In an ideal world, schools would teach entrepreneurship and the best ways to get self-starters like yourself on their feet.
Unfortunately, they don’t. So it falls to entrepreneurs to figure things out for themselves. This means a mad scramble of last minute research, bad habits, and poor decisions.
I’ve been through this stressful cycle, and I hated every minute of it! That’s why I’ve put together this handy guide of resources and tools you will need to get your business off the ground.
For your convenience, I’ve divided them up by category and included at least two resources for each.
Today’s era of digital commerce absolutely requires you to have a website, whether you’re babysitting or selling bathtubs. It’s also the biggest hurdle to getting started, as most entrepreneurs don’t have the technical know how to build a website from scratch.
Fortunately, this is now one of the simplest hurdles to overcome. There are multiple website builder services that let you create one from scratch–even for free.
Website builder wix.com isn’t new, but it is enjoying a surge in popularity thanks to its many YouTube ads. It lives up to its promise of being simple and easy to use thanks to its drag-and-drop functionality.
And did I mention it’s free to use?
Unlike other free website builders (ahem, WordPress), Wix’s free templates are actually good, and you can lose hours obsessing over which template is your favorite. Wix also takes care of hosting and site maintenance, so you don’t have to do anything beyond building and updating the site.
Everything has a downside, though. The free version doesn’t include a domain, so you’ll have to live with having a website that ends in “wix.com”. You will also forced to display ads for Wix on your website until you plunk down some cash (11-20 USD a month).
Wix also has something of a poor reputation among the SEO community. Because every Wix site is built upon a pre-existing website framework (like the foundations of a house), it’s more difficult to optimize for SEO.
Squarespace is a drag-and-drop website builder just like Wix, but with some subtle differences that have a big impact.
Like Wix, Squarespace gives you the basic framework of a site, and you apply your chosen template on top of it. The biggest difference between this and Wix, however, is in the templates. Wix’s templates are great, but Squarespace’s are beautifully sophisticated and minimalistic. They also give you many more powerful customization options and tools so that you can tweak your website to your heart’s content.
Squarespace’s more powerful tools are more complicated to use, but fortunately they are also better at customer support. Squarespace has a bevy of helpful training videos to go along with 24/7 customer service reps.
There is no free version of Squarespace, unfortunately. Just a two-week free trial. But the price range from 12-40 USD a month depending on site complexity and if you need a webstore or not.
You’re doing this for profit, not pride, so you have to have some way of taking people’s money. Here are a few options for you to consider beyond just giving Moneris a call.
Square is a contactless payment processing system that allow you to accept credit card and Interac Flash debit card payments from literally anywhere.
You can have a traditional POS interface that you can set up in your store front, but Square also issues a clever little device that plugs into your smartphone, so you can take payments from anywhere with a data connection (although you can accept swiped payments offline).
Square also has a much simpler processing fee system (2.65% per transaction), unlike Moneris’ complicated system of stacked fee percentages and tiers.
The downside is the relative lack of support. There is a support center with FAQs and guides, but most of your really complicated questions will be tackled either by a slow-moving email channel, a busy phone support hotline, or by posting a question on the community forum (recommended).
If your business is more Internet-based, like a subscription service or an online store, Stripe is an excellent payment platform to try out. Like Square, it has a simple payment model of 2.9% + .30c for each transaction. Competitor PayPal has the exact same rate, but drops layers of fees on top of that base rate.
Stripe is also very secure. It uses a feature called Stripe.js that sends credit card information directly to Stripe’s servers. It does not get stored in your website, and so no credit card information will be stolen if you suffer a security breach.
In addition to these advantages, Stripe also beats PayPal in customer support (although Stripe does have problems of its own) and an easy-to-use API. Stripe also integrates with Squarespace, if you end up using that.
Stripe has a longer transaction turnaround time, though (2 days) so keep this in mind if you need fast access to your cash.
You’re going to be rolling in the benjamins soon, and you need to track every penny properly so that you can keep the IRS happy.
In the past, people used to manage finances with physical ledgers. But it’s 2018, and today accounting software is slick, smooth, and secure, backed up by the cloud and accessible from anywhere in the world.
Wave Apps (formerly Wave Accounting) is a great way to budget-conscious entrepreneurs to organize their invoicing and billing process. It’s tailored for small businesses who have simple needs and are taking their first steps into managing their business professionally.
Wave has a free account that gives unlimited free invoicing, connects to unlimited credit cards, and lets you run multiple businesses out of a single account.
Wave makes its money (and takes yours) in processing payments and payroll. It’s credit card payment processing fee is the same as PayPal and Stripe, and bank payments are tagged with a 1% transaction fee. There’s a monthly fee for doing payroll on Wave, which gets higher the more employees you have.
It’s not perfect, though. Users have complained that Wave is slow, and that the UI isn’t as good as its newer competitors. There also isn’t an audit history, which is vital if you have multiple people using the same account.
Reporting on Wave is pretty basic, as well. While it’s good for the newer entrepreneurs who are just looking for the basics, experienced accountants/business men will want more advanced reporting options.
Freshbooks is one of the top small business accounting systems in the market now, and with good reason. It’s a polished and intuitive accounting experience, and allows you to work from outside the office via its mobile application.
It’s easy to track expenses by snapping a photo of receipts. You pay employees on an hourly basis through individual time tracking. You can even tell when a customer has seen the invoice, so you know the perfect time to follow up.
Freshbooks has different pricing tiers, but most of you reading this post will want to start at the lowest tier of $15 a month, and then increase to a higher tier as you gain more business.
Which leads me to my biggest gripe about Freshbooks: each tier has a limit on the number of active customers you can invoice. The Lite plan only allows you five customers, and if you do good business you’re quickly going to overshoot that number. Even the mid-tier plan only grants you 50 clients, so you’ll have to be swapping out active for inactive quite a few times in order to keep your invoices flowing.
Having said that, Freshbooks is a pretty smooth operator.
You don’t have to use a glitzy accounting system if you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur. An Excel spreadsheet (or Google Spreadsheet if you don’t have MS Office) will serve your basic needs. But be prepared to ditch these for something more robust if your business takes off.
Of course, these aren’t all the resources your fledgling business will need. I haven’t even covered CRMs, marketing software, or SEO. Those will come in Part 2 of this blog post (which I hope will be soon).