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Congratulations, you have decided to venture out on your own and build your own business. You have also decided to do it without raising capital, which means you have to be smart and efficient with your money from day one.You have probably read countless books on leadership and read blogs on product, market, fit. You have the big, audacious idea and are excited to take on the market with your ingenuity and grit. But, have you thought about the day to day management of the business, the less sexy part of running your business, which is,actually running your business?
Whether you are setting up as an individual to freelance/consult or looking to build a large team, it's important to take a few critical steps early on. At Launch Angle, we learned through trial and error in year one. Below are some of the tactical services and steps we took to set our bootstrapped company up for continued success that hopefully can help you get going. Many of the things here are not necessary from day one, but you will be glad you did them early so you don't have to backtrack later. You don't need millions in capital to start a new business, but you do need support and a good framework to get going. Here is our first year blueprint on the day to day things that keep our back of the house in order:
1) Find a lawyer. This may seem silly if you are just starting out but many of the initial steps will need legal guidance and counsel. Talk to friends or family in the industry, figure out the rates that work for you. Finding a lawyer you can depend on saves so much time, avoids early mistakes and provides good legal foundation for your business.
2) Set up your LLC - There are many websites that can help you do this, but we used our lawyer and it only took a few hours. After you have set it up, you can then contact the IRS to get your EIN (Employer Identification Number) There is not much in terms of tax benefits if you are a sole proprietorship, but it does make it clear you have established your business. In some states you must then declare your business in the local paper to make it official, which again is a great thing to have your lawyer look over. When picking the name, think about whether this will be the public facing name of the business. Do your research and make sure there isn't a major competitor with your name or worse, it means something wildly different in another language.
3) Create NDA and SOW templates - As you start pitching for new business and landing new opportunities, you want to be able to quickly send over official documents to lock in the business. Creating these templates now makes it easy to scale the operation later. Leverage your lawyer to create templates that work for your business. The lawyer can also redline agreements and make sure you are signing something that doesn’t hurt the growth of your business.
4) Create an Operating Agreement - if you are going into business with a partner, it’s critical to start having the conversation early on and get to a good working agreement. This document is going to be a living, breathing organism with changes as the company grows so the first one can be pretty basic and standard. But, it’s critical to have the tough conversations early (what if one of us dies? What if one wants to take a full time job) so the company doesn’t suffer.
5) Signing Documents - there are so many services out there for this, we chose Docusign and created a business account.
6) Domain - originally we bought Launchanglemedia.com on Squarespace for $20 because Launch Angle at the time was too cost prohibitive and unnecessary. A few months later, we were in a better spot financially and made the investment to own Launchangle.com. You can be creative here and save some, but remember you want people to be able to find you so the extra investment to get the domain you really want could be worth it.
7) Website - you can use the free templates provided by Squarespace or Wix, for our first few months we had live a very limited one page site that I built via Squarespace. When we were ready to take it to the next level, we tapped the services of Gosling Media to shepherd us through the process (they also created our logo!)
8) Social media handles - even if you aren't ready to post on them, establish your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat and Tik Tok presences. Keep the user names consistent so it's easier to cross-pollinate content and for followers to be able to find you.
9) Email - You can purchase GSuite services through Squarespace or GoDaddy (we got our domain, website build and email through Squarespace) and it's pretty easy to set up initial users and then add additional users. Again, making it consistent with your website and social handles is optimal as it helps establish your brand.
10) Office Space - probably one of the biggest overhead costs for any business, spending incorrectly here could be the death of your business before year one. In NYC, many office buildings ask for a security deposit based on your revenue and length of company, which eat away at your revenue at a critical juncture.
For many, working from home is probably the best option and the most cost effective way to start out. For us, we both had young kids at home who would want to “borrow” our computers to watch Daniel Tiger, so we needed a place for focus time.
We got creative and started to use Equinox. As a member, there is free wifi and many of the locations have lounge areas where you can sit and do work. Plus, it forced me to work out a bit more than when I was in an office full time. The draw back, we learned, is when a client call comes through and the gym is blasting “I’m Real” by J. Lo and Ja Rule, your professional status takes a hit.
For meetings and general team collaboration, we joined Betaworks Studios, which has been awesome from day one. It’s billed as a clubhouse for builders and we would go there once a week to host clients, conduct meetings and white board out our strategy. They have some of the best industry talks I have seen during the work day.
Excited to say we now rent desks there and will begin to work out of their offices full-time in 2020.
11) Meetings/Conference Call Dial In - I hate pin codes. Especially when traveling, racing from one meeting to another and trying to remember a nine digit password. It's the worst. We use Uberconference which provides for a nominal fee a dedicated phone number without any password needed. You can set it up to text you when the client has dialed in, which is a great way to keep you on time.
12) Managing Tasks - We are a pretty straight forward consulting company, but as we took on more work and we had to juggle multiple projects, we needed a system to keep track. For the simple weekly management of big tasks, we use Trello. It's free for the first ten boards. Asana and Monday are great services if you have more in depth needs for project management.
13) Managing Calendars - Something I have always been horrible at is managing my weekly calendar. I get really excited for "future me" and want to meet new people, learn about new opportunities so I stack my day with new meetings. Unfortunately, future me then hates present me when I am in back to back meetings all day long with no ability to check email or do the actual work. To make our lives more sane, we have used a few services:
Squared Away - one of the best investments we made all year is partnering with this firm on having a part-time assistant. Many would say this is a luxury not worth investing in early on, however, it’s literally saved us so much time and helped us drive revenue faster than expected. Founded by a military spouse who has set up a network of kickass virtual assistants, the pricing is direct and reasonable. You can scale up and down based on your monthly needs as you grow.
Clockwise - integrated into Gmail and helps block out time on your calendar so you have dedicated focus time. It also offers optimization suggestions where it can stack meetings in the same office together or erase duplicative meetings. It's been a boon for finding quiet, reflective time during the work week.
Calendly - as a test, we set up dedicated office hours to see if potential clients would book time with us for a trial consultation. As a services business we have felt it's too cold and not personal enough so have slid away from it. If your business is something like Career Coaching or Legal work, this could be great for you as it connects directly to your Gmail and also directly to Stripe for easy payments.
14) Set up Business Bank Account - From the first check you receive, you should have clear separation from your personal checking account and your business. Creating gray area here can lead to sticky tax situations and confusion as you grow. It's best to start clean and make purchases and deposit revenue ONLY to this account.
15) Invoicing - You could Google "invoice" and there will be many free options that are fine and make it easy to start. However, once you get going and have multiple clients, managing the invoices becomes more complicated and is a chore that can slow you down. We opted to use Wave Payments as they had a few custom options where we can add our logo, they helped organize our client list and it was free (Wave makes money if your client pays directly through Wave or if you use their payroll service.)
16) Bookkeeping - for year one, we used Wave Payments as well for our bookkeeping needs. However, we found as we continued to grow and had more complex payment relationships with clients and purchasing decisions for our business, we wanted a more robust service. We are now using an accountant and have switched over to QuickBooks
17) Set Your Price - Remember, this is not just about paying yourself a salary similar to your full time job. That is a common mistake many make when venturing out on their own. You might be paying health care out of pocket, additional taxes depending on the state you live in (unincorporated tax) and all of the above services to run your business. Do not devalue your work. Plant your flag in the ground and stick to the price you set.
Are there any services you are currently using that help you manage the day to day? Would love to hear about them!