Tips for starting your own business

It’s been several years since Jon quit his day job and my website became the source of our income, a decision that we both agreed to only after several months of hand-wringing and hair pulling and looking over that edge and determining how much it would cost in hospital bills if we hit the ground.

Turns out it would cost bunches! Because neither of us qualified for private insurance. Shit, I forgot to put that in the video. Probably a good thing because I would have gone off on some socialist rant and proved just how much I don’t love my country.

Moving on!

It was a huge risk, one that luckily paid off, but in the beginning we were fumbling around, bumping into walls and each other and not just because Jon is legally blind. Not really, but sometimes his right eye will start to wander while he’s talking to you and suddenly you’re looking around like, wait. Who are you talking to? I’M OVER HERE.

Starting a business is a total pain in the butt, and there are a few things you should know before jumping over that precipice, starting with: make sure you trust the person who packed your parachute.

Jon and I made a video of some of the hoops you have to jump through to get a business up and running. For the sake of brevity I left out a few things like:

1. Try not to start your business the same year you have to replace your sewer line.

2. Try not to start your business the same year you get sued by a publishing company.

3. Try not to start your business the same year your business partner comes down with something similar to the West Nile virus.

These things make sanity a little more complicated, and you’re going to need all of that sanity when you find out how much your lawyer charges for responding to an email.

(If you can’t see the video above, click here and you should be able to view it.)

Many thanks to Citrix Online for sponsoring this video. If you have any tips for starting a business, do share. Like, how do you hold it together when it’s time to pay quarterly taxes? Xanax?

  • JMBauhaus

    People will hate on anything and everything on the Internet. Just yesterday I read a blog post by someone suffering from infertility (on her blog that’s ABOUT how infertility has made her angry and bitter) about how painful it can be to be around expectant mothers, and her comments were filled with hateful comments that boiled down to “shut up and stop being such a bitter hag.” Oh, and “quitcher whining and adopt a third world baby already,” because everybody knows that adopting a baby is exactly as simple and inexpensive as buying new shoes, or something.

    Haters are more interested in showing how witty they are at putdowns than adding anything that’s actually constructive to the conversation. It’s sad, really.

    Anyway, longtime lurker, sporadic commenter, and I have no problem with sponsored posts. And also, thirding (fourthing) the SBA rec, and I would also mention that it’s extremely easy and cheap to set yourself up as a sole proprietorship, although it doesn’t offer the legal protections of a corporation.

  • tokenblogger

    Here I am a member of the Dooce Community and I never thought of how people would have to “join the community” in order to comment — even though I had to log in to the community to comment (Duh!).

    Maybe because your blog was around so much longer before the community came to fruition…

    Anyway — thanks for not deleting my comment as a negative (hater) because I am not a hater! (Except that now I kinda want to see what all those haters hated upon so I can hate on the haters!)

    ;o)

    ɹǝƃƃolquǝʞoʇ

  • Lori_Homes

    I realize that this type of comment is not going to be allowed, but I find the above statement that women are not supportive of successful women to be very hurtful and patently untrue.

    It is untrue according to empirical research. It, to my mind, fails to acknowledge that women were the impetus behind the success of female personalities- two examples are Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey. So I cannot understand how you get to have it two ways. Are women hateful towards females or are they their main supports? I think women deserve credit, not condemnation here.

    I would like to ask- if dissent from the published view of an author is due to “hurt women”- why men have been critics for so long, and of so many. Do men not have a motivation to do this?

    I would like to see how the view is applied to Anthony Bourdain’s recent criticism of Rachel Ray, Paula Dean, and other cable chefs. Is he a hurt woman, too? What is his motivation, if it is not being a jealous woman?

    In my business, women have always been of outstanding support. My entire field has statements to this effect: our female colleagues are of the utmost importance to us. It just is very painful to see this idea put forward. It hurts me, I feel the idea is promulgated at the expense of the fact of the matter, and that women deserve credit for being the supporters of so many of our media figures and writers.

