‘We wanted to give business owners, particularly newer business owners, a tool kit,” says Kolbe Clark, owner of Aurora Designs and Interiors in Hillsborough.
Clark is a panelist for E2E Entrepreneurs Helping Entrepreneurs, which will host “Navigate the Pinch Points of Your Business” on Thursday, September 24, at 6 p.m. at Roycebrook Golf Club in Hillsborough. Cost: $25. Visit www.e2enj.com.
“We wanted to offer business owners something a little different, not just the usual networking event,” Clark says. People who attend will have time to network, but they will also hear from a panel of four business owners and have the opportunity to ask questions about business issues.
Panelists include Carlos Sanchez, of Sanchez Law in Bridgewater; Frank Senkewicz of Safe Havens Computers in Raritan; Linda Dousis of Administrative Services and Consulting in Hillsborough; and Lorette Pruden of Team Nimbus NJ.
Clark never envisioned herself as a business owner — particularly not of a design company specializing in interior design and kitchen and bath remodeling.
She got a degree in economics from New York University in 1993 and worked in non-profit marketing for several years until her first child arrived. While taking time off from her career she took some classes in design and found she loved it.
She began doing some small projects and met Kelley Evens, her current partner, shortly after she started her business. “We began working on projects together but at first we each kept our own business names and identities,” she says. Last year, however, the two decided to make the arrangement more formal and open a showroom with a new business name, Aurora. “It only made sense for us to begin to brand ourselves as one business with one identity,” she says.
Think big from the start. Most business owners start out thinking small, and that’s a big mistake, says Clark, whether it is in not registering a business properly, doing too much yourself, or even just not taking the time to keep good records that become overwhelming.
“One of the biggest mistakes I made when starting out was in not keeping track of my clients,” she says. “I didn’t start a database until after I already a few hundred contacts, then it was a really big job.” She, like most new business owners she knows, had a collection of business cards and scattered papers with names and phone numbers for clients and vendors, all kept in various places throughout her office. “Whenever I wanted to find a name it was a problem,” she says.
She finally sat down and organized all of her contacts in one database on her computer. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money to buy a fancy contact program,” she says. “Pretty much every computer has Excel on it these days. If all you do is put the name, phone number, E-mail, and address of the person into Excel you’ll be in good shape.”
Once you do decide to purchase a more expensive client contact program you can quickly and easily import your Excel files into it. “You’ll save yourself a lot of time and you won’t lose track of the names of people who can help you or who want to do business with you,” adds Clark.
Make sure you get paid. Yes, it sounds obvious; if you don’t get paid you won’t be in business for long. But, says Clark, she has never spoken to a business owner who hasn’t at one time or another had trouble collecting a bill. “When you are just starting out the payment may be small and you think it’s no big deal, but those small things add up,” she says.
The best way to make sure you get paid each and every time is to put a system in place when you are just starting out. Track your invoices, making sure they are sent out on time and that you record when the money comes in. If you have not been paid in 30 days, make sure you immediately send another invoice. “Remember, you deserve to get paid. Putting the system in place makes the whole business of getting paid less emotional,” she says.
Systemize everything. Invoicing and accounts are not the only thing in a business that should be systemized, says Clark. “Systemize everything that you can. Organize your files, your follow-up system, everything.” There is no one right organizational plan for every person or every business. “You have to think about it and figure out what is right for you,” she says.
One of the biggest problems, she says, is for the small business owner who is starting a business at home. “Find one space to put everything to do with your business and start to put it there right away,” she says. Otherwise you’ll have your files in your kitchen cabinet and your accounts in your nightstand drawer and something else in your living room and you’ll spend a whole lot of time looking for everything you need. “Make sure you organize first, before your business gets busy. That will make it a whole lot easier when you do have a lot of clients.”
Coping with Growth. The dream of every small business owner is to become so successful that he or she must deal with the growth of the business. “The best way to do that is to prepare for growth,” Clark says. “Plan on it ahead of time.”
As a business becomes bigger it becomes necessary to outsource some things. This, Clark says, is often one of the hardest things for a business owner to do because it means giving up control and spending money.
Some of the most important things to consider outsourcing are marketing and accounting, she says. “Sure I could make a brochure or my own website, but you have to look at the cost. What does it cost me to have someone else do this versus the cost of the time I lose while doing it myself? I can be going out and finding more clients or I can be learning how to build a website. It is more cost effective for me to go out and find more clients.”
Clark is in the process of hiring a project manager. “It takes time to hire the right person and train them, but in the end it will bring in more money,” she says. “If a project manager can help me get a job completed in six weeks rather than ten weeks, that means I’m getting paid faster and I can take on more work.”
Support your lifestyle. Remember, a business is supposed to support the life you want to lead. “You want to make sure that when you start a business you develop both a business plan and a personal plan. Make sure that your work helps you to meet your personal goals,” she says. “Don’t just live to work.”