Working for yourself can be so rewarding and can really provide the flexibility that many mums desire. However, it can also be incredibly isolating. There’s only so many times that your partner can listen to you deciding on whether you’ve chosen the perfect font for your logo, right?
Our story of starting Two Girls and a Laptop involves quite a lot of wine, laughs and common interests (read more about them here). It’s the story of a friendship forged in the ‘trenches’ which has evolved into so much more. Somehow, we always knew that we would work together again – it was just a matter of when.
Along the way we’ve met so many incredible women (and mums) like us who have a passion for their creativity and/or projects and would, ideally, like to create a career doing something they ‘love’.
While this can sound romantic, everyone who has ventured down this path will tell you that it’s quite the opposite. It will most likely mean you will often be tapping away on your keyboard after the bedtime routine has been done, posting on social media in bed when all the lights are off (and it’s supposed to be a ‘device free zone’), and running to the post office shipping customer orders whilst still making it to the school pickup on time!
More seriously though, in all our years of experience, we have seen far too many businesses fail to reach* their potential through a lack of planning and adequate market research. At the outset you need to ask yourself the hard questions, not only to quantify that your idea has legs, but also to ensure that it is truly what you want to do and to understand the number of hours you will need to put in each week (initially unpaid). As well as the realities of what your day will look like, there are some ‘business basics’ that you will need to get started.
This is our story, and, as a starting point, we’ve listed below everything that we did before we spent even one cent on our business.
1.Defined the opportunity
Helen had been working in social media and continually met clients who needed help with more than just digital marketing. We’d both met people who had started a business doing something they were passionate about but didn’t necessarily have the core business skills to make the business as successful as they’d visualised. We saw a gap in the market and felt that our target market could benefit from quick and affordable business advice. Small business owners tend to spend so much time working in their business that it’s hard for them to work on their business. This was our mandate.
The initial concept was that small business owners would provide us with their top challenges and we’d present them with quick wins and a clear strategy to implement. We wanted to help business owners find direction and have an easy-to-implement action plan for growth. We had a couple of initial offerings and we also road-mapped the other products and services we would be launching in years 1 and 2.
2. Validated and quantified our idea with market research
We did the market research on our offering and pricing by going out to a group of small business owners and offering a simplified/condensed version of one of our planned launch offerings called a ‘Mini Business Review’ for FREE, yep, for FREE. Now this was not like asking people to answer a questionnaire. It was time consuming, and an investment of their time and ours, but we’ve no regrets. 80% of the businesses involved in this research have turned into paying customers and it also gave us some authentic testimonials and reviews to kick start our profile.
As this point, we also conducted a SWOT analysis to understand our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and a detailed competitor analysis.
Understanding what our competitors were doing helped us to define our unique selling proposition (USP). We already knew what our USP was, but it was validated when we saw that it differentiated us from others.
3. Determined our ‘Why?’
Here’s what we asked ourselves:
- What’s the motivating factor behind wanting to start a small business? For some people it’s a passion project (they just love making organic soy candles for example). Some see an opportunity and just think it’s a real money maker. Others just don’t want to work for other people and aren’t fussed about what they do as long as they no longer have a boss! For us, it was all about flexibility, doing something we felt passionate about and working on our own terms.
- Does the business need to supply an income in the short-term or is there financial support elsewhere? For us, in our business infancy, we only work part-time so we’re realistic about the financial opportunity that this business can provide us. That means we’re expecting a part-time wage vs. a full-time wage and in the first year we won’t be drawing a wage at all, but putting everything back into the business.
- Where do we want to be in 1, 3 and 5 years time? Coming up with a smashing new business idea is uber exciting but it’s a long game and a hard slog. If you’re looking for something short-term there might be other more viable ways to make money.
4. The budget: What were our startup costs and outgoing expenses for our first year in business?
Understanding this is a crucial step in helping you make informed decisions. How much money will you need to invest before you can even start selling your wares, and what are the ongoing operational expenses going to be in year one?
Your budget needs to cover:
- Advertising including traditional and digital marketing (Google Adwords, Facebook advertising etc.)
- Outsourcing (Facebook Advertising Expert, SEO and copywriter etc.)
- Subscriptions (Website Email, Social Media scheduling apps etc.)
- Typical expenses such as legal, accounting, insurance, buying stock etc.
