In Part One of Starting a Business with Pocket Change I talked about the brainstorming and research you need to do while you save your change for your new enterprise. This next article focuses on specific steps to take and purchases to make when it’s time to create a business identity and launch your business, including recommended suppliers. Bear in mind: the information given is correct at the time it is written, but is always subject to change. Please double-check the details here before you jump into anything.
What goal did you set for your change savings? $100? $500? $1000? After reading this second article, list out what items you will need (and therefore what expenses you will have) when starting your new business. This will help you get a good ball-park estimate for your savings goal. Take into consideration one big question: how many months worth of operating costs do you want to have stashed away? Make sure to double check your math!
To give you an idea, the suggestions in this article will cost anywhere from $80 for initial start-up money to $600 for six months of expenses. This does not include any money you might need for necessary licenses, so make sure you’ve done your research on the requirements in your area.
Picking out a Name
First things first: do you have a name yet? Picking a good business name is difficult, frustrating, and absolutely crucial! If you followed the advice of the first article you have brainstormed your business for a while when you get to this point. When it comes to a name, you’ll want to strike a careful balance in being clever: just enough to be memorable, but not so clever that it’s completely obscure. An example: I read a book about seven years ago and it mentioned a salon named “Curl Up and Dye”. Very clever, and I remember it all these years later. Get the idea?
So, take the information you thought up while saving your change and head to some of these resources to come up with a list of great business names. Trust me, you’ll need to come up with several.
- Rhymer.com is a free online rhyming dictionary
- Allwords.com let’s you search for words that begin with, end with, or contain certain letters in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish
- Word Combination Tool Great when you have a list of words describing your business but don’t quite know what to make of it. Type your list of words into the spaces given for First List, Second List, and Third List, and then click ‘Process Words’. There will be a lot of useless combinations, but you might find a couple you like.
Now it’s time to take a deep breath and hit the next stop, MakeWords.com. In this day and age, I guarantee you’ll want your business name and your domain name to be the same, or at least as close as possible. The first thing you’ll see is that MakeWords.com can come up with nonsense words and tell you if a domain is available for it. Think long and hard before you register a nonsense word, though: they’re not all Flickrs, Googles, or Yahoos.
Type your possible business idea where it says “Keyword/Advanced Search” (no spaces!) and click ‘Go’. Once it processes it’ll tell you if yourbusinessname.com is taken or available. Don’t worry if your name is gone, there’s still hope. Scroll to the bottom of the page where it says “Try more keyword themes” and click on a category, and the site will add words to the beginning and end of your possible business name and let you know if those domains are free (a.k.a. available for you to register). You can also select the link “Want to create a list of your own affixes? Click here”. For instance, DivineDesign.com is taken, but TinasDivineDesign.com is available. When you find an available domain you like, click the ‘Analyze’ link next to it. This takes you to a page where you can perform a Hoovers business name availability search and a US Patent Office trademark search.
Register a Domain Name
So, you have a business name and the domain is available. Time to stake your claim and register! There are hundreds if not thousands of registrars around nowadays, so feel free to do your own research. I use DomainSite.com for registrations for me and my clients. They’re not the cheapest out there, but I find them to be a good value for the money and I have received good service both over the phone and by email. They have two registration options, one for $6.99 per year and one for $5.99 per year. If you will be hosting a website, you will be fine with the $5.99 per year option. If you don’t want a website but want yourbusinessname.com for email purposes, go for the $6.99 option. You can register a domain for multiple years, but one year is the lowest you can go. You will have to provide your name, address, and an email address. Use your home information for now, but know you can change it in the future.
Get a Post Office Box
If you’re selling goods and expect to receive shipped inventory you might want to consider an option like the UPS Store which can receive packages, but otherwise a standard tiny P.O. Box will do just fine. The rate varies by region, but in my area the smallest box starts at $19.00 for six months.
Why a post office box? First of all, if you’re like me you might want a business address that is outside of city limits for licensing purposes. Second, the information you use to register your domain is publicly available and you might want to replace it with something less personal than your home address. This also applies to the contact information you put on your business cards and website. Also, if customers send you checks or inquiries, a post office box makes it easier to separate work mail from home mail. Last but not least, imagine the client who thinks you run a storefront and comes to your home address on a Saturday morning to shop. It’s worth the $19.
