Business Tips

8 Things I Would Have Told Myself When I Started My Business

8 Things I Would Have Told Myself When Starting A Business

In 2007, I graduated from college in Washington, DC and moved to New York City, in pursuit of finding my "ultimate career." I had always wanted to move to a big city, and because I grew up in the state of New York (Rochester, about 5 hours away from the actual city), I knew that NYC was the best choice due to its proximity and the glamour I had always associated it with.

Fast forward a year later, and the walls of the financial markets in New York were crumbling, with many of my peers losing their jobs left and right. Because I was so young and the newest member of the department I worked in, I never thought I would lose my job (probably that "bullet-proof" mentality that so many young people have), and fortunately I didn't, but our working hours slowed waaaaaayyyy down, and suddenly, new projects stopped coming in.

At 23, I was devastated. I imagined myself working long hours and helping to create new, exciting projects for my team. I knew that I was young and I was excited to learn new skills and help foster the creative growth of the team I worked on.

Unfortunately, it was exactly the opposite of that. Our team worked to do what was necessary, but due to the economy, that was the extent of our responsibility. 

In response to that, I started surfing the internet a lot (GChat had JUST become a thing and I spent lots of my day sharing links with my friends to cool businesses and blogs that I found online). I noticed that people were starting their own blogs every day and I loved reading them.

I read blogs and other people's newsletters for YEARS before I thought about starting my own business. But I knew, eventually, that was what I wanted to do. I call those four years from blog reading to business starting the "incubation years."

If I could go back to my blog-reading self, I would have encouraged her to start earlier because just imagine what could have happened if I started 8 years ago instead of 5. Below are some other things I would have mentioned.

1. You won't get it right straight out of the gate.

A very little known fact is that my very first business was called "Lauren Caselli, Copywriting and Content Strategist." (To this day, there's STILL someone in town who introduces me as the person who writes website copy. Goes to show you that with some people, you only have one chance). I really enjoy writing, but it's a pretty solitary profession and it used to take me days to get inspired by a client. Today, a lot of my work is really client facing and project management based, which suits my personality, but it was important for me to start somewhere to decide where I wanted to be.

Truth be told, I love events and strategic planning, but I'm already seeing a shift in my business again, which means maybe fewer 1:1 engagements, but I wouldn't have gotten here without first being "Lauren Caselli Copywriting and Content Strategist."

2. Focus more on what's important and stick with that.

Remember that guy from above who STILL doesn't know what my business is? That used to happen A LOT. I would introduce myself as an Event Planner for strategic companies, and then, minutes later, the person who turn around and introduce me as "The Writer for Companies." My old business haunted me for a lot longer than I'd have liked it to, however, it taught me the importance of really focusing on ONE thing in order for people to understand how to recommend and connect me.

Pro Tip: People want to label you and, although it may be annoying, it helps them connect you to possible clients and vendors. Resist the urge to be everything to everybody unless you're willing to stick to the "everything to everybody" label for a long time (see: Townsend Collective, who runs three businesses and is now known for all three).

3. Don't expect to "figure it out".

If I had a nickel for every time I told myself "when I figure out this business thing is when I'll go on vacation/book a massage/save for retirement/invest in my personal growth", I'd be retired on a beach somewhere.

I had said in my recent newsletter (ps, if you're not on the list, you can join here), I recently hit a ton of personal goals and part of me was expecting to look around and be done once I hit those goals. But I wasn't done. It's just the iterative process of me constantly redefining what's fun and exciting, what I want to learn, and how I want to show up in the world.

I'm finding that I want to write more and share more content and for YEARS I struggled with this. Now I'm in a place of flow and part of me wishes I would have just told myself years ago "Just wait until 2017, and it will be easier."

4. Reach out more

In the beginning, I was really scared of reaching out, and so I would read other people's blogs, listen to podcasts, and try to pretend I was an expert at business running. It didn't even occur to me to ask other people starting businesses for help or to share their stories with me, because I was so afraid of feeling "found out" (aka like they wouldn't think I knew what I was doing). 

