A Place for Portland Entrepreneurs to get HELP!

Crowd-sourced solutions to your most pressing problems, in one handy place!

We’re Baking an Epic FAQ List

As we gather, the following FAQ list will bake into a tasty resource for business owners at every stage! Bookmark this page, check back often… or better yet, let us remind you of updates by signing up for our email newsletter (form at the bottom-right of this page).

Idea Stage (1)

I’m make delicious desserts, but how do I turn that into a business?

There are no shortage of places to find delicious foods in Portland.

Thankfully there are also a ton of resources to help you get started.

Coming to (CAKE) Entretherapy is a good start. Unfortunately we meet once per month and you need to grow your business quicker than that.

To continue your business education, look into Mercy Corps NW. They have excellent (and affordable) first time entrepreneur classes that will help you focus on what’s important.

Also check out the MicroMentor volunteer program where experienced business pros guide you along an efficient path to producing a profit. Oh yeah, it’s free!

Finally, if you’re looking to get your confections into stores, coffee shops, etc. you’ll need to partner with a commercial kitchen. In most cases, you can’t easily turn your kitchen into a commercial kitchen.

To learn speciic details on starting a food business, you might want to sign up for a seminar at Oregon State’s Food Innovation Center.

Marketing (3)

How can I get more press exposure?

Having other people talk about you is an amazing thing and the goal of most every business. When the person who talks about you is an influencer or media source, it can be like hitting the mini lottery.

One of the most important things that can help boost your exposure is to have a story worth talking about. If you perform a standard service in a standard way, it will be hard to find something that is buzz worthy to talk about.

Leverage something in your business that is unique.

The more you can create and write for the journalists the better. Make their job easy and they’ll love you. Especially when a lot of them have deadlines and are always looking for a story to break.

To find these people, look into similar stories that were written about your competitors or on topics in your industry. Usually authors like to write about a limited number of topics. When the writers are niche, they’re audience is carefully targeted and it will increase the odds of your story getting published.

Become an expert in finding out a writers contact information.

Approach them in a quick manner and put forward your best story.

I provide a variety of services, how do I pitch them all?

Being a service provider that “can do it all” is a dangerous place to be in.

Early in freelancer careers, they try to fill the bank account by taking on whatever work crosses their path. They become a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Often, they don’t attract the big clients because bigger clients hire focused services. If your message is scattered, they’ll assume you’re scattered.

For example:
If you’re a marketing expert, you’re really an expert in a few things and can sufficiently perform in other marketing areas.

What you should do is find the niches that you’re an expert in and exploit those. Then up-sell your clients on the added services that you can do. However, trying to pitch everything doesn’t make for a clear message.

When you try to please everyone, you please no one.

On the flipside, you could run many different ads all advertising a single service. This option might prove useful to see what really gets responses from the public and what you should really be focusing on.

I’m a Freelancer that Sucks at Marketing… HELP!

Read this book:

EVEN IF YOU HATE SALES & MARKETING, you’ll benefit from this book.

Read through it to get an overview of the lessons you’re about to learn. Then go back through the book reading each section and filling out the corresponding exercise.

Don’t skip over anything. A lot of freelancers just want to exhibit their skill and forget that really they are a business. This book will help overcome that.

Staying Lean (1)

I’m a bootstrapping solopreneur who needs to delegate out some tasks that eat away my time, but can’t afford to pay employees. What are my options?

Even people who set out to work for themselves and not build a huge team need help to get all of the pieces of running a business operating smoothly. If you can’t afford to hire… or don’t want to hire, here are some suggestions:

  • Find software that will automate or streamline the parts of the business that you don’t like. If accounting baffles you, get Quickbooks or some other accounting software. It will be easier come tax season to hand over organized files to a professional. Also project management software should be a consideration. If you find yourself doing the same task over and over again, then it’s time to put it into a list that you can easily follow. When you create a checklist for common tasks, it frees up your thinking power to do more difficult things. Decision fatigue is a real thing.
  • Find the thing that you don’t like to do and outsource it at the first opportunity. In most cases you can hire an accountant for just a few hours a month to handle the finances. Remember that you don’t have to bring on people full time. There are a lot of freelancers out there willing to pick up piece work.
  • Find people willing to trade services or goods with you. It’s a great way to get stuff done, without coughing up cash. Just remember that you still have to pay taxes on barter.
  • It also never hurts to take time and focus on growing your business. Bootstrapping is smart for starting a business, but for running things long term, cutting it too tight can cause unnecessary stress.

