After going through as much planning as we just have you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed. You’re probably starting to count the cost of everything and wondering if just sticking to your day job is the better option. Don’t worry, I know starting a business can seem financially daunting, but it doesn't have to cost as much as you think. Determining financial constraints will be a natural byproduct of early planning. A lot of people would consider this “bootstrapping”. According to Seth Godin, Bootstrapping is a mindset that transcends financial situations.
You Need Less Than You Think
For me, a bootstrapper isn’t a particular demographic or even a certain financial situation. Instead, it’s a state of mind. Bootstrappers run billion-dollar companies, nonprofit organizations, and start-ups in their basements. A bootstrapper is determined to build a business that pays for itself every day.
Being determined to build a business that pays for itself every day is especially important when you have a lack of resources and funds. Thankfully, technology has made it a lot easier (and much more affordable) to manage a number of business operations. We’ll touch on a number of options that will be a great resource no matter what type of consulting you are doing.
Domain and Website
Everyone needs to have some sort of a digital footprint in this day and age. It typically costs about $10-15/year to purchase a domain name. For the uninitiated, the domain is what is at the end of an email address, or what you type into a web browser to get to someone’s website. So for instance ours is joshchristy.com.
There are all sorts of new TLD’s (top level domains) that keep coming out, such as .email, .work, .online, .agency, and many others. However we recommend staying with a standard .com if you can. If you aren’t ready to get your website setup just yet, I personally recommend using namecheap or dnsimple for domain names. Some times you have to get creative since everyone is going for a good .com domain. The best tip I can give on wether or not your consulting’s domain name is a good one is to practice a phone call of spelling out your domain name over the phone. You’ll find out having numbers or hyphens may lead to someone not being able to find you, or sending info to the wrong address. If you are thinking that someone might misspell your address you can always purchase the misspelling domains as well and forward them to your main domain name.
Now that you have your domain name we should get your website up and running. When you are just getting started your website should be a place that your clients can come and understand your services and be able to contact you. You don’t need to over complicate things at this point. Checkout Squarespace and their single page templates. It lets you get up and running quickly. Once you are ready to start blogging or if you need e-commerce functionality you can always add that on without moving to a different company. Plus they have a little logo builder if you need some company branding.
Ok, so we’re going to do a little self promotion here. Booth is a small business phone system that lets you appear professional no matter the size of your business. Booth has you covered with a professionally recorded main greeting, department extensions, and time based rules to send the call right to where you need it. By getting a dedicated business phone number you can give out one number and route it to any team member, even if it is just you for now. For example, we have our number setup to have an auto attendant greeting, press one for this or two for that, between 9am and 5pm and after 5 send it to a professionally recorded voicemail.
You can even integrate with software you already use, such as Google Calendar to route your calls. By simply picking a calendar within Booth you can route calls to your cell phone when Google says you are free and to a colleague or voicemail when you are in a meeting.
Ok, enough about our product, check us out at trybooth.com if you are interested in learning more. We have packages starting at $9.95 per month and mention that you read this essential guide and we’ll get you a professional voiceover for no additional charge.
Once you have your domain purchased and a start to your website you’ll need a professional email address. This will go a long way to the professional image instead of using your personal email address from when you were way too into Game of Thrones. Many website hosting sites include an email account in a web-hosting package. However we’ve found that for a few extra bucks each month you’ll be better off getting setup with Google Apps for Work. For $5/month per email address it is definitely worth not having emails sent to spam or dealing with other hassles that the “free” email that is bundled with your website hosting.
There are a number of great tools once you are ready to start connecting with your target audience. Jay Baer at Convince & Convert has a great article on 39 social media tools to use today. To get started, get a profile or page setup on each of the major platforms at the same time you buy your domain name. This way you can standardize your name across all of the platforms. I’d recommend to look at: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, interest, Instagram, Google +, and Snapchat. Depending on your industry you may use one or many of these, however securing your account is the first step.
We couldn’t be happier with the service and support we’ve gotten from the team at Moo. We’ve found out that you don’t need thousands of cards to get started. As your messaging or design might change along the way, so start out with a smaller number of cards and go for the wow factor of quality over ordering too many cards.
Everyone needs to be able to know how healthy your sales process is, otherwise you are in the dark on wether you need to be filling the funnel with new leads or when deals should be closing. A great CRM (customer relationship management) tool that I’ve used is Pipedrive it is a very low cost tool to get started with and very robust. It allows you to customize the sales pipeline to how you sell your service. If you have multiple sales funnels or your service lines sell in different ways you can setup multiple pipelines.
