Now comes the fun part, execution. Believe it or not, a huge percentage of small businesses that make it this far still fail because the managers couldn’t run the company well enough. You will be pulled in a million directions once you’re in operational mode, and as you add employees and contractors you’ll be relying on the abilities of other people more than ever before. Hiring the right people, leading them, inspiring and motivating them are now make-or-break factors in the execution of your small business.
For inspirational guidance, there are a handful of highly recommended reads including Good to Great by Jim Collins. It is considered to be the gold standard on how to run a company successfully. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh is a more recent book about the success of Zappos. Reid Hoffman, founder and CEO of LinkedIn, has written a list of 10 rules for entrepreneurs to build massive companies. It’s a quick and worthwhile read.
When the pressures of legal obligations are added to your small business to-do list it may seem daunting, but with the right information and seasoned professionals in your corner, the battle is already half won.
At some point, you will need to legally protect your small business by establishing it as a legal entity. This can be done easily through online services such as CorpNet, where you can incorporate or form an LLC in minutes. The first task is to decide what type of business structure you will operate under when you incorporate. Because regulations can vary from state to state and even industry to industry, it’s prudent to first consult an attorney and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who specialize in small businesses. Your attorney will be able to explain in detail the legal protections and reporting requirements each business structure offers, while your CPA will be able to help you determine which tax advantages are the strongest fit for your small business. Common small business entities include: Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, C Corporation, S Corporation, Limited Liability Company (LLC) and Cooperative.
From a purely operational standpoint, your small business will need legal, HR, accounting, insurance and payroll, to name a few support resources. For payroll, there are many online platforms to choose from and this company is the market leader with excellent customer service. If you plan to offer benefits you can either work your social network to find an HR consultant locally or you can utilize a new, online service called Zenefits. They provide one stop shopping for integrating your payroll service, adding benefits including healthcare and managing all aspects of your employee HR needs. To manage the books, Hiveage is a great solution designed for businesses with 1-20 employees. It offers free and premium plans and their software integrates with the most popular eCommerce payment gateways like PayPal, Swipe and Braintree.
Choosing the best technology for your business will also be key. The Wirecutter has taken the work out of finding just the things you need like computers, printers, and phones.
The introduction of The Affordable Health Care Act on January 1, 2014 changes an employer’s responsibility for providing health insurance. For those companies with fewer than 50 employees, coverage is not required, although there are options for participating. Regardless of your company’s size, you will find the necessary information here.
To get yourself setup with a domain and website, we suggest POP. Talk about easy, you’ll have a basic website and email address within seconds of registering. POP will walk you through your options for building out the site from there. When you launch your website, you will want to make sure it looks fantastic! For a quick (and free) spell check, use CheckDog– the first five checks are free, using the trial package.
Ultimately, starting a small business means creating and sustaining relationships with customers. Join.me is a terrific (and free!) way to demonstrate a product via screen sharing, including an option for conference calls. When you are presenting, we suggest Slideshare for slideshows. For a web-based conference call service, AnyMeeting is free for calls with fewer than 200 attendees. The service includes audio, video, screen sharing, recording, chat and social features! Skitch is an app for collaborating on projects and communicating through annotation, shapes and sketches- very handy for pointing out particular bits of info or suggesting changes! For keeping track of and analyzing time spent on projects– as well as creating invoices for billing– we recommend Harvest for your small business. For the 1-3 user option the cost is only $12/month, after the initial free trial period. For credit card transactions made in person (travelling dog groomers, craft fairs, tutors), here is a great on-the-go option that enables payment on various smartphone operating systems. If your business manages recurring payments, Chargify will make the processing painless!
Useful for both internal sharing and project management, Evernote is a fantastic resource. You have the option of a free app, syncing information between mobile devices and your desktop. For $5/month, Evernote allows not only sharing, but joint editing privileges. Another option we recommend for project management is Trello. When it comes to managing customer relations, check out Salesforce.
Great for organizing your “stuff”, Found is an app that enables the user to search across multiple platforms– your email, dropbox, Evernote account can all be searched with one click of a button! At the moment, it’s only available for Mac users.
Thinking its time for an event? Eventbrite has our vote! Whether you are looking to attend an event in your area or want to create your own event listing, give ‘em a look-see!
Building a customer base is your #1 goal. They can generally be classified into three buckets: search, referral and direct. According to Sitepoint.com, over 4 billion daily searches are conducted worldwide and 95% of website traffic comes from the first page of search results. Here is an introduction to optimizing your small business website for search results. To maximize referrals through social media, ColderIce pumps you up with the basics on social media for the small business. From there, The Noob Guide to Online Marketing will teach you everything and more that you want to know about effectively executing a social media plan. Be warned, it will scare you, so be selective. Start small and build up to many of the site’s suggestions. You may want to hire a social media professional or agency to help you craft a plan. Try placing an ad on Craigslist and see what you get. Many web developers offer social media services as well. For customers who come to you directly as with email marketing, MailChimp helps you design email newsletters, share them on social networks, integrate with services you already use, and track your results. It’s like your own personal publishing platform… and the basic package is FREE!
One of the most cost effective ways to bring customers to your business/site is through PR. Browstein and Egusa recently published The Beginner’s Guide to PR, giving the small business owner everything they need to know in one spot, including an introduction to PR terminology, how to approach reporters, how to write a press release, etc! For PR options, sign-up here or here to publish your release to the press. Although a free service is available on either site, we recommend you consider spending the money for premium services, as the additional impressions gained will boost your company’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
If you and/or your company appear to be a thought leader in your category, you are more likely to be noticed. Help a Reporter Out is a resource that connects reporters to sources. Participating in current discussions in your field by “Helping a Reporter Out” is a free way to begin developing your presence. Actively blogging and speaking at industry meetings is another way to get noticed as a leader in your field.
If you have a simple yes/no question you would like to ask your users, Quipol is one way to engage your network. Quipol enables bloggers, small business owners or any curious person to create and embed a basic poll on their webpage/blog.
Staying on top of your industry is critical for entrepreneurs. We recommend: Techcrunch (tech industry bible); Mashable (social media download); Venture Hacks (VC industry perspective); Business Insider (top biz news and analysis); and Startup OneStop (startup news, resources and NY area events).
At some point you may decide you want to sell off excess digital assets or the entire business. Freemarket is an online eBay-like platform where you can list your domain names and websites for free.