Building a startup is tough. With all the information and advice online about how to launch a business, it’s hard to filter through what works for you. We want to make sure that regardless of where you are within your startup’s cycle, you have the necessary support and tools to succeed. That’s why you need the best startup resources you can find. Treat this as a guide to take what we have been able to accomplish.
Throughout this ebook, we have included the expertise and advice from some of the top professionals throughout the world and our executive team, to bring you the most informative content possible. This kit will highlight the essential items needed to launch your business to profitability.
1. Vision Board: Why Your Business Needs One
A vision board is a visual representation of words and images to display important goals for an individual or business. Visualization happens when you imagine a goal and create tangible benchmarks. For this example, you’ll use a board, add pictures and print or write out words to make sure you physically see your goals. It also helps you organize any other startup resources you have in mind
From there, consider your focus. What are the key goals that you want to highlight on your board? Not every single goal requires a dedicated space. Every goal and task is important, but it doesn’t need to be highlighted. If you’re struggling to narrow down ideas, get opinions from your team members. Your team can share goals for the company, and with these tasks in mind, you can decide what has to be prioritized. You may also have personal goals you’d like to include on your vision board, which again, may line up with the ideas from your team.
With your goals on your vision board, set a realistic timeline. How long will it take you to accomplish these goals? Some goals are easy and completed in a few hours. Longer goals can take months to complete. Give yourself room to breathe Once you see complete goals and start removing them from your board, consider creating a whole new board. Your ideas and thoughts will change over time, and you can create new boards accordingly. Whether it’s once a month or once a year, you can opt to create a strategy that works for you and your company’s needs.
Get creative and have fun with your vision board. You want to add things to make it pop out and easy to look at. It’s fun to create one because it gives you the big-picture view of everything you have in store for your business. It should make you excited to look at it because the excitement will motivate you to complete your goals.
2. Branding: Logos and Advertisements
When your startup resources are limited, it makes the branding all the more important. It’s common to think branding is just about a name, colors, and reputation, but your logo carries a heavyweight. It’s a symbol used to make sure you’re recognizable and memorable. Think of some of the biggest brands in the world, and what their logo looks like. Companies like McDonalds and Apple all have simplistic logos that tell you everything you need to know. It’s not an easy feat to have a simple but widely recognized logo, but it’s something you must strive for.
From your website to advertisements, your logo is used for all marketing materials. This makes your logo the most influential part of your brand, and it needs to show in its design. Future clients will take you more seriously if you have a professional logo, but it shouldn’t be designed by you. There are several reasons why you should use a designer for your logo.
First, you may lack access to the right tools or products. If you’re not a designer by trade, you likely don’t have access to the programs needed to perfect your logo. There are ways around it, but it’s not guaranteed to give you the best results. With a lack of tools, you could accidentally ruin your branding. It’s easy to receive backlash for your logo because of a weird design or off-putting color.
Colors are important for a logo, but they also matter in advertisements. Advertisements are an effective way to continue to grow your business. There are many low-cost ways to advertise your business. One way is through referrals to gain organic traffic and the loyal customers that appear as a result of it. Your customers are a strong marketing tactic. Potential new customers are more inclined to listen to someone who uses the service compared to the company itself. That’s why testimonials matter more than most other tactics you’ll use.
User experience is an often missed aspect of a logo. You might think a logo looks professional, but others may think otherwise. If you test your design out on your audience, you’ll have a better idea of how to proceed. A common reason a logo can fail comes down to its color. Your audience may not realize it, but color psychology is crucial to logo design. Every color invokes a different emotion and picking the right one is crucial to determining how you want people to react. For instance, blue and red are the two most used colors in logos. Blue is calming, while red is energy. Depending on your message, your colors can make or break your logo.
Another way to advertise yourself is through press releases. If you’re doing something newsworthy, journalists will want to write about it. They need the stories, and you need the exposure. A similar route is using email marketing. With research and targeted outreach, you can reach your first 100 customers in no time.
When it comes to marketing and advertising, you need to have your target audience in mind. You’ll garner other audiences in the process but always aim for the target. Your ads also have to be appealing, or you’re wasting your resources on something no one cares for. If you don’t immediately get a sale from a posted advertisement, don’t be discouraged. They need time to work and flourish on their own, and it’s not something you can always force with paid spots. When you’ve planned a strategy out, think about where you want your ads and marketing to appear. While press releases are almost exclusively on email blasts, your other ads have several options to choose from. You can post on social media, print out flyers, use television slots, and so much more.