It wasn't until 2015 when I started asking people to have coffee with me to find out their best advice did I start to notice how much stronger my business sense became and how much more confident I became in my own skills. If I had stopped pretending that I knew everything in the beginning, it wouldn't have taken me two years to realize how much I actually knew.

5. Lead more (even when I felt like a fake)

I've had this conversation recently and the consensus is this:

Getting shit done is really just telling everyone you're doing it and then giving yourself a deadline to do it by.

I get lots of emails that come into my business website from people who ask "How do I throw an event? What's the first step?"

The first step is deciding to host it, then saying loud and proud that you're hosting it. Don't focus on how many people are coming, don't worry about your marketing plan -- just take the damn initiative and do it.

Leading is all about believing that you know how to do something. Most people, given the choice, would rather watch Netflix on their couch. Most people would rather attend a cool event. Most people would rather have all the hard work done for them.

Be the person that does the hard work, and that's how you'll grow your business.

6. Work on practicing mindset (even if it feels mumbo jumbo)

When I started my business, I definitely tended more toward the spirituality side of things (aka I loved setting mantras and goals and doing shit like writing myself a $10,000 check to make me feel rich).

After a few months of that, it didn't really make a huge difference, so I now attempt to focus practically and rationally on building a business using numbers combined with instinct.

However, one thing I WOULD have encouraged myself to do is to surround myself who were about 3-4 years older than me in business, so that I could have observed what they were doing.

The term "mindset" gets a little overblown and is confusing sometimes. Usually, when people talk about mindset, they envision sitting down and meditating and deciding that they're going to make a million dollars.

While that can be a part of it, I like to describe mindset as

"Surrounding yourself with people who you want to be like, so that you can prove to yourself that it can be done."

It's so difficult sometimes when you're running a business to find credible people who are transparent about their own journeys, about how they make money, about what they struggle with, and how they manage to juggle all of it.

But the biggest indicator of success is believing you can do it, and if you see someone else doing it sort of like you want to do it, that belief muscle grows stronger and stronger. 

7. It will take you longer than you think.

I set the same income goal for 2014 and 2015, and I FINALLY hit it at the tail end of last year. I was relieved AF, which made this year's income goal a breeze to set and crush. However, the first goal I set took me THREE WHOLE YEARS to hit, and it felt excruciating. Looking back, I could have easily told myself how I to hit that goal sooner and with less effort, but sometimes, running a business is all about going forth with your own pace so that you can get to the place you want to be in the right time.

If we did it all in Year 1, then what else would be left? Keep going, keep going, keep going.

8. You'll never arrive.

There's no arriving. Like I mentioned above, I was waiting for the day when I could sell my business and...well, I never thought about the "and."

Recently, I realized that starting a business or embarking upon your leadership journey isn't about getting somewhere, because there's always somewhere else to get. If there was one thing I could do differently, I'd tell myself that this....THIS...is the important part. The learning, the goal-setting, the collaborating, and the constant learning about who I am, what my strengths are, and how I can bolster my weaknesses.

Have you been in business for a few years? What's one thing you would have told your newfound entrepreneurial self way back at the beginning? I probably should have told myself to see my accountant sooner rather than later, too. 

5 Tips On Creating Your Freebie Opt-In

The best tips to create an opt-in for your mailing list

So this weekend is the weekend that you finally sit down and create that opt-in freebie right?

The one that will EXPLODE your list growth.

The one that will make clients drool over your amazing services.

Except you're just sitting there, watching the cursor blink, opening up another article about opt-ins, and not getting ANYTHING. DONE.

I'm going to walk you through the 5 BEST things to do when this is happening to you, so that you can get your opt-in written already.

1 | Make it short.

Two or three pages MAX. If you're feeling verbose and you want to write an epic e-book, go right ahead, but the reality is, people want something that they can quickly scan, read and implement without a ton of work.

There are downloads galore on the web now, so if your biggest hurdle is creating something for your readers to download, making a short PDF or worksheet is way, way better than stressing yourself out for months, waiting until you've got the perfect amount of content ready for distribution.

