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Starting a business is daunting. There are certainly quicker ways to go about it than this article will lay out, but if you have the time, resources and finances, this will be for you. If you’re on a shoestring budget, I’ll write up a much shorter version for you in another blog post.
There is so much to think about and so much to do.
It’s hard enough trying to figure out how to build and grow a business. The last thing you want to think about is figuring out how to put together an operating agreement or pick the right accounting system.
The good news is that all of the things that need to get done in order to start your business have been done a million times before. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel or waste time and brain power on figuring out what to do.
This article lists 20 things that you should do when starting a new business and I will walk you through each one of them step-by-step.
I cannot stress enough the value of building the foundation like you are going to grow this business from day one, bit by bit with the mindset of success. I understand that you are probably the only person in your business right now. You should operate as if you are an organization of people, not just yourself. This will save you an incredible amount of headache down the road, and also leave you room to try and fail in areas that you won’t want to fail when you do have a sizable organization, or at least have one or two others involved.
I’m going to assume you already have a business idea, and I’m not going to show you how to build or grow your business in this article. These are the practical steps necessary to begin operations.
Why are you doing this? There’s a method that I learned from my business coach, Mike Kim (mikekim.com) that asks three questions:
• What pisses you off?
• What breaks your heart?
• What big problem are you trying to solve?
I know the terminology is a little crude, but it’s that way for a purpose. Answering these questions will help you to discover what motivates you in starting this venture. Startups require an enormous amount of time, energy and sometimes money. If you can narrow down the thoughts and feelings you have to these three questions it’ll help you to keep moving forward when things get difficult (which will happen soon, I’m sure).
Answering these questions will reveal your new calling. It will give you clarity. Clarity comes with a combination of movement and meditation (again, Mike Kim).
Business is nothing more than solving a problem for a profit. So, what big problem are you trying to solve that both bothers you and dominates your thoughts day and night?
Put together a very high level and basic business plan. There are resources for even a one page business plan.
Don’t over think this. You just need to be able to answer two big questions:
• What do you need to do in order to get to profitability (your goals)?
• How are you going to pay for the things that you need to do in order to get to profitability?
If you think long and hard about these questions, you’ll end up with a good starting plan. Be realistic about what it’s going to take. Do your research, and know your numbers. Put it all to paper, and the business plan will evolve into a useful tool and be your true north for at least the first 6–12 months. I put together a scenario for a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B’ depending on how things actually go a few months out. With this global pandemic, I’m working on ‘Plan C’ with the eventual goal of getting to Plan A at some point down the road.
Coming up with a name can be harder than doing the business plan! Your name is…well…your name. It has to be good. It does not have to be perfect and it does not have to be a fancy, made up word like Google or Yahoo. But, you will be saying this name a lot and it will be your URL too (Website location name), most likely (Hint, don’t pick a domain name with dashes. I’ve done that a long time ago and it’s harder for people to remember and type out).
Generally speaking, here is what matters:
You have to be confident in the name. Honestly, this is probably all that really matters. It’s definitely the most important aspect of coming up with a name. If you don’t love it, then you can’t sell it. You’re going to be selling it 24/7/365 for a long time. At least that is the plan!
You need to pick something unique. The general rule of thumb is that when you search Google for the name there isn’t an established business or product that already has the same name, but, it’s not always possible to avoid that situation because if you want to have a name like ‘Charlie Baker’s Construction’ and there are a few out there already in other states, it may be possible to get Incorporated in your state under that name, or a close variation of it (CB Construction etc.).
Your name must be memorable, brandable and simple. You don’t want to make it harder than it already is to be found and known.
You should have the .com of your name. This is critical! It’s unbelievable how many people take this for granted and just completely disregard their domain name. If you want people to take your business seriously, make sure you have the .com.
A good process for coming up with a business name:
• Brainstorm words, concepts, ideas, beliefs, descriptors, etc.
• Brainstorm names based off your initial brainstorm in step 1.
Check the names in Google. Delete any options that are already a known business — especially not one in your space. There have been a few times where I recommended putting ‘goto’ in front of the domain name in front of the name they couldn’t get.