Finding Customers (6)

I am a niche service provider in a specific industry. How can I find customers when I narrow my focus?

The flaw of a lot of service providers is that they feel in order to build their business, they have to offer more services. It’s better to be an expert in one area than a dabbler in many different areas. With that said, here are a few things you can do:

  • Go to specific trade shows in that industry.
  • Partner with complementary service providers that are already serving that industry.
  • Ask for referrals. The people who operate in an industry usually mingle with one another. Perhaps a connection can be made from a current client to a friend in a non-competing business.

How do I get my first few customers?

First you have to determine who “they” are.

If your answer is “everyone is my customer” you’re doomed to fail.

Start with your family and friends who fit the mold and see if they would buy what you’re selling. Your grandma doesn’t count as a sale, she’ll buy anything you’re selling.

Take the opportunity for ever “No” you hear to learn about why they wouldn’t buy. This early validation can help you perfect your sales pitch and offerings to better capture sales when you head out into the real world.

Don’t try to go after the big accounts first. Especially if sales are your strong point. Tackle the smaller accounts where the dollar amount of order aren’t high. Build momentum like a snowball. The more you talk about your product/service, they easier it will become, the more confident you’ll be, and the more sales you’ll snag.

Also try passive methods like Craigslist. Just remember the best way to get customers is to get out into the real world.

My sales process is long and sample/demos cost me a lot of money. How can I find customers who are serious to pay quicker?

When you’re dealing with large contracts, sometimes this is a necessary cost of doing business.

However if you find that people are just using you for a demo and then moving on, it may be time to examine your sales process. If you’re a web-based service or software, here is a thought on getting more people to become paying customers.

Stop customizing the demos to provide them a fully working model. It’s understandable that large contracts often times require a custom demo tailored to that user’s specific needs. One option would be to cut the customization completely. If you value your teams time, so will your potential customer. Start with a very robust demo and charge the bare minimum to customize to their needs. If you find that every customer is asking for the same things, start integrating that feature into your demo.

Consider going the Freemium model. This is basically a more open idea to the suggestion above. Have a version of your software available for anyone to use. Limit it and charge for add-ons. The idea is to get people using your product and when they realize that they need more to keep going, they’ll pay for it. Also more people using your software helps generate buzz.

I’m just starting out and my current clients aren’t paying. How can I convert them to paying customers?

Ask for the money.

Pick a number that you find is the value of the work that you perform and just ask.

Most people when receiving free work aren’t going to ask, “Hey… when are you going to start charging me?” They’ll ride that free train all the way home if you let them.

How much money have you saved them… or better yet, how much money have your earned for them?

When you can site results of your work and price yourself as a value compared to those results, it should be an easy ask. If they say no, they it’s not like you’re losing out on any revenue as they weren’t paying you in the first place.

If they are your friends, they should understand that you need to make a living.

I’m trying to get the word out about my business, but I’m not gaining traction with flyering.

Then stop flyering. There are flyers everywhere!

You can’t stand out by blending yourself into a crowded community board / telephone poll.

Even if you use neon pink paper.

Real business is done through connecting with people who have a problem that you can solve.
To start with people, you have to go where the people are and talk to them. Look up meetup groups centralized around your idea, or start one of your own.

Become a hub in your community and authority on your industry.

Eventually after connecting with enough people, they’ll start introducing their connections to you. It may take longer than flyering, but the relationships you build will last longer than a piece of paper in the rain.

I’m a Freelancer that Sucks at Marketing… HELP!

Read this book:

EVEN IF YOU HATE SALES & MARKETING, you’ll benefit from this book.

Read through it to get an overview of the lessons you’re about to learn. Then go back through the book reading each section and filling out the corresponding exercise.

Don’t skip over anything. A lot of freelancers just want to exhibit their skill and forget that really they are a business. This book will help overcome that.

Hiring (2)

I’m building an app with no funding or revenue. How can I get people to join my team?

