Tips for starting and running a service-based business.

There are so many ways to be a small business owner without making jewelry or specialty jam. If you’re a photographer, nail artist, or social media guru, you’re operating a “service-based business.” And running a service-based business takes more than an IG page with “DM to book”’ in the bio. Sidekick spoke with Joseph Pascaretta, general manager of small business at Dun & Bradstreet, and Jane Goodrich, photographer and cofounder of Picsello, to get their expert opinions on best practices.

Pascaretta says before you do anything else, you should create a business plan and think of it as a pilot checklist. “How am I going to bring in cash, and how am I going to sell to customers? Who are my customers? And operationally, how am I going to manage the business? Break down high-level thoughts in each category.”

Once you’ve done your research and have a thorough understanding what you want your business to be, follow this checklist:

  • Register your business. Pascaretta explained that most small businesses can be registered as a DBA or an LLC online. This step is necessary for filing taxes and setting up business bank accounts.
  • Get a DUNS number. Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number is a unique identifier for small businesses to file taxes and establish credit.
  • Establish business banking accounts. These should be separate from your personal accounts, Pascaretta emphasized.
  • Hire an accountant and get bookkeeping software. “Don’t use apps like Venmo,” Goodrich said. “Meet with an accountant because they’ll set you up the right way.” Consult with organizations like Score and the Small Business Association (SBA) if you’re not sure where to start.
  • Buy business insurance. Pascaretta stressed the importance of this to distance your personal liability from your business liability re: personal injury claims or expensive equipment.
  • Apply for business licenses. “In my lawn business, I wanted to spray weeds,” Pascaretta said. “Well, you need a fertilization license for that. So [do your] research and look up what type of business licenses you need to be legally operating.”
  • Set up a website with a domain and a CRM. “[Set up] automated follow-ups with clients [so they become] repeat clients,” said Goodrich. “Having this kind of system in place frees up time for larger projects.”
  • Invest in digital marketing and ad tools. Goodrich advised to stop being on every social media outlet. “As a family photographer, there’s really no way for you to use LinkedIn. But it’s useful for a headshot photographer. So know which platforms your clients use.”
  • Start an emergency fund. Challenges come up, especially in this economy with supply chain issues and a pending rec*ssion. Pascaretta advised to make a cushion. “Watch your cash, and watch that bank account.” You may need it later.

Once you’ve established your business and built a client base, be sure to maintain relationships. Send thank-you notes during the holidays, offer discounts for referrals, and follow up with clients, Goodrich and Pacsaretta agreed. Though it may take time and a little elbow grease, you’ll get there!—

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