The Best Tools for a Start Up businesses
I was once given great advice on how much to look to raise for seed capital for a business from Wallace Stetenius, of Cadmus Communications. Currently, Wally is a Visiting Lecturer in Business Administration. Wally is the former chairman and CEO of Cadmus Communications Corp., one of the nation's largest printing companies. In addition to serving on the Darden faculty, he also teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University's business school. Stettinius is a director of Cadmus Communications Corp., Chesapeake Corp. and Grayco. Professor Stettinius is also a consulting partner for Commonwealth Investors II, L.P and an author or co-author of several books and articles.
At the time, I was looking to expand a business's current offering. It was a capital-intensive business, so the expansion came with a significant investment in plant and equipment. When talking to Wally, his advice was to take whatever I was projecting as the investment and double it and then double it again. Great advice at the time. I believe this advice holds true for start-ups as well. Unexpected delays, unexpected expenses, and gaps from actual to the expected performance of the investment are always a risk.
We as entrepreneurs are an optimistic group of people – one of our many qualities. Without it, I doubt that any business would get started. At times in our entrepreneurial life, we fail to achieve what we set out to do. The naysayers will condemn you for being overly optimistic. And while we can agree that this is our short-fall, without optimism where would our company be? – Simply an idea on the shelf! I remember watching John Chambers, Chairman of Cisco, being accused by the investment community of being too optimistic about Cisco’s potential. His response was simple: “If I’m not optimistic about the future of Cisco, then who can be and for that matter who would be.”
So, we should follow the rule of doubling what we think we need and then double it again. Keeping in mind that “cash is king” particularly for start-ups. By quadrupling what we analyze to be the investment need, then we can avoid suffering the plagues associated with lacking the cash need to execute on our dream and avoiding the dream becoming a nightmare. While I realize that this creates a situation where certain investments would not go forth, it would conceivably work towards pushing greater creativity for the core strategy at the planning stage of a new venture.
If your business is a go, how do we ensure we preserve the capital we have. When we start our business, we as entrepreneurs tend to be impatient. This too can work against us in the short and long term. It can used against us by those looking to make a fast buck - promising the world and delivering Sicily.
If you have the capital to start your business. Great! I highly recommend seeking out an investor even in this situation. The benefit of doing so is simple. When someone must put up money, they’ll give you an honest answer about your business idea. We tend to ask family and friends what they think. Of course, this comes with an emotional answer. How do you tell a friend their idea is dumb? Our enthusiasm as an entrepreneur is a major stumbling block in getting a true answer from family and friends. Ask them to put up money and see the response you’ll get. Asking people that aren’t emotionally involved in investing will give you greater insight into your idea.
If you are looking at starting a business, I have provided a list of what I consider to be great tools for start-ups. Keep in mind; there are a great many tools for starting a business, I am providing the ones that I have used and believed them to be a source for preserving capital at the start-up stage.
The best site for planning to start a business is the Business Development Bank of Canada. www.bdc.ca. They provide a wealth of information on starting a business and all aspects related to it. BDC, is a Crown corporation, operating at arm’s length from the Government of Canada. It was created to help small and medium-size businesses through financing, advisory services and capital.
Another critical planning tool for your business is gaining access to other entrepreneurs. For women entrepreneurs, the Women’s Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan www.wesk.ca. WESK empowers business owners with opportunities, resources, and a community to scale up their business.
If you are looking for another support in planning your business, check out Audacity YQR www.audacityyqr.ca. Formed by such successful businesses as Hillberg & Burke, Drummond Group of Companies to name a few, this Regina based association is “a call to action for those who are committed to nurturing entrepreneurs and to build a strong foundation for our long-term vision that the Greater Regina Area is a top place in Canada to start and grow a business.” Based on what I have seen so far, in my opinion, it will be a model for economic development for other cities going forward.
All the above are low-cost alternatives to hiring a high-priced business advisor. Although a great business advisor is worth their weight in gold, the problem is finding a “great one” before some takes all your seed capital. What I have found is that the great mentors are willing to give back – paying it forward – if you will. And Audacity is a great place to meet those that are paying it forward.
Planning Your Business
The best planning tool I have found on the marketplace today is Live Plan. It can be purchased monthly for as little as $19.95 a month. It can provide an on-going reporting system for investors and entrepreneurs to make their plan a living breathing plan. www.liveplan.com
Accounting for your business
The best accounting package for a business that I have seen and am currently using is Zip Books www.zipbooks.com. Of course, there are limitations in any accounting software. For a service business, I found this is a very affordable tool for a start-up company. Zip Books offers a full range of accounting software with various subscription plans. The Canadian competitor to this is Fresh Books, which I believe is another great accounting software for start-up companies.
