Where To Start... The Top Three Things To Start With First
Starting a business can feel overwhelming at times and especially when you're first starting. I know that I felt like there were so many things that I "needed" to do. I needed a website so I could attract clients - and feel like I fit with and could compete against the established competitors. I needed a bank account with merchant services so I could be paid - well I really need to take any type of payment so I can eat next week. I needed super creative letterhead and brochures to convince prospective clients that I'm talented - and justify the prices I'm going to quote them.
Maybe these sound familiar. Maybe you have your own list of "need to dos." What all of these "needs" really represented was my own insecurity and lack of experience. So here's what I wish someone had shared with me, the top three things that you actually "need" to do.
1. FILE A DBA OR LLC IN YOUR STATE
Start here. Everything else you "need to do" relies on your official business name. In order to open a business bank account, you need either a DBA (a fictitious name) or LLC on file with your state of residency. There are fees associated with either option and vary depending on your state, but they should not be prohibitively expensive. If $175 LLC filing fee breaks your savings account, I suggest waiting until you've saved enough to cover all of your living/operating expenses for at least six months.
You also want to do this first because depending on your state, it can take anywhere from four to twelve weeks until you hear back from your state's filing office regarding your business registration request. Get this done first, so you can work on other "need to dos" while you're waiting.
While we're on the subject, forget filing services like LegalZoom. It makes it more expensive than it needs to be and you still have to provide all the same information to LegalZoom that you'd enter yourself into your state's application.
2. CREATE A WEBSITE THAT DOESN'T SCARE PEOPLE AWAY
A website is no longer optional, especially for a new business that's trying to establish itself. Now, you don't need to break the bank to get a website. There are a number of services for the "do it yourself types" (I suggest checking out Squarespace and Weebly.) You can put a nice looking website together in a few hours for relatively low cost.
If you have a bit of starting money that you can invest in your business, have your website professionally designed. Professionally designed does not mean your neighbor's kid who knows how to code or your nephew who's good with technology. I mean a web design agency or an established freelancer with a great portfolio. At our agency, we created new business packages for brand new businesses for roughly $1,200 depending on complexity and design (to give you some reference.)
When thinking about what you need to have on your website, look at your competition but don't copy them. You will get nowhere imitating your competition, rather figure out what's important to your audience and showcase it better.
3. DETERMINE HOW YOU'RE GOING TO GET PAID
This really depends on the type of business you are starting. If you're in a service industry you will likely be issuing invoices, and if you're more product related it will be point-of-sale (POS.) If you're selling online, federal laws require that you be PCI Compliant in the way you process and handle payment information. You will need to setup a payment gateway with a credit card processor. I could write an entire post simply on payment gateways but here are two options to look at if this is all new to you (PayPal and Stripe.) Both of these options are good places to get started if you're looking to issue invoices that can be paid online.
At my agency, we issue invoices for our creative service work and we utilize Stripe to process online payments. If this is something that you're looking to do, I recommend looking at an invoicing system like one of these (Harvest and FreshBooks, or if you need a bit more traditional book-keeping added in, Xero.) All of these systems integrate with payment gateways and enable you to issue invoices that can be paid via credit card online. Of course, this does not prevent people from snail mailing you checks.
When you're first starting out, there is nothing worse than waiting around on checks. Providing clients with the ability to pay you instantly right online can save your bacon.
IN THE END...
There are of course a lot of things that you'll "need" to do, but this list will help you address some of the most important ones to at least get your feet wet with your business. They will help you build confidence that you've got your stuff together and clients will feel comfortable work with you again and again. That right there is the real price.