell to customers, or is there room for new companies?
- Is the market evenly distributed among lots of companies, or just a few?
Who are the big players?
- Which local businesses are the biggest in this market?
- Are you competing mainly with other local businesses, or with big national/regional chains, or both?
How does your product compare to the competition? Be honest and unsparing – evaluate your product and competitors’ products based on:
- Customer opinions – which company or product has the best reputation in your market, and why?
How much market share can you expect to win?
3. Do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis:
- What are your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses?
- What opportunities and threats do your competitors present to you?
- What are you most excited about pursuing?
- Do you have a new product that will definitely beat the competition?
- What are you most worried about?
- How could your competitors potentially defeat your plans?
Ideally, your competitive analysis should give you hard-hitting insights into your overall marketing strategy, such as:
- How to advertise
- How to promote your business
- Which products to emphasize
- Which customers to target
- How to know what makes your brand unique
As part of your competitive analysis, you might want to conduct some customer surveys – whether formal or informal – to get a sense of your customers’ impressions of your company and how you compare to the competition. Spend some time reading online review sites to see what people are saying about the competition:
- Are there any common complaints from customers?
- Are any of your local competitors starting to slip a bit, making mistakes or disappointing customers?
These sites can be a place for good insights on some of the overall trends and emerging opportunities in your immediate local market.
Competitive analysis is not only about numbers. It’s also about making a clear-eyed assessment of how your business and your products compare to the competition. Once you have this valuable info, the next step is to make good decisions based on this analysis.
With competitive analysis, you need to look at other businesses as well as your own, and be honest about your own business’ relative strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to have a clearer idea of where your business stands in the market, and in the minds of your customers.
Avoiding Business Scams
Infamous bank robber Willie Sutton once told a reporter that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.” Fast forward nearly 100 years and more than one unscrupulous online scammer would say the same thing about small businesses. Here’s your Kabbage-detected guide to some of the most common and potentially damaging scams small businesses encountered this year.
- Official-Looking Phishing
“Phishing” is the slang and trade term for blind attempts to get somebody’s personal information so as to use it to commit identity theft or credit fraud. For small businesses, phishers make calls or send emails and snail mail messages claiming to be from government agencies (including the IRS), banks and similar institutions.
These usually include a scary time limit coupled with threat of penalty or promise of a discount or similar reward if you act right now. That should be your tip-off. Banks and government agencies do not act quickly…if they do mention a deadline, it’s weeks or months away. Another easy fix is to confirm the phone number, website or address listed against the internet or another directory. A legitimate communication will include the correct contact information.
- The National Domain Registry
That’s the name of one of the biggest offenders, but this scam comes in under a wide variety of names. The concept is simple: you receive a “bill” in the mail telling you that you must renew the registration of your website’s URL. It comes complete with the paperwork necessary, or a web address at which you can conveniently complete this re-registration.
One particularly devious part of this scam is that it’s not 100 percent a scam. If you complete the paperwork, the company that sent it to you will re-register your domain for the price you paid. They might even do a good job of hosting your website…but they’re not your original domain host. The forms you fill out are for them to take over hosting from your current provider, usually at 4 or 5 times the price you would normally pay. Their hosting contracts might also include abusive details like a long contract or assigning copyright of all material posted to the host company.
- Overpayment Scams
This is the Nigerian Royalty scam for business owners, and despite that rooks entrepreneurs every year with an offer that seems like a good deal…until it isn’t. It works like this:
Step One: Somebody calls your shop wanting to make a phone order for one of your high-ticket items.
Step Two: You complete the order and the customer sends you a check for higher than the amount you requested.
Step Three: You contact the customer, and he requests a wire or PayPal refund, which you give because he’s a valued customer who just placed a large order.
Step Four: The check bounces, leaving you out the transferred money. If you’re really unlucky, you’ve already shipped the merchandise, too.
This seems obvious to spot, but any small business owner knows how far we’re willing to go for big-ticket sales. Often you fulfill odd requests without a second thought because of those dollar signs in your eyes. Beat it by having iron-clad payment policies in place for all sales, regardless of size. Trust the calm person who wrote them more than you trust yourself in the middle of something exciting.
- You’re Already a Winner
For this one, scammers borrowed a page from legitimate political campaigners. You’ll receive a call telling you you’ve won an award, or been selected for inclusion in a hall of fame or similarly prestigious registry. The contact will congratulate you, then mention that they just need you to cover part of the cost of the award processing. You get so excited that you make the payment over the phone.
This scam has three species. In one scam, you actually get an award or your name on a website or in a book…your “part of the cost” is just far more than the actual total cost. In another, you never get the award or your name put up anywhere. They just pocket the money and close up shop. In the worst case, they take your credit card information and use it for identity theft.
Beat this scam by simply saying “no.” Legitimate awards, contests and honors don’t take money from you. They pay the expenses out of the dues from whatever organization gives the award.
- Fax-Back and Phone-Back Scams
This one’s a bit tricky, but it’s been around since at least the 1980s. It works like this:
Step One: You get a fax or a phone message promising a crazy deal on something your business needs…if you call a different number, or respond with a fax to place your order.
Step Two: You excitedly place the order.
Step Three: If on the phone, you spend a long time on hold. If faxing, it seems to take longer than usual and might not disconnect automatically.
Step Four: You receive your order, or not. They may or may not process the payment.
