It’s really hard to determine who is actually qualified to give advice on how to start a business from scratch.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, or self-proclaimed “entrepreneurs” out here no the internet— the majority of whom have yet to get into the nitty-gritty of owning their own business.
For those who have been with me for a while, you have seen me go through many business phases. In fact, the blog you are reading right now has recently gone through some transitions.
Learning and figuring out how to successfully run a business is not for the faint of heart. It takes years and lots of trial and error if you want to build something from scratch.
Do I recommend it?
If you are a budding entrepreneur or a business owner who is feeling down about the progress of your freshly made startup, I feel you. I’ve been there.
But in just a few short years, I have managed to build two successful businesses, not including my Claire Bahn blog and social platforms. Both of my businesses have seen financial success and have been backed up by investors so that I can keep growing and building.
So, do you want to know how started my business from scratch?
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My Startup Story
It has been ten years since I first started working as a personal branding expert. That’s when I became the EVP of Online Profile Pros— formerly known as DatingHeadShots Inc. The concept was simple: we wanted to provide a service for budding entrepreneurs to help professionalize their businesses via photography. Think real estate agents, lawyers, and the type of professions where professional photography is a staple advertising tool.
My job for this startup was all about marketing and building the company brand. So I put together a marketing team and streamlined our strategies to help generate leads and sales.
But before I could convince people to buy our service, I had to fine-tune our own brand. The business is a full-fledge marketplace that helps people create, maintain, and protect their personal brand. So, I started with the website. The website has changed over the years to match with contemporary aesthetic, but I’ve always made sure it had the key elements: About, Contact, and SEO.
Any novice entrepreneur can tell you what pages to include on your website. It’s the SEO that stops people in their tracks. Knowing my brand through and through helped me narrow in on specific keywords to find the right audience— and the right clients. We used SEO through our blogs and routine website maintenance to keep our website active. It’s helped our website traffic more than double over the years.
At this point, I was well aware of the power of social media. I would say it was still in its early days, but with my marketing background, I saw the potential right away.
The Start of Stratus Branding
In 2017, we renamed the company so that we could offer our services on the digital front. That’s when Online Profile Pros really started to take off. I became the CEO and negotiated partnerships with the two largest brands in the dating industry (our primary clientele): eHarmony and Match.com. This helped OPP see a growth of 15-35% YOY.
This opportunity meant it was time to dig our heels into social platforms. I directed our marketing team to focus on social media and geared up our content to provide fun-fact posts that went alongside our blogs. I also started using my personal influencer platform (which has an audience of over 100K) to showcase my company’s advice and expertise.
I talked about how I started my business from scratch on Jason Calacanis’ This Week In Startups. Since August 2019, we have maintained our 30% margins and have past our $400K benchmark. Now, we have a subscription-based service and are working with the “whales” Jason recommended to me on his podcast.
Online Profile Pros profile-based services are what lead me to start Stratus Branding in 2019. Now, I offer Stratus to my clients that want full-service custom content creation. The success of OPP has allowed me the freedom to expand into this new startup that focuses on personal branding. We help our clients build and maximize their authority and influence through blogs, photos, and social media management.
Trying to figure out how to expand Online Profile Pros and utilize my audience at Claire Bahn took so much more time than I expected. But the cold, hard truth about starting a business from scratch is… it’s never what you expect.
Advice on How To Start a Business From Scratch
As some of you may know, I started my blog in 2015. By then, I knew how to utilize SEO and social media in order to grow a brand based on my own interests and passions.
Back then, those interests took the form of the Gluten-Free Avenger: a blog and YouTube channel about creating tasty gluten-free dishes (before it was “cool”). If you have been here since then, you are truly a superhero.
In later years, I expanded into a lifestyle blog before finally realizing my true passion: branding. I would say the transition has seen a little turbulence, but overall, my brand has simply been me. And since I’ve built this friendly and loyal community, the interest (and my blog business) has remained unscathed.
And that’s what your business is all about. Creating and maintaining a personal brand that will get people to stick around, even through the turbulence and changes.
Here are the steps you need to follow (based on my own experienced) on starting a business:
Step 1: Get a Mentor
I wrote a blog all about mentorship, but I can’t stress this enough. Find a mentor that has experience (and success) in your field. Don’t look at them as your competition, look at them as your ally.
I’ve had a lot of mentors, but I learned a lot about pitching to investors from one of our Board members, Scott. I gave my first investor pitch in San Jose with him in the audience. He has extensive start-up experience and really helped me hone my pitch and “story arc,” because investors invest in the founder, not the idea.
But more on that in a minute.
