By Christina Savage
Owner & Technical Consultant
Christina Savage, LLC

In late summer 2016, I jumped off a metaphorical cliff. I quit my six figure, salaried management job to start my own software consulting business from the ground up.

As a single mom of a 9-year-old son and the sole earner in my household, taking this leap posed a significant risk. Given this fact, you’d think I would’ve created an elaborate business plan, but I didn’t; I just rolled up my sleeves and got started.

But, why?

After years of working in high-pressure software and IT management roles, I was ready for more autonomy and flexibility. I wanted to build something all by myself. Starting a business is, in my mind, a creative process – and I desperately needed to create.

How I got started

In the software world, there’s a saying, “fail fast, fail cheap.” I knew that if I over-thought things, I’d never start. So, I just started getting things done. As an example, I didn’t create a fancy brand; I just used my name as my company name.

christinasavagewebsite

Here a few practical steps that will help you start a service-based business:

Buy a domain name

I bought my domain name from GoDaddy, but there are a lot of domain name registrars out there. It’s fast and easy and will typically cost you less than $20.

Name your company and register it with the state

I formed an LLC by registering it with the state, paying the fees, and filling out the required paperwork. Visit your state’s Secretary of State website to find out the process. Depending on your line of work, you may also need a business license.

Set up a mailbox

I bought a P.O. Box at my local post office, but I’ll likely move to a virtual postbox in the future.

Set up a business phone line

I knew that I didn’t want my personal cell phone number posted publicly, so I set up a Google Voice number. It’s free and forwards all calls to my cell phone. If you plan to build a business with more than one person, be sure to look into other VoIP options like Grasshopper or Fluentstream.

Create a logo

I hired my graphic designer friend to create a logo for me. I love it and I have it on everything – my website, my business cards, my invoices—you name it.

Hire a professional photographer

I hired a professional photographer to take headshots and I used them on my website and LinkedIn profile. Professional photography makes a huge difference, especially when you work with people who find you online.

Launch your website

Even though I’m technical and I’ve worked on a lot of websites in the past, I’m not a website designer. I knew that I’d spend too much time banging my head against the wall over my website theme and design if it was too customizable, so I just went the quick and easy route and chose Squarespace. It’s affordable and really easy to use. In the future, I’ll likely move to WordPress because I think it will scale best for me and offer me better SEO, but for now, Squarespace works.

christinasavagewebsite

Set up your email

I’ve always been a fan of G Suite because I love the Google platform. I’m a huge proponent of a paid email platform, as opposed to using a personal @gmail.com account. It’s one of the most critical tools in your business. Plus, G Suite makes it easy add and manage users and it offers some of the best collaboration tools on the market. My Google Drive files are well-organized, allowing me to keep my personal and business documents separate, but to also access my documents at any time, from anywhere, and on any device.

Get your financial tools in order

Set up a business bank account. Be sure to keep your expenses separate from your personal expenses. If you decide to move to an S Corp or other type of entity in the future, you’ll need to keep these separate anyway.

It’ll make accounting a lot easier, too.

Set up a cloud-based accounting software. I use FreshBooks and absolutely love it. It’s made for entrepreneurs and small business. It allows me to track my time in real time (I typically charge hourly), quickly generate invoices, and automate payment reminders. It’s also integrated with my bank transactions and credit card gateway. Plus, their support is outstanding. Having FreshBooks allows me to spend only 10 minutes per month on invoicing.

Finally, consider getting business insurance. Many clients may require it.

Start using a CRM

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is a central database to track client communication. I consider it the ‘brain’ of my business. Most CRMs integrate with website forms, sales and marketing tools, accounting software, and reporting dashboards. My CRM allows me to track my prospects, organize my projects, build reports, and market to my clients. It’ll also allow me to easily onboard and communicate with future employees.

These initial steps took me about two weeks. It doesn’t take much. Just start!

 

How I grew (and the emotions that ensued)

Once I set up my systems and processes, I had to figure out how to get clients. I’ve never considered myself a salesperson and I’m not into self-promotion. However, the primary skill that’s contributed most to my career success has been my ability to build and maintain relationships.

