Over the past few months, I have been involved with some genetics start-ups. More recently, it has been necessary for me to form my own software company, Chromosoft. Not wanting to waste time nor money, I decided to go about forming Chromosoft and developing its company profile by spending as little of both precious items.
Whether you are working on a new company or a long-standing business, your company profile is important for both you and your clients. Your “company profile” covers everything from your corporate structure through your logo and website. I’m going to outline nine steps that will allow any company, whether it is a virtual company or a corporeal institution, to quickly and economically build a high-quality company profile.
If you are starting a new company, picking a name is one of your first tasks. While you have the freedom to choose as you wish, a few tips include: shorter is better, don’t pick a name that is too difficult to pronounce, and pick something easy to memorize. A final suggestion with whatever name you land on: Google it. If there are hundreds of results all listed for the keyword “your company’s name,” then you might want to reconsider. By picking a name with few existing Google results (or none!), you can easily come up on top.
Once you have decided on a name, you will need a domain name for your website. I prefer Namecheap, but there are a number of highly reputable name servers out there. It is highly probably that the first dot com that pops into your head is taken. If you did well to choose a company name that is obscure enough (while still being sweet and simple), then you can probably claim the dot com domain. When I went to grab the Chromosoft domain, the dot com was taken, so I settled on the dot org. Once you have chosen a name and claimed your domain, you can begin pondering your company’s logo.
A company’s logo is meant to hit the consumer with some personality and information right away. Logos can be wacky and artistic or overly simple. Professional is a word often ascribed to logos. Whatever your tastes may be, you have a couple of options here.
Depending on what your company provides, you will have a few options for your website. For a physical business (such as a salon, deli, or law office) you will not need anything really dynamic on your website. Even taking online requests for orders or appointments can be done with simple, free solutions. However, if you are a web 2.0 startup, you will likely need to hire a team to program whatever dynamicism you would like to see in your website. Hiring a team of programmers is a whole different ball game.
For those companies that need something sweet, simple, and functional but with little web development experience, I recommend using WordPress, an open source web application, as a content management system. A complete guide to installing WordPress can be found on their website. A brief description of the steps involved:
If you’re really adverse to computers or if you don’t have the time learn this new information, you can hire a freelancer on Elance or Guru to install your website for you. Just let them know you want a simple wordpress install, and they should only be able to take you for around $1000. It is always best to outline the content of your site before hiring someone else to implement it.
Regardless of how you develop your website, be sure that it is search engine optimized. I’m not going to even begin to talk about that, but I will say that adding Geography tags is something all businesses, especially physical, local, small businesses should do for their company website.
One last touch of professionalism: company email addresses. Depending on the level of hosting you purchase, you will have access to a certain number or an unlimited quantity of email addresses. While I use gmail for everything, I prefer to give out company specific email addresses for business. For Chromosoft, I use the firstname.lastname@example.org email address on my business cards and in my emails. This adds another aspect of professionalism. Just look at your host’s control panel documentation and see how to set up an email address. You can then have everything forward to Google so that you can send and receive all email using Gmail’s nice interface.
If you already own a business, then this is likely old news, but for start ups or new, growing ideas, forming a legal entity is an important part to developing your business. It gets you a tax ID, and it allows your company to open up bank accounts for when all the cash starts coming in.
Not being a lawyer, I had to ask a few people and do some Google-ing to learn a bit, but LegalZoom is a fast, cheap online way of forming a legal company or corporation. As for what type of entity you might want to form, I suggest asking an expert or at least reading the difference between Limited Liability Companies, C-Corporations, and S-Corporations from both legal and tax standpoints.
Once your company is a legal entity, you can open up company bank accounts. Again, for already existing businesses this is old school news, but for a new growing venture, there are a number of options here. Check out all your local banks, talk to representatives and read online to get a feel for which bank and what account types are most suitable for your needs. Will you need to write checks, accept credit card payments, make a few deposits or many deposits each month? Depending on you answer to these questions you will be able to find a bank that best fits your company.
$40 for an address? No, I’m not talking about office space, I’m talking about P.O. Boxes. For virtual companies, those working from home, or start-ups that have not yet acquired office space, you house address has a number of drawbacks: unsolicited spam from banks, “work” mail getting mixed in with “normal” mail, and if any customers/business relations happen to check your location on Google Earth, they will know exactly what your house looks like.
A P.O. Box, much like the company email address, adds another level of professionalism over using your personal contact information. More importantly, it helps mentally separate the “work” portion of your life from the “play” portion of your life. Also, the last thing you want is a client checking your house out on Google earth.
Simply go down to your local post office and ask for an application. You can also apply online. I would suggest checking online to see which of the local post offices have availabilities and at what prices.
While your house phone is definitely out of the question, your cell phone shouldn’t be given out all over the internet and on all of your stationary. Much like your personal email address or your personal mailing address, your personal phone number is personal…not business. Keep it that way. You can with the wonder of Google Voice.
Google voice gives you a new phone number, and all calls to this number can be forwarded to any number you want. Moreover, Google voice allows you to add filters and screen out phone numbers. Even better, when someone leaves a voicemail, Google voice transcribes it into text, and then proceeds to text and email the transcript to you!
There is one drawback. For now, Google voice is in the “invite only” phase (much like how Gmail was when it was first introduced). Obtaining an invitation from Google might take a while, and it could be months before the public release. However, if you’re willing an crafty enough, you just might be able to find some cheap Google voice invites available for sale on eBay…but you didn’t hear that from me.
For young start-ups, an ample supply of business cards is necessary for the amount of networking you should be doing. With a logo properly designed, your own domain name, your company email address, your company phone number, and a company mailing address it is time to synthesize your company business cards. This is the last thing to do since it requires having completed all other steps and putting all other information here.
I went to Staples to print Chromosoft’s business cards. It was $40.00 for 500 cards, and I was able to control every aspect of the design. I fully recommend this, and the cards are available for pick up in just one day. Simple, cheap, and quick.
Once your company profile is done, its time to do the fun stuff and add it in to LinkedIn. Update your LinkedIn account (or create a new one) with your company’s name and your position, and you’ll be asked to create this new company’s profile. Once done, people will be able to read all about your brand new, flashy company on LinkedIn. It is also useful for hiring new employees and connecting with other people and companies in your industry. Again, it adds a layer of professionalism that helps with your company image.
Once you’re done, start handing out business cards, writing emails from your company email address, and getting customer requests through your website’s contact us page. You can even start a company Twitter and a Facebook fan page if you feel like taking a stab at the Web 2.0 world. All this has been accomplished in one week for around $800! Not too bad.