    Signed, just thinking of my students and my children. I don’t ever want them to think I stood by while someone put down women, as a group, for something they surely do not deserve special blame for.

    Again, I know you do not allow this type of comment- but I felt I had to write because I had seen these statements made about women on these blogs before. And again, the psychological literature on gender differences covers this type of thing, if you are interested in taking a look or interviewing anyone with expertise in this area. There are very recent studies showing that women’s far more supportive nature encourages better work by groups- to think of one positive counter to this awful stereotype. It is patronizing to assert that if women are critical of writers or anyone successful – it is for no reason at all (but their “hurt”?) when this is not said of men (who are respected for having a point of view.) And, again, men are worse critics of media personalities than women and would, I imagine, not have even given them a chance for popularity in the first place.

  • AshesVonDust

    I love this video. Tyrant is so funny. Also: Jon scrubbing the can=HILARITY.

    I’m about to start my second year of Small and Medium Enterprise Management. I’m kind of terrified that in less than a year, I will be going out to find capital and actually, you know, being an entrepreneur. I’m still in the “HOLY CRAP, I GOT ALL A’s AND B’S THIS SEMESTER EXCEPT FOR THAT ONE CLASS WITH THE A*HOLE PROF WHO HATES ME AND GAVE ME A D!” mindset. How am I supposed to be The Man?!

  • AshesVonDust

    …And I’m going to open a cage-free kennel (read: making money calling it a “resort” and having training and grooming) and I don’t cage my own dogs, but I have to comment on this:

    “grizzlymaze said:

    Since I cant post under your latest entry, ‘Frank’, I will add my comment here…. you put your dogs in cages??? Seriously? You should be ashamed.”

    And you should be someone smarter.
    Some dogs genuinely do well being crated; they need that enclosure and safety.

  • slappyintheface

    Haven’t had a chance to watch the video, but have to say that I love it that you used the word “precipice”. That’s fun to say!

  • dooce

    @juliemewood this is a real life story and my spin on it.

  • schmeidel

    As a business owner whose husband later joined the company, I can say that everything in that video is so true. It was painful to allocate so much startup capital to these guys, but our accountant and our attorney have been critical elements of the company’s success. Every dime we’ve paid them (and there are many, many dimes that’ve gone their way) has benefitted us in spades.

    I also agree that there are a lot of hazards to working with your spouse. That said, it can be very rewarding to get to work together toward the same objective in your family and professional lives.

    There are a lot of other dynamics to starting your own company: hiring employees, the roller coaster of the first few years as you get your sea legs, dealing with really difficult and unfamiliar situations, and how hard you actually work when you own a company. (It’s not all sitting around, going to a meeting when it’s convenient and eating bon-bons.) Do you plan to do videos on any of these things? I think the latter one in particular is something most folks are unprepared for and is one of the biggest myths about “working for yourself.”

    (Also, love GoToMeeting. We have a distributed work team across the U.S. and spend about 1/2 our day on GTM with clients and usability testing participants. It’s a critical part of our business’s success – highly recommend!)

  • FishyLibrarian

    Was thinking about your sewer line just the other day. Actually I was thinking about your ‘OMG our plumbing is fucked’ cookie. Mmmmmm. Peanut buttery, caramely, m&m’y goodness.

    Oh, and nice work on the video! Useful tips indeed!

  • kristanhoffman

    Hehe, cute video. I had no idea Tyrant was so versatile.

  • juliemewood

    I agree (in part) with SaraSaraT. Not really enjoying all these sponsored posts. I like your real life stories and your spin on them.

  • SMD

    I like the recent videos and don’t mind that they’re sponsored; we all know this is how you make a living!
    Please tell me you’ve been doing some of your own SNL skits too.

  • jessiCat

    Oh SaraSaraT.. I must say, you are quite rude. No need to insult someone for making an honest living. If you don’t like the website, find another one. Or you could just play nicely with others. That would be a little more classy, no?

