There was a time, and not so long ago, when starting a new business meant expenses through the roof. Where do I start? How do I test the concept? And how about the name? When should I start a company? Should it be Corp. or LLC? And what about the logo? AAAAH!!!
Today, there is a huge selection of free tools (or at least cheap ones) available to anyone with time and an idea to plan out, to start and run a business from the comfort of their home and laptop. But sorting through the garbage and the scams, false leads, dead ends and such can take the wind out of your sails.
We've done the hard work for you to find only gems.
Here is the good stuff, broken down by category:
1) Test Your Idea for Relevance and Find Potential Customers.
iii. Launch a Google Ad (here's a quick guide).
iv. Define what "success" means to you. Is it 100 signups or 10,000? Be clear and measure your results against your success goals. If you reach your goal or get close, you may be on to something with your business idea. If not, it may be wise to drop it altogether or at least change your concept significantly and try again.
v. Follow up with those who sign up first. These often become your most valuable supporters and beta testers for your product(s). Treat them really well, but ask for honest, constructive feedback.
2) Create a Business Plan and Present It to Potential Investors, Employees and Customers. Here's a good primer on the process.
i. In short,
a) Create an Executive Summary and Company Description.
b) Describe the Organization and Management, Products and/or Services you're planning to offer.
c) Define your Strategy for Marketing and Sales.
d) Perform an in-depth Market Analysis.
e) Project out your Finances out for a few years. Use conservative assumptions for sales targets, expenses, revenues, etc. Anticipate any debt you'll need to take on or equity rounds you'll need to raise.
f) Create a sample Request for Funding.
ii. Carefully (and concisely) define your company's mission and never let go of it in your mind or how you discuss your company with others. Passion is critical to the success of the business.
ii. Do a SWOT Analysis. Discuss your concept and its viability with experienced people in the industry and field that you trust. If the overall analysis (plus gut feeling) tells you that it makes sense to go forward, given the risks, market dynamics, available resources (financial, intellectual and otherwise) and timing, then continue below. If not, it may be time to get out before you're in too deep, or at least to keep tweaking and testing your concept until you hit on something that generates interest among potential customers, investors and/or employees.
iii. Create a short-and-sweet Pitch Deck for potential investors, employees and customers (tweak it for the appropriate audience).
iv. Create and practice your Elevator Pitch to anyone who'll listen.
vi. Define a clear and compelling go-to-market strategy.
vii. Build a core team to execute on your mission and MVP blueprint. Here's a good primer on how to do this most critical of things for your business - and well.
3) Protect Any Intellectual Property You May Have.
4) Name Your Business and Create a Brand Identity. Choose your name very carefully, since it will be your brand's identity in all marketing, investor and other documents, as well as the first thing people think of with regard to your products and/or services.
ii. Here's a great guide to naming your product(s) and/or service(s). Keep it short, simple, relevant and catchy.
iii. Check GoDaddy.com for available domain names with your business name. If the domain name is taken or on back-order and expensive, decide whether brand identity is worth the expense for you.
iv. Pick your company color scheme very carefully to define your brand identity. Here's a useful guide and here is a excellent, very detailed explanation from KISSMetrics of the psychology of color and conversions (sales) and what works with certain demographics and what doesn't.
v. Create a logo and related graphic designs for your company, products and to use on all related documents and websites. 99Designs is always a great and inexpensive option. Here is a detailed explanation of good design principles to help you with the process.
5) Create a Professional-Looking, Clean and Uncluttered Website. Your site should take into account what you've learned through your A/B Testing and interactions with potential customers, investors and employees.
i. Purchase a domain name on GoDaddy.com (this has the best discounts, we've found). Always look for discount code on RetailMeNot or other coupon sites.
ii. Create a Self-Hosted Wordpress page and link your domain to it. Set up hosting (for a few bucks a month) with BlueHost or other well-regarded service. Here's a great guide for the entire setup process, with detailed instructions and BlueHost discount.
iii. Customize the Wordpress theme to reflect the type of business you have. Customize the site's colors to match your company colors and control the associations people create with your company and site colors.
iv. Set up your site with the customized SumoMe for Wordpress plugin's tools and metrics. 6) Form a Business Entity to Formalize Your Idea into a Real Company.
i. Once you have potential customers, investors and/or employees committed to work with you, it's wise to form an actual company. Do not rush to do this first before going through steps 1-5, above.
ii. Think carefully about what type of business entity you want to form, based on your business objectives and exit strategy (sell the company, grow and keep it private or IPO some day). Here is a detailed guide to various business entities discussing advantages and disadvantages, types of legal liability, flexibility, ownership structure, cost of upkeep, dispute resolution mechanisms and other important considerations. Here are related articles and another step-by-step decision guide to help you.
iv. Make sure to register your business with the state(s) where you will be doing business by going through the same service you used to file your business or otherwise manually, through each state's Department of State website.
v. Check with any relevant state and federal agencies that regulate the business you're planning to conduct.
vi. Get a Tax ID number from the IRS.
vii. Open a business checking and savings accounts at a bank that will provide you with excellent customer service.
viii. Based on your corporate structure, decide how you will grant equity and/or other incentives to new employees. Here is a great place to start to get this right.
ix. Lawyer up. In the current business climate, it's much better to be safe than sorry and have a lawyer to call with any corporate, regulatory, intellectual property or other legal issues that inevitably come up. There are lawyers out there who may agree to an equity (or delayed payment or even pro bono) arrangement with a founder in lieu of a hourly or retainer agreement, depending on circumstances and appetite for an alternate arrangement.
7) Raise seed funds from yourself, friends, family, angel investors and/or VCs (depending on terms that make sense for your company's mission, exit strategy and the resources you need to get to market). It's better to raise just enough funds from just the right strategic partners than to raise a ton of money from people that don't really buy into what you're doing and can't or won't really help you grow and scale quickly. Pick your strategic partners very carefully.
8) Relentlessly execute on your mission. Build your MVP and/or service offering. Go to market with it. Grow and scale your team sustainably. Build features with the greatest positive impact on the greatest number of people first.
9) Iterate and improve continuously and quickly as you learn from customers what is working and what's not. Sign up for AppSumo to get all sorts of awesome freebies and huge discounts on things that help you build and acale and measure and improve your business.
10) Enjoy the wild ride! Keep at it long enough until you're hitting deadlines and sales targets or until you see no way forward. Be flexible and pivot as necessary when you learn better what customers really want (and what they don't). Change is the only constant and many days, you'll be putting out fires before you can get substantive work done.
All the best of luck and I'll be rooting for you!
***DISCLAIMER***: No mention of a product or site should be construed as an endorsement thereof. The writer receives no commission or other financial incentive from any of the sites, products or businesses mentioned herein. Use at your own risk and as always, use your own judgment and discretion. Nothing in the post above should be construed as legal or financial advice. Consult a licensed attorney or financial specialist for appropriate counsel.
Are there other great free or inexpensive tools you’ve used to start a successful business? Please share them with the Community in Comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
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Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.
*The views expressed herein are his own*