I’ve kept in touch with everyone over the years—former coworkers, employers, employees, clients, and vendors. So, when I started my business, I reached out to everyone. I scheduled coffee meetings and a lot of phone calls. This quickly led to a couple of key software partnerships, including my CRM software partner – a referral source that contributed 48 percent of my revenue last year. Other significant projects and clients came from referrals from friends and former clients.

I don’t mean to make this process sound easy. It took a lot of work and even more persistence. There were many days when I literally had no projects. I spent about eight months dipping into savings before my revenue became significant.

I also had a lot of job offers and people trying to get me to come work with them. As someone who’s used to saying ‘yes’ to almost everything, I had to say ‘no’ to a lot of great opportunities and stay focused on my goal of building a business.

systematize your business

What I’ve learned

Once the momentum starts, it keeps going. There will be many days in your journey when you have no idea where your money will come from next month—when your projects wind down and you have few opportunities in the pipeline. It’ll be scary, but you need to keep moving forward. Schedule more coffee meetings, attend a local networking event, reach out to an old colleague, or teach yourself a new skill. If you keep the momentum going, your business will continue to grow.

business organization

Structure your day. Even though you may want to sit around in yoga pants all day—and will probably do that most of the time—you need to stay focused. If you work best in the morning, do your most important work before noon. Schedule your meetings, calls, and business development tasks in the afternoon.

Do great work. You have to put your clients first. Make it as easy as possible to work with you. From your contract to the way you accept payment, it needs to be easy. I accept credit card payments from my clients and I wouldn’t dream of passing through the transaction fees. I invoice clients once a month, my time records are clear and detailed, and I give my clients 30 days to pay. Trust is key.

Systematize everything. Even though you may be starting out as a solopreneur, you may bring on employees or consultants in the future. The more clearly-defined systems and documentation you have in place, the easier onboarding and offboarding will be. Even if you just need to hire a consultant, you’ll save yourself so much time and money if they can easily review your documentation and devise solutions for you. Trust me on this.

Say yes. In the beginning you’ll say yes to almost any work that comes your way. As you grow, you’ll need to start learning how to say no and specializing, but the work you do in the beginning will teach you so much. You’ll also get used to facing brand new problems. Every. Single. Day.

You’ll have to tackle projects you’ve never done before. I’m not sure this ever stops. You’ve gotta be confident that you are smart and you’re a problem solver. In the words of Marie Forleo, “everything is ‘figureoutable.’” Don’t shy away from hard things. Focus and figure it out. You’ll get there. I promise.

You’re going to wear #allthehats. I run my business by myself. I’m the business development rep, sales rep, sales engineer, proposal writer, project manager, technical lead, researcher, marketer, visionary, customer service rep, tester, bookkeeper, and accounting department. I even did my own taxes the first year. Because I worked for small, lean businesses for years, I had experience in all of these areas. If you don’t feel comfortable doing these tasks, delegate or outsource them so you can focus on the highest and best use of your time.

Stick to your vision. As I previously mentioned, I received many job offers and invitations to discuss employee-type roles. It’s flattering and sometimes tempting, but I’m proud of what I’ve built—there’s no salary that could pull me away from doing my own thing.

Track your progress. For me, tracking my revenue is an easy metric to monitor. It took me 8 months to start making consistent and sufficient revenue. I gave myself many pep talks and I had to look at my consulting revenue chart every single month to prove to myself that my revenue was trending up. These trends showed me that I actually had a viable business and that I wasn’t blindly following a dream. Supportive friends and family are also key!

Where I am now

More than a year-and-a-half in, I’ve got 28 clients in 12 states and three countries. I’ve provided consulting on CRM, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), call center, and help desk software. I’ve written enterprise software manuals and marketing collateral, and I’ve managed a few big projects. And now, I’m starting to narrow my focus to the services I enjoy the most.

growthchart

I’m starting to consider re-branding and doing some marketing campaigns. To date, I haven’t done any marketing besides partnering with a few software providers.

I also started working with a CPA to reduce my tax liability and I put myself on payroll (yikes!). Finally, I’m focusing on larger, longer-term projects and building a recurring revenue model.

My current areas of focus are intended to help my business grow and reduce the chance that I’ll burn out over time. Next year, I may be focused on completely different objectives. It’s critical to be able to pivot and scale as your business grows.

