As a founder who is passionate about every aspect of my company, I often catch myself talking a lot about my work when socializing.
Somehow conversation always gravitates back to business because I truly love what I do every day, so much so, that I'd even venture to say I'm having fun!
Okay, I'll be the first to admit – that's pretty nerdy.
Oftentimes though, I find myself in the midst of energetic, engaging conversations with other business owners, or even people that are simply entrepreneurial-minded or interested in the "how-did-you-do-it" story about what it is like to jump off into the great unknown of starting a business. New business owners or freelancers who are just getting their business idea out to the world are almost always on a tight budget.
Trusty Oak is a fairly lean organization and we utilize a number of free software programs and apps as well as a few more that are more affordable than you think. We add new tools, upgrade old ones, hire new people, and invest in advertising as we grow and our budget allows, but I've learned a thing or two about starting on a shoestring!
If you have:
- A viable business idea
- A willingness to learn new things constantly
- A dedication to setting a date with yourself every week to work ON your business instead of only IN your business
- And $2,244 (or a plan to earn it fast)
then read on for a step-by-step guide to launching your business to success! I've compiled a comprehensive breakdown of everything I found essential for starting a business on $2,244, and even set up some quick links for you.
- Get a business email address.
- Set up a Google Voice phone number.
- Get a virtual office.
- Set up a SquareSpace website.
- Create a Trello account.
- Sign up for Quickbooks Online.
- Create a Google My Business page.
- Complete your LinkedIn profile and company page.
- Create a Facebook company page.
- Create a Twitter profile for your company.
- Claim your Yelp Business listing.
- Join Alignable.com.
- Sign up for Canva.com.
- Sign up for HubSpot CRM.
- Start networking.
First, the Basics
Get a Business Email Address. Total: $204 per year
This may seem trivial, but give yourself the respect you deserve and get a business email address. Your Yahoo! Mail or Gmail address with your name and birth year or graduation year on the end is leaving a question unanswered about what you do, and more importantly, it's creating a lot of doubt around your professionalism and experience. If you use email@example.com, no one knows who you are and it still may be saying the wrong things about the legitimacy of your business.
Step 1: Buy a domain name for about $144 per year.
It doesn't matter where you get it (we are using GoDaddy.com), just make sure you get a domain name.
What to look for:
- Buy a domain name that can be remembered easily. Ideally, it will be your company name using the .COM extension (or .ORG for non-profits.) If your name is longer than about 15 characters, consider using an intuitive abbreviation instead.
- Buy a domain name that is not already owned by someone else, and one that is not too similar to another domain name with a live website – especially if your competitor owns the similar name!
- Buy something you can say without needing to spell it out every single time. If you hear yourself saying something like "that's virtual assistants ending with 'A-N-T-S' not 'A-N-C-E,'" every time you speak the domain name, it's not a good domain. People need to be able to write it down quickly when they hear it spoken out loud.
- If at all possible, avoid buying a domain name that uses a dash. (Why? For the reasons stated in all previous bullets!)
Step 2: Subscribe to G Suite for just $5 per month. ($60 per year)
You love your Gmail, so why not stick with what you already know? You can get a business Gmail on your new domain name within just a few minutes at gsuite.google.com. And the good news is you also get a professional calendar, 30GB of cloud file storage, Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, Hangouts, and more. Oh, and the extra good news: you can easily add new users to your domain for just $5/month/user without needing to call any 1-800 numbers.
Step 3: Set up a professional email signature.
Don't forgo this simple step. You don't have to be a designer or be super tech-y. Just follow these quick steps for setting up a Google email signature.
- Your name (obviously)
- Your company name
- Your business phone number
- A link to your website
- Links to company social media channels OR
- Your office address
Set up a Google Voice phone number. Total: $0 per year
Your phone number should be displayed prominently on your website, and if you are like me, you really don't want your personal cell phone number plastered online for anyone to scrape up. Get a business phone number and keep your privacy.
If you subscribe to G Suite, you already have the Google account needed to get started. With Google Voice, you get a phone number (local area codes are usually available) and are able to keep personal and business numbers separate. Everything is managed via voice.google.com. Create a custom greeting, read transcripts of your voicemails, and set up call forwarding. Use the Google Voice app so your call recipients see the business number on their Caller ID. You can even use the number to send text messages. Check out all of the Google Voice features here.
If you work from home, get a virtual office. Total: $1,200 per year
If you think skipping this one wouldn't hurt much, you're right. It won't hurt much, but you will certainly be missing out on some big opportunities for getting both direct and organic leads to your website. This step ties into several points in the lead generation section below.
What is a virtual office? Dictionary.com defines it this way: "the operational domain of any business or organization whose workforce includes a significant proportion of workers using technology to perform their work at home." Essentially, a virtual office is a real place that allows you to pay for a mailing address at the location, and usually also includes mail forwarding services.