Get Another Phone Number
Specifically, either a prepaid cell phone or a toll-free number. It will be a hassle in the beginning but you’ll be thankful in the end because your business will have a dedicated number for calls, and (more importantly) a dedicated voicemail box. Your other options here are to install a second land line, which can be pricey, or use your home phone number and risk having friends and family answer the phone in a non-business like manner.
My pick for the prepaid phone is Virgin Mobile because right now they have a Nokia phone for $19.99 that comes bundled with $20 worth of airtime and free shipping when ordered online. Also, they offer customers referral bonuses and the ability to earn airtime for completing marketing surveys, and you can check Virgin Mobile voicemail from another phone without using your airtime minutes.
Another option is Amp’d Mobile’s Hollywood Phone (free after mail-in rebate) and End the Boredom Hybrid plan. The per minute rates are better than at Virgin Mobile, but there’s more upfront cost involved ($150 before the rebate versus $19.99). Since we’re working with pocket change, start out with Virgin Mobile and you can switch to Amp’d if you start using the phone more. Just check to make sure they offer service in your area: there’s none in mine.
If you don’t want another cell phone, consider getting a toll free number instead. This option will involve more initial cost but definitely has its benefits if your business has more than local customers.PhonePeople.com offers toll free numbers starting at $9.95 per month with 100 minutes included and no set-up fee if you accept a randomly assigned number. For a one-time $35 you can also request a vanity number, which turns your contact number into another marketing tool. This service comes with voicemail capability and customer controlled call-acceptance and call-forwarding, which means you control (through their website) whether the toll free calls ring through to your house phone, your cell phone, or go straight to your designated voicemail box on the PhonePeople.com’s system.
Get a Web Host
Don’t do a Google search for web host, you will get 175,000,000 results!
Here’s the deal: as someone who offers hosting services I find it inappropriate to recommend myself, but I don’t really want to recommend a competitor, so I’ll let you do some research on this at FindMyHosting.com. They’re a comprehensive rating and review site with a nice advanced search feature. As a sample, I searched for hosts offering plans at $2.50 per month or lower and no set-up fee, and there are 15 Hosting Assured hosts available. Hint: At the bottom of the search page, select “List by Highest Customer Rating Score First”, “List only one plan per host”, and “Hosting Assured Hosts only”. This will get you higher quality results.
Most of the low cost hosts ask you to pay 6 months or a year up front, but at $1.50 per month that’s $12. If you have a question about what to look for in a hosting plan, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get you some additional information.
Get Business Cards
Some of you will be tempted to stop reading here. Don’t! Most people are familiar with places like VistaPrint or even Yahoo when it comes to business cards, but I promise there are better things out there. This is an area where just a little more cash will get you much better quality, and when it comes to business cards quality is the name of the game.
Go to OverNightPrints.com and take a look around. Request their free sample pack if you want before you do anything else. No matter what: order your business cards from them. They are without a doubt the best business cards I’ve held in my hand, and as a former marketing manager that’s saying a lot. Thick, sturdy card stock with a glossy or matte finish at no charge. All cards are full color, full bleed printing, and for an additional charge you can print on both sides or have cards with rounded edges. They have hundreds of templates to chose from, or you can design your own and upload them. Best of all, they don’t put their information on the back of the card like some other companies do.
For the purposes of this article, order the 250 pack of cards for $9.95 before shipping, about $16.50 after. If you need more you can get a thousand for $49.95 before shipping, which is about 50-75% less than what the office supply stores would charge full color cards on thinner paper.
So, here’s our running total
- $16.50 – 250 business cards
- $12.00 – one year of budget web hosting
- $19.99 – one prepaid cell phone with $20 in free airtime
- $44.94 – one vanity number and one month of basic plan toll free service
- $19.00 – 6 months rent on a post office box
- $ 5.99 – one years ownership on a domain name
Grand Total for Starting Up
$73.48 – when choosing the prepaid cell phone
$98.44 – when choosing the toll free vanity number option
For those looking for six month costs, everything is covered except the phone service and a bigger order of business cards. Phone usage varies wildly based on one’s business, but an extra $500 would carry almost any business through to the six month mark. Add that to the totals above, and you have a business that costs less than $100 per month.
Part III of this series will touch on software electronic resources for creating your website, finding clients, and running your business.