A lot of our bar exam students (and even people who are not our students!) will set up appointments with me either after they take the bar exam or pass the bar exam to discuss business ideas they have and get our advice. Some want to start law firms. Others want to start side businesses selling products that they make. Others sell consulting services in a particular field where they have developed some experience.
While each case is person-specific, we tend to give out a lot of the same advice and answer a lot of the same questions when people come to us. Here are five tips if you are considering starting a small business, a law firm, or a side business to make some extra cash.
5 Tips to Start a Small Business (Or Law Firm or Side Business)
1. Start small.
This is especially true if you have a day job. We highly recommend that you don’t go “all in.” For most business, you do not need an expensive office, a billboard, a big loan, and to quit your day job right away. Keep your day job. Get a website and a “work” email and start small. Invest something—but not your entire savings—into your business.
That keeps the pressure of your side business and allows it to be fun and grow organically. It also allows you to see what works—and what doesn’t work—and change courses if need be!
2. File the papers to start a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or Professional Limited Liability Company (PLLC).
Some people come to us because they want help with their paperwork (and we gladly help!) but it is actually very easy to file the paperwork for an LLC or PLLC and it will keep your personal assets separate from your business assets. It will generally release you, personally, from liability for any business obligations and is thus, a prudent course of action.
3. Find a niche.
Regardless of whether you are selling a product or a service, find a niche. If you practice law, don’t do “everything” – (or don’t advertise it, if you do). Instead, specialize in, say, simple wills, for example, and start writing them for young families. We write bar exam appeals as our law firm “niche” and have established ourselves as an expert in the field by having several appeals pass – the highest percentage of any law firm in the state for at least one administration. We would not have grown so big so fast if we advertised doing “everything” to our clients. By keeping it simple and focusing on one service, we attracted the clients that need that service.
4. Get comfortable with risks and with failure.
The key to a successful venture, is a lot of ventures. Most of what you do will not succeed. And you have to be okay with this! It doesn’t mean that your business “fails” — it means some ideas work out and some don’t, and finding the difference between the two is what makes a business fun!
I advise clients who have trouble with this concept that they will probably fail (as most of us do, since most people naturally insulate themselves from failure!) to, first, not set artificial goals for yourself (i.e. don’t say “it is my goal to make $100,000 next year by selling candles on etsy!). Goals can be inspirational but they can also tie you down to an arbitrary course of action and get your ego too invested in the outcome. Instead, I say to pursue many ideas (and even if you only have one “idea” – selling candles on etsy, it may turn into many down the line—selling soy candles, specializing in certain kinds of candles, selling them to local businesses, selling them at art fairs, expanding into selling incense, designing a candle warmer, developing a specialty of selling candles to people who have allergies to most scents . . . ) Don’t tie yourself down to one thing when you start a small business. Consider them all “ideas” to pursue.
I, personally, have done a lot of things that have failed – online courses that have not taken off, blog post series that are a lot of work with not a lot of readers, trying to schedule meetings with people who have no interest in talking to me–just to name a few. And that’s great. Because having a lot of ideas is the key to having a successful idea.
5. If you don’t know where to start, start anywhere.
If you are intimidated by starting a side business or making money, start small. When I started my current business, on the side, I used to sell books on amazon and make an extra $200 – $400 a month. I started by selling books of my own (law school books go for a lot if you sell them while they are the latest edition!) and then I sold the books of my family members looking to clean out their bookshelves. Later, I began to sell books I’d find for $1 at a garage sale for, say, $20 online. It was nice to make extra money (to put toward a vacation!) but it was also empowering. Further, even something as simple as that, I learned a lot about customer service, the business side of amazon, and even online advertising–and all of these skills “translated” to helping me with my current business.
If you do not know where to start, ask yourself, “what do my friends come to me for help for?” For me, people would ask me questions about the law and the bar exam—so bar exam tutoring became a perfect fit! But maybe your friends ask you for help with their resume, or fixing something in their house, or help with their wedding planning. Think of what your friends ask you for help with – often, this is something you are good at and you could help others with and potentially monetize!
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