Tips for Starting Out
I find it astonishing that three and a half years ago, Radish Lab didn’t exist. By most measures, we’re still a young company. But most of the time it feels like I’ve been riding the entrepreneurial roller coaster for (at least!) twenty years.
Lots of love and work and organization goes into getting a business off the ground. Radish was lucky and got some things right very early in the game. We also had great advice from people who were willing to help, and offer guidance. To be clear, we also got a lot of things wrong and will, with certainty, continue to make plenty of mistakes along our way. Here are a couple of business tips that I’d recommend to anyone starting their own venture, or on the brink of diving in.
1) Pick your power tools early.
Unless you are magical and somehow manage to avoid computers entirely in your line of work, software is going to be your best friend throughout this journey. The best part about this is that there is someone out there making a digital tool for everything: time tracking, invoicing, taxes, order processing, contact tracking, project management, file sharing, cloud storage, code sharing, and on and on.
As you grow, your needs will change, but my best advice is even if you don’t think you need something like an online invoicing tool when you’re starting out, get one anyway. In a few months, you’ll appreciate how organized your data is, and how little you had to think about getting it organized.
My number one recommendation for service-based businesses that have to manage projects internally and track employee hours is Harvest. A friend running a small digital agency recommended Harvest to me when I was starting out, and it’s been with us ever since. Now, with over three years worth of our data in the system, it’s a powerful tool for crunching numbers about how we’re spending our time and how we can become more efficient as a team. It has a beautiful, easy-to-use interface and is reasonably priced. Believe me, the cost of using Harvest is a fraction of what it would cost to hire a human to do the same job. Also, Harvest isn’t paying me to say this.
2) Find a mentor. Better yet, find five.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have amazing mentors in my life who I can have candid conversations with about difficult things. I remember when I had to let someone go for the first time. What a terrifying and all around horrible experience. But I had someone who helped walk me through the right way to do it, and on the unfortunate occasions I’ve had to do it since, it’s been a little easier.
Make friends with other small business owners who are a couple years ahead of you. There’s never an entirely predictable evolution that a business will follow, but some of the most helpful advice I’ve gotten has been from people who can recognize the stage we’re going through and help guide us through it, or at least have a beer and commiserate with us while we endure the rough patches.
3) Accelerate carefully and pump the brakes when conditions get slippery.
Grow slowly! We learned a couple of hard lessons by hiring too fast, or paying too much for amazing talent that we couldn’t realistically afford, given our project budgets. If you have the option, hire talent for contract work to start out. This gives you time to figure out how well you work together. It also gives your business room to grow slowly and fold awesome freelancers into your team if they’re a good fit for the culture you’re building and the work you’re doing.
Interns are also an amazing way to develop talent, but please pay them, preferably an hourly rate that’s above minimum wage (depending on the state where you do business). If you’re hiring your interns the right way, they’ll be full of ideas and energetic contributors to your team, and that’s worth more than a free lunch.
Finally, if you’re winning projects that are bigger than your team can handle, proceed with caution. While this is one way to grow (staffing people as you lock in projects), it’s also dangerous. Make sure you have the management staff in place to handle those projects and the additional workload. Otherwise, you risk growing quickly without the stability you need to handle it—a mess that’s worth avoiding if possible.
Alana Range is the CEO and Creative Director at Radish Lab. She founded Radish in the spring of 2012. Her work has been recognized in publications like Fast Company, the Guardian, CBC, NPR, Discover Magazine, and Mashable, and she is a member of the NationSwell Council.