Shoot Your Shot

If you're super cool and hip like me you'll know that the term "Shoot your Shot" is a popular term used by super cool and hip young people (also me?) to explain taking a chance with a romantic interest. If you like someone and don't want to wait for them to make the first move, you'll shoot your shot and tell them you have feelings for them. Generally, the move is thought of as bold or courageous and even if it ends with the wrong outcome, its seen as admirable.

 Good for basketball, relationships, and now, business. 

Good for basketball, relationships, and now, business. 

Despite originally being a call to action to ramp up your confidence in pursuing romantic relationships, it can be an empowering concept in the realm of business as well. And as a married thirty-something, I'm definitely not cool enough (despite the assertion of my hip-ness just one paragraph ago) to use it in any other way. So let's take this concept and apply it to something I actually know about, ok? 

Shooting Your Shot as an Entrepreneur:

When you're in business for yourself your motivation to succeed (or simply your motivation to pay your light bill) wills you to make connections, land deals, and work with like-minded people. Often times, these relationships and opportunities will develop organically. But sometimes, you'll need to move them along a little bit to really get what you want. Is there a client you've been dying to work for? An industry leader you want to collaborate with? A pipe dream you just can't shake and a person that can help you make it happen?

Instead of pining from afar, why not just go for it?

Before you get all inspired and start to fire off emails to everyone under the sun, you need to put some thought into your approach. Shooting your shot as an entrepreneur takes finesse, confidence, and a little luck. Get comfortable with this skill and you'll be well on your way to creating some awesome opportunities for yourself.  

What are your intentions?

Just as if you were contacting a romantic interest, determine exactly what you're asking for. Do you just want to reach out and thank someone for their work? Are you asking for mentorship? Collaboration? A meeting? Do you want this person to hire you? Make sure you're clear about your intentions from the beginning so things don't get weird as you progress. 

Sell yourself but be humble

Yes, you should tell this person how great you are but just as if you were on a first date don't overdo it. Master the art of the humble brag. Let them know why you're awesome and why they would want to work with you but keep it short and sweet. Props if you can sneak in a few compliments, too. 

Don't overshare

The other day I sent a 'shoot your shot email' to someone in an industry that I've been dreaming about participating in for a while now. Does this person need to know that I had a "holy crap I'm the worst entrepreneur ever" freak out 10 minutes before I crafted this email? Absolutely not. (Side query: Aforementioned freak out is super normal, right?) The same way that you don't talk about your 5 cats or your crippling fear of beanie babies ad nauseam on a first date, keep all of those business-related insecurities tucked away for the time being. 

At the end of the day, why not?
If you really think about it, as long as you're respectful and professional, is there any reason to NOT try? Maybe that person that you're dying to work with could use an extra hand. Maybe that industry expert would love someone to mentor. Maybe your big break is just one ballsy email away. Or, maybe it's not- but there's only one way to find out. 

The Farm to Table Conference double take!

What are you doing this weekend? Care to spend some time with Western PA's best farmers, food producers, and sustainable food champions? Of course you do! Join me and hundreds of other Western PA food nerds at the 12th Annual Farm to Table Conference. I have the opportunity to offer my expertise twice this weekend on two different topics. 

At 10AM on Saturday I'll be speaking with two students from my Business of Food and Agriculture class about our product development project in conjunction with CRAFT and Tomanetti's Pizza.  We don't have pizza samples just yet, but we'll tell you all about we choose the ingredients and sourced everything-from crust to cheese from less than 100 miles from Pittsburgh. 

On Sunday, I'll be back again at the Hot Pepper Stage at 1 PM talking about Eco-Labels. Did you know that the book The Jungle helped to create one of the first federal food laws in the United States? Or that all you need to do to call chicken eggs "free range" is a provide door that leads to a porch!? The chickens don't even have to use it. Learn about these facts, why they matter and how to navigate the ever-changing eco-label landscape with me. I'll post more about labels soon but until then, I hope to see you this weekend!  

Farm Show Fun!

I can't be the only one here that wants to pet some cows and see a thousand-pound butter sculpture. If you're in the same boat as I am, join me at the PA Farm Show on Tuesday, January 9th! I'll be talking about food labeling and how learning more about labels can make you a better consumer. If you can't make it, I'll make sure to post some relevant information about my talk when I get back from good 'ol Harrisburg. 

Check out the rest of the schedule here. (And mind the spelling mistake in my name, they're working on it.) 

