If you know anything at all about business, you know that many entrepreneurs face financial challenges when starting out and may be forced to bootstrap during the first few years. I found myself in this situation and because of it, I was forced to learn how to do many of the things it takes to start, build and sustain a business, on my own. Entrepreneurs often have to wear many hats and be Jacks and Jill’s of all trades when they can’t afford to hire new employees (or simply can’t find someone good enough to fill the position). This calls for learning the many different operations of business. Below I outline 4 positions/responsibilities I had to take on as a startup entrepreneur and that you may have to take on as well.
Legal – When I started my first business, I couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer to help me register it or obtain a Tax ID. Because of this, I hired a well known service company to help me register the business. That company was The Company Corporation. It only cost me around $350.00. Originally, I was happy with the service until I later found out they forgot to tell me that I needed to file several documents that I didn’t file when they initially registered my corporation. That’s why I learned how to register my business on my own when I decided to re-launch it under a new entity.
It was surprisingly simple. I used Google to conduct a few internet searches to gather information from reliable sources on how to register a business the right way. There are hundreds of reliable sites that provide free information on how to register a business in the same way a lawyer does it. I suggest visiting the state website where you will do business and search the site for a way to register your business.
I am in Michigan and I used the Michigan Business One Stop site to register my business. Additionally, I simply used the IRS website to obtain my Tax ID. It’s very easy and straightforward. I ended up spending only about $65.00 to register my business in my state. Obtaining the Tax ID was completely free. That’s much better than paying a service company or Lawyer $300.00 to $1,500.00+ to do something I am competent enough to do on my own.
When registering your own business it is important to keep in mind that there are different types of business formations (i.e. C-Corp, S-Corp, LLC, etc). You’ll need to research the pros and cons of each to determine which formation type is right for your business. I suggest doing this before you register the business on your own. This is a critical part of the process and often the reason why entrepreneurs feel the need to hire a Lawyer to register the business. The fact of the matter is, there is enough free, valuable and reliable information online for you to be able to figure this out yourself. Why not learn and save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in Lawyer and service company fees?
Sidenote: I have also developed many of my client and partner contracts using templates I found online. I suggest doing a Google Search for any contract you want to create. When searching for samples, always use the search terms “[contract name] template” or “sample [contract name]”. A good example would be “consulting agreement template” or “sample consulting agreement.”
Finance – At this point in my business, I still can’t hire a full time CFO (Chief Financial Officer). Therefore I have to use tools that enable me to keep track of my revenue and expenses. I suggest that you try a robust tool like QuickBooks to manage the financial aspect of the business. This tool is incredibly easy to use as a entrepreneur who’s new to running a business. You’ll have the capability of housing your financial data in one place so when the time comes to file taxes, the information will be at your fingertips. No confusion necessary. At tax time, I suggest hiring a Legal CPA. Even though I have learned how to do my business taxes, I always recommend that you hire a Legal CPA if you can afford it. Filing taxes can be tricky and if you are not comfortable with it, hiring a Legal CPA will be your best bet.
Marketing, Advertising & Sales – From day one, I have always had to figure out inexpensive yet effective ways to advertise my business. Hiring a marketing company was completely out of the question for me because it simply was not in my budget. Their fees can be expensive for a small startup. I’ve continuously used social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to promote my business. These outlets have been effective in helping me get exposure and generate leads without costing me a dime. I suggest you try social media marketing when first starting out. It’s a good way to get your company name out there and meet people you can network with online and off, without spending any money.
Customer Service – Customer service is critical when you are first starting out. This is because you will most likely be responsible for providing the service to your client and managing their process along the way, without the help of employees. The key is to figure out a way to provide your service in the simplest way possible (so you can also provide good customer service). For me, I use tools to make it easy to schedule appointments with my clients, present information to them, and follow up.
I suggest using Google Apps for Business along with Google Hangouts and BookFresh. These tools make it easy for me to meet with clients, share service presentations with them, and follow-up. I have also partnered with other companies, (as an affiliate), that offer services and products that are parallel or complimentary to the services I offer. These companies have turned into an extension of my own organization and have eased the pressure of me running my own business by helping me provide my service to each client.