One of the better CRM systems to start with is Free CRM www.freecrm.com. While there are several CRM systems out in the marketplace, this system is free for the first year. At the time of writing this, I am currently starting to work with Free CRM. It seems to be easy to use and has all the functionality a small business needs.
If you are looking to sell products and services online with minimal upfront investment, depending on the depth of your products or services, I would recommend two different systems to try out. At the risk of being self-serving, we at Metrics provide on online e-commerce system as part of our website offering. The system is simple to use and takes very little time to set up. However, if you find it too self-serving, I suggest looking at a free offering to start. I know that everyone likes Shopify, however, a comparable free offering is Prestashop (www.prestashop.com) or Ecwid (www.ecwid.com)
A survey system is used for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is developing a marketing plan, testing ideas for your new products and services, testing your unique business proposition (USP) or any other surveys along the way. Survey Monkey is free and is very good. (www.surveymonkey.com)
Zoho is the best email system by far. It is free for setting up your branded email such as It does cost $5 per month per email if you want to hook it to your outlook or other related email apps. No need thou, it comes with a phone app that is outstanding. You can have up to 25 branded emails associated with your business before paying.
Think of your marketing as a race. More specifically, the Indianapolis 500. Before starting, a racing team needs to set-up the car to win which includes finding the right team, finding the right driver, setting up the car with a competitive edge. Then it is getting a pole position. Most likely if you are a first-time racing team, you wouldn’t have pole position. You’ll be starting with competition that’s out in front of you already. Then you need to run the race – adjusting on the fly at times but getting to the front before the race is finished and then finishing the race. Using this analogy for marketing, helps you to see the process.
Here’s why I recommend our company Metrics Online Marketing for all your marketing needs as a start-up company. Again, with the idea of preserving your start-up capital.
Setting up the car for the race
- Building the Car:
- Competitive Marketing Assessment – What are others doing that you will be competing within the race for capturing customers?
- Testing the engine. Understanding your USP and communicating at the very start of the race.
- Building the engine:
- Rent your site. That’s right, we will build a website for free, and you can rent its use. All in it will cost you about $200 per month to do so. No long-term commitment and no other fees. To get a similar site designed, most people will pay between $2,000 to $6,000 for a website. And then maintain it paying about $75 to $100 a month which includes hosting fees, maintenance fees, change fees, hidden fees. Our system is designed with a user-friendly backend that requires 30 minutes of training, and you will be able to update your online store at any time, with blogs, new products & service offerings.
- SEO services. The new yellow pages is Google. If people can’t find you, then you've wasted money on building a website Sure your existing customers will find you but wouldn’t be going to your website anyway unless you have an e-commerce store - they already know you. For a monthly fee, we’ll get you to the top of Google and other search engines. We’ll show you how to capitalize on converting website traffic.
- Social Media. We can all do this free right. I was one of those business owners. I can also paint my home, build my own deck, etc. There are two reasons why I don’t – I don’t really know how, and I like doing what I do best and spending my time doing that. If you follow Tony Robbins, his statement for success is clear and best illustrates why you should hire a professional “If you want to achieve extraordinary results and fulfillment in life, you must begin at the center of the source of all your choices, decisions, feelings and experience — your focus.” So, focus on what you do best, your business and its USP.
- Online marketing – paid ads. How to use them to increase your position and capture customers quickly and efficiently? We can show you how.
- Traditional marketing strategy - basics. From business cards to wrapping your vehicle. What should and shouldn’t be invested in as a marketing tool. What is the competitor doing – what you believe is working for them that needs to be done. What are others doing? We have a significant number of customers in various industries. We have a good idea of what works and what doesn't.
- The Start of the Race – Your position in the pole. Where you sit at the start. What is your quick start plan?
- During the race – reputation management, understanding the customer experience, measuring and learning during the race, responding to race conditions, and pitting. Having a team with race experience to help you as the driver to continue to move up in positioning is critical to your success. They should know what works and what doesn’t. As well, as willing to share in some risk of testing new ideas for your race.
- The end of the race. That’s right! Asking how your race finishes before your even start. Ask yourself what the exit strategy of the business is. If you don’t have one, don’t start the race. This is the question that I love asking entrepreneurs. What is your exit strategy? Who would buy the business if it is successful? Every great entrepreneur I have met always started with “what is the exit strategy?”. If can't answer that question, then don't start the business.
While I recognize the last part of the blog is self-serving, I truly believe that we can help you market your business.
I hope that this information helps to get you started and preserves your start-up capital.