I got a letter in the mail the other day. It read as follows: “Congratulations on becoming a Director!” The letter was from Companies House, a British government organization that incorporates limited companies, what in America are known as limited liability companies (LLCs).
In my three-year journey as a little-engine-that-could entrepreneur, this felt moment felt like a milestone.
As someone who blogs about the journey of adulthood, I’ve begun reflecting on the life cycle of a business. Here are five signs your business is growing up:
a. You name your company. The principal difference between being a freelancer and owning a company is in how you get paid and how you get taxed. But when you incorporate, you must also select a name for the new entity. In my case, the obvious choice was to just call it something straightforward like Delia Lloyd, Inc. I thought about this option, and then rejected it in favor of RealDelia Communications. I wanted a company name that would provide coherence across the many different hats I wear in my portfolio career, including as a blogger. More importantly, I wanted a company name that projected my public identity. My blog is all about finding yourself in adulthood. My communications consultancy is, among other things, about helping other people to find their voice and make things happen. My new company name makes me feel whole.
b. You update your website. Back when I took a sabbatical to sort out what I wanted to do with my life, one of the books that really helped me along was Marianne Cantwell’s Be a Free Range Human. One of the many useful pieces of advice Cantwell gives to those who are starting a new career/company/product is not to worry about designing a fancy website before you’ve tested out your idea. Just start doing it. I’m so happy I followed her advice. Because it was precisely in the doing over the next couple of years that I figured out the precise parameters of my business. voila. More impotantly, I finally had a little bit of money to invest back into creating a website.
c. You get an accountant. Another thing I delayed was getting an accountant. A friend advised me early on that if you get a good accounting software package, you don’t’ really need an accountant. She was right. I remember how proud I felt that first year of running this business when I submitted my taxes on my own. I do have an accountant now. But I only built that in once it became necessary.
d. You get a lawyer. I feel the same way about accountants that I do about lawyers. They are incredibly helpful, but also expensive. It’s really important to read the fine print of any contract you enter into carefully. But if you’re just starting out, do this yourself and then ask a trusted friend who’s run their own business to review the contract for any red flags. You will get to a point – where I did recently – where things like intellectual property rights come into play, and you may need to get a lawyer involved. But you definitely don’t need one right in the beginning.
e. You feel comfortable talking about money. I’ve written before about how important it is to get properly compensated for the work that you do. But that’s easier said than done. When I was starting out, several people advised me not to under-charge for my services. I knew they were right, but I was still learning the ropes of not being a salaried employee and getting comfortable in my own skin. Fast forward three years and I no longer feel that discomfort. On certain services I provide that are quite labour intensive, like writing coaching, I’ve raised my rates several times. Over the last year, I’ve also had frank conversations with clients when I felt I was either under-paid or where the work I put in on a given project demanded more time than I anticipated. That doesn’t mean the client will always pay what you ask! Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t. It’s about having the confidence to make the ask.
This journey isn’t over. I’m already identifying other areas for improvement for my business, like creating a slide deck template that reflects the brand and standardizing a template for my proposals.
I’m so glad there’s more to do. As I say on this blog’s about page regarding adulthood, “You never arrive anywhere. And that’s the point.” And thank goodness, because I’m still enjoying the ride…