June 6, 2017 | 15 min read
1. Register a Domain Name
Choosing a domain name for your business is the first step and your digital real estate so to speak. Although nowadays there are many new extensions to choose from beyond .com, no matter what you select, try to find something that says exactly what you do as clearly as possible. It is true that new generation saas companies can come up with made up words and be successful but LosAngelesPlumber.com or even TheLosAngelesPlumber.com is easier to remember and garners more trust than WhataCoolPlumbingGuyInc.com for example.
You can check if a domain is available or for sale on whois.sc.
Next step, do a brief trademark search if you are picking something that could have overlap with any other business. A great place to start is the Uspto.gov trademark database.
You have likely bought a domain before but if not here are some of the larger registrars:
Those are some of the biggest registrars and you may likely be able to find a promo code online.
2. Web Hosting
Choose a web hosting package for your site. WordPress is used by 25% of all sites on the internet and easy and quick to get started with. Just about all modern web hosts support WordPress. Some registrars like GoDaddy will have hosting as an add on option. And there are a lot of others you can choose from online like Dreamhost 1and1 and others.
If you do select a web host separate from your domain registrar make sure you get the DNS settings for your hosting account and change your domain DNS to match those.
3. Site Structure
So many of us spend a lot of time trying to make the pixel perfect site the first time around. However, speed to market on a version 1.0 site will outshine the other fixes in importance. You can always improve your site in steps and it will likely always be a work in progress anyways. So for initial structure start with these main pages ASAP:
What is my product or service? How much does it cost, how does it help or benefit someone and how does someone purchase or learn more? Make sure this value proposition is explained clearly and logically on the homepage. And of course include any supporting graphics, content, testimonials and videos if helpful.
Who are you and why are you competent to provide this good or service? The large percentage of people who purchase services online navigate right to the about page. Also start by talking to your audience and how you can solve a problem for them. Show off your accomplishments but don’t forget the other portion.
Have your email, phone number and address clearly listed. There are a lot of cool WordPress plugins like gravity forms that can integrate a professional contact form without having to pay a developer.
4. Terms of Service and Privacy Documents
Only a lawyer can properly advise 100% in this area although there are some very cool resources like RocketLawyer and others provide inexpensive templated documents that may be of benefit.
5. What Type of Business Structure Will You Use?
This is an area where your accountant or lawyer could advise obviously. However, in the internet age there are some slick services that can get you up and running and more inexpensively than ever before.
LegalZoom, IncNow and a few others have rapid fire processes that can get this started. When just starting out many people choose sole proprietor status because it is the most basic structure. You can always choose to form an S Corp or LLC if you like.
6. DBA (Doing Business As Name if Your State Requires it)
What is that? There is a technicality in business law that if you are going to represent yourself as anything other than you name, you need to file a DBA i.e. if you are a plumber and your name is James Johnson and you want to call yourself Top Houston Plumbing, you need to file a DBA to use the name “Top Houston Plumbing” in commerce whether on business cards or anything else. Some states have different processes to handle it. In California you can file one at a courthouse then hire a newspaper to publish the name which is usually between $40-$50 bucks.
Check your state to see if you need to do this or if this has changed and of course ask an attorney. (Some have different names like “Assumed Business Name”) Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut , Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa , Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
7. Productivity and Documents Hub - Google Drive
Google Drive is a free and awesome toolset for gathering and sharing information internally and externally. All you need is a gmail account which you may have already. Then in the upper right click the square things and you will see a drop down of drive options.
Some of the most productive apps are Docs and Sheets, Sheets is like excel spreadsheets except it’s free and you can easily share with anyone and they can collaborate too on the same exact sheet. Docs is like Microsoft word and it is also free, great for capturing ideas and brainstorming as well as using for basic outlines and presentations.
8. Phone Number
Obviously just about every business person in the world has a phone number. However, it is often professional to start as soon as possible using a second number dedicated for business. That way when you answer you can always know the call will be business related and the way you speak when it comes in will be appropriate i.e. “Hello John’s Plumbing” as opposed to “Hi” or some other greeting. Secondly, a second voicemail greeting that is appropriate for your business is a solid way to give as an option to potential customers.
is free and you can forward it to a voip line or the service of your choice and setup a voicemail. It has a lot of features and while it might not have all of the bells and whistles of some of the others, it doesn’t cost anything and is quick to setup.
is another solid option with a quick setup. It has way more robust features and vanity choice options as well.
Grasshopper, RingCentral, FreedomVoice and eVoice are some other options.
9. P.O. Box Business Address
You will need an address to manage all paper and package based business correspondence via physical mail. Some entrepreneurs and new businesses use their home address. However, that doesn’t always look as professional on a google map or listed on a site. In addition, you may not want to mix your business mail and your personal mail. It can make things a lot easier to manage.
