Launching something from the ground up is exciting, but it also can be scary. Am I covering all my bases? How will people find me? Do I have enough money?

I started my email marketing company, VerticalResponse, in 2001. It's been a wild ride watching it go from a scrappy startup to an established company with over 100 employees. These days, I'm also an adviser to a startup called Dasheroo, a business dashboard app. A lot's changed in 13 years, but some stuff that I learned back in the day still apply when it comes to launching a new business in 2014.

If you're about to strike out on your own, here are five essential things that you can't afford to overlook:

1. Get good legal advice.

Hey, I'm no lawyer, nor do I ever pretend to be. Chances are, you're like me, too. Legalzoom is great when you need just the basics like registering your company, getting a trademark and filing your business for federal and state tax ID numbers. But for more complicated things--if you plan to offer your employees or future employees equity in the company or anticipate complex contracts with vendors or partners, for example--you want a pro who has direct experience in those things. When it comes to the law, it's better to be safe than risk being sorry.

2. Get your online presence in order.

A good URL is essential these days, and along with it, a professional-looking website. Your home page can be super basic--maybe all it has is your logo, some images, your contact information and an email sign-up form to start--but you need to have something to show that you're legit.

And because nearly everyone starts their search for goods or services online, search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial to getting in front of potential customers. So optimize those keywords--this SEO keyword guide shows you how--and, if you have a brick-and-mortar location, get on Google stat.

3. Get an accountant.

You need someone who knows about the ebb and flow of cash, tax planning and all those other things with decimal points and lots of zeroes. Guess what? That probably shouldn't be you. When I started VerticalResponse, I got someone to do my Quickbooks for me on a monthly basis. This worked fine until we got big enough that we needed to keep a daily eye on things and I hired a CFO.

4. Get your content machine up and running.

Don't underestimate the power of content. Don't think you need it in your industry? Think again. It's an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and be useful to your customers. The more content you publish, the more you help your customers, the more the search engines will pick you up (because you'll be using keywords, of course!) and ultimately, the more business you'll get.

5. Get on social media.

OK, so social media wasn't around back in 2001, but the minute VerticalResponse embraced it, there was no looking back--we get tons of visibility and traffic to our website from our social media channels. The key is to focus on just one or two platforms when you're starting out, so that you don't get overwhelmed. If you're a B2B company, maybe it's LinkedIn; but if you're starting a wedding consulting business, maybe Pinterest is where all your potential clients are at.

Got any must-haves for start-ups? Share it with everyone in the comments section!


Published on: Jul 24, 2014