  • dooce

    @schmeidel I agree, I haven’t ever worked harder than I have at this job. It’s always on my mind, always in the air around me. It also requires a part of my brain I’m not used to using in that I haven’t ever had to manage people before, and I had to get comfortable with delegating. Not sure how to make a video of how hard I work except one long ten-hour sequence of me sitting in front of my computer.

  • playrawkstar

    this is all so true! starting your own business is seriously one of the hardest, yet most rewarding, endeavors. completely consuming, but so absolutely worth it once it takes off!

  • CalissaLeigh

    I think the most important think of owning your own business with a spouse of any sort is therapy. At the least, find a mediator you can trust that will tell you when you’ve screwed up and need to go apologize to your business partner for threatening to hold out on sex if he doesn’t let you buy that third computer monitor that really isn’t in the budget. :)

  • erinchosen

    That’s all fine and dandy…but the question is, will I ever forgive YOU for using the word ‘wheelhouse’? Because I don’t even know what that means! A house that is a wheel? A wheel made of houses? My brain. It hurts. :)

    side note: hilarious video, once again.

  • MichelleBarra

    I work from home running a business I’ve had for ten years which has been great in terms of being able to raise my kids. I like to say I’ve sacrificed regular cash flow for flexibility! (I’ve also sacrificed housework dammit, but that’s another story)

    My 3 tips are:

    1. Persist, persist, persist. Even when things seem too hard, if you believe in your business concept and it’s backed by solid research of your market and realistic financials, just try to keep going. We tried to get our product into a certain national bank for at around 5 years before it finally got accepted. We just had to wait for the right person to come along in the role – someone who actually ‘got’ the idea. Now they’re rolling out our in-branch play solution around the country and I really hope the first guy we spoke to who rejected our idea kicks himself in the pants daily. Although I doubt it. He’s probably sitting in his cubicle with a calculator adding stuff up.

    2. Make a to-do list every day before leaving your ‘office’. Working from home can be full of interruptions, like having to answer your own phones and stopping to pick up the kids from school (sometimes even on time!) When you do hit your desk, you need to hit it running so it helps to have a list that you compiled the day before when you were in a work head space, that you can refer to immediately and get going on.

    3. Share your successes with your children and family. It will give them a better understanding of your daily working life and may have a positive effect on their own future, teaching them about determination, goal-setting and not being afraid to be passionate and take a risk.

    Loving your videos Heather. Keep them coming :)

  • ktbrown

    Tried to comment on your previous business post but couldn’t for some reason so I will ask here if you don’t mind! I know you have a specified place for your work (lucky gal!) and it leads me to wonder if you do your “home” work in your work office as well. By that I mean, your personal bills, your kids papers, your shopping receipts, etc. Right now ALL of my office life is in one spot and can be very overwhelming when trying to concentrate on work. Just curious what you choose to do. Thanks in advance!

    Kristen, pickingmybattles.wordpress.com

  • Truthful Mommy

    I love the video. it all sounds so overwhelming. I’d love to do this with my husband. Lucky for me we’ve been in a commuter marriage for the past 2 years and I am chomping at the bit to spend all of our time together!LOL Otherwise, we’d def. need some sessions with the couples counselor:)

    Loved this take on how to start your own business. Already a big fan but now even bigger because you have the exact same accent as my Tennessee mama, and that gives you instant cool points in my book.

    Sell out is such a crap term used by jealous people to label their successful counterparts!You rock it lady!

  • cassieboorn

    It appears that your accountant was using a Nintendo DS to calculate you finances.

    Am I correct?

  • tokenblogger

    Heather, please share with all your readers that they do not have to go through all those different and expensive professionals to get a business started.

    Their local SBA office has professionals to assist them in those same ways FOR FREE.

    SBA professionals know their stuff and will look forward to assisting those who want to start their own business (and help them to decide on an LLP, LLC, S Corp, or even a non-profit).