2 | Make it interactive. 

Sure, tons of e-book content is awesome, but you know what makes people want to download stuff? Organizational tools. Things that make them feel good about making progress. Prompts that give them the brainstorming parameters to actually move forward.

One of my favorite downloads ever is an editorial calendar (that someone probably just pasted from Google Calendar) with a list to fill in ideas for blog posts. It's two pages and I print one out monthly and fill it in.

These days, giving people a tool to make progress can be extremely helpful for your download rates (plus, it's a lot less writing for you if you're creating a worksheet, a checklist, or a sample calendar, etc.)

3 | Design is important, but delivery is more important

For all the non-designers out there, the design piece of your opt-in freebie can get really overwhelming and can sadly keep AMAZING content from ever seeing the light of day.

I'm going to give you a hot tip: not many people ACTUALLY care about the design. As long as the content really helps them spur change, and the design is pleasing enough, people aren't going to criticize you for not using appropriate, on-brand fonts.

My DIY design process? I've literally created a header in PicMonkey with my logo, then written the words for my opt-in in Keynote or Google Docs, then converted it as a PDF.

Not convinced and wanting to make yours a little more profesh? My girl Stacy Townsend from Townsend Collective designs AWESOME PDFs for your business (and she's a steal of a deal!)

4 | Make sure you've got your marketing pieces in line

A lot of people will create an opt-in with their top tips...and that's it.

No. No. No.

This is a marketing piece. Which means you should be adding the things below to your opt-in to make sure there is some residual brand awareness.

a) Your headshot and a fun bio on the last page

b) Your website and favorite social media handle on the bottom of every page

c) Your logo somewhere, either on the main page or as a secondary stamp somewhere

5 | Include a call to action

Since this is a marketing piece, give people something to do after they complete the worksheet. Do you want them to share it to Instagram and tag you? SAY THAT at the end of the PDF.

Other calls-to-action could be inviting them to share the PDF with their friends, asking them to book a service or free call with you, or send you an email with a question.

Your turn!

What is the best thing about your freebie opt-in? What do you wish was a little bit better?

How to Become a Wedding Planner: A #MontanaBoss Interview with Leslie Lukas of Lukas Trudeau Event Co.

Happy Friday, boss! A day of lazily closing out the week, chatting with your co-workers (aka your pets) about your weekend plans, and hopefully closing up shop juuuust a little early. Each Friday, we'll be doing a feature on an amazing creative business owner in the Big Sky State, so that we can all learn a little bit more about the struggle and the awesomeness of being a business owner. Click here to read other interviews with amazing women from around the state!

How to become a wedding planner, photo by Leslie Lukas

Hey girl hey! Introduce yourself and tell us about your biz!

I'm Leslie Lukas of Lukas Trudeau Event Co. I own, with my business partner, Lukas Trudeau Event Co--a full service design and event planning firm catering to destination weddings and events and corporate experience events.  We provide full service design, decorating and fresh flowers along with concept to completion planning--creating a seamless experience for our clients and their guests.  

How did you start your boss lady journey?

Ultimately, floral design is my passion.  

I moved to Montana in 1998 after training with some magnificent shops in Washington state for 6 years. When I first arrived in our area, I worked in 2 different flower shops between Bozeman and Livingston--making the commute each day (editor's note: That's a hefty commute!).  

Having a strong background in design, the shops just weren't progressive enough for me (imagine FTD style bouquets on a daily basis) so I made the decision to start my own flower shop out of my house.  

So, yeah, I was THAT girl that started out of my garage (living only 6 miles from Chico Hot Springs) didn't hurt either, as I had a built in clientele base for my work and made fast friends there.  

Not soon after, I printed the first sheet of business cards on my dot-matrix printer, made a few strategic phone calls to tell the world what I was up to, and then BOOM!  People were calling me out of the wood work!  I was traveling into the Yellowstone Club weekly, doing flowers at Chico and the Crazy Mountain Ranch, and started with 6 weddings that first year, then doubled each year after that.

