This article originally appeared in Microsoft’s SMB Advantage newsletter—sign up here for more insightful and educational posts.
What could be more exciting that starting your own business? You finally have the opportunity to go out on your own and build an empire, or at least, to work on your terms. Having a fresh business concept is a must, but any entrepreneur who’s been down this road will tell you that getting a business to the starting line takes more perspiration than inspiration. You’ll need to be resourceful, determined and willing to invest time, energy and money—just to open your doors. You goal should be to look credible and operate professionally, even if you’re starting as a sole proprietor.
To help you cover some of the basics, we’ve put together the ultimate to-do list of tasks you’ll want to consider when starting your start-up.
- Write a business plan
Successful business people plan their work and then work their plan. You should do the same by writing a basic business plan that spells out your business opportunity, accounts for the competition, examines operational details, among other things. The Canadian government offers somehelpful sample business plans, templates and linksto get you started.
- Formalize your partnership
If you’re bringing partners into your venture, you’ll probably want a formal partnership agreement in place sooner than later. Handshakes and smiles are great, but a contract will protect everyone’s interests. Every province has unique rules for registering businesses and setting up joint ventures, so do some research online to find guidelines and documents appropriate in your market.
- Create and register a brand name
A numbered business or a generic name like ABC Consulting may work, but a clever, distinctive and meaningful name will benefit you more. The key here is to differentiate your company, not blend in. You can use a platform like GoDaddy.ca to find and register an available web domain. But do your homework! Make sure your brand’s name willnotbe easily confused with those of competitors.
- Design a logo and “look”
You’ll probably want a graphic identity (AKA a logo and look) to represent your business and you could create your own, if you have strong creative skills. If not, consider commissioning designs from a freelance graphic designer or even a small ad agency. If that seems a little lavish, keep in mind that you’ll probably be using your logo for years to come, so it’s an intelligent long-term investment.
- Publish a website
These days, most businesses, especially start-ups, need a web presence to tell their story, promote their products and services and provide contact information to visitors. If you don’t have the skills or tools to build your own site, try out GoDaddy’s website builder. It’s cheap and cheerful, providing all kinds of polished templates that you can customize easily to suit your needs and style.
- Set up social media
Canadians love social media, so you’ll want to expand your online presence beyond your website by setting up your own branded landing pages on social networks. Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest are popular choices for businesses and may be appropriate for yours. Make sure you anticipate actually using these networks to launch and promote your business, as well.
- Get productivity tools
We like to call Office 365 a small business’ best friend for a reason. For around $15 per user per month, theOffice 365 Business Premium plangets you up to five full installs of the latest Office apps on your Windows, Apple® or Android™ devices. Those Office apps include OneNote, which is awesome for capturing ideas, taking notes and creating to-do lists. Plus, you get business-class email, unlimited HD video conferencing via Skype for Business, and 1 TB of data storage in the cloud with OneDrive, providing you with a simple and reliable solution for all-important back-ups.
- Build a network of allies
Start-ups typically require the services of bookkeepers, accountants, lawyers, couriers, marketers and other service-providers, so consider building a network of these kinds of pros to call on. Joining local business associations and LinkedIn groups can help you make valuable contacts. And you may even want to invite some professionals you admire to act as an advisory board for your business.
- Organize your office
Some of the world’s most famous companies (including Microsoft) started out in garages and basements, so it’s OK to operate your business from home. But you will need a quiet space, Internet access, a dedicated phone line and a filing cabinet or two. If you need a new PC, consider an awesome 2-in-1 detachable tablet like the Surface Pro 4 so you can work from anywhere, easily.
- Market yourself
We’ve all seen cool businesses open their doors only to close just a few months later. Usually, these businesses mistakenly believe that “if you build it, they will come.” The truth is you’ll need to launch and promote your business with an ongoing investment in marketing and sales. If you don’t have these skills, consider working with a small ad agency to develop a launch plan and ad campaign.
As you’ve just seen, starting a business takes a lot of work and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But if you’re practical and keep your expectations reasonable, you can join the ranks of Canada’s 1,000,000+ small businesses who manage to keep their lights on and our economy going.
For more start-up-friendly ideas and resources from Microsoft, check out MicrosoftSavesYouMoney.ca. You’ll find videos, articles and free downloads of software—all designed to help you boost your productivity without breaking the bank.
Good luck out there!