“A year from now you may wish you had started today” – Karen Lamb

If you’re eager to start your own business, just start with the steps outlined in the “How I got started” section. Take one step forward every day. You may be surprised where you’ll be a year from now. Good luck!

Any questions? Comments? Get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.

Interested in learning more? Take a look at these articles:

How Social Speak was Born

5 Social Media Goals To Get You Started

Defining Your Core Values

 

How I jumped off a metaphorical cliff to start a successful software consulting business, #business, #momprenuer, how to start a business, steps to start a business, how to become a mompreneur, tools to use to start a business

How I jumped off a metaphorical cliff to start a successful software consulting business, #business, #momprenuer, how to start a business, steps to start a business, how to become a mompreneur, tools to use to start a business

tools for entrepreneurs blog image

As an entrepreneur, it is important to find tools to help us stay organized, creative and on top of our social media. In this video, we will go over 10 tools to help you save time, work smarter, not harder.

Interested in learning more? Take a look at the following videos:

Creating the Right Mindset as an Entrepreneur

Setting your Social Media Goals

Core Values, Why They Are Important To Your Business

mindset for entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur we wear a lot of hats, sometimes we can get lost in what we are doing or what we are supposed to be doing. In this video, we will talk about 6 Tips for Creating the Right Mindset.

  1. Make sure you are passionate about what you are doing.
  2. Everything is possible – truly believe that!
  3. Be accountable to yourself
  4. Give Back
  5. Have a positive attitude
  6. Work for it

Interested in learning more? Take a look at these videos:

Setting Your Business Up On Autopilot

Core Values, Why They Are Important To Your Business [VIDEO]

Social Media Audit

how social speak was born

At the end of 2017 we, Caitlin & Amber, said that 2018 was going to be a year of change. Sometimes you just know in your gut that something is going to change. We knew this change was going to be for the better, we just didn’t know what the “change” would be!

For 7 years of being in business together and on our own for 10 years, we have worked hard at building our client’s brands, products, online communities, and businesses.

We are really good at what we do! The only problem with building everyone else’s businesses is you tend to put yours on the back burner.

Oh, we will make those videos later, we will write those blogs next week, oh, yeah that’s a good idea to have a coaching program – maybe next year . . . .

Long story short that “next year” came it’s called 2018!

We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE working with our clients and most of our clients have been with us since the beginning.

In December, Caitlin and myself had a talk about what we wanted to do differently in 2018.

How could we take our business to the next level?

We love being a resource to our communities and we both know so much about social media and digital marketing. We wanted to up our game and be able to provide MORE to our tribe!

Um, LIGHTBULB moment, it clicked for us.

What about if we create a website, a new educational platform, where our tribe can go for FREE, YES FREE, to search and find all the information they wanted to learn about social media and digital marketing . . .

Sounds great right?

Caitlin and I like to jump in feet first and not look back. When we have an idea, we are set on it we are making it happen!

We created a new website called Social Speak Network with a TON of information for our peeps, but we wanted to take it one step further . . . with all this awesome content, videos, and downloads, people were still asking on the “How-to.”

They love all the content but wanted to learn more hands-on how to implement it into their business and be held accountable for their digital marketing strategy.

That’s why we created our “Small Group Online Coaching Program” – a 6-month program for 3-5 business owners to really dive deep into their social media and digital marketing strategy, learn how to be successful online, grow their tribe, and learn new things!

Now, this is something that totally feeds our soul!

We are so very passionate about teaching others about social media and digital marketing and all the fun and cool things you can do! Isn’t awesome when you find your true meaning, your purpose, what you are supposed to be doing?

We want to help you create that too!

So, what does this mean for you???  What are we looking for? 

-> We want to invite you to our Facebook Group, this is the starting point, we post great information every day, you can ask questions, engage with other business owners and grow your tribe through this group!

-> We would also love your support if you would subscribe to our YouTube Channel 

-> We would LOVE to offer you is a FREE 30-minute consultation to answer any social media or digital marketing struggles you have been facing. You can email us at SocialSpeakNetwork@gmail.com to set up a time!