About 2 years into my garage floral days, I realized my clients wanted much more than just flowers.  My clients were coming from all over the world to be married in Montana and NO ONE, I mean NO ONE was doing wedding planning except a few church organizers and a woman from NY named Anita Pagliaro (I envied her style so much)!  I wanted to be her because she was so organized and creative.

Anita had me do flowers for some of her events, which I was delighted to do. There was an opportunity and need for event planners and stylish florists right then because at the time, there was a small boom happening in Bozeman....and I took advantage of the timing.  

Martha Stewart Weddings had become all the craze, so I dove into every book and magazine she had ever published, I aligned myself with incredible vendors, seeking the best, and made a ton of mistakes and celebrated successes along the way!  Never in my wildest dreams did I think my work would end up in the pages of BRIDES magazine, Martha Stewart Weddings, The Knot, and so many more.

You could say I was a pioneer of custom floral and planning companies in Montana.  I quickly grew out of my garage, and decided Bozeman would be my hub, and had a swanky space downtown called the Floral Gallery. 

Lots has happened between now and then, including 2 kids, 18 years of marriage, 3 different business names and branding, and making the best decision ever to join forces with Angela Trudeau (formerly of Fresh Designs) in year 17.

It's been a great ride and I can safely say I am still doing what I love.

Have you gone full-time with your business?

I was full-time right off the bat.  I knew that to make a living at event planning and floral, you have to do it full-time.  Working out of a garage, dabbling in a wedding here and an event there; I just knew I would never make enough money to reach my goals and it would be just a hobby.  The demand was also there, so I took advantage of that. 

Creative business owner in Montana, creative business, female entrepreneur Montana, woman-owned business in Montana

Okay, let's talk about the DNA behind Lukas Trudeau. Were you one of those women with entrepreneurship basically in your blood that we always hear about?  

I am one with a passion for entrepreneurship and working for myself. Floral design and planning is something I am good at, and I LOVE working with people!  I am a social person through and through, and the path I chose feeds that part of me. 

How do you build an income and a life through Lukas Trudeau?

I make my money by making good business decisions, selling our planning services and flowers for top dollar and fair margin (that matches our experience) and providing the products and services that live up to it.

Never being afraid to pull back when something isn't working. For our business, we keep changing it up and watching the market. We find it important to research good sources and watch trends in town, while keeping an eye on our competitors. It's important for us to keep our name out there and stay relevant.  

Being authentic helps tremendously....as does trust. Not only trusting my gut but also making sure my clients trust me. It's important for us to do an amazing job for our clients and to build great relationships in the community.

A good example of making a bold business decision is letting our office in the Baxter Hotel go after three years.  We currently have two warehouses on top of the office, and while we can afford all of it, we just do not use the office enough to justify it.

So far, the emails and phone calls have not stopped and we seldom have drop-in clients. It's just smart business to save that money!  

How to become a wedding planner in Montana

What was your most expensive mistake?

My most expensive mistake was growing my company too fast in 2002 without a plan. I ended up saying yes to every job.  I didn't realize how much my expenses would grow with insurance, added employees, more product, and made an even bigger mistake of not raising my profit margins.  

I was being too nice and undervaluing my product and was charging my clients the same as if I was still back in my garage doing flowers instead of someone that now had a brick and mortar shop.  An expensive mistake, but I did recover from it the next year.  Now with all the reality shows, podcasts and resources (which we did not have then!  or boss ladies!) no one should be making those kinds of mistakes!

What's the biggest misconception that women have around business ownership?

That you have to have a business plan.  I started my company without one (well, it was jotted on a old notepad), but as primitive as it was, it was enough.  

Sometimes, just taking the leap and getting your idea out there before someone else does is more important than the plan. Just don't get caught up on how shiny that plan is or how proper.

While it is nice to have a plan from the start, and some loans and grants require the shiny version and because you will need money to start your business, it just wasn't necessary for the type of business that I wanted to open.

Now I write mini business plans around things I would like to try, such as pop up shops or other products. When the numbers don't crunch out to where I would like to see them, I let the idea go.  

Where would you like to be in the next year? The next five years?