How to write a business plan

Do you go on vacation without a plan? Like, do you wake up one morning, throw some random stuff in the car, grab whatever family member is home and just drive in a direction until you feel like stopping? Do you then just get out of the car and hope for the best? No supplies, no place to stay, no one to watch the dog; just drive and go until you run out of gas. I hope, for the sake of your dog and that one kid that you left at home, that you don't ever do that. I also hope that this sounds crazy. I hope that you're saying things like "For a vacation, I need to plan! At the very least, we know where we're going, have somewhere to stay when we get there, and a general plan of what we're doing so we can pack what we need."

And I also hope that you realize that it's even crazier to go into business without a plan. You wouldn't get into the car and not know your destination, so you certainly shouldn't invest your time, money, and hard work into a project without being sure where it's headed.

The craziest part of this example? The fact that a lot of people don't think they need a business plan in order to execute their dream. I've spoken to numerous aspiring business owners who feel like a plan isn't needed. They're wrong.

Now before you get all sweaty, worrying about how you're going to write a 100+ page plan good enough to get any MBA student an A, I'm here to tell you that's not necessary. I'm also here to tell you that you probably already have A LOT of your business plan already floating around in your noggin. All you have to do it get it on paper. 

I recently spoke about this topic at a Pittsburgh Women's Mastermind for Entrepreneurs event and wanted to share it here as well. 

Below, you'll find some general notes and insight regarding business plan writing. After you've digested that, head on over to the accompanying post to see a business plan template. 

Shut up and take my money! 

The Frye meme is posted above for two reasons: 1) Futurama is awesome, and 2) it's great motivation when you're writing. Your business plan should be exciting! It should be convincing! It should be so intriguing that anyone who reads it gets so pumped about your product or service that they say "shut up and take my money"! Think about Frye when you're writing. If he's not thrusting a wad of cartoon dollars into your face when you read back what you've wrote, you need to think about how to better position your product or service to get your customers on board. 

What does a business plan look like?


Useful. Maybe that's a crappy answer, but it's true! If you write a huge, detailed business plan and it sits on your shelf and gets dusty, what's the point? A well used business plan, even if it's written on a napkin is better than one that never gets opened. Most times, your plan will be a word document and accompanying financials with some visuals like marketing pieces or charts. If you're trying to write a comprehensive business plan for outside investors, or if your business has a lot of moving parts (employees, inventory, marketing considerations) aim for at least 20-30 pages or writing to make sure you're being thorough enough. Despite this, I've seen a perfectly useful, beautifully executed business plan for a solopreneur that was written on a white board. 

How the heck do I write this thing?

Ok, so you get why to write a plan, what it looks like, and why it needs it be exciting. So, how do you do it? It's actually not that terrible. The first step is to just write. Just take all of the stuff that's floating in your brain and get it down on paper. You'll be surprised at how much you already know. After that, start looking into a template and plug in the stuff you have on paper into the categories. BAM! You've started writing your business plan. 

After that, you just research the rest. Use current publications, market research, industry leaders, census information, your business knowledge and knowledge of the industry to fill in the blanks. Just because this process was easy to condense into a sentence, doesn't mean that it's going to be easy to achieve. It may take months to get the information you need.  Take classes, watch tutorials, shadow current businesses, and read 'till your eyes hurt. The more you know about your industry and your business, the better off you'll be. 
  

A note about financials: 

 I originally was planning to talk about financials here too, but it's a whole other beast that deserves a separate post. More on those next time. 

Ready to rock? Scroll down or Check out the template here. 

How to write a Business Plan continued... Business Plan Sections

Below is a handy dandy business plan template that should help you get started. Be aware that your specific industry may have additional needs that go above and beyond this template, or there may be sections that you don't need. For example, if you are launching a new product or developing a new technology, you'll have an added section about patents, product drawings, and other intellectual property concerns. Or, if you're a solopreneur (in business by yourself) you won't have to spend too much time on your Organization and Management section, cause it's just you.

Don't let this process overwhelm you! Just remember, you know more than you think you know. If it's still a little too much, I'm here to help. Contact me here.

Business Plan Sections

Executive Summary:
Your executive summary is a snapshot of your business plan as a whole and touches on your company profile and goals. Make it sexy, and less than two pages. Sum up your goals, financial needs, and overall plan to kick ass and take names.

Company Description:
Your company description provides information on what you do, how you do it, why you do it, what differentiates your business from others, and the markets your business serves. Put it all out there in this section so the reader will get a truly complete vision of your business.