Interested in learning more? Take a look at these articles:

A day in the life of an Entrepreneur

Reaching and Attaining your Goals

How To Work SMART In 2018

KW Research - find related keywords

In this video I take a look at how you can find related keywords on Google to boost your position in search results.

Interested in learning more? Take a look at these videos:

Social Media Audit

Finding Topics Your Tribe Will Love 

Internal and External Goals

As a business owner, it is important to figure out what steps go into each process, service or product you sell. When we start our business we are excited to serve our customers/clients. We sometimes max ourselves out and take on too much or can’t do everything. We forget to take vacations, spend time with family and friends, take care of US. We are working too hard and too much! Write down each step or task you do for each service or product, look at them and see which ones you can put on autopilot.

Things Each Entrepreneur should have on Autopilot:

  • Social Media Posts
  • Blog Posts
  • Newsletters
  • Chatbox on Facebook Messenger
  • Meeting Reminders
  • Invoicing
  • Leads
  • Networking Connections
  • Sales Pipeline/funnel
  • Event Registration Process

Interested in learning more? Take a look at the following videos:

Finding Related Keywords on Google

Interview with Casey Smith – Wild Liberty Design Co.

Core Values, Why They Are Important To Your Business 

 

Has anyone called you a control freak? I get that all the time! I feel as a business owner it is super important to create a schedule and stick to it, allows yourself some grace to adjust things, and we all know life happens and things come up. I always say stick to your schedule at least 85% of the time. So, yes I do feel like I am a control freak because I like my schedule! From home life to business.

My mom and niece were just in town for a week and I was able to get most of my work done before they came so I could enjoy time with them, but I still had a schedule each day of the things I HAD to get done, like write my blog, do a video, client work etc. I gave myself the grace to have fun and I got my work done before, as soon as you fall off the scheduling wagon it is so hard to get back on track. Think of your schedule like a diet, how many times do you start a diet and do great for a week or two and then something comes up and we fall off, it then takes us weeks, sometimes months to get back on track. By creating a schedule for yourself and sticking to it, it allows your business to run so much smoother. You know what needs to get done each day when you have time to check emails, work on projects, play with your kids, run errands, videos, all those things as an entrepreneur we have to do each day. You are creating a plan for success!

Here are 5 reasons having a schedule are important:

1. Your S.M.A.R.T Goals become real

Remember back in January we spoke all about S.M.A.R.T goals and what we wanted to accomplish for 2018? If one of your goals was to increase your clientele by 20 clients, or increase your video subscribers to 1000 then on your schedule you should mark out time to network, make calls, send a newsletter to past clients or potential clients, make videos and ask people to subscribe. By putting something on our schedule that we want to accomplish helps us succeed with our goals.

2. Stop spinning your wheels

Do you ever feel like you have this imaginary list in your head of things you need to get done and then 5 minutes later you forget and you are walking around for an hour saying “What was I suppose to be doing?” I know I can’t be the only one this happens too. Within your schedule create a ‘To-Do’ list this can be a daily ‘To-Do’ or weekly, whichever feels better to you. This then allows us that space to write down those things we need/want to get done and we stop spinning the wheels in our head and forgetting.

3. Life happens – be prepared

We all know as business owners life happens, a child is sick, an unexpected event pops up, maybe you are not feeling well. Anything can happen, by being properly organized it is easier to adjust your schedule. When you are able to pre-plan and pre-work to get things done earlier you are allowing again that grace period of these unforeseen life events that come up.

4. Everyone is on the Same Page

When you are able to create a well-crafted schedule for personal life and business life everyone can be on the same page. Each person knows what they need to do and when. You know what needs to be done to accomplish your goals and maybe what your team needs to do or even family. You are creating the foundation for your business and on that schedule or plan, you are also setting guidelines for others. I know having a schedule or plan doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but when you are a business owner and entrepreneur a lot of fun, shiny, new things that I like to call SQURRIELS show up and DISTRACT YOU!

What I am getting at is having your schedule and plan set you know what you need to do and when and so does everyone else. End-goal . . . less stress for you!

