The hardest thing about small business is getting started. In the past few weeks, I keep getting email from lovely people who want to launch a business, but they don’t know where to begin. They’re overwhelmed, confused, and in a lot of cases, pretty scared.
Since I’ve obsessively looked at dozens (maybe hundreds) of resources on just this topic, I thought I’d give you my suggestion for a beginners’ tool kit. These will give you at least 90% of what you need to know, without a lot of confusing junk you don’t need. And nearly all of these resources are cheap or free. (If the pennies are tight, don’t forget your public library!)
I’ve divided these into sections to keep you from getting lost in all the goodies! (So much for my idea about putting together shorter posts. You’ll get some more bite-sized ones later this week, I promise.)
When you’re trying to sort through a zillion pieces of advice, it can be really, really helpful to have someone hold your hand and walk you through the steps in order. Here are two great systems for that. (You can absolutely use them together, too.)
1. New series at Ittybiz. If you’ve read Remarkable Communication for any length of time, you know that I think Naomi Dunford at Ittybiz is pretty much the queen of micro business advice. She’s coached lots of lucky clients into creating wildly successful, enjoyable home businesses. She doesn’t do much coaching any more (and if you can snag an hour of her time, it’s expensive), but she’s about to launch a free series on how to make a great living by creating your own Itty Business.
The series won’t be on her blog, but you can sign up for it here. (No worries, it’s going to be free.) It starts out with a post called Why We’re Broke and How to Fix It, with ideas about how you can get some of that “the rich get richer” mojo going for yourself.
2. Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid. Michael Port has an amazing step-by-step system for service professionals to . . . well, book themselves solid.
Book Yourself Solid shows you which clients you’re meant to serve, what you can offer them that no one else can, and how to find customers without feeling like a creep or doing anything scary like cold calling.
One warning: reading the book will not make clients start calling you up. You have to actually do the exercises, which are fun but can take some serious thought.
I’m doing his exercises again now, as a matter of fact, because I’m going to be taking Remarkable Communication in some new directions. I like to bring the book and a notebook to bed and write out exercises until I get sleepy. It’s fun, it’s enlightening, and it works.
How to get good at (eeeek) marketing
3. Marketing basics. I created my free ten-part marketing tool kit to give marketing newbies an overview of the most important tactics and techniques. This would be a 70-part tool kit if I included everything, but it will get you rolling.
(Again, there’s nothing scary in there like cold calling or leaning high-pressure sales closing techniques. That stuff gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’m no damned good at it and thus do not try to teach it.)
4. Get started with copywriting #1. No one wants to study copywriting. It sounds hard and complicated, like English class but without the cute boy/girl who sat in front of you.
But you need to know that copywriting to promote your business isn’t the same thing at all as trying to write the Great American Novel. (Or even trying to get a decent grade on a term paper.)
Commercial copywriting is just learning how to talk about why people should do business with you. Gorgeous descriptions or perfect grammar aren’t necessary. Even if you think you’ll outsource all of your copywriting, it’s still important to know what goes into writing that sells, so you can give your freelancer good direction.
I hope it doesn’t sound too suck-uppy, but I refer to Brian Clark’s Copywriting 101 all the time. It’s sound, time-tested advice, it’s tailored to the realities of the 21st century, and it’s more convenient than a library of copywriting books.
5. Get started with copywriting #2. Gary Bencivenga is often called the most successful copywriter of all time. He wrote direct mail packages (you & I might instead use the term “junk mail”) that earned him millions of dollars (and hundreds of millions for his clients). He has a collection of tips called the Bencivenga Bullets that contain tons of of proven ideas for improving your copywriting.
I suggest you do as I have, and print out the entire collection of posts to keep as a reference. I read and reread these. Be sure to sign up for his email list as well, as he adds to the Bullets from time to time.