I am content in the now. Change can happen rapidly in business, so being in the now and present is so important to my work. In five years, I hope to be passing the torch to another go-getter who wants to take our company into the next decade of existence, hoping to have built a brand that people rely on.  

How would you define a Boss Lady?

A Boss Lady is a driven woman who decided to take a leap of faith, wave her magic wand, and follow her dreams and not let anyone or anything get in her way. 
 

Business owner in Montana, creative business owner Mountain West

What one piece of advice would you give yourself in your first year as a biz owner? How about year 3?

Year one....don't forget to eat...and breath.  Year 3....see year one.  (but seriously, always take time for yourself no matter what and don't forget those around you who are helping you achieve your dreams--gratitude goes a long way!)

Want to get in touch with Leslie? Check her out on their website. Send her an email and tell her how you found out about her (*cough* The #MontanaBoss feature *cough*)

(P.S. Want to share your story with other Montana business owners? Click here.)

How to Get Found Online: A Basic Guide to Boss Lady SEO and Social Media

How to Get Found Online, A guide to SEO and Social Media

It's no secret that I work with an amazing community of creative, boss-like biz ladies and entrepreneurs. And also, it's no secret that my community is local to Southwest Montana.

(Hi, Boss Ladies! It's so nice to see you on the internet).

And yet, so many people who start their businesses in a local community, from photographers to wedding planners to stationery designers, want to "get found online."

Because it's important to be Google-able. And if no one can find you how can they hire you?

The reality is, getting found online is not some sort of magic alchemy. But it takes intense commitment, dedication, and a whole lot of work and research. If you're not willing to WORK to get found online, if you don't like playing around in the back end of your website, if you don't have time to blog, or Pin, or schedule Tweets, or engage in online chatter...then that's fine! But you won't get found online.

(And PS in a small market like Montana or Bozeman, there are far fewer barriers to entry when it comes to getting found online. But you do still have to put in the work. If you're not committed to doing that and focusing your marketing strategy to get found online, you're better off going through other levels of promotion like attending events where your target market is and doing other, non-online things).

How to Do at SEO in 2016

People talk about SEO like it's the desert oasis to their thirst. 

"I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can to increase my SEO."

"But what about SEO?"

"Have you optimized my site for SEO?"

A long time ago, SEO was the KEY to having a really great internet presence. You just throw a TON of keywords that you thought people were looking for onto your website and you call it a day. People don't actually read websites anyway! All they need to do is Google you and find you! Who cares if your website reads "If you're looking for a Bozeman, Montana graphic designer in Bozeman, MT, then I would love to work with Bozeman, Montana graphic design clients."?

Well, now? Everyone. Everyone cares about that sentence. Can you imagine reading that sentence? If I were a potential client who knew nothing about internet marketing and at least a tiny something about...well, reading, I'd be like "Why does this person have no grammatical skills?"

(However, I would think you were INSANELY inexpensive, so I'd contact you if I were looking for someone whose prices are bargain basement. Probably not what we're all going for, amiright?)

But now, SEO is a little bit more complicated. Sure, it still relies on keywords, but Google has gotten smarter and it understands when people are trying to game it. So while it's important to research your keywords (you can do that here, just make sure to create a free adwords planner account), it's also important to use your keywords and key phrases the exact amount. Which is about 1% of your entire post (so if your post is 1000 words long, you want to use it 10 times).

PLEASE NOTE (and this is big, so listen up): SEO is not a quick game. It can take MONTHS for Google to crawl all over your site and make sure it has worked it's magic. If you change all your headings and alt text and don't see results in, like 2 weeks, please be patient. In general, if you're consistent for 6 months or more, you'll start seeing results.

If you aren't? Well, sister friend, you might want to reconsider your commitment to the online world (see all of the yelling I did above about this).

Blogging

Another thing that Google likes is NEWNESS! Which means if you've had a site for 15 years, haven't updated it and aren't publishing new content? Girl, get on it because you're about to be left in the business dust.