5. Keeping Track

Again I know I can’t be the only one who can’t remember what I did last year or even last week at some points! When you have a schedule, whether it be a day planner or Google calendar or even a Google sheet like I use, we write down all of our meetings, activities, and To-Dos. This allows us to track what we were able to get done each day, week, month and year. This makes it easier for you to keep track of your goals. Going back to point 1, if we wanted to get 1000 new subscribers to our YouTube channel and I looked back at our 2018 schedule or plan I could see I did 5 videos per week and that increased our subscribers past 1000! Or whatever your goal may be.

It is important to add your benchmarks to your schedule for your annual goals as well, to make sure you are sticking to them and are on track. Schedule them out, let’s say June we want to have over 125 videos on our YouTube channel and 500 subscribers. When that event pops up on my Google Calendar I would know YES! I am on track and have surpassed that goal, or I need to work harder to make sure I meet the goal before the end of the year.

Tools to help you with your scheduling

Google Calendar

Google Sheets

Wunderlist

Todoist

ScheduleMaker

What is it like as an entrepreneur? How have you found ways to keep your life organized?

Behind the scenes

I know I feel like each and every day I am running around like crazy. Taking my daughter to school, client work, networking, videos, errands, letting the dog out, house chores, you name it! I have been an entrepreneur for 10 years now, WOW time flies! It can be hard to balance work and life, some nights you are working late, some mornings you are up early, trying to fit everything in in one day! To be honest with you I have really been an entrepreneur at heart since I was 5 years old. I would travel back to Michigan each Summer and started helping my grandma and grandpa in their H&R Block office in Oscoda, MI. I helped make coffee, answer phones, once I learned how to read they had me filing paperwork, getting forms, speaking with the customers and from that moment I knew I wanted to own my very own business. The joy of having my own clients, my own desk, my own business name it was so exciting to me!  Once I set out on my own in 2007 I have been like the energizer bunny who just keeps going and going! I really don’t know how to STOP! I love working, I love having a busy schedule and learning new things. I feel that to be a successful entrepreneur you need to keep yourself busy with the right things, set your goals, be organized and set boundaries.

Who’s with me as a female entrepreneur we wear many different hats during the day. I can be on a conference call while changing laundry or letting the dog out.  We have to organize the family schedules, work schedules, and fun schedules. People have NO clue what goes on behind the scenes of your day to day life!

Being Organized

I have always been organized in life, ask my mom! I love things neat, clean and organized. I have realized over this past year, life is NOT always like that. We have been going through a remodel of our house and it has been a bit challenging. We have contractors in and out all day, trying to organize their schedules is like trying to find a taxi in New York!

I try really hard to remain ORGANIZED, but sometimes I feel like I am just overwhelmed. I am shifting my schedules and my day around to find time to write blogs, make videos, and take calls. It’s easy for calls because they CAN’T see my office or lack of space for an office. When I do my videos I NEED a nice clean background, that can be hard to find right now. So, what I guess I am trying to get at it, it’s ok to be disorganized once in awhile. It has shown me the importance of setting that foundation early on in my career of being able to adapt to different situations and know what I need to get my work done each day. You just have to be a little creative some days.

A few tools I found to keep my family and business organized:

Google Calendar – Everything I do is on my calendar! I can invite my husband to family functions or my business partner Caitlin to team calls. I can color code each of my calendars, from networking, personal, writing, videos, etc. It keeps me on my toes. I love when things are color coordinated, so this is perfect!

Google Drive and Google Pictures – these allow me to share documents with my family and business life.  I can have different folders for personal and business. I have my daily task sheet on Google Sheets for everything I need to get done each day, our client information, social media posts and more. I am able to share documents or folders with the people I want. The thing I like the most is I can access the items from any device I own! It makes my life SO much easier.

It is important to find these systems to put in place to help you stay on track. As an entrepreneur we can get lost in creating our own schedules so staying organized and setting boundaries is key!

Putting systems in place and being able to delegate

One thing we have earned over the past 10 years is we can’t do EVERYTHING! In order for our company to grow we needed to find people to help with daily tasks, maybe twitter followers, Facebook Likes, Content writing, etc. We wrote down one day things we LOVE to do for our clients and things we know we need to do, but not in love with it. We then reached out to the local colleges and found interns to help!  We have been able to put systems in place for each client on what needs to be done and when. how much time it should take and when the project should be complete. We were then able to implement these systems with our interns and now contractors. By putting these systems in place it allows us to be able to create a schedule for what we want to get done and the flexibility for our team to work when they can.

