|| BPL: How and why did you decide to start this type of biz?
AJ: Like most people, I did not know what I wanted to do after college, so I began as a graphic specialist at a financial publishing firm working on print products – magazines, newsletters and marketing materials. As the demand for electronic products grew, I took courses in web design and development and began a consulting business on the side.
A little over two years ago, I was at a crossroads. I knew I needed a change, but I wasn't sure if I should look for another job or try something totally different. I was ready for the change because I wasn't being challenged on the job anymore. Instead of being hands-on, like it was when I started, I was working in middle management. That meant I was in charge of projects instead of working on them. It wasn't for me. I wasn't learning the new technologies as much as I wanted to. I was spending most of the time learning outside of the job.
After speaking to colleagues who were already in business for themselves, I decided to give it a try. I knew that I needed to give this some careful consideration because I would be giving up the stability of a nine to five job. On the other hand, I felt that I was ready for the challenge, so I decided to pursue my consulting business full-time.
I came up with my company name, AJ Creatives, and researched the types of businesses and then decided to incorporate. A friend of mine, a consultant, told me he incorporated. He worked for the same firm as me. He said that since we were seeking larger corporate clients, being incorporated would make a difference to those clients. Incorporating isn't for everyone or every biz.
Then I created my business card and of course built my web site. And so began my journey as an entrepreneur!
BPL: What were the first steps you took to get started?
AJ: I was confident in my talents as a graphic designer, but I did not know how to run a business full-time. So I took WIBO's (Workshop in Business Opportunities)
16-week course in "How to Start Your Own Business." I had no idea, until WIBO, what I was in for! I learned about sales, marketing, advertising and the break-even analysis. It was great because I met others who were in the beginning stages, so we were able to exchange information and encourage each other.
I did most of my research at the Brooklyn Business Library, which has great resources for small businesses. I went to numerous networking events, attended seminars and visited the Local Business Development Center.
BPL: What Brooklyn organizations and resources would you recommend to others looking for help and assistance in starting a new biz?
AJ: WIBO is a great start. The fee is about $100 and the information and experience is priceless. There are many free resources that are available via the Small Business Association (SBA). The local business development centers at Baruch offer one-on-one counseling for people looking to write a business or marketing plan. It's a great way to get feedback from counselors who are aware of the market.
BPL: What methods have you used to get the word out about your biz? How did you select these methods? Which do you think is most successful and why?
AJ: First, I came up with a game plan. Whether it's a marketing or business plan, put something in writing and forecast your goals.
Web sites and other collateral pieces are created over a period of time, so my goal was to have two to three projects going at the same time.
I had a chat with the VP of my department in the company I used to work for. I told him I was going to be leaving and asked if there was a way to continue as a consultant. Since we had a great working relationship, it was a pretty quick decision to continue the relationship. That's how they became my first client. It just grew from there. People I used to work with or had contact with in the past became clients or told others about my business. That's how I got my second and third clients. Clients are one of the best marketing "tools" because if they speak favorably of your service, they send a free and targeted marketing message to other potential clients.
Word-of-mouth campaigning works best for me. Since this is a service business, I do not need to do a mass marketing campaign. Networking is one way of introducing myself to potential clients. I network even when I'm not at an event – at the gym, supermarket, classes, etc. Anywhere there are people is a chance to network. I always have my business card handy and I direct people to my web site so they can get more information about my business.
I joined the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. At the orientation I introduced myself and talked about what I do. At the end of the meeting, several people came up to me. One of the people was the marketing director, who said we should meet. I met with her and she gave me a project to do. They liked it a lot and gave me another project to work on.
It's not easy for me to network – it's not my personality to go out and network. The ability to network comes with practice and from the feedback you get from others. If people like your work and character, it's important to take that in and build on it. I've become much more confident than I was two or three years ago. That comes from experience. It's never too late to build confidence.
BPL: What is the best thing about being in biz for yourself?
AJ: I'm learning how much I can trust and rely on myself to make this business a success. Also, I've had the chance to work with people from all different industries – financial, environmental, animal welfare, promotions, marketing, real estate and restaurant industries.
BPL: What do you think is the most difficult aspect of being in biz for yourself?
AJ: There is so much to learn – new graphic design technology, new trends in business, etc. You have to get used to NOT having time. Yes, working on projects gives a bit of flexibility, but you have to give up those weekends and say "no" to that party because the job must get done. Setting priorities is an ongoing challenge. I set my priorities by asking myself, "Am I getting paid for this?" If I have to give up certain things, I'm going to give up those that I don't get paid for and work on projects that I do get paid for.
When I get up in the mornings I look at everything I have to do for that day, including deadlines that are coming up. Sometimes I have two or three projects going on at the same time. I use Microsoft Outlook and see a snapshot of my day and block out hours of my day. I have everything scheduled ahead of time. I get up earlier than I did before. By doing that, I have enough time in the morning to plan what I need to do. It's a good time to focus and not have any distractions.
BPL: If you were to do one thing differently in starting your own biz, what would it be?
AJ: My initial response to this is that I'd do more research. But that may have deterred me from embracing this opportunity. So my final response is I wouldn't change a thing because what I've gained is priceless.
BPL: What's the one most important piece of advice you would give someone else about starting a biz?
AJ: Talk to others who are successful in business, especially in the business in which you are interested. Make a plan. Know your craft and be confident in your skills because that is your best selling point. Be a good representative for yourself. Be reliable. Be professional. Make sure that clients know that they made the best decision when they hired you. If they like working with you, they will refer others to your company.
Enjoy what you are doing. Make sure you are getting joy out of what you are doing. That's the bottom line. It's a lifestyle that you are building. It's not just the biz, but a lifestyle.
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