70 Tips for Startups
As with previous years, this year will welcome into existence an ever growing batch of new tech startups and while every year brings many new businesses, I’m convinced that this will be the best year yet – there has never been a better time to startup. So if you’ve ever entertained the notion of escaping the rat race and working for yourself then read these 70 tips for startups and find out how YOU can launch YOUR startup as well!
Remember that you’ll never get rich digging someone else’s ditch!
Got No Money to Startup?
No problem! Lack of money certainly does present some challenges but starting a business is all about overcoming any obstacles you come across and pushing through until success is achieved. Starting an internet business, whether it be a full SaaS application or simply an affiliate marketing biz, can be done with no significant funding other than a few dollars for a domain and web hosting and even that can be got for free in a pinch. What you need to do is replace money with time and effort – in other words work harder (and smarter ) to make up for lack of money at the start.
One of the mantras of highly successful startup incubator YCombinator is to do things which don’t scale which means for example pick up the phone and call your customers one by one, go to meetups and talk to them face to face, stalk them (in the nicest possible way), manually setup their accounts on your service to ensure each customer is more effectively on-boarded, customize and personalize and basically do everything humanly possible to find leads and convert them to buyers. All the things you can only do at the start when you don’t have many (or any) customers should be done and typically cost nothing but time and a bit of elbow grease.
Can you spare $100 to start your business? Then you’ll find the highly rated $100 Startup to be just the ticket – all the information and inspiration you need to start a biz with just $100. It includes things such as a one page business plan and a one page promotion plan which make getting started nice and easy. You’ll be wondering why you ever delayed until now!
If $100 is still about $100 too much for you at the moment then how about Startup Marketing On A $0 Budget where Ashwin Ramesh gives 15 killer tips for marketing that won’t cost you anything but your time!
Sure it’s great to have Other People’s Money (OPM) when starting a business, but you can still bootstrap it without. You’ll have to get scrappy and use every growth hacking trick in the book but it can be done and it has been done by countless businesses before.
Don’t ever let lack of funds prevent you from starting up and pursuing your dreams – get creative, find ways to build and grow which don’t cost, or build something great and then seek out funding.
Get Funding for Your Startup
As mentioned above, using “OPM” is nice if you can get it and for a business, that can come from a wide range of sources, in fact you may well be pleasantly surprised by just how much is available to startups these days once you actually start looking! An obvious source of funds is the bank of course, where you can get a loan and (hopefully) pay it back at some point. But banks are somewhat risk averse at the best of times and the last few years have been far from the best of times for the banking industry. However if you have a solid business plan and good credit history and some collateral then maybe you can get a loan to fund your business at some stage.
The times they are a changing though and banks are not the only place to get a business loan from, there is another lender you could approach and one that doesn’t risk your kneecaps or involve backroom deals with shady characters. If you are in the US or UK you could try Kabbage which provides pretty much instant business loans online. To get such a loan you just provide them with access to your Paypal or Stripe accounts (or some others they allow) and their system can then instantly assess your suitability and you’ll have your business loan in no time.
Your government is also a potentially good source of business funding, both national and local, with often a wide array of grants and loans available as well as guidance, networking and other forms of assistance to help you get off to a good start or to expand your existing business. For example in Ireland you should check out Enterprise Ireland and in Scotland there is Scottish Enterprise and in the UK there is useful info on funding and other business matters. Across Europe there is also the European Investment Fund and over the pond in the US you should check out the funding available through the US Small Business Administration which has a number of options. Wherever you are in the world a quick google should turn up plenty of government backed business funding possibilities.
Crowd Funding is all the rage these days and not just restricted to hardware gadgets. Popular platforms include Kickstarter and Indiegogo but there are others popping up around with interesting variations on the theme such as Fundable . Not every project will work with crowdfunding and you really need something with mass appeal but if yours is suitable then they are worth a look.
The long suffering ‘Bank of Mum and/or Dad’ is always a popular source of startup funding, as is the similarly operating ‘friends & family’ option. However you need to be careful with this as if you lose all their investment you may find yourself persona non grata at the next Christmas dinner.
Also highly recommended are these two videos from a Stanford business startup course: How to Raise Money and How to Talk to Investors which also includes a great Investor Meeting Role-playing section.
Another good read on various types of funding available can be found on Forbes here .
Paul Graham of YCombinator has written in-depth about startup funding and so that is essential reading for anyone considering seeking investment and in fact is probably the first thing to read.
Last but not least, you could always sell your car (if you have one) and replace it with a bicycle – you might even live longer!
