The Ultimate Question - When and How Do I Start?
Is there a right time to start your own business? Most people say start when your gut tells you. My take on that is yes, once you have a certain level of comfort. Let’s face it, you’re never going to be completely “safe” when you start your own business! You’re never going to have all the answers, but I’m going to help you hedge some feelings of uncertainty by sharing with you what I’ve learned from my experience. My background is in the world of luxury South Asian fashion, but what I’m about to share can be applied to multiple industries and contexts.
I’ll be dividing this into three sections so it's easy to navigate: what worked well, what I wish I had done sooner, and what not to do. A lot of these topics will be covered in more detail during the series, so please feel free to share with me your questions and feedback!
— Hani Anis, Founder of Anis Collections
What Worked Well
Research the market
It was really important for me to start by evaluating who else was in the market and how they were running their businesses, so I could judge whether this market was appropriate for me to start in. I went through websites, visited designer stores, looked at pricing, and made the most of my trips to india. Whatever market you start in, it’s definitely key to start with market research.
Set up your legal processes
I will share more on this in the next post (so have your questions ready!) but legally, make sure all your bases are covered. This includes filing your company officially with the state, creating a business bank account, getting insurance, writing up your terms and conditions, having a shareholders agreement, taking care of taxes and so much more.
Buy inventory slowly
I was a very frugal spender when I started and still am to a certain extent. When I bought my inventory, I only bought what I thought would sell. For me, it was better to have less inventory towards the end of the year vs. too much leftover inventory that I would not be able to restock. Remember, dead inventory is a bad thing on your balance sheet!
I was lucky that my family and friends were so supportive, so I would start there when it comes to investors. After all, if your friends and family can’t support you, who will? In the case that you need a large amount of capital, you should do research on venture capital firms that align with your company goals. Keep in mind that these firms will take a share of equity for their investment. There are also crowdfunding sites as well as angel investors but again, I won’t speak too much about these options because I was able to get by with my friends and family.
Hire a graphic designer
I cannot stress this enough! Having a professional logo, website, and business cards at the very least are essential to making your business look and feel like a brand. There are a ton of designers who are early in their careers who could be a great fit. Also make sure to find someone who really gets your vision and what you want to communicate with your branding.
What I Wish I Did Sooner
Create a business plan
I made a business plan about a year in, but would recommend you complete this before you start so that your goals are clear. I refer to my business plan on a daily basis, and I feel like if I had created it from the very beginning, I would have been in a better place mentally. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but can be a great way to guide yourself as you grow your business.
Start with social media
You know how companies often start their Instagram accounts before they actually launch, like months before? I didn’t do this, and I still feel like it could have impacted my growth in a more positive manner if I had started earlier on!
If you are starting a business with your friends (or your parents like I did), the lines between business and personal are definitely blurred. It helps to assign roles so that if a disagreement happens, some lines are set in stone. In my case, my dad is our CFO, I handle marketing, customer outreach and design, and my mom manages vendors overseas.
Get a business phone or number
We originally didn’t have a business phone, so I found myself mixing clients on my personal phone. We then got a separate business phone, but I hated carrying around two phones. Finally when Apple came out with the dual sim phone, we invested in that and it has been the best decision because all my texts and calls come to one device, but the numbers are separated. If you do not have the budget for this, open up a Google Voice account. It’s an app on your phone which will give you a custom number for your clients to call and text. And best of all, it’s free!
Network, network, network
I’m sure you have heard this one before, but with any career it is extremely important to make connections. I was terrible at this initially but starting is the hardest part. The more you network, the better you get at it and you will find the size of your industry getting smaller, kind of like in college -- the more people you know on campus, the smaller your school starts feeling. Tackle your local market first, and be aware that some people may not be willing to talk… that is okay! You will come to learn that for any business, word of mouth is the most powerful along with social media, so clients are more likely to choose you if they have been referred by someone they know.
What Not to Do
Don’t talk yourself out of it
You’re never going to be 100% fully ready to start. But if your gut is telling you to do it and you are waiting for that 100%, just go for it and do not talk yourself out of starting. Trust that you will figure it out along the way and learn from every small step you take.
Don’t start half heartedly
I’ll be honest - I went through a period where I didn’t feel like I could be fully invested in what I was starting and it definitely set me back a bit. When I started Anis Collections, most of my peers had found full time jobs at large corporations - and I felt that this was my chance to do something different. But I continued to be caught up in the frustration of comparing myself to my peers and feeling embarrassed that I wasn’t doing enough. This caused my work ethic and creativity to decline and for a little while, I sort of checked out mentally. If you feel like you’re starting something for the wrong reasons, I would encourage you to really think through that and hone in on what truly motivates you. Starting a business is like raising a baby, and once it's there you can’t just make it disappear!
Don’t say yes to everything
In the beginning you will be tempted to say yes to every client, every expo, and every opportunity because of simply getting that opportunity. Be careful of this and know your business worth when you start out. Sometimes, saying yes too many times will ultimately lead to a loss and when you start out, losses are something you should stay away from. I learned this in my second year, but in hindsight, if I had learned this quickly, I could have prevented a variety of losses.
A personal introduction to the series by Hani, herself:
Hani Anis is the founder of Anis Collections, custom South Asian bridal wear company. She started her business as a senior in college, stemming from a personal passion and a desire to take a risk and try something new. Over the past two years, she’s grown Anis Collections from a college pursuit to a full time venture (and even worked a full time job in finance along the way!). You can follow her at @anis.collections1 and @hanianis786 on Instagram.