    You know I love you, but I really found the message in this video insulting. It was very well done — Tyrant was fantastic and the cooking and cleaning you and Jon took on was very funny — but the message?

    Ach!

    I may be the only one who felt this way…

    Or the first to admit it.

  • MollyCT

    Hm, who was inside the body bag, if not coco?

    I can’t believe the number of people you have to pay to get a business off the ground. Thanks for including the therapist in there too as a necessary part of this! Good idea in the comment up above for people to look into the small business administration for a place to start. Where did you find your banker/accountant/lawyer?

    Side note: I didn’t remember hearing about the publisher lawsuit, and I did some googling and all I want to say about that is right or wrong, it really seems like the way the publishing system works is stacked up against writers.

  • Sarah McDougall

    Two tips that have worked for me:

    1. Pay your taxes monthly instead of quarterly with EFTPS. That way you won’t faint and feel such pressure every quarter when you see the final figure.

    2. Watch reality tv or something equally mind numbing once a day so that you can TAKE A BREAK from your brain. When you are working for yourself you are always thinking of the business, like Heather says. I have found that watching Snooki flash her tatas takes my mind off of selling online for just a little while and puts things in perspective.

  • heather…

    I’m supposed to pay my taxes quarterly? No wonder I have a heart attack every April. ;)

  • Mommunist Nation

    Exactly why I work corporate.

  • Lauren3

    Looking at these comments… I see there was a nasty one! Incidentally, today I came across something Friedrich Nietzsche said that I want to share with you.

    I don’t agree with the dude’s entire philosophy, but I’m on his side with this one:

    “Insects sting, not in malice, but because they want to live. It is the same with critics: They desire our blood, not our pain.”

    He was talking about literary and philosophy critics, I’m pretty sure, but I think it can translate to mutterings of The Trolls, too: It ain’t about you.

  • 3under5

    Love the videos, love to see a minture of your day, and a great sense of humor. Agree with the above comment about Tyrant. He is very versatile!

  • hopevalerie

    I don’t mind sponsored posts one bit. I would love to blog and have large corporations want to be a part of my message, and them have confidence in me. I can’t say its effecting any posts, and I always read the sponsored blip at the end with a bit of a chuckle.

    On another note- I have to say starting a successful business at this point – it costs (and I’m not just in cash). Lol. It’s time consuming, truly hair pulling insanity, and ALL WORTH IT.

    I have used our SBA for every resource they offer. That experience allowed me to branch off out of my 9-5 job into something I am truly passionate about and those missing patches of hair from the insanity are okay (hats, scarves, wigs, all cover that up!)

    I’ve now been able to support myself off of my very small business – and am confident enough to say you don’t need a whole lot of professional help. Quarterly taxes are easy when you stay in routine. Setting up your LLC (or your other structures) is daunting, but protect your assets before some publishing company wants a piece of the pie!

    Tid bits that mentors offer at the SBA have been priceless. Use your resources before you pay a penny!

  • msjo

    I second the vote for using the SBA and Score. I had a great lawyer, learned my own accounting, but had a CPA for a sanity check. Make a habit of keeping records! The paper trail is so important if you ever get audited. My husband and I had very little overlap in what we did for the company, and trusted that the other one knew what they were doing (or would talk about it if they didn’t). Neither of us was apt to “ask” for equipment, software or personnel that we did not really need, and we talked the big decisions over until the answer felt like a no brainer. Trust, however, was the really, really, really, huge thing that made our partnership work.

  • karamatthews

    I signed up for an account today so that I could take my issues out on you instead of seeing a therapist.

  • lisdom

    To the haters:

    This post was pretty much about how this website is a business. It is a business because it is one of the most popular blogs on the internet. It is popular because of the content. How this continues to upset people is baffling to me. If you think it is wrong for a blogger to make a living off his or her blog, then you should just stop visiting all blogs with even one advertisement on it. If you have ever read even one article on how to make money at blogging, one of those ways is through sponsors. In the history of this blog, I have never seen one post that was sponsored where I felt that Heather was not being herself or toning down the content. I feel fairly certain that is one of the agreements that Heather makes when deciding on sponsors.

