I bet when I say this about myself — “Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur” — I’m saying it for a whole lot of other small business owners, too. Especially my friend Eric Ullrich, co-founder of Sacramento’s HackerLab. Even though our primary companies are now established, we never let go of our startup, go-for-broke mentality, or the drive to start something new.
I oversee the entrepreneurs at the Glue Factory in downtown Roseville, a startup, coworking space on Vernon Street, and Ullrich works with the entrepreneurs taking advantage of Hacker Lab’s many educational offerings and services. We agree that launching a business can involve an unnecessary struggle with “timesaving” apps and tools that require too much learning and not enough advantages.
While we pay homage to Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur and academician Steve Blank, and his comprehensive contribution to the art of entrepreneurship with his extensive startup tools body of work, we tend to agree with a simpler school of thought preached by billionaire investor Mark Cuban: He believes in sticking to what you know and moving onto better products and company-wide standards once you’ve established your footing.
We believe first and foremost that mentoring, constant feedback, a fluid business plan and the collaboration available in a coworking space is essential to anyone launching a company.
“We want our entrepreneurs to get messy within their physical space by utilizing white boards, Post-it notes, stickers, easel pads and colorful sharpies,” says HackerLab’s Ullrich. “Nothing is more productive than a face-to-face give and take to carve out next steps.”
We also recommend the following tools to get started and cover the basics.
1. Collaboration: For new businesses, Google Docs is the answer.
Will you use all those features available in Microsoft Office? Most Office users only use about 10 percent of them. Google Docs can deliver the office suite your startup needs, it’s basically free, and everyone can share and edit. Google Docs contains a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation application, so anything from collaborating on overall strategy and conducting customer surveys to logging mileage and tracking shipments can be accomplished.
Moving work to the cloud offers the versatility a business needs to collaborate on the fly and from different locations. The applications are intuitive, reliable and backed by the full force of Google. Most importantly, it’s a great storage space for all your files, photos and videos, and previous versions are easy to find. For a monthly pittance, you can even use your own domain name for email rather than the generic Gmail, and analytics, reporting and accountability are at your fingertips.
2. Communication: Free yourself from email — carefully.
Solid work habits, an essential startup ingredient, should include a team communication system that increases workday productivity. Communication tools like Slack or BaseCamp can provide a real-time, virtual chat room with coworkers; a vast improvement over email. Messages, notifications and files are indexed and archived to be easily retrievable. Slack also indexes the content of every file so you can search within PDFs, Word documents, Google docs and more, so you can find that one elusive message. But be mindful of endless chatter, and don’t let big blocks of intentional work suffer.
3. Marketing: Think content and community.
Without a doubt, your startup should have an online presence, and your business website needs to be professional to be taken seriously. A website is an important aspect of presenting your business directly to your audience, and not influenced by third-party, social media platforms. A website can be as simple as a landing page built in a matter of minutes using a website builder like Launchrock or Unbounce (among the many to choose from), or you can try your hand at building a website by customizing an online blogging platform such as Tumblr, Blogspot or WordPress with a paid domain.
Updating your company website with a new blog post or content on your latest work, industry changes and other related issues will build your credibility and expand your reach. And don’t forget to repurpose and push your new content to your social media channels and your newsletter.
Newsletter? It is not too soon to build your community. A newsletter (like your website) is a content channel owned by you. Engaging, relevant content personifying your goals and creating a personal connection with the receiver builds loyalty and trust, the essential credentials for any startup.
4. Creative assets: Every new business has creative needs.
Branding allows you to communicate your ideas, values and products to your target audience in a memorable way. Logos, business cards, social media icons, newsletter templates and even car/truck wraps are branding options to employ immediately. If you are creatively inclined, you already know the design apps out there, and if you don’t, now is not the time to learn an unrelated skill set.
There are crowdsourcing companies like 99Designs, where designers vie for your business by entering design “contests,” and there are companies like Fiverr and Canva where you can get a logo on the cheap. Just remember you get what you pay for, but an identifiable mark can add cohesiveness to your company’s image.
5. Accounting and payroll: QuickBooks interfaced with a payroll service — that’s it!
Gusto (formerly Zen Payroll), Intuit and OnPay are all easy-to-setup online payroll management tools for small and very small businesses. Generally speaking, they can handle all employee onboarding, payroll processing, as well as tax filings and payments and even benefits management. Some can interface with QuickBooks for a complete accounting management system.
Of course, no accounting solution or any tool mentioned above will help if used only sometimes. Remember, a solid work habit is your ultimate tool, and time-efficient strategies are a must. Focus on growing the business, work hard at what you do best and, as soon as possible, outsource the skill sets that don’t belong to you. To consciously consider how best to spend your time daily is your competitive edge. Develop that skill and your new company will fly.