If there’s one thing about me, it’s that I’ve always had a creative & entrepreneurial spirit. The problem? Until 2020, I had no idea how to start.
You can Google “how to start a business”, but if you do, you’ll find tons of unhelpful results. You can also ask people who are running successful ones and they’ll often just say something like “just work really hard and find people who need you”. *Eyeroll*, okay.
When Broadway shut down for Covid and the restaurant I worked at closed, I accidentally stumbled on the “how” I had been searching for. And I remember thinking, “I wish someone had just written this down! I could have gotten so much farther by now!”
They say to be the change you want to see in the world—so, without further ado, here is my EXACT step-by-step guide to *actually starting* a service-based business.
Buckle up, bestie.
Step One: Find a “Thing”
Here’s the catch, though—you don’t even have to know if you’re good at it.
Kleist Creative did not start as a web design studio. It started as me, holed up in my bedroom in April 2020, re-doing my resumé. (Remember when we thought the pandemic was only going to last a few months? Lmao.)
I weirdly had such an enjoyable time re-doing my resumé—creative ideas were flowing, and for the first time in my life, I found it easy to brag about myself. (Something just clicked, I guess.)
I was so proud of it that I put a screenshot of it up on my Close Friends instagram story and said something along the lines of “Just re-did my resumé and am actually so proud of it. Anyone else want free help?”
I got like 5 DM’s from people being like “Wait… actually, yes.”
Step One: How to Start a Service Based Business
Pick something. Anything. If possible, do it for yourself first. And if you enjoyed the process, find 5 people for whom you can do it for free.
Feeling stuck on all the things you can do? There are *so many*. Here’s a few:
Social Media Management
Party Planning / Event Production
Home Cleaning / Organization
… the list truly goes on and on.
Step Two: Get Testimonials
Within a week or two, I’d helped 5-ish friends with their resumés in the same way I had written mine. They loved the work we did together and showed their friends (and some even posted on social)—so I was like “Wait! I should get testimonials!”
So, I texted my friends and said something along the lines of “Hey! Would you be comfortable writing a testimonial for me? If not, no problem, but I’d really appreciate it!”
Every single one of them said yes.
[Tip: It all worked out regardless, but honestly, if I could go back and re-do this part, I would make sure that testimonials were part of the trade originally. Looking back, the least they could do was write a testimonial after all the hours of work I had put in for them.]
Step Two: How to Start a Service Based Business
Arrange a trade; your service in exchange for a testimonial. Gather them in one place so that they don’t get lost or forgotten about in email — I like using Notion to organize stuff like this!
Step Three: Make a Simple Website Page
Within a couple of weeks of my friends telling their friends, I had more people & strangers sliding into my DM’s, asking me sooooo many questions about the service, how much I charge, etc.
(And remember—if I hadn’t experimented on my friend’s resumés on a whim for free, I would have never in a million years realized that this was something I was good at, much less thought to charge for it!!!)
It was too many people at once, and too many questions. So I decided to make a quick page on my website for it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking—Sarah, you’re literally a designer. I’m sure that website looked dope.
I promise on my life, it did not look dope. It was actually ugly AF.
But the more important part was that it had all the information on it. I didn’t have to answer a million questions in the DMs. And it was sharable.
Here was the page format:
- An intro acknowledging how they might be feeling icky or unsure about their resumé and how I am the answer to their problem
- A quick list of the kinds of resumés I do
- Very vague timeline of how it all goes down
- Rotating testimonials
- Pricing, which I changed from free to pay-what-you-can
- A final section being like “contact me” with a button that led to my email.
(If you want your webpage to be even better than mine was, read this blog post I wrote about effective service pages and how to write one.)
Step Three: How to Start a Service Based Business
Get a basic AF webpage on the internet that lists out all the details, including a way to contact you.
Step Four: Raise Your Price from Free to Cheap
I shared my webpage on Facebook and Instagram, and because I was offering pay-what-you-can, within 24 hours I had booked out all the slots I had set aside for the month.
A note: You don’t have to do pay-what-you-can. You can put an actual price there. Since resumés only took me 2-4 hours a pop, I was willing to offer it for cheap cheap cheap just to build my credibility amongst my community. But for something larger like web design, I could have never offered it for that low. It depends on what you’re doing. Figure out how to be affordable and generous at this stage, but still be smart about your time.
And get testimonials from everyone you possibly can!
[Hot tip: Something I wish I had done during this stage was see how much other people charge for the same service. I learned this lesson the hard way later on when I started doing website design. I was charging $400, while most people in the design space were charging at minimum $2,500 (and up to $15,000+). But since you are just starting out, you’ll likely want to be cheaper than your eventual competitors.]
Step Four: How to Start a Service Based Business
Entice people with your offer by pricing it cheap. You’ll get more clients, work through the kinks of your processes, learn who you do and don’t love to work with, and make a little money while you’re at it.
Step Five: Incrementally Raise Your Prices
From here, you’ll want to raise your prices as you see fit. (This is the hardest part.) For some context: when I eventually pivoted to web design, I raised my prices by 900% in a singular year. I also wrote a whole blog post about my pricing journey, you can read it here.
With each price increase, you’ll gain confidence and clarity. Just… trust me on this one.
Step Five: How to Start a Service Based Business
You’ve got a business now, so raise those prices bb!
Some Things to Consider
One thing: part of the reason I was able to scale my business from the ground up was because I had a large network. And now you might be going “ughhhHHHH but Sarah, I am an introvert and hate talking to people”. Same, bestie. Read this book and *actually* implement the practices. This is quite literally how I got to know more people. It’ll change your life. It changed mine.
Another thing: You might find that you actually don’t like your business after all. It happened to me. Four or five months into my resumé hustle, I had written nearly 80 resumés and was so burnt out. I was also feeling extremely limited; I had so many creative ideas for ways people could brag about themselves, which is the part I truly loved, but I knew hiring managers would never go for it. So, I pivoted to web design instead—a place where I could do whatever I wanted design-wise, while still helping folks brag— and started over from step 1. (However, I got to skip the pay-what-you-can-part, because I had already built a reputation that people trusted. That’s the whole tea!!!!)
Now, Go Forth
Start a freaking business, bestie! Go go go go!
Hey, I'm Sarah Kleist.
Brand builder, website designer, and performing artist on a mission to help creatives and business owners step into their digital spotlight.
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