It has been just over a year since I left my director level job at a wildly successful Fortune 500 company, and about ten months since I started my first business. Starting a business was never a thing I aspired to do. I was quite happy in the big corporate world of fintech and with over 20 years of experience as an engineer-turned-marketer I wasn’t looking to make a major career shift.
That all changed when I was given a push out of the corporate nest. When my division decided to centralize marketing roles to Atlanta Georgia, I quickly realized that staying close to our three children was more important than following a job. I would be lying if I said it was an easy transition for me. It wasn’t. I loved the company, the job, and I missed all the wonderful colleagues and long-time best friends I had made there over the years.
I took some time off, did all the usual things people do who are “between jobs” like catching up on home projects that had been neglected, going to the gym, going to the cottage, and, perhaps a bit more unique, riding my horse. After a few months, I got bored and I started actively searching for a new marketing job at one of the many Waterloo tech companies in the area (a.k.a. Silicon Valley of the North). I talked to everyone I knew to see what local companies might be a good fit, went to some excellent Communitech events and job fairs and applied online to a few positions. It was at this point that I realized I wanted to go in a different direction and start my own consulting company. Here are five surprising things I learned along the way that may be helpful to anyone else considering this path.
Surprise #1: Legally starting a small business is ridiculously easy
When I Googled starting a small business, I was directed to the Government of Canadawebsite. In about 10 minutes I submitted the form requesting a business license for a sole proprietorship. I paid $60 and I was sent a Business ID number. Presto I was in business!
Surprise #2: Selecting a good company name is not that easy
While registering, my business was easy, finding a good company name was more difficult, at least for me. It had to feel right, be unique, be available as a .com URL, not be too vague or too specific. I followed the lead of an entrepreneur I have always admired, Steve Rasmussen, founder of Beavercreek Marketing, and a great partner to my last employer. Like Steve, I chose my company name based on my favorite vacation destination. For me that was Collingwood, Ontario. It is an all-season town on Georgian Bay and home to the best lake and ski memories we have. A tag line quickly followed — “We Launch Great Ideas” — playing off the water theme and my passion for launching new tech solutions.
A quick search on best online hosting systems for small business led me to GoDaddy.com with an introductory rate of $9.99 per month. With their super simple email building tools I was all set.
On a whim, and since I didn’t have a graphic designer back then, I submitted a request to FIVERR for a logo. With just minimal direction on graphics and color, a clever designer somewhere in the world sent back a simple logo design that I still use and like, all for $5.95.
So, for under $100 I had a registered business, a website and a logo. Wow – talk about a low-cost start-up!
Surprise #3: More people than you think are already part of the Gig Economy
As I shared my excitement over having what was starting to feel like a real company, I quickly learned that many friends had already started small companies and we were all part of “The Gig Economy”. I think that is a cool term. Per Google, it means a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. The Gig Economy may account for up to 34% of the workforce, per research by Intuit. For some it is a way of life, for others a supplemental income that helps them make ends meet, or pays for that extra vacation. Lots of my friends look at it as a Plan B for the day they decide to retire, or in some cases, when someone else decides it for them.
Surprise #4: Accounting can be fun
Managing a marketing budget and accounting in general was not my idea of fun, but sending out invoices for your own company and cashing the checks that come back is a lot of fun. After working hard on a project, often evenings and weekends are involved, (and many of those hours non-billable), it is gratifying to see the fruits of your labour in cold, hard cash. As my brother, a recently retired environmental consultant, explained, “You send them a piece of paper and they send you money, it’s very rewarding.”
While having a paycheck automatically deposited to your bank account every two weeks is a reassuring experience, nothing beats getting that good old paper check in the mail, addressed to your new company. And there are great, free accounting systems out there. I use Wave, which generates professional looking invoices, tracks your income and can produce reports showing exactly how much pesky HST you owe the government. Note: HST is the 13% harmonized sales tax that Ontarians pay on just about everything. Come tax time, I will be getting professional advice and using my accountant to help with my first business tax filing.
Surprise #5: Personal connections are still everything and LinkedIn can help – a lot!
Alright this last one wasn’t really a surprise, let’s face it, business is personal. We are more likely to buy from someone we trust and like. Working as a marketing consultant, it is essential that I connect with people who trust me and need my services.
One tool I find especially helpful for business connections is LinkedIn. If you don’t have someone’s current email, it is easy to reach that person through LinkedIn messaging. And with over 500 million people on LinkedIn today, chances are your former colleagues can be found there!
Messaging potential clients on LinkedIn and sharing basic information on my new business works as a great door opener. So great in fact, that I have been helping my clients use LinkedIn more effectively. Many B2B companies could leverage the power of LinkedIn to find new opportunities and nurture existing ones. Read my last blog “Why I Spent My Summer on LinkedIn” for more details on how to get started.
So, if you are thinking about starting a new gig, by all means, give it a try! You may be surprised at just how easy it is to get started … and like me, surprised at how much you enjoy it!
Victoria Lant is the Founder of Collingwood Marketing with over 20 years experience in launching new payments solutions for Fortune 500 companies. She is a professional engineer, avid equestrian, skier and book club member. Victoria spends as much time as she can paddling on the waters of Georgian Bay. Collingwood Marketing helps tech companies succeed with innovative digital marketing and social media strategies. Victoria can be reached on LinkedIn or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.