This process used to take a lot longer to setup and to manage. In the past the only ways to handle your inbox was driving to the post office in person to access your P.O. Box or to your local business center. And THE biggest hassle of that process inevitably involves the need to drive there and check for something important. The SECOND biggest hassle is dealing with the mail overflow if you haven’t been there in a while which can become costly in terms of penalties.
The cool news is with the advent of the internet and smart phones virtual digital mailboxes are now an option to manage your physical mail and maintain a business address.
AnytimeMailbox.com is the leading provider of virtual mailboxes accessible 24 hours a day via web browser or their smart phone app.
You can choose an address in any city according to what type of business you run and what you would like to display to your customers i.e. Las Vegas, Austin, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Miami and as of now 230+ other locations.
It is easy to sign up same day online by credit card. They also have an online notary to handle the 1583 form necessary for identity in getting your mailbox which has streamlined the process from $6.99 for a mailbox.
10. Office Space
This is another easy one that used to be way more costly and difficult in the internet age. Of course more professionals than ever use a home office. However, being around other startups and business people can have value and there are a lot of coworking spaces available. Starbucks can be ok as well and your local hipster coffee shop if you are a super coffee aficionado.
If you want to try out a coworking space there are a ton of sites that let you book office space and price compare. We Work is the biggest coworking community with locations in a lot of major metropolitan areas and NextSpace is pretty big in California. Here are some of the more well known portals to book space online and sometimes within existing office spaces: PivotDesk, LiquidSpace, Deskpass and ShareDesk.
11. Invoicing System
Once again in the old days (which really weren’t that long ago i.e. circa about 1998) to send an invoice as a business you needed to print out a document and send it via postal mail. Some were even hand written. However, nowadays almost everything is managed via the web. Even up until a few years ago there were still a few moving parts. Getting a merchant account to process credit cards and linking that to a business bank account as well as a user friendly interface was surprisingly cumbersome. Finally there are a lot of all-in-one options available that are easy to sign up for and you can link up your business account easily: Fresh Books, Square, Intuit Online are a few of them.
Make sure you link them properly to your business email and business bank account.
12. Expenses Log
At the end of a day, a business is a sustainable process, that solves a problem and/or adds value for someone else that is repeatable. And you will need more coming in than is going out. It is ok to run at a loss for a short while and even some funded startups choose the strategy of a land grab so to speak. They spend a lot of cash at a loss to gain marketshare, then focus on profitability once they have gained a critical mass of customers. Even those type of companies still pay close attention to their expenses it is just part of their strategy.
To capture your expenses there are a number of different factors to organize. And like the other items on this list you can start with a workable system in under 72 hours. From actual physical receipts to various recurring charges and multiple business credit cards, you need to make sure you are aware of everything outgoing. And the same goes for incoming sales.
Expensify is a great app that can integrate easily into quickbooks and other invoicing platforms. It also allows you to take a picture of a receipt with their app so you never need to look at it again.
Shoeboxed and Evernote are other cool options too that flow a bit differently but can still be used effectively.
13. Business Bank Account
Go in person to your local bank of choice and ask them how to open a business account. Bring your DBA or assumed business name proof if necessary depending on your state and identification and you can get open an account for your new business name. Make sure you shop for one that doesn’t have unusual charges and fees.
14. Email Setup and Signature
You will be sending a lot of business emails...period. And having a professional signature with your biz name and contact info easily accessible it professional looking and efficient. And gmail makes it very easy to integrate your business email address as an alias and use the features of gmail with your business name .com, .net or whatever domain you use identity. Here is a quick 3 step process to integrate your business email with gmail if it is already live with your web host. (Note if you haven’t setup a business email yet through your web host you can run it through gmail for business. In addition if you do have an email through your host you will still need a free gmail address to connect it regulary.
Here are the steps:
Login to gmail and navigate to the gear icon on the top right of the page.
Click on the accounts and import tab and in the third section down you will see a link “Add another email address” and click that.
This is the section where you can connect the two accounts and use gmail services but still send and receive from your business email brand.
Get a laptop even if you are used to a desktop only. From in person meetings to catching a productivity session as Starbucks for example, there is almost no way you wouldn’t be able to replicate enough production to offset the cost. In addition a good backup system is key. You can get a seagate external drive for example with 500gb of storage for like $80.
16. A Network of Professionals Who Do What You Do
Any associative group in biology sustains an advantage by learning from each other and sharing resources. You may already have a group of people you discuss ideas with, industry updates and even share business when it makes sense. Just one tip or learning about what works even every few months can have a huge payoff for your business. And try to contribute to that circle as well. There are plenty of meetups across the world where you can meet with other pros. Most of those are free and so is LinkedIn. On the more expensive side, it can make sense to attend industry trade shows and conferences when time and budget permits.
