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What I Learned Starting My First Service Business

      Are you a lifelong learner or someone who works better with structure? I have always believed in lifelong learning. It was not meant to be used as an excuse to perform poorly but rather to remind myself to be grateful for being alive at each moment in time. On top of that, it was also a principle I created that there is something to learn from every encounter and situation no matter how small.

In 2014 during college, I picked up a DSLR camera and decided to start freelancing without even knowing what I was doing. As someone who is detail-oriented and likes to plan ahead, I tapped into administrative tasks that freelancers typically would not unless they are in high demand. Although I enjoyed growing with photography, my instincts were constantly there to remind me that I would not be fulfilled specializing in one trade.

Growing up with a mixture of collectivistic and individualistic culture, I ended up being able to find a balance between the two. Individualistically, we are taught in many ways that being unique and worrying about oneself first is priority. I believe that mentality translates into the education system with careers that follow. For example, if we do not gravitate toward any art industry at a young age of four or five, we are not typically encouraged to pursue it as a career. We have to be practical, especially those who come from a family of immigrants, so we need to go into what is in high demand—you know the drill—science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine. In this case, we need to excel in any of these fields and aim for the top so as to secure our chances of not failing (however that means).

Collectivistically, I grew up with values that taught me to make decisions that will help our family as a whole and not only for myself. I needed to ensure a college education so that I can present myself desirably in the market no matter what it takes. This is where the two cultural views intersected. If you know me by now, you will know that that neither of those furthest sides sat well with me. What I decided to do was take my time learning about myself and studied what I enjoyed (individualistic) but at the same time, I was being practical to help contribute to my family’s finances (collectivistic). I rejected both sides when it came to the typical reliance on professional and social reputation to pursue any goal.

All of this is to say that from the moment I started freelancing seven years ago, I collected a list of dos and don’ts that helped prepare me when I opened my first service-based business. Check them out and feel free to share your advice in the comment section.

Your Solution to a Consumer Problem
Consumers want to invest their purchases smartly and the best way to do so is to find a business that focuses on that particular solution. You should start with what it is that you would like to offer and start researching your market and competition. If it is a solution that you would invest in yourself as a consumer, then you have your answer. Starting your services out with a niche helps create a foundation that will allow you to eventually tack on a new service relevant to your business. For example, if you are planning to start a business offering accounting consulting services, do not broaden it from the get go that you are able to cover all types of taxes. Offering and accepting everything to gain favor with the client or to make a little bit of extra income does not go a long way. In my case, I started offering photography and I found a niche within that field of specializing in commercial and travel. After a while, I started offering web and graphic design services. Now, my business is redefined as a media and product management company which encompasses all of the previous offerings but presented in a way that is simpler and easier to market.
Financial Saving and Spending
It can be less than $500 to start your service-based business depending on if you do not need to invest in equipment (i.e., DSLR camera or computer) before doing so. If you already own a computer and have means of transportation, then you are able to start looking for leads and preparing your offering through presentation and documents.

  • Spend some time researching prices for an LLC registration in your state, which costs around $100 initially and $50 annually.
  • To start with, you can create a free informational website with WordPress.com. If you have a knack for basic HTML/CSS, you can either code or find free commercial templates online and publish it through GitHub for free hosting.
  • Open a business credit card if you can. You can find a bank that is offering a deal or where you see would best fit your needs.
  • Make sure you are keeping track of all your expenses (receipts) and revenue (invoices) in a spreadsheet. This document will help you at the end of each year when you are filing taxes and allow you to keep track of your profit.
Legal
Even if you are starting out, it is important to create as strong of a foundation as possible and that includes any legal aspects that you are able to handle from the beginning.