  • Grrarghing

    As a very long term reader, I’ll agree to noticing more of your posts being sponsored, but I also don’t care. Content is content, so long as its presented to me in YOUR voice, with YOUR experience. That’s what I’m here for, and so far, that’s what you’ve given me. However I have to pay for that, whether a monthly fee, viewing an ad, or seeing a Sponsored By Post…I’m game. Your voice, your work, Jon’s work, Tyrant’s work…you all deserve everything positive and wonderful (both monetarily and just in positive vibes.)

    In an aside, that I hope you won’t take as negative….my teeth are EXACTLY like yours, and…well…you just kinda made me feel like I can also be an awesome person, no matter what other people say. Shit. That sounds like I’m dissing you. I mean… I love that you are who you are, you admit faults, and you work on making yourself and your family better. Seeing you, I believe that if I work on the same things? Making myself better, more open, less angry, more…compatible….maybe someday I can be someone’s Heather to their Jon. Lord knows I already have my Coco and Chuck.

  • prestonk9

    I had to play that over again to see the scenes with Heather cooking and John cleaning. HILARIOUS! snort!

    Sure I sometimes take pause with the sponsored posts, and maybe mutter to myself, hmff THAT’S why she’s talking about boobs again. But the next second I think who cares, she would talk about them anyway. And that’s why I’m here.

  • Funnygirl78

    Loved the video and could care less that it’s sponsored. Is “sponsored” now a bad word or something? Last time I checked you aren’t selling snake oil, babies or drugs so what’s the big deal?

  • Stretchmarks_notbitter

    A good accountant will be able to get you an EIN and set-up your articles of incorporation for a quarter of the price of a lawyer.

  • BanjoBuckaroo

    You hate your country? That’s sad to hear… do you think you would be so successful in any country? I really enjoy reading your blog but really hate to read something negative about the US.

  • Juliasarmoire

    Ok. I took my comments away. I didn’t mean it to be taken in a wrong way. I still think your journey has been amazing and have enjoyed all ups and downs :) And I’m still not eligible to enter any of the contests… never had been. And this is exactly the reason why I lurk… and say nothing ;) And the video was still nice! :)

  • jon

    I think this might be a good time to bring up two items:

    1) Funny how the drive by commenters turn up when it’s a post about business. A successful business. Hurt women hating on successful women. Such a surprise!

    2) There are two documents that need to be mentioned. The Terms of Service when you signed up for the account that you comment from and the Community Guidelines. Both of these are agreed to when somebody registers for an account. If people are blocked or a comment edited or deleted, it’s for failure to adhere to the rules.

    Signing up specifically to win prizes and then come back to dish tired crap we’ve heard a billion times? Laughable. And utterly predictable. No research necessary.

    The only real concern is that we have an obligation to the functioning part of the community to enforce the Terms and Guidelines. We’ll continue to block people who can’t play well in our space because we want to keep this an enjoyable place to visit.

  • dooce

    I love how all the negative comments are coming from people who signed up on the exact day I was giving away $1,000 or another huge prize. Such a coincidence.

  • Juliasarmoire

    Ok. I took my comments away. I didn’t mean it to be taken in a wrong way. I still think your journey has been amazing and have enjoyed all ups and downs :) And I’m still not eligible to enter any of the contests… never had been. And this is exactly the reason why I lurk… and say nothing ;) And the video was still nice!

  • dooce

    @Juliasarmoire I wasn’t refering to your comment.

    @annecat I’ve deleted the majority of the hateful ones.

  • annecat

    Most of the negative comments on this post strike me as more thoughtful than hateful. But if you’re really researching the sources, you’re spending way too much time on them.