Why do you need a virtual office? You need a physical location besides your private residence to list as your business address online so Google and other search engines can both see that you are a place of business and deliver accurate search results to those looking for your company.
Check with a few virtual office companies in your area to find the best rate. Some options to consider for virtual office space:
- Intelligent Office
- Cloud Virtual Office
- Regus Virtual Offices
- Coworking Spaces – some co-working spaces also offer mail service with their monthly membership.
Pro tip: Avoid using a P.O. box or UPS Store unless you want people thinking you work there!
See more about the huge advantages of having a virtual office below in the lead generation section of this post.
Set up a SquareSpace website. Total: $144–$216 per year
Typically your website is going to be one of the biggest initial investments you make for your business, but SquareSpace has made it so incredibly affordable to create a professional website – on a budget and even if you are not a designer or a coder. I'm not going to lie and say it's so easy to do, but if you are willing to learn and DIY is the way you like to roll, you can do this. (And if you can spare another $1,000 - $3,000, you can pay someone else to configure a SquareSpace website for you!)
Pro tip: Get the SquareSpace Business Package which includes a website, domain name registration, and a year of GSuite for just $216 for the first year. (This is the BEST deal!)
Start by choosing a SquareSpace template and sign up for the 14-day trial, then write great content.
- Share your story. Include your professional background and experience, but more importantly, write about why you do what you do.
- Give an overview of your products or services. Try to write to your ideal client, and use bullet lists and headings to break up large blocks of text.
- Determine what you want site visitors to do when they come to your website. You want one clear Call-to-Action (CTA) per page. Make the CTA a button. "Sign Up," "Schedule a Consultation," "Get in Touch," or "Buy Now" are great examples. Give the reader something to interact with versus just reading a brochure website.
- Make sure you have the rights to any photos you choose to use. Fines for using photos you don't have permission to use are a real thing. I know someone who received a $700 fine from Getty Images for using a photo for which they didn't own the rights. It is best to purchase stock images from a stock photo website like BigStock, or iStockphoto, but you may be able to find free images with permissions at sites like Pexels or Pixabay – just be sure the images are allowed for commercial use.
Once your site is configured, you can launch it on that domain name you purchased. You're on your way to impressing the masses now!
Create a Trello account. Total: $0 per year
Create a daily routine by employing this easy-to-use project management software. It's an excellent tool for collaborating, but can also be extremely useful for personal project management. We use Trello quite a bit at Trusty Oak, and I'm a huge fan. You can even use it to create shopping lists or plan vacations!
Trello also integrates with a number of other programs you may be using. Check out the full list of Trello integrations for more ideas.
Subscribe to Quickbooks Online. Total: $420 per year (or less!)
Quickbooks Online offers several packages and often has 50% off sales, so it doesn't cost much to buy the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly how much money is coming in and going out each month, quarter, and year. Plus, your accountant's invoice might be smaller if you aren't delivering your records in a shoebox!
Sign up for Quickbooks Online and choose the package that's best for you.
Pro tip: Ask your CPA if they can provide a promo code or discount. Some accountants have relationships with QBO and can pass along some savings.
Now, Let's Get Some Leads
Now that your business is making a professional first impression, it's time to draw some people to your website.
The next section of this article highlights some great free tools to support organic lead generation. The game is always changing in the world of online marketing, but here are a few small things you can do for your business to start filling your sales funnel.
Create a Google My Business page. Total: $0 per year
Remember that virtual office? Well, this is the biggest reason I recommend having an office address. I first learned how to create a Google Business Listing in a little town called Taylor, TX during Small Business Week when I attended a workshop presented by Serving Social. Little did I know that when I created my own Google My Business page, I would see an immediate increase in traffic to my site!
This doesn't take long, but you do need to wait a few days for a postcard to come by snail mail. (Hence, the need for mail service through a virtual office!)
Complete your LinkedIn Profile and Company Page. Total: $0 per year
You are probably already on LinkedIn, but is it an accurate reflection of you and your business? Take the time to complete your profile to the "All-Star" level. Professionals who have an All-Star rating are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn. Here's a good checklist for achieving that LinkedIn All-Star rating.
We have more than one client that originally found us via LinkedIn. One client simply did a search for virtual assistants and came across my profile. Another was looking for an assistant in Boise and came across one of our VA's profiles and saw that she was connected to another business owner he knew, so he contacted us. We've also received a number of referrals via mentions in comments on articles related to what we do.
Your prospective clients are on LinkedIn, so you should be serving up information they are searching for in the platform. Add connections as you meet people in real life, but also consider adding connections that you do not know. Invite someone to coffee and expand your network!
Don't forget to set up your Company Page as well. Prospects researching your company are looking at LinkedIn to learn more about your team and your business.
