A Name and Two Big Hurdles

So, first off, I have a big, awesome announcement to make for this post: We officially have a name!! 

Ok, blog post #3 and I’m finally ready to start writing about what we’ve been doing!  Who’s excited?  This post will cover my activities from 2-14-11 through 3-4-11, three weeks.  I’ll start with all of the accomplishments I’ve made, and then talk about my to-do list last.

So, first off, I have a big, awesome announcement to make for this post: We officially have a name!!  Now, you already know what it is – Natril Gear – because I told you about it before I registered it (I guess that was a little risky, huh?).  Well, this week, I went to Indiana’s Secretary of State’s website and registered it! It was easy, cost just $11.22, and only took about 10 minutes from getting on the website to receiving an email saying the name was approved.  

So, without further ado, I am proud to officially introduce our new name: NATRIL GEAR! 

Natril (pronounced nah-trill, accent on “nah”) is a combination of our names (“nat” from Nathan, “ril” from April).  We like it because of the name thing, and also because it kind-of sounds like you’re saying “natural” when you pronounce it, which is cool because we’re going to sell things that encourage people to be outdoors and enjoy nature.  We also hope be an eco-friendly (aka “green”) company, so that works in well too.

In other news, I’ve been meeting with business counselors and other people around our new home city of Fort Wayne, IN for the past three weeks, learning to write a Business Plan, and looking for lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, and mentors.  I've been researching everything I can find about the cycling industry, I've been reading some good books about business and personal growth, and I’ve decided to start up this blog!

Here are some recommendations I have for new business owners so far based on what I've been doing:

  • Find out if you have a local S.C.O.R.E. chapter.  S.C.O.R.E (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a part of the Small Business Administration and gives unlimited free counseling to business owners!  Their website also has TONS of helpful links and example business documents for you to use.  
  • Make is a Business Plan.  You can see example plans here under “Template Gallery”.  Especially if you’re looking for investors, but even if you’re not (we’re not), a business plan is a great thing to do.  It helps you think through many parts of your business ahead of time, helping you to avoid being one of the 8 out of 10 businesses that fail within the first five years (statistic from the Department of Commerce). 
  • Check your local library to see if there is a business consultant or the like on staff.  There is at our library, and he is a great resource for getting recommendations of other local businesses to talk to and use when I have specific needs (ie: accounting, manufacturing, etc..).  He also knows a lot about business and can act as a counselor himself. 
  • Secure three important contacts from the beginning: an accountant, a lawyer, and an insurance agent.  I am working on all three of these right now, but don’t have any secured yet.
  • Make a spreadsheet to keep track of your tax deductible activities starting NOW!  No matter if you’re incorporated yet or not, if you’re doing things for your business, they can count as tax deductions.  This includes business related mileage and expenses (postage, meals, etc…).  In the past three weeks, I’ve already driven 140 miles on business-related trips.  At 51 cents a mile (2011 government mileage reimbursement rate), that’s already a $71 tax deduction!
  • Keep a list of all the contacts you make.  You might think you can remember them all in your head, or just search your email for “that one guy who does marketing”, but an actual contact list (mine’s in Excel) will help you most effectively manage and leverage your growing network.  Plus, for people like me, having a list just makes you feel better.  🙂
  • Write thank you notes after meetings!  Everyone likes a thank-you note, and it helps you stand out from the potentially long list of “other entrepreneurs” some of your business contacts might also know.  I got 20 thank-you cards and envelopes from Kroger for just $5.  Inexpensive, thoughtful, and a great boost to Natril Gear’s public relations!
  • Join business networking groups, get to know other small business owners, and sit down with them to ask them about tips, advice, and any questions you have.  I've had three meetings and have three more scheduled for next week.  
  • Read books.  We highly recommend getting your eyes on a copy of The E-Myth by Michael Gerber.  This is an excellent book for entrepreneurs who want to learn how to start their business up right.  It’s insightful AND enjoyable (impressive).

Those are all my tips and accomplishments for now.  Check our “Lists, Links, & Numbers” page in the “Starting Our Biz” section of our website for a complete list of helpful resources.  I’ll be updating it as I go.

As for our current hurdles…well, we have 2 big ones:  our product and our finances (told you they were big!).

Our initial product offering will be panniers (the bags on my bike in the picture below).  We made our own for our cross-country bike trip in 2010, but for various reasons, we can’t just turn around and sell ours just like they are.  We need to modify them in several ways, and really Nathan is the one who needs to do it.  He’s the engineer, he’s better at it than me, and he’s the one who designed ours in the first place.  BUT, Nathan’s at work full-time, and adjusting to that as well as continuing to get settled in here in Fort Wayne is taking pretty much all his time at the moment.  So, until he’s ready to spend time on the panniers, they’re just waiting.

After he makes the changes though, then we’ll need to: 1) make patterns for manufacturers, 2) copyright our patterns (because they will officially be “intellectual property" – cool!), 3) meet with manufacturers and negotiate a price/turnaround time/etc, and then 4) make them!

And that leads me to our second hurdle: our finances.  I have NO IDEA how to draw up a financial statement or forecast for our company right now.  Without knowing how we’re going to make our panniers, we don’t know how much the materials will cost per pannier.   Without talking to a manufacturer, we don’t know how much the manufacturer will charge per pannier.  And not having a finished product greatly hinders my ability to do research and determine the best price-point to sell our panniers at.  So generally, I don’t know how much money we need to start up the business, how much profit we can make per sale, or how to create an intelligent financial forecast (and that hinders my ability to plan for marketing expenses and everything else!)  Eek!

So, those are major hurdles, and will most likely continue to be so for another few weeks (bummer).

And now, to quickly go over my plans for the upcoming week, here are our to-do’s:

  1. Set up links/links/numbers page for “Starting our Biz” blog section & post helpful tips
  2. Buy website name and think of ways to design pages and create interactive content
  3. Keep meeting and interviewing business owners
  4. Write up job descriptions and other important agreements/ideas 
  5. Write thank-you letters to all I meet with 
  6. Review and highlight cycling research 
  7. Make list of good/innovative ideas we can incorporate into our pannier design
  8. Finish reading book Good To Great
  9. Nathan and I both fill out our business-partner survey and review results together (I’ll tell you about that next week)
  10. Review and update business plan with new information and research

So, there’s my past three weeks, my to-do list for next week, and the beginning of Natril Gear, in a nutshell.  I know it was long, and I don’t plan on all the posts being this long, fyi.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you were able to learn something new!

*****

And, I want to clarify one thing with you.  I’ve been saying that this is Nathan’s and my first business, but that’s only kind-of true.  Nathan owned and operated his own business just a few years ago.  It was a wedding photography business, and while it was an actual, legitimate business with customers, its own bank account, and a webpage, it was very small and stayed very small; just Nathan worked on it with my limited help.  We hope Natril Gear will eventually have a large customer base, we plan to travel with the company for promotions and events, and we plan to have employees someday when we grow.  So, I just want to set the record straight that YES, we’ve had a business before, but it was more of a “serious hobby” than a business with a vision for growth and a future.  Straight?  Straight.


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