  • File your company as an LLC. This protects your personal assets if you ever run into legal issues with a client/employee. It also lets you legally operate with your company name.
  • Sign up for a free Employee Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This allows you to file your taxes with this number instead of your social security number. It is also useful for when you are growing your team and need to file employer taxes.
  • Create a terms document that includes any initial deposit, right of use, and deliverables.
  • Create a privacy policy and terms of use page on your website. These two include how you are collecting your visitors’ data, what they are able to download, and other disclaimers.
  • If you have the means and set on your company’s name, trademark the name as well as the company logo.
Administrative Responsibilities
Administrative tasks are a combination of technical and managerial responsibilities which does not have an end in sight if you are going to continue growing your business. Here is a basic overview:

  • Sign up for a Google Voice number. You can connect this to your mobile number if you do not want use the separate app. This is a great recording tool because you can receive email, app, and mobile notifications each time you receive a voicemail, message, or call. You also receive transcripts from voicemails. When you separate this number with your mobile number, you are able to determine quicker which interaction is for business or personal reasons.
  • If you do not want to pay for an email subscription, you can use one of the major domains temporarily but make sure you create it as close to your company’s name as possible so it is a bit more professional. Keep all of your emails with clients.
  • Use a project management tool like Trello, Monday, etc. This helps you keep track of projects and updates that need to be done. It is also used as a foundation for when you are ready to grow your team.
  • Use a communication tool like Slack or maybe even Discord. Once you grow your team, it will be useful to keep track of all the messages.
  • Create any templates for client communication or what you are offering for your service (i.e., questionnaires, proposals, presentations).
Branding
There is a balance to be met between your principles, company values, and the company’s brand. You can translate your core values into the logo, colors, and fonts. Make sure you are creating an original work or hiring someone who will create original work for commercial use.

  • Logo: If nothing else, you should have a logo with your company’s name. Have an icon that best suits what you are offering and match the font with it for the slogan and name.
  • Slogan/Tagline: You should have at least one tagline that goes along with your logo. It helps to explain a little bit more about your company to let potential clients decide whether they want to continue learning more about your services.
  • Fonts: You will need two to three fonts. A distinctive font is used for the company name in the logo to help with brand recognition. Taglines, body text, and headers will have their own fonts as well. Make sure you pick something that will suit your brand and is easily readable.
  • Color Scheme: : A good option is to go with at least two colors. Different colors invoke different feelings when it is seen. If you want to be more friendly and warm, go with brighter and hotter colors like red and yellow. If you want your viewers to feel relaxed, go with cooler and softer colors like blue and purple.
  • Brand Guide: This is an important document to have to maintain brand continuity. It includes all variations of logos, fonts, graphics, pictures, and other elements and how they should be used.
Marketing
After you have set up your foundation and created the brand elements, the next step would to put them into marketing materials for web and print usage.

  • Print Materials
    • Business Card: Even if you decide to hold off on other materials, you need to have at least a business card designed and printed for yourself. You can keep the same template for any new team members who join your company.
    • Brochure: You should have at least one type of brochure created to email and print as needed. This can be a bifold, trifold, or quadfold depending on your content and preference.
    • Flyer: This is a shorter and smaller version of the brochure to be presented as a quick overview of your offerings.
  • Digital Materials
    • Website: The single most digital presence you can have would be your website. You need to have an online home to direct your leads and clients to. As mentioned previously, you can start with an informational website for free.
    • Social Media: A general rule of thumb is to try everything—Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Alignable, Pinterest, TikTok, you name it. It helps contribute to social “proof” that your company is legitimate and it boosts search results. The important part of this is to ensure that you are using the business side of these accounts in order to have access to some of the analytics that these data giants are collecting.
    • Content: After you have your website and social media accounts created, you need to figure out the content that you would like to share about your business. Write blog entries, created simple graphics or use stock images, or even reshare pieces you see elsewhere. You want to follow the 80/20 rule of informational/entertaining posts to sales pitches.
Do It
Last but not least—go ahead and get started. If you have an idea that has been on your mind for a while and you have done the work, the only thing left is to put it out there. If you are in good health and at an appropriate financial stage in your life, there is no reason not to start a side business to offer your services.

-TC

Tags: Starting a business, Tuyen Chau, Broken Rice Media LLC, service-based business, what I learned starting my first service business, entrepreneurship

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