Many people have written tips, guides and questions for aspiring entrepreneurs. Many of them are excellent, but I don’t think anyone has captured the essence of the stages a young entrepreneur goes through and specific advice for what they should do at each stage. As part of our efforts at GreenhornConnect.com, we want to create a central location that provides the information that an aspiring entrepreneur needs to go from starting out (Is this for me? What should I do?) to evaluating an idea (What goes into a business plan? How do I build a team?) to being a real business (Do I need investment? What tools should I use?).
In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing different sections of this guide in my blog, pulling from my experiences, what I’ve read and advice I’ve heard from others. If you read this and think something is missing or disagree with any of the advice, please comment; I want this to be the best guide possible and will gladly give you credit for your contribution. Thanks.
Part V: Making it official
You’ve vetted the idea and have a small team, here’s what you do to get serious and launch your business.
1) Get a Name and Social Media set up:
It’s important to have a name for your business. It needs to be simple, memorable and relevant to your area of work. If it’s hard to spell, people won’t remember it. If they don’t see the connection to your business, it can also be forgettable. There are more tips for naming your business here. Make sure the URL for your name is available as a “dot com.” If it’s not, either negotiate to buy it (if it’s not in use) or for another name.
Once you have chosen your name, you need to secure it in social media. Go grab the name on Twitter, create a fan page on Facebook (you don’t have to publish it yet), and secure other social media usernames you think you might use (Youtube, Flickr, etc). If you’re finding that many of them aren’t available, you may want to consider looking for a different name. Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan’s book, Inbound Marketing has a great checklist for startups for this area. Start using them to build a buzz for your company before you launch. Get involved in the conversation and gather a following.
2) Choose Your Service Providers
When you get started, the first service provider you’re going to need is a lawyer. Ben Hron of VCReady Law wrote a great post about when it’s time to formalize your business. You definitely do not want to wait too long to do this. Incorporating or forming an LLC not only protects you from personal liability, but it forces you to put in writing your agreements with any partner you have. You can do online forms to get this done yourself , but as the saying goes, “you wouldn’t do your own surgery, so why would you do your own legal work?” Facebook started as a Florida LLC and had to have that undone when they moved to Silicon Valley. Do it right the first time and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and money later.
Once you’ve created your business as a legal entity, you’ll need to get a bank account opened and start keeping good financial records for your business. You can do these yourself, or there are always good bookkeepers and accountants out there to help as your business grows in complexity.
When you’re selecting your service providers, remember that they’re an extension of your business team; choose people you feel comfortable with and who share your vision. You should feel like they’re on your side and can help your business grow and develop. If you feel like your service provider doesn’t understand you or that you have to be on the defensive against them, you should keep looking. It’s worth a week or two delay to find the right one.
3) Get an Alpha Out There (aka – Find Customers)
The best way to prove your idea is to get out there and find customers. This can be a splash page for your website simply asking people to give you their email address if they’re interested in your product (have a few fake screenshots or other information explaining what you are). There’s a lot of great content out there about releasing your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) by Eric Ries and in Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany. It’s a lot better to develop your product with your customers giving feedback than trying to prognosticate amongst your team in a bubble. You’ll also build buzz for your product this way.
In the end, any business is about finding people to pay for what you are providing. The incubator program, Y Combinator, emphasizes this best with their shirts they give to new entrants to their program: “Build Something People Want.” Once you find your first customers, you can adapt your product, remove the warts and account for their feedback. Be careful! Though you want to listen to your customers, you do not want to use them to create an infinite feature list. “Feature creep” can easily derail a product. Focus on being very good at a few things and deliver that to customers that are looking for those solutions. This is not easy…we struggle with this at Greenhorn Connect all of the time.
Coming Soon: Part VI: Other Tips for Along the Way
This is ongoing series to try to build a comprehensive, lasting guide for aspiring entrepreneurs. I would greatly appreciate any input in the comments below to make this the best it can be. Thanks!