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Diary of a Social Venture Start-up: Starting Your Business

Earlier this month, I shared some tips from my favorite business founders about what helps them run their businesses. After that post ran, I got a...

Earlier this month, I shared some tips from my favorite business founders about what helps them run their businesses. After that post ran, I got a few great emails asking one interesting question: What if you're not yet at the point where you're running a business? What if you're trying to get there? They wanted to know if there was survival kit for starting out. Here are some tips that might help you get moving.

Legal Assistance

If you're planning on running a business, you're going to need a business to run. This means incorporation (or filing for 501c3 status). These sorts of steps can be handled online through services like LegalZoom, but I wouldn't recommend doing it that way. Legal matters are too important for shortcuts, and by going online, you run the risk of missing out on important information. For example, you might want to officially incorporate your entity in Delaware, whose laws look favorably upon the small business owner. It's a small bit of information that could prove to be a major help. A lawyer would tell you that; I'm guessing an automated service wouldn't.

Matt Mireles, Founder of SpeakerText, offers an interesting take in this post, where he mentions that nearly all lawyers will give you an hour of their time for free (in the hopes of landing a client). If, say, you need 10 hours of legal help, Mireles's answer is simple: "Talk to 10 lawyers."


In case you hadn't heard, this interweb thing is going to be big. If you want people to take you seriously, you need a professional web presence. You'll need three things: a URL, hosting, and a design.

The rules for design are easy: Unless you're a designer, don't design your own site. Hire someone. Or, in a pinch, use a service like Squarespace.

You probably already know about URLs. Just go to GoDaddy (or any of the innumerable other domain providers) and find the one you want. Your dream URL might already be taken. It's common, it sucks, and domain-name pirates are evil, evil people who should be thrown in the sea-but don't sweat it. Just focus on creating something great. If your venture takes off, you'll likely be able to buy the URL you want from whomever owns it. (Foursquare, for instance, was only able to buy after they got venture funding.)

As for web hosting, you want the lowest amount of downtime for your price level and quality customer service for when things go wrong. I've had good luck with StartLogic, but I'm sure there are others who are just as solid.

Business Cards

Face it: You know a cheap business card when you see one. It might seem unimportant, but it's one of the first impressions you'll be able to make. Start handing out cards that look like you printed them at home and it'll be hard for anyone to think you're legit.

If you can, stay away from the super-cheap sites. If someone's offering you 12,000 cards for $10, you can expect low-grade paper and some sloppy printing. That said, you don't need to spend a ton. Don't feel like dealing with professional printers? Use a service like Moo. Just choose a template (or upload a design) and you're good to go. As for me, I like letterpress cards. I think they add an extra touch of professionalism. I got mine from the Mandate Press, who are just about the nicest folks you'll ever want to deal with. While I submitted a custom design, they've also got a nice assortment of templates you can use. Also, they have a mascot, which is adorable.

The Takeaway: Formally establishing your business, launching a website, and ordering business cards are only a few of the multitudinous things that go into starting a venture, but they're steps that can be taken care of quickly and, usually, affordably. So, investigate your options, get these done, then move on to becoming the Next Big Thing.

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