Business Plans for Startups
Business plans are one of those things that everyone hates but are usually required if you ever plan on raising funds and even if you don’t have such intentions they are still recommended. Fortunately not every business plan has to be 100 pages filled with projections and detailed descriptions of competitive advantage etc etc. There are leaner variations and at the extreme there is the one page plan included in the $100 Startup book previously mentioned.
For a more detailed plan which is still not overly long you could do worse than to use this template from well known venture capital firm Sequoia – if it’s good enough for them then it should be good enough for any VC.
If you’re looking for a complete step by step guide to creating a business plan then wikihow has you covered with their excellent How to Write a Business Plan .
Another option is to head for everyones favourite ‘how to’ books and grab a copy of Business Plans Kit for Dummies which should get you on the right track in no time.
Business Networking for Startups
Sooner or later you’re going to want to and in fact have to get out and start networking with other people whether they be potential customers or business partners, people who can further your business one way or another. There are many venues where networking can take place, some specifically made for networking and others just where people have gathered for some other reason and naturally present an opportunity to network. Either way the issue everyone faces then is how to work a room. How do you walk into a room full of people and strike up useful conversations with multiple strangers? First of all you should understand that everyone else is there for the same reason and thinking the same thing! There are a few ways people like to tackle this and you should try them all to see what works for you..
#1 The Network Sniper
Look around the room and identify your target, someone who is standing alone (so there are no witnesses when you go for the kill! 😉 ), take aim and make your move – simply walk up to that person, say hi, introduce yourself and ask what they do. Dead simple. Once you’ve gathered the information you need (ie. is this person someone who would be useful to your business?) you suggest exchanging business cards and make a swift exit. Then rinse & repeat with every other person stood alone. You can see this method described in more detail by Pam Stoker in this video .
#2 The Marriage Wrecker
Another method is to avoid those who are alone and also avoid big groups as both can present challenges. What that leaves is groups of two – when you see two people together at a networking event that typically means they arrived together or are two strangers that just met and have done (or are currently doing) the networking dance. In either case the key is that both are looking to break apart and work the room themselves. Both are looking for an opening to end the current conversation politely and make that swift exit and so your arrival presents the opportunity for that to happen. By breaking in you are helping them to work the room as well and making your life much easier. Kimberly Weisul writes about her experiences with working the room like this in an article on Inc.
You can of course use both methods in parallel for maximum effect!
So now you know HOW to network when you’re at an event but WHERE do you go to find these events in the first place?? Simply look for relevant meetups on MeetUp.com – there you can specify the location and the topic and they will show you all the meetups currently scheduled and all the regular meetup groups which you can join and which are within a certain distance. If there are none around that suit your niche in your area then you can even just start your own meetup group there and then effectively bring the networking mountain to you instead.
You can also google for relevant forums or other online communities and join in – upcoming networking events will surely be a topic of conversation there sooner or later. You could even setup Google Alerts to let you know when something relevant is found online by the Googlebot or use Womplify keyword monitoring to uncover tweets and forum posts talking about events.
If you’re a tech startup you could of course just go to the Web Summit in Dublin which is now MASSIVE (apparently about 20k people attended last time!) and the place to be and be seen, if you can afford the rather expensive fees and other costs associated with attending (flights, hotels, promo stuff).
How to Launch Your Startup
As I write this, SpaceX is preparing to launch Falcon 9 and Dragon again which is super cool but to more earthly matters, the product launch is a big part of being a startup and there are a bunch of places you can get your new app, site or product announced to the world. These generally fall in two categories – pre-launch and after-launch. Amongst the pre-launch the best known is probably BetaList which will for a modest fee (or a very long wait) announce your scrappy, barely functional pre-launch beta or prototype to their 20k twitter followers as well as publish a page on their web site and email their subscribers, thereby driving hundreds of new users to your welcoming arms. Another good one for the pre-launch phase is ErliBird which gets you some early adopters to signup and try out your product and even provide feedback.
Once your product is out there for all to see, you can give ProductHunt a whirl and with a bit of luck you can get a load of signups from that as well.
Reddit is a great place to announce your startup as it has masses of traffic as well as countless niche communities, so you can find the one or several that closely fit your product and get a much better response. HackerNews is another potential source of traffic when you post your launch announcement there, however with this and Reddit you can just as easily (or more so in fact) simply sink into oblivion because your post(s) never get upvoted or even get downvoted and your account could be ghosted if you are seen as a spammer – be wary, build your profile in advance and provide value whenever you post.