Can’t get ‘thezoo.com’? I got them ‘gotothezoo.com’. (this was many years ago, don’t bother going to this domain name now)
Can’t get ‘synergyfitness.com’? I got them ‘gotosynergyfitness.com’ (still up and running today)
There was a credit union that couldn’t get cu.com, or creditunion.com. I got them ‘gotocu.com’ (again, many years ago and they aren’t in existence anymore.
Can’t get ‘regalcleaners.com’? I got them ‘gotoregalcleaners.com’ (still in existence)
A lot of people (including myself) like the personal brand concept calling the business after my name. After all, when people talk about you and what you do they’re going to use your name anyway. Now I have an official corporate name of NET Essentials Inc, but the domain name is tomclairmont.com. I want people to remember my name and this will help.
Make sure the domain name can be acquired. Just because you do a Google search and nothing comes up doesn’t mean it’s not already registered. There have been a lot of times where I was searching for a particular domain name and nothing came up when I typed it in, but when you do an official domain registry search, I found that it actually is registered to someone, but a website was not developed for it yet.
MORE TIPS FOR COMING UP WITH A NAME
Imagine your name with a logo on a big sign in your future office space.
Imagine your name on a T-shirt. Say your name out loud. “Hi, I’m __________.” How does it feel? Do you like how it sounds?
Bounce your options around and talk to people about it. Spend some time thinking about it and let it sit for a while. Do you continue to come back to the same name?
Again, do not take this lightly! Again, I recommend BlueHost for domain and hosting solutions. Here is the link: http://www.bluehost.com
Depending on your business, you might say the URL (website name) as much or as often as you say the actual name of your business.
It’s tough enough to find a good name where buying the .com is possible. Chances are, you won’t get exact match social media handles as well. Do everything you can to get them, but if that fails — get creative. Your social media handles are much less important than your website, but they’re still worth putting effort into. Sometimes, because of limited availability, I had to use the corporate name, and sometimes I had to use my personal name. For my situation, that’s ok because I’m using a personal brand. Whatever works for you is best.
You can choose how much effort to put into your social media right off the bat — you can simply get the name and hold them, you can populate them with a few images and pieces of information, or you can go all out. That’s up to you. For now, I just want you to make sure you have the handles.
It’s nice to have a logo, colors, fonts and a general look and feel to go along with your name. You can always update your brand identity down the road, so the initial run just needs to be good enough. You may find over time, that the logo changes a bit here and there and that’s ok. If big corporations do it, so can I. So far, I’ve had 3 different logos for my business over the past 15 years. If you need help with this, let me know.
A Google account will be helpful and could be an important tool for your business. Some people do almost everything using Google Docs/Sheets/Drive etc.
Your website can be a very big project depending on your business. In some cases your website could be the business. That’s why the focus here is simply on a basic, foundational website. Start with WordPress so that you’ll be able to build on it and add the features you need a lot easier. It’s free and easy to install. Then, get a free template (I recommend Phlox). After that, you’ll need a page editor (I recommend Elementor). It’s good to have a one to three page site live with information about your company. Then you can build further from there. From there, you’ll need specific plugins and widgets to add in Website functionality.
You can be up and running in the matter of minutes with some help (if you need it). Once you’re ready to do a full feature website, it’s easy to build on the WordPress foundation. To give you a better understanding of how it all works together, in terms of having a house:
• WordPress is the shell of the house.
• The template for WordPress (Phlox) are the walls of the house.
• The page editor (Elementor) is the home designer for the house.
• The plugins (Wordfence, WPmail etc.) are the furniture
• The widgets are the appliances
This is a bit goofy, but I think the description works…somehow.
More to come on that topic in other blogs. If you need help with the Website send me an email at [email protected] and we’ll discuss your specific needs.
9. Get some business cards
If you decide you need some help with this, I can create a Brand Identity Package for you. Again, just send me an email if you need help with this.
This might seem like an antiquated idea to you, but believe me. Once you start your business, you’ll be talking about it and every person you talk to should be handed a card with your information on it.
