This year, many eager new entrepreneurs are ready to hit the ground running with their startups and hopefully experience a year less challenging than the previous one. When launching a new business, it’s important to consider what business tools and core essentials small businesses need in order to thrive in today’s “new normal.”
I help entrepreneurs incorporate and form limited liability companies, so I generally tend to share advice on legal must-haves for small businesses, like business formations, trademarks, and tax IDs. However, I’m not going to do that this time around.
Let’s assume you have obtained these items already. What other tools are necessary to help your small business actively grow and succeed?
Start with these business tools and core business essentials
1. Business website
During the pandemic, websites are among one of the most important tools for startups. A website provides your business with much-needed visibility, allowing customers to find you online and learn more about your business. A small business website also provides a way to communicate with your customers. If a customer can’t reach you through your social media platforms, visiting the website allows them to connect through a phone call, email, or contact form.
There are a few options available for building a small business website. Some entrepreneurs do it themselves with the help of a website-building software service. Many of these services have various website templates to choose from, depending on the type of business; they also have stock photography options and offer customer support in the event you get stuck. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, consult a professional website developer for assistance.
2. Strong domain name
A domain name goes hand-in-hand with a small business website. This is the name of your company URL. More than 370 million domain names have been registered at the federal level.
Your domain name, especially with this many registrations already on file, should be as close to or as specific as your business name as possible. Many small businesses try to aim for an exact match, especially those with a business model that relies on the internet, and to create a domain name that is memorable, short, and easy to spell and pronounce.
This is also a great opportunity to create keyword-rich domain names. Consider keywords that pertain specifically to your business and your geographic location. If you’re a pizza shop based in Portland, Oregon, for example, you may consider using “pizza” and “Portland” to better optimize your domain name for SEO purposes.
What about the domain extension? Most businesses try to choose a dot-com (.com) extension when possible. However, this extension is not always available, and depending on your industry, it may not be a preferred extension. If a dot-com option isn’t available, try dot-us (.us) or dot-co (.co) instead. Then, conduct a name search on your domain name to make sure it is available for use. If it’s free, file a domain name application to register the name.
3. Employee collaboration software
As this year begins, many of us are still working remotely and uncertain as to when we may be able to return to a traditional office. Fortunately, working from home for the better part of the year has allowed most to transition into this workflow and learn how to use collaboration software and business tools that allow for the best possible productivity.
Prepare your team to collaborate together with proper collaboration software. Some options may include project management software like Trello and Asana. Manage documents and share files across teams with the help of Google Drive, Microsoft Teams, and Dropbox. Take notes and share them with Evernote.
Keep in mind that while some collaboration tools are free to use, others may require signing up for premium plans depending on the size of your team. Invest in the proper collaboration tools for your team members to ensure the best possible WFH readiness and security.
4. Flexible business plan
One of the biggest tools entrepreneurs need to succeed at any stage in business is a business plan. In the time of Covid-19, this can be a tricky document to put together. Business plans often evaluate a business from three to five years out into the future and require additional details, such as sales forecasts and projected profits and losses, that may not be fully fleshed out within a startup.
How do you create a business plan in an uncertain time? Consider drafting a business plan that acts as a hybrid between a traditional business plan and a lean startup plan. This type of business plan will give you enough room to evaluate the following areas of your startup:
- Business description and value. You should be able to articulate what your business does, its industry, and how it earns money. Then, share the value that this business can bring within its market. What kinds of problems can these offerings and services solve for customers?
- Strategy. This section should offer further insight into the business and its offerings. How do these offerings and services work? If you are still in development stages, when will the business be ready to launch? Strategic goals that the business plans to reach should be outlined along with projected timelines. If the business has partnerships or additional resources it is using to reach these goals, outline these details as well.
- Customers. This section takes a deeper dive into the target market of the business. Who is your customer base? What do these customer demographics look like? How will your business be able to capture, engage with, and retain this market? How does the business plan to reach emerging demographics over time?
- Company overview. Use this section to detail the leadership in the company. Include the biographies of each member and their responsibilities in the startup. You may also share additional information about the business including its location and entity formation.
- Financial plans. One of the most critical parts of a business plan is its financial projections. Business plans are generally written to attract investors that are interested in investing capital into the company. Use this section to share existing cash flow projections in the startup as well as the expenses budget, sales forecast, and break-even analysis.
As we gradually enter the next normal, you may find that your startup is able to transition out of a flexible business plan and move towards a more traditional format. If that happens, great! If not, keep with the flexible plan. In either case, remember that all business plans are easy to revise and edit over time. You may edit your plan for the future, but keep the flexibility that gave it room to grow during an unprecedented time.
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