Market Analysis:
Before launching your business, it is essential for you to research your business industry, market, and competitors. Make your readers understand why you want to start this business and why this industry makes you super excited. Make sure to include why your business is a welcome addition to the industry and why your business will fill a need that’s present.

Organization & Management:
Every business is structured differently. Highlight your management team and their strengths. Write job descriptions for your managers and narrate how a “typical day” will progress. Banks love to see a strong, well-prepared team at the helm.

Service or Product Line:
What do you sell? What do you really sell? Is it one thing? A bunch of things? Do they work in tandem or are they independent? How does your product or service benefit your customers? What is the product life cycle? How much does your product or service cost to produce?

Marketing & Sales:
How do you plan to market your business? Be creative. What is your sales strategy? To whom are you marketing? Why do they care about your business and your product?

Funding Request:|
If you are seeking funding for your business, find out about the necessary information you should include in your plan. Be transparent. If you need $75,000, say that you need $75,000.

Financial Projections:
If you need funding, providing financial projections to back up your request is critical. Research the crap out of this section and know where all of the numbers came from. Get help if you need it.

Appendix:
An appendix is optional, but a useful place to include information such as resumes, permits and leases. Also, include a works cited page if you have any industry information that you cite.

And there you have it! Business Plan: Dunzo. It's obviously not that easy, but hopefully this template makes it less scary. Go get your write-on and get ready to rule the world.

Need some more motivation? Go tell Deborah to shut the f*ck up. 

Breakin' the law, breakin the law.

I'm an insufferable goody-two-shoes. Don't let the bad mouth, fashionable leather jacket, and 2 visible tattoos fool you; I'm anxious about getting in trouble.

The thought of getting a fine, a ticket, or a slap on the wrist for doing something incorrectly has always concerned me. This quirk has made things like drinking outside (what about the open container laws!?) and long car trips (speed traps, oh my!) slightly less fun for me over the years. But fortunately, my neurosis has made me into a diligent business woman in the realm of all things legal and tax-related. When I started my business, I was apprehensive about making sure that I was doing everything "right", so I didn't run into any problems down the road. Because of this, I can happily speak on what I've learned in the hopes of helping answer some of your questions as you travel down the small business ownership path yourself. Below is a short list of some of the legal considerations that you may have to navigate when you begin your own business. Check 'em out and feel free to ask some questions or add things that you've experienced in the comments.

***Before I dive into anything legal, I'd like to mention that asking me (or anyone that's not a lawyer, attorney, or accountant) about this kind of stuff is like asking a circus clown how to do an "understated, daytime makeup look." Probably not a good idea. HOWEVER, I can tell you about some of the stuff that I have encountered and what I've learned along the way. Again, don't live and die by my advice, just use it as a way to save yourself some stress and a few hours of time scouring the internet.***

Business Entity: Your business can have one of many structures that effect pass through taxation and tax filing among other things. Sole Proprietorship, an LLC, C-Corp or S-Corp each have their benefits and disadvantages that need to be weighed when you're starting your own business. Check out the SBA's info on this topic, here. I can tell you that generally, registering with the state is a realtively straightforward process. In Pennsylvania, an LLC costs $125, takes about 10 days to get and helps to protect your personal assets from being affected if something goes wrong with your business. Start the process here. 

EIN: Your EIN or Employee Identification Number is like a social security number for your business. A sole proprietor doesn't need it, but it's nice to have as it can help protect you from identity theft and is necessary if you eventually need to hire employees.  You can also use it when you're filing taxes and filling out paperwork for things like bank accounts. Don't let places like LegalZoom charge you for it! It's free and takes all of 15 minutes filling out paperwork online get. Click here to sign up for one.

DBA: A DBA name is your Doing Business As name. It's for sole proprietors that are doing business under a business name that's different from their given name (ex: Nicolette Spudic, DBA Pick Your Poison Consulting), or for LLCs and Corporations that are named something other than what the business is being called. A DBA name can be filed with your state and in Pennsylvania, costs $70. Click here for the form.

Quarterly Taxes: When you're employed by an employer and receive a W-2 and a paycheck, your employment taxes are split. Your employer pays half of your taxes, and you pay the rest. When you're self-employed, the entire tax burden is your responsibility. Since you don't get it taken out of your pay like when you receive a paycheck, you need to pay your employment taxes to the Government on a quarterly basis. You can do this several ways, but I e-file using EFTPS.gov. All you have to do is create an account, link your bank account and pay your employment taxes each quarter. I use Quickbooks Self employed (check out that link for 50% off for 6 months of service) to estimate my self-employment taxes for each quarter, so I don't have to do any of the math by myself. NOTE: You usually don't have to pay quarterly taxes the first year in business which is a nice perk when you're just starting, but it's a good habit to start as soon as your up and running and showing a little bit of income.

