It’s a great time to start a business for yourself. If you ever find yourself being hit by the spark of imagination, you can go from a business idea to getting your first paid assignment in no time whatsoever. And with some handy organizing, you can do this from the comfort of your own home. Sure, there are a few things admin type pesky things (such as sorting the legal element of registering your business), but before you know it, you will be building your business empire sitting behind your desk at home, sipping a warm cup of coffee. Trousers are optional.
When inspiration hits and you come up with that one-in-a-million-lightning-in-a-bottle idea, you usually start with coming up with your company name. You want your company name to become your brand and encapsulate what you stand for, your business entails and evoke the right emotions and expectations when seen by potential customers. This is the right time to see if your domain name is still available. There are plenty of services out there (domain name registrars) that allow you to check multiple top-level domains (TLDs) in a single go.
Making sure yourname.com, yourname.org etc. should really go hand in hand with the conception of your name. And just to up the stakes (and complexity) you might want to see if the handle (or close alternative) is available on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Having consistent communication identifiers across all platforms not only makes you easier to find, but it also helps you to avoid falling victim to scamming and trolling. Make sure your address and handle are easy to find, really put yourself in the shoes of someone who has heard of the company name but doesn’t exactly know how its spelt. KISS rules apply. Pick a name that represents what you do, but doesn’t pick something that is so generic that it’s hard to claim as your own. Think of the jeans brand Lee, they have a tall order claiming that name as it also stands for someone’s first name (or last). Once you have fixed the company name puzzle, it’s time to look at your online presence.
You used to have two choices when creating a website. Hire a developer, which usually meant someone doing it in their parent’s basement or attic (dealer’s choice), with deadlines that were completely fluid and a higher than expected bill at the end. The alternative was doing it yourself which wasn’t necessarily better. Nowadays you have plenty of options to get a website up and running within very controllable costs that look the business. Especially when you are just looking for an online business card, you will have plenty of services to choose from that offer turnkey solution (or should we say turn click?).
The key to all of this is to stay on message. All these services will try to entice you with premium features that are nice to have, but not really needed. Don’t get caught up in the world of up and cross-sell. Stick to the basics, decide what the minimal viable product is and focus on getting that running with the least amount of recurring monthly cost. When your business takes off (and of course it will), you will want to re-platform anyway. Once the money is rolling in you will have the clout and means to build something bespoke. It’s not unusual for websites to go from drag and drop website builds, to bespoke WordPress deployments to bespoke CMS builds.
And all of this is not exclusive to businesses that offer services, for retail/eCommerce the same rules apply. There are specialist online service providers that can help you set up your online store, taking care of stock management, ordering, customer management and more. Even if you more a do-it-yourself person you can consider using platforms such as Shopify and WooCommerce to plug into your WordPress deployment. The key here is to expect that anything that is cheap at first will have a higher price when used more intensively and frequently. They get you in with a free trial or limited functionality starter package, lock you into the system then charge a bundle for premium services.
For others, the path less trodden is their way to go. Some companies even ditch the website altogether and rely on social media platforms completely. Think of a Facebook business page for example, which will cost you absolutely nothing. Free does mean however that you can’t control the look and functionality of your page beyond what is offered to you. But for something that’s free, you can’t really fault it.
With your online presence sorted, you have now created several ways potential customers can get in touch with you. It’s important to now consider who will be answering them. At first, this will be you as it will be manageable and fun to do. But once your business grows, you might not have the time anymore to answer DMs on social media, answer the phone when it rings or rifle through the online queries and emails. Before you put a job listing out for an assistant, you might want to consider getting a personal assistant or online reception service. It will be cheaper than hiring someone, and it will give you the control and flexibility that a budding business sorely needs. You can control how much you spend every month, and the contracts are usually flexible. Making sure you can respond to potential customers and doing so in a timely manner will make sure you don’t miss out on an opportunity.
Similar smart solutions can be found for phone and fax. You can get an online phone number including a virtual answering machine. You can get a fax by email, saving you the hassle of having to buy a fax machine. If you don’t want to receive letters and packages for your business at your personal address (or at your parents’ home if you are running it from their basement), you can get a PO Box (or your country’s equivalent) that can be used as a real address. And on the topic of physical addresses, what to do about face-to-face contact? You will try to go for online video chat/conferencing solutions at first, perhaps visit the client on-site to minimize your own need for an office. However, if you need to host, you can find a temporary office solution, some can be rented by the hour.
Alternatively, you can find a local business incubator that offers workspace, meeting rooms and other business amenities at great rates. This is usually a great way to get out of a basement or garage, without having to commit to long leases. A desk, reliable Wi-Fi and (usually) great coffee facilities can be a great motivator to take your business to the next level. Incubators are also a great way to meet other entrepreneurs and start-ups. This is where you can start networking and seek out opportunities. Networking is a bit of dark art if you haven’t done it before, but getting business is not a linear process. You might just need to help people in your network without expecting anything in return. A well-developed network will start working for you if you put enough effort in.
That’s not to say you can only network in an incubator. There are even more opportunities outside it. Think of industry events, LinkedIn, soft skills masterclasses. Any place where people come together that are trying to grow their business is a prime networking location. Regarding LinkedIn, it is good to note that a lot of people are using this as a glorified Rolodex. If you use it for those purposes, you shouldn’t expect to generate much business from it. However, if you actively post and engage with people, and keep building out your contacts, then it can be much more. Establish your expertise and get people to share it with others. Smart usage of platforms such as LinkedIn will lead to DMs from people interested in working with you, ranging from a lot of suppliers, but also the occasional prospective client.
Once your business takes off properly, it might be time to consider business tools that help you deliver more efficiently and effectively. There are plenty of online project management tools that offer free service to small teams. If you are using contractors, this is an effective way of ensuring delivery and quality. Speaking of which, you might need the occasional work done by an expert. It could be that you need a logo when you are putting together your brand name. Or you might need specific assets when your website is coming together. Or you need a display ad for online advertising. Getting a contractor is as easy as going online and posting a job on one of the many freelance websites. You control how much you want to spend and the brief. Make sure you are clear on what you want and decide if you want to pay someone by the hour or milestone results.
So, there you have it, a few tips on getting your business underway in a manner that is making use of modern perks. Build an agile business that can disrupt whatever industry you are entering and have a laser-sharp focus on the relationship between a customer’s problem/need and the best-in-class solution you offer.