Don’t get me wrong this did NOT happen overnight, it took us awhile to find the right people and what the right tasks were for them, we have had about 7 people work for us and some didn’t work out, some went their own ways but still keep in touch and for our interns they all ended up getting awesome jobs, thanks to us!

It’s like that motto, “You have to spend money to make money” well in a way it is true. If you try to manage everything in your business you will limit yourself. Start making lists of the things you love to do in your business and the things that you don’t love. Maybe like your books, calls, networking, social media, etc. Then start looking for other businesses that offer those services. Ask friends or even post to Upwork.

It is scary taking the first step to delegating something, trust me coming from a control freak, nothing is the way you do it! HAHA Once you find the right person or company it takes a BIG weight off your shoulders that is one less thing you have to worry about and you know it is getting done.

One of the best visual tools to use on Pinterest is Infographics, over the past few years, infographics have become a big deal. They are a great way to visually explain data to people. These images can really be used for just about any industry and I think that’s why they work so well.

People can get too caught up in making an infographic, what data do you use, where do you find that data, how do you create the image, what colors do you use etc. The list goes on and on.

We have created a 5 step system for you to follow to create the
BEST infographics for Pinterest!

 

  • 1 – Picking the right topic
    • Does it relate to your business?
    • What topics in your industry do people find interesting?
    • Is this topic something you are passionate about?
    • What data do you want people to receive?
    • Can you tell a story within the graphic?
  • 2 – Be creative, funny or useful
    • Can you get a reaction out of people
    • Explain something to your audience that will resonate with them
    • Explain the data you want them to learn on their level
    • Will your image be shareable?
  • 3 – Keep it simple
    • Have a simple and clean image
    • Keep your infographic to 3-5 points
    • Using text and images within your infographic
    • Have a good Call-to-action within the graphic, don’t give it all away in one image
  • 4 – Look and feel
    • Make sure you are using clear fonts that your audience can read
    • Tie your infographic into your brand colors only use 2-3 colors per image
    • Put your sources on bottom and your logo
    • Keep you infographic consistent with your brand
  • 5 – Size
    • Make your image longer rather than wider
    • Infographics should be 735 pixels wide and under 2,060 pixels long
    • Remember with mobile if they are longer than 2,60 pixels they can get cut off

Wonderful, now you know how to create your infographic, what it needs to look like, the things you should have and shouldn’t have, but now the BIG question is where do you get all the data?? I know as an entrepreneur I am always looking at infographics on Pinterest for our company and for our clients, I say WOW that is awesome, I want to create something like that. BUT where did they get the data, how do they know the key points they want to talk about??

We have put together a FREE download here for you with 6 key techniques to collect data to make the perfect infographic. As you can see there is a lot that goes into making just ONE image, right? This is a process. It’s really about finding that perfect topic that you really want to share with the world and being able to explain it in such a way where everyone gets it! You have to do your research with each infographic, make the process fun. As you think of these ideas for your infographics, keep a journal or word doc to start collecting your data. 

Conclusion

Remember you are always going to analyze your data and try to create a story with that data. Once you have your data, story, and image complete you can craft together a successful launch. Where will you place this image first? Each infographic needs to have your call-to-action, visually appealing and clearly branded. Here are a few steps we recommend for a successful launch:

  • Write a blog post about your Infographic with the image within the blog content
  • Share to Pinterest, Google, Facebook
  • Make another image that is the correct size for Instagram and share on Instagram

When you follow these steps to create the best infographics and implement our techniques to your data and design process you will be able to deliver an infographic that will resonate with your audience. An image that they will want to share and will build your brand.

Are you tired of going through hundreds of websites each week to find content to share or write about? These two free tools will help you get your industry new at your fingertips!

Feedly

The content you need to accelerate your research, marketing, and sales.Feedly allows you to become a smart reader with less noise!

Google Alerts

Monitor the web for interesting new content. How often. As-it-happens. At most once a day. At most once a week. Sources. Automatic. News. Blogs. Web. Video. Books. Discussions.  And much more!