Once the budget is down on paper, it might be the case that you decide to approach the business a little differently. We have met many people who, instead of investing on their own website initially started selling their wares on EBay, Facebook, Instagram, Big Cartel and Etsy. With Amazon Marketplace also having launched in Australia, there are now so many options. This is a great alternative for those who don’t have a lot of upfront capital and allows for ‘a toe in the water’ so to speak. We ourselves started and ran our socials for eight weeks before officially launching and got some great feedback and intel. It also gave us a chance to have a nice feed already waiting for prospects when we finally turned our lean generation taps on.
5. Completed our incomings (sales forecast) including pricing
We knew we needed to be realistic about how much revenue we were going to generate in the first year, especially given that in the first six months we would be selling only our consulting projects. As part of the sales forecast you need to set your price if you haven’t already. We recommend setting the price AFTER you understand the operating expenses as you need to ensure the business model can make a profit in the long term. In setting the price some key considerations are: your competitors, your operating expenses, and the stock buy price (potentially cheaper in bulk) to name a few. You also need to think about the cost of shipping, especially if you have a range of products of different dimensions and weight. If you charge a flat rate of $10 for shipping you need to model this against various shopping cart sizes and ensure it’s not eroding your margin (aka. profit). It’s also a good idea to put some rationale behind your numbers. For example: marketing activities will drive 1000 hits to the website per week and we expect to convert 1% initially which will result in 10 orders which will be made up of ‘X’ products at a revenue of ‘$X’.
6. Customer profiling
The great thing about starting your own business in that you can choose who your ‘ideal’ customer is: who you want to attract to your brand and who you want to repel. If you are going to be selling beautiful, hand crafted, one off ceramic pieces where the price reflects the time and energy put into each piece, you are NOT going to want to attract the person who only buys their homewares at Ikea. We really took the time to intimately understand our ideal customer: what are their values, pain points, where do they shop, what do they listen to, what authors do they like, what flavour margarita do they order at Taco Tuesday? The customer profile comes FIRST and then the sales and marketing plan comes SECOND.
7. Completed our Sales & Marketing Plan
Newsflash, opening an Instagram and Facebook page isn’t a marketing plan. It is necessary, it’s executing a marketing plan, but it’s not THE plan. When we sat down to determine our plan, we looked at our revenue (sales) number and worked backwards. We worked out how many leads we needed into our sales pipeline and what was our rate of conversion. What’s a sales pipe you ask? When you ‘open your digital doors’ with an online store, people are not going to magically know you exist. You need to have a plan to generate traffic to your website in order to convert them to paying customers. This is your marketing plan.
Our traffic generators are:
- Our email marketing program
- Paid digital advertising such as directories, Google Ads, Facebook and Instagram.
- Social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest
- Collaborations with other small business owners
- Closed Facebook groups
Why did we think this was so important before we spent a cent? Because driving sales is time consuming! We needed to understand how many hours a week it was going to take to get Two Girls and a Laptop off the ground and how much financial investment we needed to spend on advertising.
8. Discussed the realities of running our own business and getting help
Between us we have 3 ankle biters, 5 and under, and our families and our health are our priority. We wanted this business for ourselves, to help other small business owners grow and for it to be ‘on our terms’. We were realistic about the time. In some ways it’s a 24/7 job: the buck stops with us. This is great for flexibility (which we all crave) but it also means you need to schedule in some ‘offline’ time as you’ll be socially selling all hours of the day. Because knew we couldn’t do it all ourselves, we wrote a list of the skills we needed vs the skills we had, then accounted for the time and money investment to either learn them or outsource them.
So there, you have it, the 8 things we did before spending a cent and even before completing a business plan (a lot of this info fed directly into our business plan so the efforts weren’t wasted). This enabled us to hit ‘go’ and start outlaying for the start-up with confidence and an understanding of what we were getting ourselves in for.
So, are you ready to hit ‘go’ on your business? Once you’ve answered the above, what comes next are the actual tasks involved in physically setting up your online business ready for trade. Often it’s this part that leads new business owners into a chasm of the unknown.
Written by Jacqui and Helen, owners of Two Girls and a Laptop. They are business partners who support solo warriors, entrepreneurs, mumpreneurs, creatives and other small business owners to define, create and implement goals into actionable steps to reignite and propel their business forward. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.