Write-offs: It's a definite disadvantage to have to pay a higher percentage of your taxes when you're self-employed. However, you have the awesome ability to write off your business expenses to reduce the amount you pay in taxes throughout the year. You may have to do some research about some specifics in your state, but generally, this is a great benefit to a small business owner. So far this year I've written off a portion of my mortgage and utilities for my home office, a repair on my laptop, and countless miles traveled to and from meetings. For me, again, the best way to account for these costs is Quickbooks. My account links up to my debit card and Pay Pal accounts and helps me categorize my spending and income appropriately, so my quarterly taxes are properly calculated.

Is that all there is to it? Nope, but it's a start. Having a good idea of taxes and legal matters helps you to be prepared and ready in case something does go wrong. I suggest that you take this aspect of starting a business seriously as it does really help to be ready for anything. Other than what's above, don't Jaywalk, don't pee outside in public and don't even think about driving over the speed limit. You might get in trouble.

 

What's in a name?

What's in a name?.png

So you've started writing your business plan and have at least a hazy idea of what your business is going to look like. Do you hate writing yet? Good. Keep going. Write at least until you can get a clear picture of your business through squinted eyes, or you want to bang your head against your desk, whatever comes last. About there? Perfect. Let's take a break and do something fun. 

Time to give 'er a name!  

Surprise, surprise, it, along with the majority of this process, may not be a walk in the park. In my opinion, it really shouldn't be. Naming a business is important. It makes the process more real, helps you talk about your upcoming venture to people that matter, and helps decide on the tone of the business moving forward. There's a lot to consider, and it's not an easy thing to change once you've decided on it (and most likely spent money on logos and branding). So take this time to name your business right.  

When choosing a name, consider the following factors and how they'll affect your business both now, and in the future: 

Think carefully, but not too hard: Make sure you're covering all of your bases when you're thinking about your name. Brainstorm a couple of different times, ask a few friends, write it down like when you were practicing your signature in grade school. Allow yourself time to "sit" with your name to see if it still feels right after a few days. However, if a business name just comes to you and it's perfect, maybe it's just meant to be. Prepare to think long and hard about a name, but if one just automatically "feels" right, use it,  don't sweat it and consider it a gift from the business Gods.

Remember: Google wasn't a thing before Google was a thing. Before Google used the word "Google," it wasn't a term many people knew. The word is just a creative spelling of a math term (meaning an unfathomable number) that has become one of the most powerful words in the world. If your business name sounds silly or doesn't have a meaning don't worry about people thinking it's weird- it's your job to define it and inject value into it, so it can be whatever you make it.

Consider your personality: If you have a super fun, budget-friendly dog grooming company and you want your customers to know that from the get-go, Doggy Elegance or Elite Pet Grooming may not be the best names for your business. Make sure that your business name fits your business personality, so people begin to understand your services they second they hear your name. A business name that doesn't line up with your business concept can make your concept muddy and hard for consumers to understand. 

Spelling: Be wary of "super-cool" spelling decisions. It may seem fun to spell your business name with no vowels or with 3 Q's, but if you don't have the marketing budget to make sure your customers know how to find you, it's not worth the hipster points. 

ABC's: If your business is typically still found by alphabetical listings (such as a plumber or painter) consider starting your business name with a letter higher up the in the alphabet. Alpha Construction may fair better than Tellum Brother's Construction only because the listing is at the top of the page.

Local or national: Think about your product or service. If you provide local services only (e.g. a Brooklyn, NY hair stylist), it would be in your best interest to add that information somewhere into your name (Brooklyn Do's) or web address (ChicBoutiqueBrooklyn.com), as this makes it easier for people to find you. If you're selling your product or service nationwide, your location isn't as important. 

Check it out: Now that you have an idea, it's time to make sure that no one else had the idea before you. Google your proposed name, your city, and your industry in as many ways as you can think of. Do a Facebook search and check social media for available usernames that you may want. Finally, go to a site like GoDaddy.com and check to see if your preferred domain name is available. This whole process is crucial to make sure that the name isn't already taken or has some sort of unfavorable connotation that you weren't aware of. 