3. Sales & Accounting
Your startup resources are valuable, so keeping track of finances is one of the most important aspects of your business. When you’re in the startup phase, you’ll want to save time and avoid stress by knowing where all your money is going. You’ll want to keep track of sales and expenses. As soon as you start making money, you’ll need an accounting system. As you keep track of the profit your business is making you will need to track two ratios:
The first is your gross margin. A gross margin is a company’s revenue minus total costs of a product, divided by revenue. This number reflects the percentage of sales left over after all direct costs. This margin helps you figure out if your prices are appropriate for the money you put into them. The second is your net margin. A net margin is a company’s net profit measured against sales. It takes into account any business-related expenses. This number reflects your profit after all expenses are paid.
Thankfully, there are programs to streamline the process. Applications such as Quickbooks are ideal for saving you time in the long run. Once you figured out the most efficient way to scale your margins, consider bringing on an accountant.
4. Accountability Documents: Time In/Time Out Sheets
With the addition of new employees, you need accountability. It’s pivotal for the time and resources allocated to a startup. By including a time and attendance system from the beginning, you can hold your team members accountable. A timesheet is an easy way to not only keep track of hours but streamline the payroll process. Instead of writing down employee hours, there are websites available. It can reduce the chance of errors if you use web-based time management systems. If you’re interested in adding a time management system, make sure you have these essentials:
You’ll need a simple clock-in/clock-out system. If it’s difficult for your team members to clock in, they’ll likely forget about it altogether. When it comes to clocking in, keep break and lunchtimes accounted for. Depending on your finances, you might find it easier to always have them clock out for lunch. Furthermore, you need to consider vacation and sick day requests. If you don’t have a system in place for it, it will confuse your employees. By setting a standard early on, you can make sure all your bases are covered when a coworker is taking a vacation.
5. Business Proposal & Invoices
A business proposal is a document used to obtain a job or position with a specific client. Every proposal looks different based on the client’s needs and requests. All proposals should include services or products available from your company. Proposals can be solicited or unsolicited. If a client displays interest they may request a proposal, known as an RFP. If it’s an unsolicited proposal, it’s more sales heavy, and in some fields, it serves the same purpose as estimates. However, business proposals are more detailed than estimates. A proposal needs two key pieces: a cover letter and the proposal itself. You can include other documents, such as photographs and charts, based on what the client is looking for.
A successful proposal is thorough and shows the bidder has done the necessary research on the client and the job itself. The proposal should be visually appealing and easy to navigate for the client. Double-check your proposal before sending or presenting, as small mistakes or missed details could cost you the job. After all, you want all of your startup resources to count, and this is where they can truly shine.
Once you nail the proposal and begin working with the client, you have to remember your invoices. It makes managing your clients easier, and it ensures you get paid for your work. Larger corporations have platforms and departments dedicated to this task. However, when operating a startup you have to keep track of all transactions, big or small. There are online services dedicated to quickly generating a bill by using a template. Before creating or downloading the invoice template, terms of the deal must be agreed upon.
Depending on the industry and project, this will include a few things. For instance, how do you bill? Some opt for hourly, while others charge by the project. You’ll likely include additional fees depending on the circumstances, such as a late fee. The scope of the project will also determine the final cost. Some are significantly cheaper than others because the project isn’t as intensive. The payment method also varies from business to business. While some opt for a traditional direct deposit, others are beginning to use online services such as Paypal.
Whether you create the invoice yourself or use a template, certain information must be included:
- Your name, address, and contact information.
- Your client’s contact information.
- Invoice Number
- Description of product or service.
- Total amount due.
- Due date.
- Payment terms, such as payment options and explanation of late fees of discounts.
6. Social Media
By now we all know that social media is one of the strongest ways to build and maintain a business presence. Your content has to be fresh and consistent, but also make sense for the platform. You’ll need to look into some of the essentials for social media. One key feature is imagery and design. Whether its a template for Instagram, featured images on a blog, or event flyers, you need your designs to be clean and concise.
An unlimited graphic design service will work perfectly in this case. You can submit as many of these design requests as you want per month. You will pay a flat monthly rate the same way a subscription service works. Once you have created your templates, you can plan a strategy for releasing the content. Automated services like Buffer and Hootsuite can help with scheduling posts on a consistent basis. While using these automated services, consider creating a content calendar. These are a few resources for startups that often are low cost or even free.
A content calendar is a document or spreadsheet that details what your business will produce in the upcoming weeks, months, or years. It keeps track of due dates, ideas, and their execution. It’s easy to create one, but it takes time to maintain it. If you’re unorganized, a content calendar can save your life. Running a startup early on can be hectic, but maintaining a content calendar can save you time and money for the future.
Before you create one, know the direction of your marketing within the time span. If you’re dedicated it certain topics, make sure you brainstorm all the ideas first before putting the details on the calendar. From there, breakdown and assign topics to your team members. Figure out what your goals for this particular content. You don’t want to put out content without any expectations for it. This helps you keep track of more sales, followers, etc. Finally, schedule content as far in advance as you can. As a company, you’ll run into unexpected problems and circumstances. By scheduling ahead of time, you can take care of issues while never worrying about your social media presence.