Unless you have magical powers or lots of money, coordinating your launch across all these sites can be tricky, if not impossible, however there’s a lot to be said for not doing the mythical “big launch” anyway as it is not always a good thing. For example what if a serious bug turns up on launch day or the server crashes and nobody can signup? What if nobody likes your product and nobody signs up or sticks around even if they do signup? You’ve just blown your one chance as you can’t get featured on any of the launch sites again.
Even if nothing is broken, the traffic and signups pour in, on-boarding rate is high and everyone loves it, what if you can’t keep up with the sudden demand? Are you going to hire more staff and setup more servers just to cope with that one massive spike in traffic and signups? What happens the next day when it all dies down? Will you fire your staff and cancel the excess servers? These are some of the issues you need to consider when going for the big launch, but if you do the gradual launch, spread over a period of time, you have much fewer risks, you can adapt the product based on real usage and feedback and your new users will likely have a better experience in the process which will lead to better retention as well as increased referrals.
There are online communities for everything you can imagine and many things you could not and so no matter what your startup is about, you should have no problem finding a place to hang your hat.
When you’re looking to learn from other startups, share your site to get feedback, discuss business topics such as marketing or others, or even to be where your potential customers hang out, there are some great places to go online.
As mentioned above there is Reddit which has a great Startups subreddit. To learn about Growth Hacking, the place to be is of course Growth Hackers and if inbound marketing is your thing then head over to Inbound.org where you will find loads of great articles and discussion. Needless to say you can post your own articles there, subject to their specific rules, and get lots of traffic to your blog in return.
Forums or message boards are often considered “old school” but in fact are thriving and contain a wealth of valuable data and active communities. You can easily find a relevant forum with a little googling, for example you can search for SEO forums running popular forum software such as vBulletin or phpBB, like so: “powered by vbulletin” seo or “powered by phpbb” seo – just replace “seo” with whatever type of community you are looking for, or of course you could just search for “seo forums” or something like that.
As with many things in life, you get out what you put in and so when joining these online communities you need to participate and contribute to the community, not just look for things you can take out from there. Build a reputation as someone that contributes, that helps others, answers questions and is valuable to the community and that will reflect back to you.
Essential Startup Tools
The internet is packed with a bewildering array of business tools and I couldn’t possibly mention them all here, however I will cover a few of the more useful ones for startups and small business.
First of all if you’re doing internet marketing or content marketing you will need to do keyword research and one of the best tools for that is SEMRush which provides masses of data on keywords and competitors. We actually use some data from SEMRush in the keyword research section of Womplify, combined with data from other sources.
Everyone is doing content marketing these days and you should too because quite simply it works. However producing all the content you need can quickly become an all consuming chore which for a startup with limited resources and manpower can be problematic and often results in content not being produced at all. One easy solution to this is to outsource the article writing. Finding good and affordable writers though can be tricky, but fortunately you can use this service where there are hundreds of writers who are just waiting for your project to be posted so they can get to work on it right away! Naturally there are caveats and you really need to clearly define the job – make sure the writer knows exactly what you want produced, in terms of content, style and quality. Obviously the higher the quality and longer the article, the more it will cost, but the price is still a real bargain and you can have multiple writers working in parallel on multiple articles so you’ll never be short of content for your blog or content marketing needs.
There comes a time in the life of every startup (hopefully!) when you have actual real customers and that means having to provide support to keep them happy and encourage them to keep paying. There are quite a few help desk apps/services around these days and no doubt more on the way but one which is making waves at the moment is Groove which prides itself on being simple to use yet effective and affordable.
We’ve talked about A/B Testing on this blog before and there are some great tools around for it such as Visual Website Optimizer and AB Tasty which will help you optimize your landing pages and maximize conversions to facilitate the growth that your startup needs. You can also use Google Content Experiments which you can read more about in this article on Search Engine Watch .
Startups generally like to make money and investors are particularly keen on their portfolio startups actually having paying users at some point and so there’s a good chance you’ll be looking for a billing company to use for charging credit cards and relieving your customers of the burden of their money. One of the best these days is Stripe which is designed to be developer friendly and allows for a highly streamlined charging process, thereby likely contributing to higher conversions. Another well known method online is of course PayPal which you can always use alongside Stripe or others.
Once you’re actually billing you will also be needing bookkeeping/accounting and there are quite a few SaaS apps in that field these days. One of the most well known amongst ‘traditional’ accounting software is QuickBooks and now there is a web based alternative in the form of QuickBooks Online which is gaining popularity fast. Other popular ones include FreshBooks , Xero and Sage . There are regional variations for most and there are some others which only exist in specific countries such as PayLessTax which is for businesses in Ireland.