How does it look: Make sure that your business name doesn't look weird when it's turned into a domain name. Not sure what I mean? Click here for some seriously bad domain names: http://www.boredpanda.com/worst-domain-names/

Register: Typically, business names and types need to be registered with the state you live in.  You can do a search on your state's website to make sure no one else in your state has your business name. If they do, you can either change your business name slightly (Pick Your Poison Marketing to Pick Your Poison Consulting) or use a DBA (doing business as) name (Nicolette Spudic, DBA Pick Your Poison Consulting). Some of these aspects are up to the structure of your business, and they all require forms and fees- all which I'll get into with my next post. Either way, these names are more for tax purposes and not branding purposes so if they're not exactly perfect, its ok. It's simply essential that your business is properly registered with the state. 

Hopefully, these tips will give you the tools to properly choose a name that fits your business and provides you with years of success. Now get to work!  Stay tuned for next week's post about some legal and accounting-related topics which will most likey be much less fun to do than naming your business (but oh, so necessary). 

Eco-Lables: History, Health and Consumer Clarity

funny_food.jpg

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to present at the Farm to Table conference. I took the opportunity to speak about the topic I wrote my thesis on in 2012; Eco-label. You know, all of those labels that tell you if a product is natural, organic, cage free, or only made from happy cows that listen to Mozart, receive massages and read at a 3rd grade level. Essentially, these labels are a wonderful tool to choose environmentally preferable products but are also great ways for food companies to confuse consumers and lead them into paying more money for products that don't have much additional benefit. 

People seemed to like the presentation. They had fantastic questions and didn't boo me off stage, so all in all, I'd say it went very well. 

I had plans on putting up the presentation on my blog about a month ago but life gets in the way so I'm only getting to it now. Either way, please click the link below to check out my slides and some information on the labels that you probably encounter most often. 

Check it out!

Hopefully, this information doesn't stress you out but instead empowers you to make the right decisions for you next time you purchase food.

If you remember nothing else, just hold on to these little nuggets: 

  • Your free range eggs came from chickens that probably didn't see the outdoors.*
  • Unless you're talking about meat, NATURAL MEANS NOTHING.**
  • Some labels are very expensive and cost prohibitive for farmers. Your farmers may be going above and beyond the label but can't pay for it. Talk to your farmers and learn about their practices before you assume that they aren't meeting your standards just because their products don't have a label that you like. 

* All free range chickens need is "access to the outdoors". There is no rule on if they need to go outside or not.
**As in it's uncertifiable/uncertified. It may mean that a company used fewer inputs or higher quality ingredients in a product, or it just may mean that they put a leaf on the bag and charged $2.00 more. It's a wild world. 

And the Easter Bunny, too.

easterbunnies.jpg

I'm thinking that starting a business must feel a lot like when you first realize that Santa Claus isn't real.

I don't remember that moment for me exactly but I'm sure I was just doin' my kid thing; loving my Lisa Fank notebook and New Kids on the Block sleeping bag until everything changed. I got some bad news that Santa was just a fairy tale, probably from some kid with a bowl cut and Steeler's Starter jacket named Steve. From that moment on, my childhood changed a little bit. I don't remember exactly how old I was when it happened, but I do remember being sad then quickly getting over it and appreciating my parents more because I always got awesome presents despite us not having much. I moved on with my new information and played with my Skip-it with some more knowledge and a better idea of how the world works. 

I feel that this same experience happens a million times when you're starting a business. You're going along your merry little way, writing your business plan, dreaming about all the cool stuff that you'll do, then someone hits you with some information that's hard to process. "There's no way you can get that much funding for a seasonal business." "Your occupancy permit is going to be a nightmare" "I don't think you'll have enough time to make this happen this year." 

Each time this happens, the rug gets pulled out from under you a bit and it feels like a dead end. But... you re-group, learn a little more, and work to make it happen despite the hurdles that you didn't expect. 

This has been my reality for the past few weeks. Each time it happened, I got sad for a bit and then re-grouped and formulated a plan to get through it. Here are some examples:

Reality: I won't get as much (if any) bank funding as I thought I initially could.
Plan: I looked into Kiva loans and SBA funding and I'm working on saving my butt off. 

Reality: I won't have enough time to make my business happen this year. 
Plan: Keep chugging along with the knowledge that more time gives me more opportunities to create a kick ass business for 2018. 

So yeah, Santa AND the Easter Bunny aren't real, businesses are hard to start and I'm upset that I don't have my skip-it any more. It's cool. At least I don't have a bowl cut.