Did you know that October is Small Business Month in Canada? It is, and this is the first year I’ve ever celebrated it. Despite having a small business (this blog right here) since 2012, it had always been a hobby.
After all, I had a career in public relations and communications. A long one. A satisfying one.
But in recent years, I’d become more drawn to and excited by the opportunities that digital and social media offered and you know what they say: follow your heart.
So I did.
In January, I rather quietly transitioned from the girl with the day job and the side gig to the girl focused 100 per cent on the side gig. That’s right! I’m now a full-time blogger and social media consultant. YAY!!! It feels so great to share such big news!
I kept it pretty under wraps for so long because, frankly, I was afraid to fail. I was afraid to fail publicly.
I’m delighted that it’s going so well and that I’m legitimately able to carve out a whole new narrative for the working girl part of my life.
It’s my own small business that’s finally getting all of me and the kind of attention it deserved. It’s been a heart-pumping, challenging time trying to figure out how to balance the demands of earning all of my money as a freelancer with saying “no” to prevent burnout.
So I’m pretty stoked that there’s something like Small Business Month — an entire MONTH devoted to those of us following our hearts by starting and building small businesses. (And a month that my friends at Mastercard support by making it easy for entrepreneurs to forge ahead…more on that below.)
Working 9 to 5 with the structure that comes with an office job is so, so different than the entrepreneurial path of small business ownership. And even though I’d already spent more than seven years building the Mommy Gearest brand, it was easy to set it aside whenever I wanted to since it was simply a passion project that never needed to pay the bills.
The transition has not been without many “WTF am I doing?” moments. Because there are no rules. And no guarantees. Oh, and the paycheques are irregular (and budgeting isn’t my strong suit).
But the rewards are huge.
When I get private messages or emails that tell me I made someone feel better with an uplifting Facebook post, or helped someone plan a big trip because they read a resort review, or made someone laugh with a funny Instagram Story, or that they purchased that thing I recommended in a holiday gift guide, it makes all of the blood, sweat and tears worth it. (I understand this phrase more than ever before. I’m very familiar with all three — blood, sweat and tears. Many tears.)
Here are my tips to help you work toward your own Small Business Month celebration
I love what I do, but I’m still navigating my path. It’s a bumpy, winding road that’s got all the makings of a reality show some days. That said, I have a few key pieces of advice for those of you thinking of starting your own side gig that you hope will one day be your real-life job:
1. Don’t quit your day job.
Boy oh boy, I can’t stress this enough. Unless you’re independently wealthy or have a partner who can fully support your lifestyle on his/her own, WORK AROUND YOUR DAY JOB. Yes, it’s going to mean long nights and lost sleep. Before the blog, I used to sleep 10 hours a night. With the exception of a bout of influenza, a stab or two at pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism a couple of summers ago, I haven’t slept 10 hours a night since early 2012.
Entrepreneurship is stressful enough without adding the stress of burning through money when you don’t yet have enough coming in the door. Those biweekly paycheques deposited with predictable consistency are gold — don’t give those up until you’re making some comfortable money with a frequency that’s dependable.
By all means, dream the dream. Take the leap. Just do it with a safety net.
2. Register your business name and get a business number.
In Ontario, anyway, you must now have a Master Business License to operate a small business of any kind, no matter how much you earn. It’s only $60, it doesn’t take very long, and it means you officially register your business name, so you might as well just get one right off the hop.
While you’re at it, get an HST number and business number from the CRA, too. You’ll need to charge HST once you pass the $30k/year threshold, and you can get these at the same time — for free.
3. Keep. Every. Receipt.
I was terrible at this for the first few years, but after paying a particularly gag-inducing income tax bill a few years ago thanks to my lackadaisical receipt management system, I’ve gotten better. It’s still something I’m working on, but I’m at least at the stage where I separate hard copy receipts that are business or personal every day so I don’t have to sort through everything all at once at tax time.
To make things even easier, I started using my World Elite Mastercard solely for business expenses. I normally spend more for different aspects of the blog than I do for myself, so it helps me keep track even if I misplace a receipt. And, bonus — I earn my beloved rewards points just for doing my due diligence. I am so grateful to brands like Mastercard that make it easier for me to pursue my entrepreneurial spirit.
4. Hire a great accountant.
Small business taxes are very different from what you’re probably used to, and there are lots of different deductions and credits that you may miss out on if you try to do it yourself. A good accountant will get your Ts crossed and Is dotted. A GREAT accountant will give you tips and tricks to keep more money in your hands each year as your business grows.
5. Pay experts to help you.
You want people to hire you for your expertise, right? And you want to spend your time wisely, right? Right. So burning time and energy on building a website or finding awesome stock photos or designing a logo — if those aren’t your core capabilities — isn’t efficient. Ask friends for referrals to great web designers and coders, killer graphic artists or stellar social media gurus. They’ll save you time; and eventually that means they’ll save you money.
In my case, I also pay for talent: my kids. Although when they were little they loved being part of anything and everything I had going on, as they’ve gotten older, we’ve given them the autonomy to choose what to be part of. Unless it’s something that’s authentically fun for them (like a trip to Club Med or the chance to review an XBOX console), I pay my kids to appear in my blog and social feed. And trust me, they earn it. Photo shoots can actually be a lot of work and filming a video is super time-consuming.
My next step should be figuring out if I can write off their wages with my great accountant…
6. Make sure you have downtime.
My biggest mistake earlier this year was working seven days a week and saying an enthusiastic “YES!” to everything. I was so determined to do well that I bit off more than I should have. I paid for it and had two occasions since January that damn near broke me.
I’m still learning to say no (especially when yes feels soooooo good in the moment!), but one thing I’ve gotten much better at is setting work-life boundaries. I schedule my workouts in the same calendar where I schedule meetings and conference calls, for example. I’m also getting really good at finding “me time” again and working hard to focus on my kids when they’re home from school and we have a chance to spend time together.
7. Treat your side hustle like a job and it will become one.
If you take your small business seriously and keep driving no matter what seemingly insurmountable obstacles it’ll throw at you, sooner or later it’s probably going to pay you back for all that hard work. Because as Amy Hempel wisely said, “There’s no such thing as luck. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”
DISCLAIMER: Mastercard compensated me for this post. All opinions are my own.