Pro tip: Check out LinkedIn Sales Navigator when you are ready to use LinkedIn as a legit prospecting tool!
Create a Company Facebook Page. Total: $0 per year
Even if you think Facebook is just for politics, BuzzFeed recipes and baby pictures, create a Page for your company. (Note: Don't create a personal profile for your business – create a "Page.") With every social media account you create, you are building one more link back to your website. Search engines like to see more links from reputable sites, so if for nothing else but that, create a page and complete the profile.
- Use a professional cover image and profile image using the proper dimensions.
- Set up a Call-to-Action button (a great way to get Facebook page visitors to click over to your website!)
- Complete the About section with basic information, ensuring it is consistent with what you have published on your website and other social media channels.
- Post some visual content such as photos and videos.
- Monitor the inbox and be sure to respond promptly.
- After you complete your profile, invite friends to follow the page.
For more details on how to make your brand's Facebook Page rock, check out this HubSpot article.
Create a Twitter profile for your business. Total: $0 per year
One of my mentors used to always say that Facebook is like the family reunion and Twitter is like the cocktail party. You probably know most of the people you are connected with on Facebook, and the discussions tend to be centered around those existing relationships. Twitter is different in that you don't know everyone, and it's easy to casually insert yourself into new and interesting topics by following a hashtag, similar to the way you might start talking to a group of people circled up at a cocktail party.
I don't know about you, but the cocktail party sounds more fun than the family reunion! Don't be left out of the meaningful conversations happening on Twitter. (Which by the way is another popular place people crowdsource information or search for relevant content and resources – be there to give them an answer!)
Create a Yelp listing for your business. Total: $0 per year
We created a Yelp listing for Trusty Oak early on and only have a few reviews. At first, I wasn't sure it was worth the effort, but then I kept noticing something – when I Google searched for my company name, Yelp showed up higher in the results than our own website! As mentioned before, building links from reputable websites to your site is important for supporting the search engine optimization of your site.
Take the time to upload photos, details about your services, contact information and links back to your website. Set the location for your business as well. (There's that virtual office again!)
One of the most important reasons for setting up your Yelp page is to ensure it reflects your business accurately. The truth is, it's possible that someone else has already created a Yelp page for you by way of writing you a review. You definitely want to know if there is a page for your company out there!
Join Alignable.com. Total: $0 per year
Alignable is a social network for local business owners that allows users to connect with other businesses in the area, send messages and post about your services and events.
Ok, you may be thinking like me – "not another social media account, please!" I get it. But this was recommended to me by a very smart small business marketer I trust, so I decided to give it a shot anyway. The good news: Alignable makes it easy for you to keep engaged with the network without a lot of hassle by sending email prompts to add to your network, collaborate with others and see what other business owners are doing in your city. I don't spend but just a few minutes per week checking it out.
Personally, we received our first lead via Alignable within two weeks of my setting up the account, and that lead became a happy customer. If you'd like an invitation to join, shoot me an email and I'll get you connected!
Sign up for Canva. Total: $0 per year
Canva is a free graphic design tool with few limitations even in the free version of the account. I am not a designer, so having a way to create professional looking designs without learning Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator has been fun and so useful! It even gives you the pre-set proper dimensions for many common graphics.
This program is one I have used on almost a weekly basis to create social media graphics, postcards, business cards, gift certificates and even a large pop-up banner for a trade show. I recently upgraded our account so we can upload our own fonts, but I used the free version for almost two years.
Nurture Leads and Never Miss a Follow-up
Sign up for the forever free HubSpot CRM.
You may be thinking that you don’t need this when you are just starting out, but the truth is that it’s never too soon to implement processes and software that will support business growth. Using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool not only keeps all of your contact data in one place, it also sets you up to close more deals. “How’s that,” you say? A CRM will help you stay on top of leads by effectively nurturing existing relationships – without only depending on your ability to remember to follow up. I further make my case for HubSpot’s CRM in another blog post and video sharing three reasons you should start using a CRM today.
Building Relationships and New Skill Sets
Network while learning.
I believe that as a small business owner, the most important factor for our success lies within our ability to build relationships. One coffee meeting, one business networking mingle, or one email can cause a ripple effect of connections. Some of Trusty Oak’s clients were connected to us for more than a year before they became paying customers.
When you believe in the power of these singular moments in business, then every interaction is equally valuable.
If you are new to the business world, there are tons of free ways to get involved. Many events are centered around educational presentations, so you can invest in yourself and meet like-minded professionals. Browse events on the following sites and get out there!
There you have it: the secret sauce (that's not so secret after all) that can launch your business into the world. Of course, this list is just the beginning, but these tools and processes will give you a strong foundation and set you up for growth you can manage and leverage for success.
Want to learn more about tools, strategies, and techniques for growing your small business? Get in touch!