It seems like every other day a young person is venturing out on their own and starting a new business. In fact, in 2013, 476,000 new businesses were created each month. And it should be noted that there are currently more than 8.9 million women-owned businesses in the US, employing 7.8 million people nationwide.
Starting your own business sounds very glamorous and entrepreneurship is quite exciting, but there are also major challenges. Number one being that it is extremely expensive and risky to start your own company, especially in a tough economy like this. “Most entrepreneurs grossly underestimate startup costs,” Pewaukee, Wis., financial planner Kevin Reardon told CNN.com. The solution will really depend on your business model and the industry. However, according to a 2009 study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation the average cost of starting a new business from scratch usually comes in a little over $30,000.
But many small businesses, particular freelance, online and home-based ventures may only require a few thousand to get started. And, luckily, there are some amazing (and free!) services out there to help you get your business off the ground and not empty out your entire bank account.
Forming Your Company
Founders Workbench, from the law firm Goodwin Procter, has a service called Document Driver ®. It is a free solution whereby you can generate crucial legal documents to support the legal formation of a startup. Document Driver is intended for “pure startups” (i.e. companies which are not established that do not have material assets or operations) forming companies under Delaware law. If you’re a little intimidated by the legal language, check out their Deal Dictionary for explanations of documents and definitions of key terms.
LegalZoom is another good option for the critical documents needed to form your company. It provides services to help in forming your business, naming your business, tax license and permits and other additional business needs.
Establishing Your Web Presence
Gone are the days when a business could exist solely in “the bricks-and-mortar dimension.” No matter what your business purpose, a digital presence is crucial to getting the word out about what you do. Fortunately, also gone are the days when creating a website would set you back thousands of dollars in both technology build and design costs.
Services such as Squarespace can get you started in minutes. Pick a template that suits your business type, tweak it for your needs, buy a domain and you’re off! Hosting costs and customer support are built in to Squarespace’s pricing packages.
Alternatively, you could go down the WordPress route and pick a theme from a company such as WooThemes. Going this direction will open doors to lots more widgets and customization opportunities, however it also brings with it more complexity. Hosting needs to be purchased separately and you should also consider that customer support for WordPress sites is fragmented given the disparate groups behind WordPress, widgets, the themes and the hosting.
Whichever route you choose, don’t forget to consider the availability of social media account names (e.g. Twitter handles, Instagram and Facebook presences) ahead of buying your domain name. The more cohesive everything is, the easier it is for people to find and remember you.
Branding and Identity
Logos, business cards, and product packaging (if relevant) are all important in conveying your company’s brand to your customers. A snazzy logo especially can be hugely additive to both your website and your social profiles. 99Designs is a great resource in this area. Basically designers submit competing designs in response to a customer’s design brief—and the winner receives a cash payment for their work. 99Designs has had over 305,625 design contests since starting in 2008. They also sell ready-to-use logos through their Readymade logo store, and help customers and designers manage ongoing design work.
Marketing and PR
Building a personal brand is important for all of us, but is essential for the success of a small business. And there are many easy options to get your company’s name out there and market it in the way you want.
If you are able to afford to pay for PR, then that’s great. But if not, you have other options. For example, free press releases can be issued via www.pr.com and www.press-release.com. Another way to get PR, and also a great means to showcase your expertise, is to leverage www.helpareporter.com. Through this service, you can pitch stories to bloggers and journalists as well as respond to queries from reporters in your areas of focus. Being quoted as a source can be a huge boost for your profile. See more mays to build your personal brand here.
Fiverr is also a viable and low-cost option for marketing and PR. You can easily outsource your SEO, social media, other online marketing and PR to professionals for the low cost of–you guessed it!–five dollars (or more).
Hiring (and Potentially Firing!)
There are a plethora of ways you can scout talent for your company from the numerous job boards, to posting in LinkedIn groups and on other social media networks. Finding the right person – from the perspective of skill set and cultural fit – is hugely important. However, don’t forget that establishing legal and operational processes is just as crucial, especially given the potential ramifications of getting it wrong.
Founders Workbench has a plethora of resources to help a new business comply with employment regulations: from, determining whether your new hire should be classed as a contractor or an employee, to awarding equity-based compensation, to building a top team and advisory board.
Finance and Operations
Deciding how you will record, track and manage all the money you will be earning is of the utmost importance for a small business owner. QuickBooks is a great option for just that. It makes it easy to organize all of your financial data in one central location so that you can manage your money, pay your bills, and track payments from your customers efficiently.
Stellar project management options include Asana. It provides a simple and straight-forward way to organize your work flow with your co-workers without having to send countless emails. You can add sections to any project for blog pipelines, bug tracking, product roadmaps, sales pipelines, etc.
Good old reliable Google Docs is also always a viable option for this category. Share spreadsheets, documents, and more with your team and have them make edits on the same document. Google Drive helps reduce the need to have several versions of the same document.
If you’re looking to scale your business fast, then you’re probably going to need to seek outside funding. In addition the challenge of starting your own business, female business onwers have to deal with a whole lot more. According to research by The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, women generally lack contacts within the “old boys’ network” of funding sources. Plus, many professional investors have less confidence in women than men to penetrate their intended markets.
But don’t worry, there are great resources to help women with getting VC contacts, learn to fund raise, network as well as the operational side of running businesses: Here are 25 excellent sites to help with just that. And, if you’re looking for traditional business funding (e.g. bank loans), check out our review of the FundWell platform which is super supportive in helping businesses obtain this kind of funding.
The bottom line is if you truly believe in yourself and in your vision for your company, don’t let a meager budget get in the way of following your dream in starting your own business.
There are lots of resources out there for female entrepreneurs and there are plenty of ways for you to get started on your own without a ton of investment capital. All you need is a little gumption and belief in yourself.