SEO and Analytics
Once your website is up and running you’ll want to monitor how well you are ranking for targeted keywords and find out where your visitors are coming from. We’ll cover on these items in more depth later in the book. For now you’ll want to focus on getting analytics setup. If you’ve followed the sage advice of getting a site setup on Squarespace you’ll have analytics built into the platform. If not, or if you want additional metrics, you should take a look at Google Analytics. Its an extremely powerful platform to understand your website traffic and leads, as well as setting up conversion goals. For now use the same process as the social media platforms, just make sure it is setup. Once you get a little further along and getting traffic you should spend a little money on a tool like Moz to better understand where you are ranking and help point out any issues with your site.
If you are in need of getting some creative assistance to help your brand stand out, you can also turn to some online services. Depending on your expectations I’d probably stay away from the crowdsourcing sites, where you post a contest and designers compete for your business. I’ve used them in the past and the best use we found for them was when we were completely stuck on a direction. If you like the idea of having access to multiple designers you should check out a great online service like Crew. Crew will let you get in front of a bunch of designers, but at a much higher quality. They have a network of handpicked and vetted professionals who are ready to get their hands dirty. They find you a match and ensure the process is smooth from beginning to end. If you are a little more hands with Photoshop or other design tools on you could grab some inspiration from a marketplace like Graphic River.
There are a never ending online marketing blogs and books to sort through. A couple that we’d absolutely recommend:
Start reading up on these resources and we’ll touch more on the marketing space later on in the book.
Project Management Tools
Using a project management tool is essential to managing daily tasks and preventing areas of your business from being neglected. Though essential, project management tools don’t have to be expensive. Many companies find spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel sufficient for managing and tracking projects. If your business needs something more robust, there are many project management programs available. Many provide a free trial period to test out their functionality. If you’re willing to invest the time and money, you can have a project management tool created for your business. This is sometimes worth the investment if your product or model has a unique aspect not found in standard practices. Having a software program created for your enterprise can streamline complicated tracking and increase productivity that doesn’t fit into conventional management protocols.
Payroll, Accounting, and Banking
When dealing with taxes and accounting, you want to make sure you’ve got a good system in place from day one. To start with you’ll want to get a separate bank account to run all of your purchases and deposits through. A general business banking account will work just fine, typically these will have a limit on the number of deposits or transactions, but thats ok if it lets you avoid a minimum balance or monthly fee.
Next will be to get your accounting and payroll setup. Take a look at Xero as a good starting point, they’ll be able to take care of your accounting needs and also your payroll to make sure all taxes are being withheld properly. Finally get yourself a good book keeper to make sure everything is entered right into the system. A full service offerings like Bench will help keep your sane at tax time.
This will give you time to find an accountant that you’d like to use. If you set up everything right at the start your end of year needs won’t seem so daunting. We personally use a local accountant for end of year tax preparation and a local PEO (professional employer organization) for our payroll and benefits at our agency. These are both cost effective options for us and I’m sure if you do a little research locally you can find someone of great value.
Over the last few months we’ve learned that some things can be outsourced for copywriting and some are better off kept in house for someone that is a subject matter expert. If you are looking to outsource your white paper writing or website content give Get A Copywriter a shot. They are able to provide high quality content at a reasonable price. Plus if you don’t like the writing, simply ask for a revision or you can get a full refund.
We’ve always used a local attorney to draft our operating agreements and other legal documents. We have however used services like Docracy to help get our service agreements and contracts started. Now I wouldn’t advocate of just picking a template and blindly using it, you’ll definitely get your self into trouble at some point. But a service like Docracy will at least give you a sample set of documents that you can start learning about what should be in a good contract.
If you need a space in between a free service like Docracy and trying to find a local attorney you could always do what Tristan Pollock did. Tristan is an Entrepreneur in Residence and Venture Partner at 500 Startups. So needless to say he’s needed a little assistance from the legal front.
In his article on how he saved $100k on legal fees. Tristan found that whenever he needed legal work that he couldn’t do himself, I went to UpCounsel.com — a marketplace for on-demand legal services. Plus if you the link Tristan has in his Medium post, you’ll save $100 on your first transaction with UpCounsel. Now thats a win-win.
Well, that is a lot of stuff to take in, however isn't an exhaustive list. Hopefully it helps you start thinking about alternative ways to get the tools you need for less than you think.
- Go to NameCheap or DNSimple and find some domain options for your agency. Look for domains that don’t include numbers or dashes. A good .com domain will be tough to find, but is worth it. Remember to practice spelling it out to make sure that it is easy to communicate.
- If you find a domain that works well with your company name, register all of social profiles at the same time to ensure consistency.
- Go signup for your free trial of Booth and keep control of your communication.
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