Step 2: Make a Business Plan
If you find a great mentor, they may even help you with this second step. Your business plan should outline everything. Figure out what it is you have to offer and write it down. Formulate a strategy that will help you market that service (or product) through marketing and advertising.
Then, layout your goals. How much do you want to make in the first year? How many clients will you need in order to hit that goal? And what are you going to do to get those clients?
Step 3: Know Your Personal Brand
This may be even more important than your business plan.
Your personal brand is you. While some companies may prefer to have a logo be the forefront of their business, I highly encourage you to take the personal route. Consumers these days are more likely to trust and buy from a person… not a faceless logo.
However, the true catalyst when it comes to your personal brand is remaining consistent. Your social media branding, in particular, is going to be crucial. Pick a tone and a persona and tie it in with your service.
If you’re still not sure how to define your personal brand then, hey, give me a call. That’s what I’m here for!
Step 4: Define Your Audience
Part of your business plan and knowing your personal brand is also knowing your audience. Once you have the business details out of the way, it’s time to define your “ideal” audience.
The basic trick that most entrepreneurs use to get through this step is to set up an Ideal Client Persona. Essentially, you want to create the “perfect” client or someone you want to sell to. And you wan to know everything about them.
And I do mean everything.
Write down this person’s hobbies, job, salary, marital status, and interests. No detail is too minuscule. You need to decide what their highest level of education is, their location, age, and even their psychographics (what are they frustrated with, what concerns do they have?).
Once you define this person, you will have a better idea of the type of content you need to publish. And then, you can better dictate your audience for (eventual) paid advertising campaigns.
Step 5: Build Your Product / Service
Once you have your personal brand and audience characterized, you can start building your tangible, accessible business.
If it’s a product-based business, build a prototype and test it out. Send it off to a testing group to get initial feedback and work to improve it.
Once you have your product ready for market, you need to make a website. And remember, a website is never passive. You can’t simply set it up and expect it to do work for you. That’s where blogs and SEO come in. Yes, it takes a lot of knowledge and time, but trust me, it’s necessary if you want to appear on Google’s Front Page (and you definitely want that).
Step 6: Gather Your Team
This may come later if you start a business from scratch, but if you’re successful, it will need to happen. Of course, if you have visionaries in your inner circle or you have enough working capital to hire a team, by all means, shoot for the moon. Your team can be employees at your brick and mortar, a virtual assistant, a blog writer, or just a full-service personal branding coach.
Many entrepreneurs will handle the entire business along with the marketing, content creation, and branding aspects on their own until they can afford to hire a team. And even then, it’s hard to convince yourself to bring in someone to help your business grow. But if you’re at the point in your business where you need (and can afford) to hire a team, it means your business is seeing success. So gather your team; you’ll come to appreciate the support.
Step 7: Spread the Word
So, you have your business plan, your product, your personal brand, your website… now what?
It’s time to spread the word!
I recommend snatching your company name on social media platforms around the same time you build your website. You don’t have to necessarily start churning out phenomenal content right off the bat, but it does help you start off with a bang!
An active, branded social media presence also looks good when you reach out to the press. Yes, you need to reach out to them! There are so many startups popping up, that there is no way that journalists can keep up with them all. Pitch your business to a local journalist for a feature. Heck, I would even recommend pitching it to the big leagues.
Online Profile Pros has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, CNN, Glamour, among many other pristine publications. As long as you have established your brand’s expertise on your website and social media channels, a journalist will be able to pick up on it. The backlinks from those websites will do wonders for your website traffic and sales.
Your marketing strategies should always be under scrutiny. What can you be doing to increase your social media presence, are your SEO keywords targeting the right audience, and when is it time to start running paid ads?
Marketing is an entire topic in itself. Let me know in the comments if you want a blog on marketing for small businesses!
Step 8: Pitch to Investors
And finally, once you have some ground to stand on, you can start pitching to investors. Angel investors or venture capitalists are the people who are going to help bring your business to the next level.
If you haven’t followed the above steps already, you’re not ready to pitch to an investor. An investor, as I said, is interested in the person, not the idea. So if you haven’t worked out your personal brand yet, it’s going to be really hard to pitch your idea to an investor.
You need to work your own story into your business. That’s your hook. It’s only when you have your personal brand established that investors will start to ask about your business and marketing plans.
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Do I have any regrets about starting a business from scratch?
I don’t really have any regrets because I believe I did my best given with what I knew at the time. The only thing I would tell my past self not to do is to discount our services. We did this early on to work with industry leaders only to have them devalue our services because I was willing to give discounts. Which is, of course, the ultimate catch-22.
Be confident in your product, but be even more confident in your personal brand.