Now, get your business legally squared away.
This one is easy to put on the back burner. You’ll save yourself a lot of hassle and potentially save your business altogether by getting ahead here. Line up the legal and tax pros ahead of time. There are lots of great options and your accountant and attorney can both be remote.
You can use your attorney for this, or you can use an online legal service. Setting up an LLC is simple, so it’s a good spot to save some money by using a service like Legal Zoom.
Getting your Employer Identification Number is something you can take care of along with the LLC. They typically go hand-in-hand. You’ll need that to do just about everything, including business banking.
Pretty straight forward. You’ll need that EIN. It’s typically most convenient to go with the same bank you’re already using for your personal accounts.
One thing to watch out for is the up selling that many of the bigger banks do. For example, with Bank of America, they offer Intuit Payroll. This could be costly. There are other, cheaper options out there.
The point here is to use your business bank account for the business and not your personal bank account.
A QuickBooks account is essential from day one. This is how you’ll manage your books and ensure you always have good records. Going back and importing historical data isn’t fun. The sooner you get it set up the better.
Put a basic accounting system in place. The best bet here is to work closely with your accountant. A good approach is to ask your accountant what you need to be doing throughout the year to make things easier when tax season comes and to make sure all quarterly obligations are met.
QuickBooks does all of the heavy lifting, but there are still things you’ll need to stay on top of.
The biggest thing here is to get in the habit of tracking all of your work. Even if you are the only person in your company, you should operate like an organization because someday you will have no choice. The other benefit besides creating good habits is the historical information and data that will come from working like this starting day one.
It’s very valuable for new people to come into your organization and be able to look back at what work has been done in the past. It’s context that will help them (and your business) be successful going forward.
It doesn’t matter what tool you use. You’ll likely change it a bunch of times anyway.
Just as you should use a project management tool from the very early stages, it’s extremely valuable to start documenting everything right away. I have a spreadsheet with about 20 tabs that deal with a lot of the different topics that I was running into. This helped me to consolidate a lot of things all in one document.
If you ever want to scale your startup, you’ll need your brain to scale too. Your internal wiki is like your brain. Giving your future team instant access to your brain is huge. If you already have a disciplined approach to documenting things in the wiki, your team will follow suit.
A lot of people love Slack. It just works. Mobile communication is key. There is a Free plan that’s a good place to start. It’s about $7 per user per month for the next plan up, which grants you controls like guest access to different channels, and more storage and app connections.
Many businesses will need to do conference calling at one point or another, and GoToMeeting makes that easy. Instantly join, host or manage a video, audio or web meeting from a conference room, your desk or a remote location via your Mac, PC or mobile device. Visit GoToMeeting to signup and get started in just minutes.
This is easy but often overlooked. 1Password is great for keeping track of your subscription logins. You still need some way to quickly see everything you have and what you are paying for, especially as you grow and have more people using and signing up for different tools and subscriptions.
A simple spreadsheet is all you need. Track the subscription, cost per month or year, terms (if any), payment method (what account or card is it tied to?), and renewal date.
Now, plan your goals for your first year in business.
Like your business plan, your strategic plan doesn’t need to be complicated. Come up with one big goal for the next 12 months. Determine what you need to do in order to reach your goal. What projects or activities will you need to perform? Figure out what metrics or parameters you can use to monitor progress. Put in place a system for tracking them. Review and challenge monthly. Make any necessary adjustments.
Even in a one-person shop, taking the time to do this will force strategic thinking and purposeful action. It will help you avoid being reactive and randomly doing whatever comes your way.
It becomes even more important when you have a team that needs to know what direction to march. They will need that context in order to do their jobs.
This is optional, but for some people, it may be a good idea to keep the personal phone number private. I recommend Kall8 (https://www.kall8.com/) for this because you can get a wide selection of numbers to choose from. It costs $5 for the setup, and $5 monthly, plus a small fee (cents) per minute based on the account you have. There are a number of very helpful options included like voicemail, fax, conferencing, forwarding, and more.
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