Step Six: You find out later on your phone bill that the number you dialed in to was a high-priced pay-per-minute phone line.
Watch your prefixes. Google the phone numbers of any offer like this, and while you’re at it check sites like your local Better Business Bureau for complaints. Be suspicious of unbelievably good offers from vendors you don’t already know.
You’ve likely read that many scammers target the elderly, using scams like the Nigerian Royalty or posing as a grandchild in need of emergency transportation or even bail. They target the elderly because seniors often have a reserve fund (their retirement savings) and can be just a little too out of touch to catch a scam. Replace “a little too out of touch” with “a little too busy and harried” and you have a fair description of small business owners.
Speaking of senior citizens, you can beat most of these scams with advice many of our grandmothers gave us: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Being a small business owner is all about passion! Sure, you need to pay your bills and make a profit and manage your credit, but most small business owners are motivated to work those long hours and take big risks because they believe in their brand and they have a clear vision and mission for what they want their business to achieve.
Unfortunately, even the most motivated small business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs will encounter situations in life where obstacles are standing in the way of their pursuit of passion. This blog article over at Pick the Brain discusses a few common situations where you might feel stuck or stymied from pursuing your passion – and how to overcome them:
- Get Past Burnout
If you’re feeling burned out and exhausted, this is a sign that you need to take care of yourself, rest, relax and recharge. Give yourself permission to have fun and be good to yourself first.
- Be Grateful for What You Have
Sometimes people feel stuck because they focus on what they don’t have instead of what they do have. Instead, feel grateful for all of your resources and support, and don’t get overly attached to winning one particular client or achieving one particular goal – just keep doing your best work.
- Pay Attention to Your Body
Sometimes your body can tell you things that your mind isn’t ready to admit. If you’re making a bad business decision or getting on board with a client that’s not a good fit, sometimes your body will send you physical signals. Try to pursue actions that make you feel light and expansive, not tense and constricted.
- Start Being Happy Today
Lots of people make the mistake of assuming that they have to wait for perfect conditions or for someone else’s permission to be happy. But the truth is, you need to start making yourself happy TODAY – even if it’s in small ways – by living according to your values and pursuing everyday experiences that bring you joy and purpose.
- Stop Playing the Victim
A common mistake is to “play the victim” and act like you don’t have enough time or support to achieve your goals. Unless you are truly a victim of severely unfortunate circumstances or devastating illness or grave injustice, you’re really not as “stuck” and powerless as you might think.
- Start Small
Instead of swinging for the fences and pursuing one big breakthrough that will change everything, start small and pursue more immediate goals that create momentum. Keep doing your work and pursuing your goals, even if it’s on a smaller scale than you first envisioned.
Pitching Your Idea to the Media
Getting newsworthy information about your business outside of your company’s bubble isn’t easy. Attracting the attention of others through advertisements and word of mouth works, but for a more widespread approach, pitching story topics to news organizations for publication can be the better option.
As you create your pitches, remember the difference between you talking about your company and the media talking about it. Journalists are trained to be objective, so any pitch that sounds like an advertisement will be thrown into the trash.
Also, journalists require an interesting, eye-catching pitch that is informative and well written. Remember that you are pitching stories to writers, so they know what they want and what’s newsworthy. In just a few seconds, they will know when you didn’t spend enough time on your pitch because they receive plenty of emails and calls each day from companies just like yours.
So as you are contemplating what you want to include in your pitch, read on to find the best tips on how to create the perfect pitch to generate articles about your business.
1. Do your research.
Before you send any pitches to publications, make sure you know to whom you are writing. Even if you are writing to a large publication like Forbes or Entrepreneur, make sure you have the correct contact information. Your pitch is likely to be sent straight to the trash if you are writing to a financial journalist about your hair salon.
Also, make sure to double-check your emails before you send them. You don’t want to be the person who sends an email to the wrong company. So, be sure you know your target and check that they would have an interest in the story you are trying to pitch; otherwise, you are wasting your own time and theirs.
2. Don’t overdo it.
Although your job is to market and pitch your product or service effectively, there is no substitute for the truth. Don’t overhype your story because you can lose your credibility.
For instance, one Nike Communications employee learned that lesson the hard way when submitting a pitch for Phil & Ted’s new stroller. She overemphasized how cool and popular the new strollers were, mentioned celebrities associated with the product, and drew a synonymous relationship between children and accessories.
Sticking to the basics by laying down the facts and being honest with journalists will help build the bridge from the pitch to the published story. Giving journalists a basic understanding and grasp of the story will help you gain the respect of the journalists who are considering your story.
3. Pitch the story, not the company.
After you have chosen the right targets and do your research on the journalists’ prior work and the publication’s style, make sure you find a story to go along with your pitch. It is not helpful to just send a journalist a bunch of information about your company and services. That will bore them, and if they don’t see a possible story, they won’t care.
Therefore, create a pitch that clearly introduces you, gives a brief summary of the company, and has a creative, innovative story. Short pitches are the most effective because journalists receive so many each day. It is best to get to the point and lay out the facts. Include eye-catching visuals and an interesting subject line for the journalist to want to click on your email.
Pitches must stand out to be noticed. In order to do that, you also have to stray away from making the big mistakes that journalists hate. Do your research on the journalists you are pitching to so that you don’t waste anyone’s time. And keep your pitch short, simple, and honest. Finally, pitch a story, not an advertisement because no one is interested in giving you free advertising space.