ABOVE PHOTO: Radio pioneer Gary Shepherd at the helm of his company 3rd Floor Media.
By Leah Fletcher
Gary Shepherd has transitioned from a successful career in the radio broadcasting industry to one as the principle of his own media production company—3rd Floor Media. It was his passion, skills, experience and faith that allowed him to successfully maneuver the uncertain ride from employee to executive. By sharing his advice ad experiences with aspiring entrepreneurs, it is Shepherd’s his hope the roads they have yet to travel will be made smoother. Following is his advice, peppered with his own business growth experience.
1. Find that thing you love.
Building a career or choosing the kind of company you want to start is a process. Finding the right match also is a process of trial and error. Low-risk ways to test your options, such as shadowing someone for a day, will help you find what you actually enjoy and where you want to venture.
“As you look for the work you love, you may have to shake up your life, step out of your comfort zone, make a few mistakes,” Shepherd explained. “That’s okay. Treat your search as one big journey or a series of mini-journeys.” Ultimately, he believes, if you stay focused and keep trying, you will identify “your passion” and land at the place you want to be.
2. Start your business while you are still employed.
Most people can live without money indefinitely. “And it may take time before your new business actually makes a profit, “according to Shepherd, who knows firsthand that being employed while you are starting a business means money in your pocket.”
3. Don’t do it alone
You will need a support system. A family member or friend that you and bounce ideas off or will support you through start-up crisis. Find a mentor. “Experienced guidance is the best support system of all,” Shepherd noted that he has been aided by great people throughout his radio and business career. “Those relationships were crucial to what I have achieved in the field of radio and now as the principle of 3rd Floor Media.”
4. Get clients or customers first
Never wait until you have launched your business to line up clients or customers. Your business cannot survive without them. This is where Shepherd declares, “Do the networking make. Make contacts. Sell, or even give, away your products and services. You can’t start marketing too soon.”
5. Write a business plan
The chief reason for writing a business plan when you’re starting a business is that it helps you avoid pouring money into a business that will not success, according to Shepherd.
More importantly, the business plan is a formal statement of your business’ goals, reasons they are attainable, and plans for reaching them. The plan also may contain background information about your organization or team striving to reach those goals.
6. Do the research.
Research is vital when you a writing a business plan. “When you’re starting a business, you need to become an expert on your industry, products and services,” opined Shephard. ‘”Networking is essential and you can start by joining related industry or professional associations.”
7. Let the professionals help.
When starting a business, you don’t have to be an expert on everything. This is something Shephard learned very early on. “If you’re not an accountant or bookkeeper, hire one. But you may need both. If you need to write up a contract, and you’re not a lawyer, hire one,” advised Shephard, who believes small business start-ups may waste more time and possibly money attempting to do things they are not qualified to do.
8. Secure the necessary funding
Most small business owners saved their own personal money to get started. There are others who secured funding by approaching potential investors and lenders. Shepherd advises that you create a financial contingency plan. “Don’t expect to start a business and then walk into a bank and get money” said Shepherd. Traditional lenders don’t like new ideas and don’t usually fund businesses without proven track records.” The option: look for creative ways to raise money, family, friends or corporate investors. On the more creative end of the spectrum, consider options like crowdfunding.
9. Be a professional from the outset.
Professionalism is key, explained Shepherd. “Everything about you and the way you do business needs to let others know you are a professional running a serious business. That means getting all the accoutrements such as professional business cards, a business phone and a business email address, and treating people in a professional, courteous manner.”
10. Secure necessary legal and tax advice
Most business owners attempt to cut costs at the outset. But should not skimp on necessary legal and tax advice. Shepherd believes it is too costly to correct blunders later. “At the outset, learn what your legal and tax responsibilities are before you start your business and operate accordingly” offered Shepherd.
The insightful tips Shepherd offers on starting a business will allow budding entrepreneurs to get their ventures off the ground with a smoother and less stressful lift off. What experience has taught him is that a carefully charted course will ensure that any businesses they start will endure and prosper.