The Notary's Guide to Starting Your Own Small Business

I've run out of notary public topics to write about (hard to believe, I know!). I suppose I've hit notary public writer's block - but don't worry, it's just a matter of time before a new and exciting notary topic comes my way.  In the meantime, I'm going to talk about something that many people have been asking me about lately: how to start your own small business.  I consider myself a minor authority on the topic as Downtown Notary has grown and thrived so much in just one year (no big deal!).

  1. Have an idea that sets you apart. It's unlikely that you will have a completely novel business idea, so chances are someone is already doing it. Maybe they already have a large market share, or maybe there are a lot of competitors.  So how can you succeed in that kind of environment? Find your niche - something that you do that your competitors don't, or something that you will do better than them.  Knowing your niche will help you to focus on what you need to do to grow your business.  For example, if you're going to open a firm that provides legal services for dentists, then you should learn everything you can about the relevant areas of law.  Your niche is also key for developing a marketing strategy - you need to tell people what makes you so great!
  2. Create a brand. It doesn't matter what kind of business you're in or what kind of services you provide, you need to create an identifiable brand.  How do you want people to feel about your business? What do you want them to remember about your business? If you could sum up your business in three words, what would it be? Ideally, these feelings, thoughts and words would be connected to and reflective of your niche. These are the things that will form the basis of your brand.
  3. Remember that appearances count. In my opinion, 99% of business is done on the web. This means you need to have a good website. Having a good website is more than having relevant information and a phone number on a web page.  It's about having a well-designed website that is not only informative but compelling, interesting and visually pleasing.  That's why there are dozens of books and hundreds of blogs on web design - there's an art to it! And the way your page is designed will have an impact on how long potential customers spend on it and how many conversions you will get. The elements on your website should be informed by principles of good design and should reflect your brand. For example, if your business is a forward-thinking, efficient and innovative, choose fonts, images and colours that match that - no Comic Sans or grainy, low-definition images. Consider creating a logo that will be featured on your webpage and print materials. Also think about accessibility - everyone should be able to use your website. 
  4. Get connected to social media.  See above - the Internet is EVERYTHING. A clever business idea, great brand and fabulous website don't mean much unless you can make people aware of your business.  And the best way to do that (and improve your search engine optimization) is by getting on social media - Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Myspace (just kidding!). It doesn't matter if you write a blog about possibly the most uninteresting topic around (cough cough notaries cough) or repost tweets from your favourite comedian, fresh social media content is essential for any small business.
  5. Be good at what you do but be ready to make mistakes - and learn from them! Obviously you need to know what you're doing and have some expertise in it.  But you don't need to know everything or strive for perfection, at least not at first. Chances are you have a skill in something and you want to make that the basis of your business, but maybe you don't know a lot about running a successful business, like marketing or accounting.  Or maybe you have strong business skills, but need to learn more about your business' services.  That's okay! One of the best things about starting your own business is constantly learning new skills and improving your abilities.  You need to be prepared to make mistakes and fail occasionally - it's going to happen - and learn from those mistakes. If something isn't working, change it. If it's still not working, then move in a different direction. Being flexible and adaptable no matter what kinds of challenges get thrown your way is critical to being successful in our rapidly evolving economy. If you can't stand imperfection or failure, then maybe you should reconsider starting your own business.