In April 2016, I started DB + Partners from
the high top pub table in the corner of my living room a perch of excellence and wealth in a corner office adorned in rich mahogany.
I’ve documented this experience in the past. Starting my own business, which was largely my hollow day dream, quickly became a reality after I got dropped on my ass by my former employer on an otherwise nondescript Monday.
In the first days and months of starting a business, your dreams might be grand, but your realities are “don’t miss your car payment” and “oh shit, it’s peanut butter or credit card debt for dinner.” In time, though, you earn the right to dedicate more time to the bigger dreams.
Sure, I could’ve pontificated about the type of company culture I wanted to create, but the ‘company’ was me and my now-wife’s dog, Chloe. I could tell her that employee happiness and white glove service are paramount to our future, but she’d growl until I gave her another Good ‘n Fun Kabob and well, what was I gonna do about it?
Fast forward to today, more than 1,000 days since I started the business. And now, I have actual, useful knowledge to share with others who may be where I have been. Here’s an unofficial, incomplete list of my advice, should you be one of those people.
You need to incorporate. Some people I know are intimidated by this process. How do I incorporate a business? How do I set up a business checking account? Do I need a lawyer? It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you ask every question at once, so dumb it down and start at the beginning – incorporating the business. If you live in Florida, SunBiz.org is pretty easy and helpful. The cost of incorporating, and filing an annual report for your business, is $138.75. From there, you’ll get a tax ID number for your business, and you can take that to your local bank and open a business checking account with a relatively small deposit. The whole process should take about 10 days, and boom! You’re (literally) in business. Now you can write off expenses, if you only knew how to do that or what it meant…
Get your books in order. A bookkeeper is a great investment if you can afford it. If you can’t, then do two things immediately: 1) Create an Excel document and track every dollar. 2) Be sure to file away (roughly) $0.20 of every dollar into a high yield savings account because you’re going to owe taxes. When you have an employer, filling out a W2 takes away the guess work. But when you’re on your own and you collect your first $1,000, you might say “wow, $1,000! I’m a 1 percenter!” Trust me, taking the money away from yourself when you first get it is far less painful than finding out you owe a boatload of money at the end of the year and you’re there looking like:
Do what you said you’d do if you were your own boss. Oh, I have been that guy more times than I can count. “You know, if this were my business, I’d pay attention to my clients! I’d treat my employees well too!” Well, if you want to be the Mother Teresa of employee relations – quarterly bonuses, big, long vacations and so on – great. But guess who has to pony up and sacrifice to make that happen? You do. When you’re an employee, you love the idea of a great salary with incentives. When you’re an employer, it’s coming out of your pocket instead of going into it. How much does treating employees well really mean to you? You’ll find out when it comes time to cut that check. You can be cheap if you want. But just remember that you often get what you pay for.
Don’t be ashamed of being small. I felt insecure about the fact that we started out as a one-man social media agency. I worked at two of the biggest agencies in my city, with colorful decor and fancy conference rooms in abundance. Me? I was camped out in my living room in gym shorts with a jar of peanut butter. It sucked, and at times, I still lament what we aren’t. But guess what we are? Growing; we have a team of four now. We’re flexible. We’re great at what we do. And we wear gym shorts and eat delicious peanut butter. Sometimes, it’s good to ignore what’s going on around you. Worrying about what other agencies are doing has never grown my business. Working on mine has.
Work on your business, not in it. One of the hardest adjustments for me was shedding myself of an employee’s mindset. An employee is assigned a job. They’re judged and compensated based on their ability to do that job. But your job as a business owner is to run the business, not be its employee. If you want to manage task after task in exchange for money, it would be more appropriate to call yourself a freelancer. And that’s fine! But if your goal is to grow a business, then you have to have people alongside you who you believe in and trust to execute the work the way you would. That also means you need to support them and clear away obstacles for them. This way, they can have the type of job you always said your employees would have if you were in charge.
Pat yourself on the back and humble brag often. Stop whining about being small and get on with the good stuff. Your friends are out there creaming their jeans about a new job title and a 3 percent annual raise. You? You’re doing your own thing, on your terms. You may never get another promotion or relish the opportunity to rub it in Susan’s face once it happens. Oh well. Each new client is yours. You never have to feel like an imposter for saying ‘we’ won this new piece of business, when the reality is the only people profiting from it are in a room far enough away to avoid interacting with you. You’re doing it on your terms. You dictate who you work with, how you present yourself, and what you create.
That’s a big deal, amigo.