This seems to be a classic scenario when starting up a tech company. Even if you’re a developer, in a lot of cases, you’ll need a team to help you sort through code. If you’re not a coder by any definition of the word, you’re starting from even further back in the race. However the good news is, it has been done. Here are a couple of good places to start:

  • Pitch your idea to Startup Weekend. They will help you validate that you even have a good idea before you begin investing in development. PLUS Startup Weekend is a hotbed of hackers and hustlers. Who knows… in 54 hours, you might have a good portion already started.
  • A lot of the time you can manually perform the services of the web app and charge money. This method isn’t viable for phone apps, but for web apps has proven effective. Some call it the concierge method, others call it the “Wizard of Oz” prototyping method. Act as if you’re live and do the work by hand. You’ll be collecting money which can help cover some developer costs.

How do you deal with a hard working employee who has an attitude problem?

We understand that even the best workers can have bad days. However when those days can carry over to weeks and months, it can take a toll on the rest of the team. Even the most hard working member of your team shouldn’t be expendable.

Sit down with the person and have an honest talk with them. If it is something affecting them in their personal life, offer them some time off to handle matters. If they can’t take time off, then they need to be mindful of their behavior.

Be clear of the path that they are on if they don’t change.

If it is a personality issue and can’t be corrected AND you really like the person. Give THEM a notice that their job is ending and that they need to find new work. Offer them a letter of recommendation detailing how hard they’ve worked for you.

If you think they’ll be hostile or poison the culture of your business, then a simple firing may be in order.

Legal (1)

We’re reopening a closed business and are wondering if we go partnership or LLC?

First off, whenever you’re dealing with taxes and the law, you should consult with someone who specializes in those areas like an attorney or accountant. They are the only ones who can give official advice.

The general census through other entrepreneurs is that an LLC is the way to go when deciding to form a business. A sole proprietor or partnership puts the burden of the businesses liability on to your personal life. Done right, an LLC can offer an additional layer of protection. Just make sure your LLC isn’t a direct income pass through to your bank account. The more you can separate yourself from the business the better. Again… there is so much to concern yourself with, seek a professional.

Growth Strategies (2)

I have a tendency to grow things faster than I can handle and they implode. How can I pace the growth of my business?

Having a fast growing business is a nice problem to have. However, if you’re concerned with growing faster than you and your team can handle, here are a couple of suggestions to keep the business rolling and not closing:

  • Don’t take the profits from the business and fuel them back into the company for marketing and/or revenue generating purposes. Take the excess cash and upgrade your facilities and equipment to be able to handle future growth. Then when you’re ready to scale back up, you can return to promoting the business.
  • If self control is the issue because you get excited about the growth of the company, find your capacity limit. Bring on an adviser or team member who can monitor your growth and let you know when you need to slow things down and shift focus. There is nothing wrong with seeking someone to assist with a little accountability.
  • If production is an issue, collect the money for the orders up front. Having a prefunded product will help be able to hire additional help when needed. Explore the possibility of partnering with a temp agency to help bring on short term help.
  • Think about raising your prices. If what you do is just overwhelmingly popular, take the opportunity to make some extra cash (and extra profits)! Think about those supply and demand graphs they showed you in school. You might have a case when the price point can be a little higher and people will still be willing to buy. Even if you drop a couple of customers, you may still have more revenue and then less work load.

I’m an artist and my income is inconsistent. I have a fairly large fan base, but how do I convert browsers into buyers?

In the age of social media, there is a fallacy that having a lot of fans or “LIKES” equals having lots of revenue. “Fans” are a vanity metric. It’s buyers that keep the business going. The good news is there are future buyers in those fans, it’s just a matter of finding out what they like and providing the content that will make them buy.

Take a step back and examine your current buyers.
What pieces did they buy?
How did they find out about you?

Take the opportunity to contact them and give them a quick and friendly customer interview. Do this by phone to earn bonus points. Can you imagine your favorite artist taking their time out of the day to call you? This could even strengthen their bond with you and encourage additional sales.

In all reality, it comes down to a numbers game. A percentage of your fans will become buyers. Keep growing your community and the revenue will continue to come in.

Organization (2)

We’re starting a 3 person company, how do we assign roles?

Forget the roles for now. Instead, focus on the tasks and duties that need to be done. If you choose roles, people may not look outside of their assigned box. Even worse, they may notice something that needs to be done and will pass it off to the person who is “responsible” to see it get done.

This can cause areas of the early business to get neglected.

Divide and Conquer!

What you should do is make a master list of everything that needs to get done and divide the duties to the people who are most qualified.