Learn from a pair of true Mad Men
In today’s world, blog posts or email autoresponders might take the place of ads, but the techniques work essentially the same way. These two are required reading if you want to understand what makes persuasive communication work.
6. Claude Hopkins already knew everything there was to know about advertising before you, your parents, or your grandparents were born. He wrote two books, My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising, both of which are readable and simple to understand, befitting a true ad man.
If you want to really learn the art of persuasive communication, it’s well worth rereading Scientific Advertising about every six months or so. You can get both books bundled together in a cheap reprint. Scientific Advertising is also widely available as a free PDF.
7. John Caples (rhymes with Naples) wrote about everything Claude Hopkins did, but Caples’s book Tested Advertising Methods is easier to understand and has many more examples. If you want to know the most important part of an ad, how to improve the selling power of your copy, what layouts and illustrations work best, or you like the sound of 35 proven formulas for writing headlines, Caples is your guy.
Master the art of influence
8. Robert Cialdini’s Influence is another cornerstone of persuasive communication. Cialdini is an academic who studied the techniques of con men and great salespeople. Influence describes dozens of experiments that get to the root of what makes effective sales and persuasion techniques work.
You absolutely must read and re-read Influence if you want to learn to sell, to market, or to persuade. It also comes in very handy for arming yourself against people who want to talk you into something that isn’t in your best interest. (In fact, that’s why Cialdini wrote it. He’s a self-confessed patsy who wanted to understand how to defend himself against master persuaders.)
9. The One Page Business Plan. I know I wrote about this last week, but it’s a very handy little resource. If you hate business plans (doesn’t everyone?), The One Page Business Plan will help you get to the good stuff without getting bogged down in spreadsheets until you want to jump out a window.
10. Small Time Operator. This nifty handbook covers all the other stuff. Taxes, accounting, hiring, vendors, DBAs, etc. etc. etc. If you have a question about running a small business, Small Time Operator can probably answer it for you. The only section that’s not as strong is the marketing one. I’d use the other resources here (especially Book Yourself Solid) for that.
A good-looking Web site that won’t cost a fortune
If one more person tells me they spent $10,000 on a Web site that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, I am going to lose my mind.
First things first: have your site built in self-hosted WordPress. (If you’re thinking to yourself, Well why not Joomla or Drupal, this section is too basic for you. Feel free to skip to #11 or #12.)
If you’re somewhat technical, you can do this yourself, although you still want to get a real graphic designer to create the visuals that will give your site professional polish.
11. A terrific WordPress designer. Now there are lots of great WordPress people out there, but I’m just going to point you to one today. Men with Pens built this blog for me, and I really enjoyed working with them. Plus their prices are very reasonable. You may have your own person you love, and of course that’s cool too. But if you’re looking for someone, these guys do excellent work, they’re quick, and they really care about your success.
12. Remarkablogger. If a blog’s going to be part of your strategy, no one else will talk you through the business side of things like Michael Martine. Remarkablogger is all about how to use blogs as an effective tool to promote your business, rather than an end in themselves.
13. Thesis. Thesis is the WordPress theme this blog is built on. It’s especially user-friendly for people who aren’t exactly technical geniuses. It’s designed to be well optimized for SEO, and it’s easy to configure to look just the way you want.
There are lots of free WordPress themes out there, some of which can be configured to be truly fabulous. But I personally feel that going with a premium theme like Thesis takes things to a more professional level, without requiring a lot of technical or design expertise. totally up to you.
(One nice thing about WordPress is that you can swap out themes in minutes, so feel free to start with a free theme and upgrade if and when the time is right.)
14. Remarkable Communication. I’m here for you! This blog is all about creating more success for medium, small, and teeny tiny businesses.
You might start with the 7 Things Big Dumb Companies Do That You Can’t Afford and the 7 Dumb Things Small Businesses Do That You Can’t Afford.
What’s your own favorite “getting started” resource? Let us know in the comments!
Flickr Creative Commons image by Kjunstorm