Last but we like to think certainly not least is our very own Womplify ! All your marketing automation needs for a price real startups can actually afford and by ‘real’ I mean not just those with gazillions of VC funding – 80% of startups are actually self-funded and that generally means money is tight!
Expand Your Startup Team
As a small startup you may find yourself with more work than you can manage with the current team or needing work done which requires specialist skills none of your team has and not having the resources required to take on additional staff. Fortunately the world is a smaller place these days and companies can easily work with virtual teams spread across the world. To acquire specialists or make short term hires for specific projects or tasks you can now easily use outsourcing. Two of my favourite places to outsource jobs to are Fiverr and oDesk .
As the name implies, Fiverr is where any job or gig costs just $5! Now you may be thinking that you’re going to get crap for $5 but in actual fact you can get decent stuff done there as long as you’re aware of the limitations and know what to expect. Since those providing services on Fiverr generally also have to pay the rent and eat, you can expect any job they do for such a small amount to be something which can be done very quickly or automated in some way, for example making simple modifications to existing design templates. As a matter of fact our logo on Womplify was created through Fiverr!
oDesk is a different kettle of fish and you can hire all sorts of freelance workers here to do everything such as programming, sysadmin, design, marketing, writing and much more. You can pay by the hour or by the project, depending on your preferences and their system will log all the time spent working with some software the workers have to install on their computers. You can get very high quality people through oDesk and can even build and manage entire teams of workers who may be scattered across the entire world.
Learn the Ropes With Startup Training
You don’t need an MBA to start a business (although it probably helps) but there are plenty of short courses around in various aspects of business startup and management which you may find useful. Check what is available in your area and you may find there are free courses or at least very cheap and subsidized by the local authority or government. If you can’t find anything suitable then have a look online instead where there are loads of courses to be found.
For a really good and totally free option, have a look at this video lecture series on How to Start a Startup from Stanford University in partnership with the folks at YCombinator (they get around!). They have lectures from Startup founders, VC’s and Seed stage investors and a selection of experts in all aspects of starting up including fund raising, hiring, growth and all sorts of other great info – essential viewing!
Recommended Startup Books
Courses are not the only way to learn and can’t possibly cover everything anyway, however there are many great books which you should be reading to round out your knowledge or fill in any gaps there may be. Written by experts in the field and often from those who’ve gone before – people who have founded (and often also failed) startups before who share the lessons they learned along the way, to save you from the pain and wasted effort of making the same mistakes they did. The following are a few of the best although by no means an exhaustive list…
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Read this to find out what not to do (and what you should do) before you go and do it all the hard way and find nobody wants it anyway!
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel of PayPal fame.
Remote: Office Not Required by 37Signals/Jason Fried, makers of Basecamp. In this age there isn’t such a need for physical offices filled with employees when they can work just as well or even better from home or wherever else they feel most comfortable and productive as long as they have internet access.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and first published in 1937 and widely considered to be a classic.
The $100 Startup as mentioned above.
The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki who is nothing if not prolific when it comes to publishing business books and working the social networks.
Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising by Ryan Holiday.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Another classic which everyone should read.
Pretty much anything by Seth Godin – you can download some of his books for free from his web site, such as The Bootstrappers Bible and more .
Startup & Business Blogs
If you’ve read all the books and want to get the latest from your favourite authors or if you just prefer reading stuff online, then you’ll want to follow these great blogs..
Quicksprout – this is where Neil Patel blogs, founder of KissMetrics and other successful startups, and spills all with epic posts on digital marketing.
On Startups – a blog by Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of Hubspot, who surely knows a thing or two about building successful startups.
Hiten Shah – co-founder of KissMetrics and more alongside Neil Patel. Much SaaS wisdom is imparted here.
GrooveHQ Startup Journey – read this great blog about how Groove grew their SaaS to $100k/month and is now in fact heading for $500k!
Backlinko – Brian Dean blogs here with epic articles on SEO and internet marketing, packed with actionable tactics for backlinking and more.
Blogging from Paradise – find out exactly how Ryan Biddulph lives the dream of living in paradise and how you can too! He also has a bunch of great ebooks which are well worth getting.
Matthew Woodward – Matt gives you all the tips and tricks you need to make money online using SEO, affiliate marketing and more.
BankofHome – an internet marketing blog and newsletter, well worth following.
OkDork – Noah Kagan blogs here about startups, marketing, self-exploration and for some reason also tacos.
So there you have it, almost everything you ever wanted to know about starting and running a Startup can be found using the links or resources mentioned above, although there’s always more that could be added and more you will want to learn and do, but as Seth Godin says “Start now, not later. Hurry.“
Do you know of any great startup resources or blogs that should be included here? Let us know!