“I work so many hours tattooing, that trying to keep up with payroll, workers' comp, taxes, etc. became overwhelming. So I let PrimePay handle those aspects of the business, so I can focus on my customers.”
Thomas Tunaitis
Owner, Agaru Tattoo & Body Piercing

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Some of us are still trying to figure out that answer years and years into our career.

Thomas Tunaitis loved to draw as a kid. His family determined his options back then would be to draw comic books or to work for Disney. But when costs associated with art school or college came into play, joining the service felt like the best plan. When stationed in South Carolina, Tunaitis received some requests to draw specific tattoo ideas and artwork.

“That’s how I got my foot in the door with tattooing. When I would see guys come back with art that I had drawn, actually tattooed on their body – it was mind blowing. So when I got home and out of the service entirely, I sought an apprenticeship and that was basically all she wrote,” said Tunaitis.

Now, Tunaitis owns and operates a successful tattoo shop with two locations, called Agaru Tattoo, in Wilmington, Delaware. Like many entrepreneurs, big dreams come with big price tags. From the stress of not quite knowing what you’re doing to the unexpected overhead you’ll encounter, Tunaitis’ advice is as real as it gets.

Here are some things to know throughout your journey as a small business owner:

1. Solidify a business plan.

Having a solid business plan is the most basic principle on which to build your business on. But it’s often an overlooked or misrepresented step.

What is a business plan?

According to Investopedia, a business plan is a written document that explains your business idea, why the market needs it, how it will succeed and who will make it happen. It’s necessary to have one because it forces you to examine your business idea from the perspective of a potential lender…not just your naïve enthusiasm.

For Tunaitis, he actually solidified his business plan by learning from mistakes.

“In a weird way I got really lucky with the guy who apprenticed me. I learned probably more about what not to do in business than what to do,” said Tunaitis.  

For some entrepreneurs, they’ll overestimate how much they are going to earn and underestimate their expenses and that ultimately leads to a failed plan. Getting over those shock factors is a step in the right direction though.  

Here’s his takeaway when it comes to crafting a plan for yourself: “The number one piece of advice I would give to aspiring business owners would be to formulate as solid of a business plan as you possibly can. Include your expenses, your costs, what you feel your income’s going to be, and then subtract 20 percent from whatever you think you’re going to make. Then, double all of what you think your costs are going to be, and if it still seems like it’s a good idea, that would probably be the way to go.”

Well said.

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2. Advertise your small business – carefully.

The advertising space for small businesses has become quite an arms race now. It’s necessary. It’s competitive. It’s expensive.

As Tunaitis puts it: “Yelp has cut into a lot of pay-to-play advertising and some of the other places, so it’s kind of difficult and a little overwhelming to figure out where you’re going to put your money, especially because it’s tougher and tougher to run a small business nowadays. You just have to keep your eyes open. If you see a big trend, you can try to follow it, but for the most part, you just have to go week to week to see what’s working and what’s not.”

Not every platform and every new trend is going to work for your company and your niche, so don’t get frustrated if something isn’t working. Test and test again to figure out what’s going to really provide the best value for your company. If you have the budget for it, outsourcing your social media and advertising strategy is always a good option as well. The bottom line is, in this day and age, if you want business, you’ve got to put a significant amount of energy in making yourself seen.

3. Treat your staff well.

Treat your staff well. What a basic concept, right? Then why is it that small business owners overlook the importance of it?

In the tattoo industry, Tunaitis explained a reason for oversaturation in the market is because oftentimes, shop owners don’t treat their employees very well. So after a couple years of having to come up with their own supply costs, getting their own type of insurance, etc., fed-up artists break off and open their own shop.

“I’ve found that the more opportunities I give my staff and the better I treat them, the more they want to stay,” said Tunaitis.

There are plenty of ways to treat your staff the way they deserve to be treated…even on a small business budget. Things like asking for their input on certain projects and ideas and providing genuine feedback are intangible motivators that prove your vested interest in your employees. A little goes a long way.

4. Break barriers.

Tunaitis explained that there’s this antiquated stigma around opening a tattoo shop and the crowd that it will attract. Mix that with state regulations, government stipulations, and real estate expenses –  and the fact that Tunaitis was able to open a second successful location for his shop is a true feat in itself.

“Real estate is actually getting harder and harder, more and more expensive to try to rent. So, if you could find a place that’s not literally a few thousand dollars a month for a small location, you’re really lucky at this point,” said Tunaitis.

Fact: You’re always going to encounter barriers no matter what stage you’re at in your business journey. But your ability to overcome and the attitude you have about it is what will carry you to your path to success.

5. All businesses are somewhat equal when it comes to compliance.

Just because you have five employees (not 500) doesn’t mean that you can slide under the radar when it comes to state, local or federal regulations. Take labor law posters for example.

“We’ve gotten calls from poster law services where you have to have public postings for any of your employees. They have to know what their rights are as far as employees go. We still pay the same thing for those posters as somebody who owns a McDonald’s would, and they’re really expensive. I guess that’s how the game is played, but it’s frustrating especially when that cuts into what your overhead is and what your profit margin is going to be,” he explained.

How can you get help with these regulations? *Insert shameless plug.*

You pair up with a payroll company that can help you out and take a lot of the burden off your plate!

“The customer service at PrimePay is great and they make the entire process really easy for me. I first signed up for just payroll, but once we got a little bigger, it became a one-stop shop with things like 401(k) administration, holiday deductions, taxes – they do everything for me,” explained Tunaitis.