17. List of Industry Publications to Stay Current
It is not enough to just read the mainstream news or keep up with continuing education credits or licenses you may need to run your business. In the information age you need a competitive advantage and that means keeping up to date with marketing trends, competition, new technologies, buzz and statistics.
Obviously you can search randomly on the internet for good sources. The best way actually to find actionable content is to ask people who you respect in your industry what they read.
If you don’t want to hop from site to site all the time, or even open up multiple browsers from bookmarking, Feedly is a cool news organizer.
18. Business Social Media Accounts
The key with social media is to remember that different channels, content and visual styles are appropriate for different industries. For example an industrial equipment rental business might not post on Instagram every day “Hey look at this crane #sweet” and “5 ton cement truck #selfie” vs. a fashion site where it is very visual and runway focused. In all seriousness, any professional should have a LinkedIn page with very clear descriptions about your background and how you could potentially solve a problem or add value to someone without being too “salesy”. Having a Facebook page for your business is a no brainer too and it is easy to setup. However, spreading yourself too thin across all channels like Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. if it doesn’t pertain to your business is unnecessary.
And make sure you monitor these channels regularly even if it is a while between new content updates. Facebook in particular gives you a badge if you consistently reply within 24 hours or less on your business page. So even if someone says yo or hi it is likely good to reply quickly.
19. Time Management + Project Management + CRM System
Time is the most valuable commodity and business is built on relationships. Your efficient management of both of these areas are key. They require contribution and mindfulness just like any successful thing in life. Before getting into too many fancy tools adhering to the Getting Things Done Methodology is a great way to organize. From there here are some solid tools to consider for these areas:
- Toggl - Keeps track of time spend on a particular project with a timer.
- Pomodoro System - A sprint and break method to boost productivity.
- Basecamp - Was the first and it’s great for keeping tasks on time and collaborating on those tasks with team members.
- Teamwork.com - It is like basecamp but even more detailed and possibly appropriate for a tech oriented business.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
- Insightly - Tons of cool features and they have a free version.
- Pipedrive - More sales oriented interface. Any system that works for you is fine but these can be some good areas to start.
20. Business Cards
This is probably the most self explanatory and easiest on the list of 25. Moo.com and Vista Print offer inexpensive options although if you are looking for a firmer card stock Etsy actually has some very talented artisans who can produce high quality cards.
Despite the digital age people still exchange business cards. There was a very cool app a few years ago called Bump where you bump smart phones and it exchanges contact info digitally.
However, the app has stopped service and cards are still here.
21. Letterhead and Company Logos
If you need some quick graphic work the good news is there are more marketplaces than ever to accompany you. And even nowadays where many people use Google Drive and Word for company letterhead, a professional logo still is a nice touch.
Here are some of the more prominent marketplaces:
Fiverr. This is the least expensive of the bunch, so don’t expect much, but for a few more bucks you can usually find a good design.
99Designs. They are the first to have designers compete after you give some specifics into what you’d like to have done. Then, once you choose a winner, you can get more versions and the payment goes into an escrow. It protects everyone.
DesignContest. This is more similar to 99Designs like the name with a slightly different user flow.
22. Get Feedback and Ask for Advice
This may actually be one of the more challenging on this list. The reason why is you have to have a good sense of who to listen to. However, the key within that is to look for patterns. So if you ask many people a particular question and a lot of them independently come up with a similar piece of advice, it may be smart to listen.
So surveys are an efficient way to get feedback. Google Forms is free and let’s you ask questions and customize each field.
23. Contact Lists
Make a list of all email contacts and business associates. That is the first and most basic step in aggregating people for feedback, collaboration and possible business partnerships or engagements. Down the line you can get a bit more complex in your list building and top of funnel strategies which can include an email letter, social media posting with promotions and contests and other clever ideas. And you definitely don’t want to spam these people. In any interaction find a way to give value first and you will be ahead of 95% of business people.
24. Have a Financial and Marketing Roadmap Version 1.0
You don’t need an elaborate business plan right off the bat and you may pivot a couple of times. But you need to be honest with yourself and figure out how much do you need to eat and keep the lights on per month, how much do you have coming in right now, how much backup funding do you have and how much do you think you can make each month. Start a Google sheet and make a column for each of these areas. When you have a prelim view of these metrics and can measure progress it will provide a sense of urgency and also some relaxation in that you are not guessing and just hoping things will pencil out each month. This will give you a greater chance of success.
25. Send an Email, Pickup the Phone, Post an Ad
Ok you’re here now. Let someone know what you do, even if it is as simple as sending an email to one of your contacts with a well written note and saying you are officially open for business and you do xyz. Also politely asking for any referrals may work, and if you are in good standing with those people, they may want to help you out by sending customers your way.