Starting up your startup: Tools and tips before you launch
You had a great idea, you took the leap, and now you’re ready to start your own business. The prospect of starting a business from scratch can be both exciting and overwhelming. Take a deep breath, get organized, and relax –there are lots of great tools out there that will make the process easier. This blog will cover key info you need to know, and actions you’ll need to take when starting your own business.
First things first. You’ve got to register a domain and build your website. This is extremely important to do early on because the whole process can take far longer than expected, and will impact many other steps in the process.
Picking a Domain Name and Registering It
I wish I could tell you that selecting a domain name (your web address) is super easy. If it is for you, congratulations – in a world where there is an active market in buying and selling domain names, you are one of the lucky few to find an unclaimed domain name. Unfortunately, it’s more likely that your first choice is taken. Somewhere in Silicon Valley, someone has created a drinking game out of coming up with nonsense gobbledygook words and seeing if the domain name is taken. For the record, nonsensewords.com and gobbledygook.com are taken.
Once you’ve decided on a domain name, you will need to register it.There are a variety of sites that you can use to register your domain name. Go Daddy and Register.com are two of the big ones.
Eventually, whether through innovation or accommodation, you will find and secure a domain name. This brings us to step two: Building the website.
Building Your Website
Creating and developing a website, often takes one of two routes: retaining professional web developers to create a custom designed site, or using one of the many template-based website services available today. The benefit of a professionally designed site is that it is highly customizable. It is, however, far more expensive. The template-based web creation sites like Squarespace and WordPress have more constraints but for those that do not need unique features and capabilities these sites can be a quality and cost-effective alternative.
When deciding on how you will build your website, you should consider how your needs will change over time. For example, you might want to roll out your service quickly using a template-based website service and, as your business matures (and your revenues grow), roll out a customized site that offers enhanced functionality. This is not an area to cheap out on, though. The quality of your website will effect how your potential clients view your business and your ability to compete may be impacted if your website doesn’t offer the right functionality.
Choose a website hosting service
A website hosting service is what it sounds like, a service in which your website is hosted. Often domain sites like Go Daddy offer the ability to host your website but it is important to look at several options based on pricing, web processing speed and customer support to name a few before choosing your service.
2. Legal Considerations
Trademarks are used to identify and distinguish the source of one set of goods or services from another. If your name is likely to cause confusion amongst customers as to whether your products come from your competitor, you may be at risk of a trademark suit.
As a first step, you will want to take some action to determine whether your business name is similar to a trademark in the same industry. There are a number of ways to go about this, from utilizing the free U.S. Trademark Electronic Search System, to retaining a professional search firm, to retaining a trademark attorney. You generally get what you pay for. If you’re a layperson, it is unlikely that you will be able to evaluate your risk of trademark infringement as well as an attorney would. There is a financial investment to bringing a lawyer into the mix, but it is much better to get the go-ahead than to put your heart, soul and finances into creating a brand, only to get a cease and desist letter from that company’s attorney.
You should also consider whether you want to register your company name as a trademark. Again, while there are a variety of online tools that allow you to file a trademark by yourself, counsel can guide you through the process and improve your chances of registering your mark. You can find the answers to some common trademark FAQs here.
One of the first steps in creating a successful company is choosing the legal structure that will best suit the needs of the business and its owners. Entrepreneurs often choose to form their companies as a Corporation (C-Corp), a Limited Liability Corporations (LLC), or an S-Corporation. This checklist from Founders Workbench is extremely useful in gathering need–to-know information. Founders Workbench also makes available Document Driver®, free software that will create documents for forming a C-Corp or LLC.
There is now another structure garnering attention in the media: B Corporations or “Benefit Corporations”. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Although you must meet certain standards prior to officially being named a B Corp, there is a path for start-ups for interested parties.
Workplace Laws and Regulations
There are a laundry list of laws and regulations with which small business owners and start-ups are required to comply. These laws can relate to employment and labor, workplace health and safety, data privacy, financial contracts and much more. The trick here is to figure out the regulatory areas that apply to your company on a federal, state, and local level, and to determine what you must do to comply with each regime. A great place to start is this page on the Small Business Administration site.
For companies that either do not have a brick-and-mortar operation, or for which hiring a full-time receptionist is not financially and logistically feasible, there are virtual receptionists. These services, like Ruby Reception provide you with your own dedicated business phone number. The receptionists, available 24/7 will answer the line as your company, patch the call through to you or pass on a pre-scripted message. Cost is dependent on call volume.
Most start-ups, at least initially, do not have a physical office location. However, there are many components of running a business that necessitate having a mailing address, and using your home address is not ideal. Fortunately there are options to accommodate this new work atmosphere. For one, Earth Class Mail provides you with an actual physical address that is dedicated to your business. As everything is online, you can manage your mail from anywhere in the world. Your account is notified whenever you have received a piece of mail and it can be scanned and sent to you. Environmentally friendly, super easy and convenient.
4. Money, Money, Money
Business Bank Account
It’s important to set up a business bank account early on to separate your business and personal finances. This is not just a best practice, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires it. Fortunately that is becoming easier. For most types of business you can even open a small business bank account online.
Business Credit Card Account
Following the set up of your business checking account, is to apply for a small business credit card. There are a wide variety of cards and you’ll want to do your research as to annual fees, requirements and rewards. NerdWallet has a great resource to compare and contrast the different cards and their benefits. It even rates the best cards of 2015.
Finances, Payroll and Expenses
Tracking finances, whether it be business expenses, employee payroll or otherwise, can be tedious and time consuming, but accuracy and organization are key in this area. Although maintaining all records in separate spreadsheets sounds like a fun way to spend a Friday night, do yourself and your business a favor and check out accounting software. The heavy in this arena is Quickbooks, but there are a wide variety of options. Here is a great article on picking the accounting software that works best for you.
Everyone’s favorite topic! Even before you have any income or a business to tax, you’ll need to start thinking about taxes. This can be an overwhelming topic, particularly considering there are unique tax considerations for start-ups. This article from Founders Workbench is incredibly useful in detailing tax requirements from a legal and financial perspective.
5. Branding and Marketing
Logo and Branding
A logo may not be at the top of your start-up to-do list. However, it is important to start establishing a visual identity for your business early on. The brand, particularly for start-up or small business trying to make its mark is critically important to defining how you want to be perceived. There are two routes you can take in developing your brand. You can start with the long-term in mind, building an overall brand in which the logo, color palette, sales materials, business cards and website are integrated and reflect your company. This is of course a bit more expensive, but if feasible, well worth it as it helps develop a unified message. If that type of commitment or investment is not feasible, a logo at minimum is important. Freelancer sites like 99 Designs offer inexpensive alternatives to a professional graphic designer.
Marketing and Advertising
Now that you’ve got a company, you’ll want people to know that it exists. This can be done in many different ways based on what your business is, who your audience is and where they are most likely to see your ads. Today, many businesses use digital advertising with platforms like AdWords, LinkedIn and Facebook. In a recent post we discussed a variety of tools that will help you advertise, market and measure the success of your ad campaigns.
There are a wide variety of things to take into consideration when hiring employees. The Small Business Administration has a great page on what to do when hiring your first employee. The eight steps addressed can help you begin the hiring process and ensure you are compliant with key federal and state regulations.
Depending on your business structure and needs, a virtual assistant for business can be a great choice to keep costs low, save space and reduce liability!
Now that you armed with this information, go forth and build your business!
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