7. A Pitch Deck
If you’re looking to attain more resources for your startup in the future, have an effective pitch deck. It brings together all of your startup resources into one place, easy for others outside your organization can understand. A pitch deck is a presentation put together by a business owner seeking financing from investors, usually presented during a face to face meeting. We spoke with Andrew Eckerman, the Managing Director of DreamIt Ventures about creating the ideal deck. DreamIt is one of the top Venture Capital firms in the country that helps startups to scale. He eloquently broke down the process of engaging an investor first and securing a meeting with them. This is a rundown of what investors are looking for to be included in a pitch deck:
- What problem are you solving? Do a lot of people have this problem? Is it painful?
- What’s the solution? There’s a solution to every problem you’ll come across.
- Pricing – How much do you charge? How do you make money?
- Market size – is it a big market? Has to be target focus. Price x quantity x market
- Go to market – How do you get your customers? Who is in your total market and who are you going after first?
- Traction – How much have you done? Where are you in your process?
- Competition – Why your competition sucks
- Team – Why is your team the perfect combination of people for success?
- Ask – What are you raising? What do you need and when do you need it by? What will you do with it? His thoughts: Can they get to where they need to be in that time frame? Does he believe what they say?
Ellen Weber, the Executive Director of Robin Hood Ventures shares a similar sentiment. She believes that a good pitch deck should answer three questions – what problem you are solving, how you are solving the problem and why your team is perfect to solve this problem. In both conversations, Ellen and Andrew assured if these questions are not answered, they’re hesitant to continue. It shows the founder hasn’t put in the work to prepare for the presentation or to move their company forward. Every deck is unique, so try different formulas to perfect your pitch deck.
8. Website/Landing page
Your website has a huge impact on establishing an online presence, and it’s where all your startup resources come to play. It’s the first place many customers find you. When paired with strategic SEO ranking and an engaging landing page, your website can convert to sales. It acts like an online billboard to bring awareness and new leads back to your business.
Billmarie Robinson is a web director and UX/UI designer from Hopeworks ‘N Camden, a nonprofit organization empowering underserved youth in technology and entrepreneurship. She spoke to us about some of the top reasons a startup should have a professional and engaging website. Her 3 reasons why a website is crucial to a startup:
- Credibility – The number one reason why a website is so important has to do with credibility. A non-existent or low-value website means a business, organization, or start-up doesn’t take themselves seriously—so why should anyone else? I like to remind clients that just as first impressions count when we’re in-person, the same holds true when we’re online. Website visitors make a lot of unconscious decisions about you and your offerings based upon the look and feel of your online presence.
- Landing page – Landing Pages need a direct next step. Whether that’s through narrative, branding, hero visuals, sign-up forms, or call-to-action buttons, you want to give the user an enhanced experience guiding them to one singular goal. How you do that depends on your message. With over 1.9 billion websites in the world, you’ve got to craft a message and user experience which entice the right audience to “click here,” “sign up,” or “find out more.”
- Engagement – There are a few simple tips to increase engagement on any website. If you’re content-heavy, try asking readers what they think. It’s a quick and effective signal that you want your users to share their thoughts. Most content editors take this truth for granted, as most users default to sitting on the sidelines lurking as readers while you post. Asking visitors for their thoughts mean you’re breaking that fourth wall, which normally keeps opportunities for conversation at bay. For service-driven websites, utilize pop-up chats to actively engage potential buyers and current customers. It’s equivalent to walking into a retail store and the customer service rep asking if they can help. If you’re a nonprofit, consider breaking down all the different ways people outside your organization can help you in your mission. A variety of entry points (and pages!) means the right volunteer, donor, or partner will stumble upon your website through their own research, and actively reach out to offer additional help in your quest to change the world.
To scale a company requires you to become a different version of yourself. In a way, it’s a shedding of one’s skin. The person you were when you started is no longer acceptable. You are now the business you run, not yourself. You’re the representation of your business and where it goes lies on how you scale the two.
You need to apply the topics mentioned loosely and use them as guides to continue growing. But eventually what was written is no longer good enough. We can provide unlimited design and advice for you, but that doesn’t mean it will grow your business. There are ways to take this content and use it to transform your entire startup, but it has to be personalized to your own needs. Our advice is general because you have to take it and bend it into something that will only work for you.
The key to scaling is consistency. Develop the practices now and so it will be an easier transition as you continue to grow and scale. You’ll find the automation and initial scaling will change and become more expensive. Change isn’t always a bad thing, but even when it is, use it to make sure the next change isn’t as bad. Use these startup resources as a start to your next successful venture.