I can’t seem to get any work done from home and coffee shops are too loud. Where can I find an inexpensive office?

The obvious answer seems to be Craigslist. However, after a quick search, you’ll soon find the a lot of inexpensive places are really cheap dumps. Aside from having an workspace that’s quiet and not at home, you’ll want to find a professional space that offers conference rooms and other amenities that offices should have.

Having a professional place to meet clients gives you a competitive edge over the average coffee shop solopreneur.

We recommend to check out co-working spaces near where you live.

In Portland, there are quite a few popping up and the more popular co-working spaces that CAKE members suggest are:

NedSpace – Located in the heart of downtown, NedSpace offers 8,000 square feet that includes multiple meeting spaces, fast Internet, and an atmosphere that reflects a more traditional office environment (Disclosure: CAKE’s offices have been located in NedSpace for well over a year).

Hatch – Located on NE Sandy Blvd, Hatch provides a more open and collaborative environment with a strong population of social and environmental entrepreneurs.

ADX – If you’re a maker and need space that encourages sawing and drilling and other workshop activities, then stop searching and join ADX. Located in SE Industrial Portland, it’s easy to access from almost any direction.

If none of these move you, then hop on Pivot Desk and find an empty desk at one of Portland’s many office spaces.

Personal Development (2)

Is there really such a thing as work/life balance?

Running a small business can easily be a double-full time job.

Especially if you’re going at it alone.

When the lines between work and life starting blurring, you probably need to walk away for a bit. How long depends on you! Start with 2-3 hours during the middle of a day.

Walk away from everything work related and do something that brings you pleasure.

OH… this also means staying away from phones, or any screens for that matter.

The point is to remove any stimuli that can induce anxiety or thoughts about work.

If you want a biased suggestion, check out Float On!

Finally, how you plan out your day can determine if you feel overwhelmed with work quickly. Make sure that you don’t check email, messages, or anything for the first couple of hours after waking up. If you’re waking up right before you jump into work, that’s a whole other set of problems to be addressed later.

I’m starting to get burnt out…

There’s a difference in burnt out from trying hard with little results and burnt out from working so hard on a successful business. The latter is a good problem to have.

If you’re trying hard with no results, try something else. Either revisit your approach or even what you’re offering. There may not be a big enough market for your refrigerator magnet conglomerate. MAYBE… you haven’t told the public how you’re different and why people should go through you. That’s more likely the case if you’re in a field with a lot of competition.

If you’re burnt out from working hard on your successful biz, look into hiring. Either temps, PT, or even someone to replace you. If you’re wearing thin, you should be bringing in enough money to throw more people at the problem. If you’re not, you need to reevaluate your margins and pricing.

Whatever the reason, you shouldn’t be physically and emotionally drained by your business. It won’t be long before you’ll start resenting your business and wanting out.

Here are some tips to break free from the daily grind:

  • Take a mid-day nap
  • Exercise regularly
  • Start a non work related hobby
  • Try floating (shameless plug)
  • Find a way to split a long day into two shorter days
  • Note the times you’re most productive and save them for the hard stuff

Communications (2)

I’m having trouble communicating the technical side of my business to stakeholders.

The obvious answer is to find smaller words, use synonyms, or implement analogies to get your point across. However, this answer goes much deeper than that.

It all boils down to knowing your audience and why they’re interested in what you do.

Why are they interested in you? Speak in terms that convey how your technical feature relates to them. In other words, find ways to make it relatable and important to them.

Drop the buzzy, industry words that are commonly used to try show you’re an expert.

They’re called buzz words for a reason… To the non-industry professional, your words sound just like a bunch of buzzing.

Finally, refine your pitch. Be clear & concise when explaining what you do.

People can often process small pieces of technical gibberish, but when you bog them down with too much… “there’s that buzzing sound again.

Leave your explanation open to questions from them.
This way you’ll only share what’s important to them.

I can’t pitch without losing people in a sea of buzzwords

Buzz words are a very real and very common affliction.

When pitching, people want to convey they’re the experts.

In doing so, they fluff their words to show they know how people in the industry talk.

Unbeknownst to them, buzz words are rarely (if ever) used in a regular conversation.

Find a cynical person to point out when you’re using a buzz word. Make sure they do know the difference between a technical industry standard word (there is a difference).

OR… you can run your pitch through this resource:

The Marketing BS Detector