I always get asked the question – what do I really need to start my small business? To get started, focus on the basics. The key is to generate revenue as quickly as possible. You can add all the bells and whistles as the company grows. If you think you’re ready to become your own boss, here are the basics of what you’ll need to do to launch, find your first customers and start building a business:
1) A logo: When presenting yourself to customers, make sure your brand is strong. That starts with a professionally designed logo. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The brand doesn’t replace delivering value for the customer but it can help get your foot in the door. If you’re on a tight budget, use a service like fivrr to find a designer that fits your budget.
2) Business Cards: This might sound obvious, but I see a lot of newbie business owners with no business cards or worse, free business cards that are branded with fact they were free on the back. Have a designer layout a business card for you after you get a great logo. Be sure to include your email, website and phone number on your business cards. Make it easy for the customer to reach you. Uprint.com is a great service for quality business cards. Don’t walk into a networking event without them.
3) Website: Your website is your welcome mat and should accomplish a few things. First, is capturing the customer information or email address, second is clearly communicating how you can solve their problem or need and last is make an offer for them to purchase from you. If your website does not do these three things, it’s failing you. Make the necessary changes, roll out the welcome mat and invite potential customers in. When hiring a vendor to build your site, purchase your own URL and hosting package, so you always have control over your website.
4) Create a PPT Brochure: If you’re going to pitch to clients or referral sources, you want to be prepared. Get ready for the meeting by putting together a 5-8 page presentation that describes your company. Include a list of current customers, testimonials and a description of the products or services that you offer. I like using a slide show format because it supports creating something that’s visually interesting. Make sure that the presentation is not about you, but how your business can help.
5) Contract Template: You need your own contract. Ask a mentor for a copy of one of their contracts. Put together a template and have a small business lawyer review it so that your interests are covered. Too many small businesses make the mistake of not having their “business” in order. Don’t avoid the tough conversations. Make sure that you have a written agreement that details the terms including the scope of the work, timeline and payment.
6) Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN): One thing that is consistently true about being a business owner is that you don’t want to mess with Uncle Sam. Make your business official by registering for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS website. It’s a really quick process of answering a few questions and you get the number the same day. After you have an EIN, look into the requirements for your state to register as an S-corporation or LLC.
7) Open Business Bank account: You need an EIN number to open a business bank account. The funds that you make from the business should be exclusively used for that. Do not use the same bank or account as your personal bank. Comingling funds is a quick way to lose your legal protections as a company which separates your personal assets from any business liabilities.
8) Buy Accounting Software: One of the first things that you should put in place is accounting software to track expense and income. I like Quickbooks or Freshbooks as an option because it allows you to also take online payments. Look for a service that has additional features like connecting with your bank accounts, tracking inventory and linking with your website if you have online orders.
9) Protect Your Computer: Purchase a new computer, if you don’t, at least have a good laptop. Your entire business might be maintained on your laptop. Protect your data by backing up regularly to cloud-based system such as Dropbox. It’s also a great service because you can access your files anywhere and work anywhere. Be sure to purchase a three year crash and burn warranty.
10) Set up your Shipping Options: If you have a product based business start investigating your shipping options. Cover all your bases and be sure to see if any association you belong to qualifies you for discounted shipping with FedEx, UPS and USPS click and ship account. Don’t want to wait until you have orders to start figuring these out. When calling the companies, find out who is going to offer the best value for your money. Ask for volume discounts, shipping materials and if they will pick up deliveries from your office.
What other steps have you taken to start your small business?