Blogging is a good way to add lots of new text and photos (and SEO-richness...see below) to your site. Adding new portfolios? Also awesome. Swapping photos, changing text, or adding a ton of blog posts every week lets Google know that you're an active contributing member to the internet, which means more reasons for it to crawl and index your site.

If you're not active, you're not relevant.

Lots of businesses start as blogs. Which means these people who really wanted to get it on with blogging found that their consistency and their relevancy led to huge audiences, which led to lots of people like "how did you do this cool thing? I'd pay to learn how you did that." which led to a business or at least a way to monetize these people's online homes.

If that's not you're thing, that's totally cool! But know that creating multiple income streams (which means other ways to make money instead of just doing your craft...like coaching, consulting, teaching, having real estate, selling products, or running events...hint, hint, hint) by growing your audience as far and wide as you could possibly reach is awesome.

Alt text for your photos

Your photos are an important part of SEO, so be sure to name them according to your keywords. You can do this in Squarespace by adding your Alt Text to a caption when you upload a photo and then click "Do Not Display Caption." Wordpress has a special section on their blog posts to add alt text. If you don't know how to add alt text to your website's images, Google it!

Adding page titles and descriptions

Each of your pages need to have page titles and descriptions that are also keyword rich. These are things that actually show up in the Google Search though, so make sure the page titles and descriptions are things that are readable and cohesive instead of a bunch of keywords mashed together.

Inbound links

The final thing that is important to Google SEO is having links that track back to your site. If someone else posts a link from somewhere else, like their site or blog, it lends your site credibility, and Google's crawlers take note of that, which bumps up your site.

What are some other ways, other than SEO + blogging to get found?

Social Media

Twitter

Twitter can be a really great way to push out and promote content, but it takes a LOT of time out of your day. You need to be consistently pushing out tweets, @tweeting other people, and thinking that Twitter is the bees knees. To be honest, Twitter seems challenging for B2C clients (like wedding planners, graphic designers, etc.), BUT it can be a really great place to make business friends who have larger audiences that may pave the way for opportunities like collaborations, guest posts, or even referral work.

Example: I @tweeted Erika Madden from Olyvia.co about a year ago, and we've somewhat kept in touch ever since. I got to guest post on her blog last week and it brought a bunch of traffic to my site, which was really exciting.

Facebook

Facebook pages to me seem a little dead, but it really depends on your audience and where they like to engage. However, the power of Facebook occurs in FACEBOOK GROUPS. Facebook groups are a really great place to make connections or find potential clients.

For example, signing up in a wedding planning Facebook group could be a good way to get referrals, but you have to add value, answer questions, engage with people, and start by being helpful BEFORE you go all "If anyone has questions about wedding planning, please contact me!"

Don't be selfish with your information on Facebook (or really, in business). 99% of the information you have in your head can be found elsewhere online, no matter how secret you think it is. Do people a favor and show your expertise and help them before you ask them for their money (or time, or whatever). People have a hard time trusting salesy business-ladies, but they have an easy time trusting people.

Pinterest

I'm a Pinterest newbie, but we were talking about it in the Facebook group this week (want in? Click here to join and get access to the group). Pinterest just surpassed Facebook for the most amount of referral traffic of all social media platforms, which is INSANE when you think about how people use Pinterest.

If you're using Pinterest to show people your "style", that's awesome, but you also want them clicking over to your website, so if you aren't optimizing your Pins to get people to do that? Well, then, you're wasting a lot of valuable social media time.

Since I don't Pin that often (but I'm going to this weekend!), check out Caitlin's AWESOME post (and e-book and, well, the rest of her dang blog) about how you can be strategic about Pinning. And if pinning is your thing and you genuinely like it? Then this may be your go-to platform, even if you're not a visual brand (bloggers aren't always visual brands, but they can pin like madwomen).

Phew! That was a lot, and I barely scratched the surface, but hopefully I've given you some good ideas about how to start growing your online presence. Remember, it's a slow process but if you're committed to your business, then it's definitely achievable.

Okay, your turn. What questions do you have about getting found online? If you simply want to get found in Montana, what questions about SEO do you have for me?