Beginning a business is an exciting endeavor. And the general population seems to agree: over the last decade there has been an unprecedented inline in those taking that professional plunge. As of last year, freelancers now comprise 35% of the US workforce, plus the number of funding applications for startups was 79% greater than the previous year.
Yet notwithstanding these encouraging statistics, beginning a business still presents considerable challenges, whatever the industry, field or profession. And while there are an abundance of resources available to help (which address every facet of your business, from values to visions, KPI's to ROI's, branding to business-pitches), sometimes it's also important to consider the more 'day-to-day tools' required for success, which often get sidelined or overlooked.
1. Legal Help
This may well be the least of your concerns when starting a business, but it ought not to be. Investing in legal advice and aid is one of the best tools you can equip yourself with - and can prove to be indispensable in the long-run. This is because whether you're a one (wo)man-band or a team of ten-strong, the likelihood is that your business will come into contact with the law sooner or later - and preparedness is key.
To illustrate this, two friends who establish a business together are unlikely to draw up a formal contract with one another. Yet if one establishes the brand and designs the logo, it can become unclear whether those entities are company property or personal property. IP can be a particularly contentious field - and this could quickly become problematic in the future.
During the initial stages of launching a business, taking time to draft basic and simple agreements (which aren't verbal!) can potentially save you from financial fatalities in the future. Some companies, such as Legalzoom, even specialize in this market. It is always advantageous to keep a paper-trail of all major decisions and agreements, if only by email, but do not consider legal resources superfluous until you absolutely need them: prevention is better than cure.
2. Business Cards
Business cards, along with print and (now) TV, have allegedly been dying for years. Yet here we are, still using all three. In other words, although myriad (technology-based) alternatives have circulated, no digital tool has successfully replaced the humble business card. This is predominantly because whether it's a code to scan or app to download, none of these digital alternatives have become ubiquitous, standardized, or really more convenient than passing someone an old-fashioned card.
Maybe this will change in the future. But for now, there really is no replacement: whether you're in finance or fashion, a well-put-together business card great opportunity to capture your business - and you - into one snapshot for someone to keep.
As a general rule-of-thumb, a business card should never be information-heavy. Keep it concise. Additionally, let your profession dictate the layout: if you're a creative let your work speak for itself, and make an image the focal-point (but never more than two). Likewise, if your industry is nascent or esoteric, include a strong tagline or one sentence clearly describing both your business and brand.
Professionalism is crucial for any business, but it is especially pertinent if you are just starting out and wish to establish yourself as a legitimate player in your field or industry. A fully-functioning website is, without doubt, the biggest opportunity you'll have to put your best foot forward to your customers. Today, it is simply not an option to not partake in the digital sphere; in 2017 between 70-80% of people research a company online before visiting the business or making a purchase.
Your website need not be a work-of-art, yet it should have two primary goals: a simple interface which performs well from a UX standpoint, and is easily to navigate and use on the back-end, too. Much like business cards, there are many sites dedicated to help you build your own website (many of which being inexpensive, effective and extremely easy to use, rendering your concerns about cost, time and expertise obsolete). Two great examples are Wix and Squarespace.
Don't overwhelm yourself with dozens of dashboards or millions of metrics: a website should simply look professional and legitimate from the customer's perspective, and operate efficiently and easily from the business owner's side. Hit these two criteria and you'll be laughing.
4. Professional Phone-Service
Finally, an effective phone-service is a crucial tool when starting a business. Today, it is more important than ever to stay well-connected; business doesn't operate during the 9-5 paradigm any more. But equally, unless your business is in telecom, your phone-service is unlikely to be a key consideration. For that reason, many people miss a trick and end up with difficult, convoluted or cumbersome phone-services.
Establishing an easy way for customers to reach you via call is one of the easiest tools to obtain; there are a variety of inexpensive, flexible and convenient phone-services on the market dedicated to this end. One such example is PicuP (created specifically as a tool for new businesses), which enables you to manage and organize your calls through a variety of features. These include the ability to add multiple extensions, personalized welcome greetings, and a screening process which differentiates inbound professional calls from personal ones (allowing you to respond accordingly). Plus, you can keep your existing number, too.
An effective phone-system will directly impact how you connect and communicate with your customers. And by establishing a robust, streamlined service, you will have everything you need to ensure that you don't miss an opportunity when it comes knocking (or calling, in this case).
This list is by no means exhaustive. In part, it offers a springboard to consider additional tools which you may need. Chances are, your finalized list will be three-times the length, however the aforementioned are absolute prerequisites to any successful business.
If you take the time to equip yourself with the right tools, it can be an investment that goes a long way. And while the specific payoffs will differ greatly business-to-business, one thing is assured: you will have more time to focus on your business itself - so you can close that account, secure that contract, sign-up that customer, or anything in-between.
The article was co-authored by Katt Godfray @GravityMediaLLC