Starting a small business can be a scary and lonely proposition — particularly if you’re emerging from a long career with a large organization and all of the resources that went along with it. But the brilliant advantage of starting a small business in the new digital age is that most of the costly and cumbersome barriers to entry for have been eliminated or greatly reduced. Virtual teams now offer the support that every independent business owner needs.
This post is a glimpse into the virtual teams that exist and how you can leverage the tools of the digital age to help you efficiently and effectively run your business in your first months out of the gate.
Outsourcing is key, and it can help you not only manage the many tasks you’re expected to handle as a new business owner, but do so at a fraction of the cost. Rather than renting an office, putting in phone lines, leasing equipment and hiring staff, outsourcing via virtual teams allows you to function as if you have spent tens of thousands of dollars on infrastructure, while only spending a portion of what it used to cost to launch a business. Even brick-and-mortar businesses can take advantage of the remarkable services that are available to help you get set up and grow.
Virtual Assistants, Programmers, Etc.
A virtual assistant, or VA, will likely be the first outsourced consultant you’ll need. A good VA can be your gateway to using the Web to create your website; research pricing and competition; set up a toll-free line and/or messaging system; build a budget; sign up for social media accounts; communicate with vendors and clients; and complete other business tasks that (in your old job) would have been handled by an in-house admin.
Online marketplaces like Upwork,Elance and Freelancer are sites where employers/contractors like you can review profiles and portfolios of a range of professionals, including VAs, programmers, graphic designers, marketing consultants and others. Like the online marketplaces you may already be familiar with (e.g. Angie’s List), reviews by other users will help you determine if the reputation of a given consultant warrants further consideration. As with any new business relationship, of course, be careful not to entrust too much too soon to a new consultant. Start by assigning some simple tasks that don’t require big expenditures on your part. You might even consider giving the same task to a few different candidates and see who performs the best before settling on one provider.
LinkedIn is also an excellent forum to find appropriate professionals to help you with your small business. LinkedIn has become arguably the No. 1 professional social network, and it’s not only a place to meet and review potential consultants for your business, it’s a place where you can join groups of other like-minded professionals engaged in the same or similar business industries. Building relationships and getting involved in conversations on the many LinkedIn groups will connect you to potential vendors, clients and colleagues.
While Upwork, Freelancer and other such sites are great places to find virtual team members across a range of services, you may want to drill down on a particular area. For example, if you’re looking to create a logo and other branding elements, you might consider visiting the site 99Designs. This is primarily a specialized marketplace for finding graphic designers. Additionally — and this is both fun and incredibly productive — it lets you conduct a week-long design contest for artists to compete in providing the best design for your project. Rather than hiring a single designer to create a logo (and hoping you’re going to like the result), you can choose between dozens — even hundreds — of design ideas all submitted based on your specifications. The best part is if you don’t like any of the submitted designs, you can cancel the contest and not pay a dime.
For legal services, you may be familiar with LegalZoom, which offers a comprehensive library of legal documents, and also provides services to customize those documents for your needs. Other such services include RocketLawyer, Ready.Set.Legal and Nolo, the original self-service legal information provider. While online legal services can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars when it comes to drafting business consulting services agreements, finder’s agreements, leases and more, they can’t replace the nuanced advice of an actual lawyer in helping you make your ultimate decisions. This is another example of where LinkedIn can help you search for and connect with lawyers who specialize in your business.
There are a number of online accounting solutions you may want to consider. You’ll likely be able to find and hire a business bookkeeper on LinkedIn to set up and maintain your accounts, but there are a number of online tools to help track customers and invoicing. Traditionally, Quickbooks has been the go-to small business accounting program, but depending on the type of business you’re starting, a more flexible, cloud-based solution may work better. Particularly when it comes to invoicing, FreshBooks is perhaps the best-known, but you should also check out Zoho, Invoicera and the free, open-source, SimpleInvoices.
Marketing in the digital era is perhaps the biggest challenge for new small business owners. Establishing your business on social media, advertising your products and services, building email lists and sending newsletters — all of these elements require skill and experience. Again, online freelance sites like Upwork,Elance and Freelancer can provide experienced small business marketing candidates for you to consider. Depending on your own familiarity and comfort level with social media, you may want to research virtual assistants and other specialists who can focus on the one specific area where you need help, or who offer a package of services, such as someone who can not only help design and implement your website, but also write blog posts for you, make sure they’re re-posted to your various social media accounts and handle your CRM (customer relationships management) on social channels.
General Training Resources
Lest you feel like you are all alone and overwhelmed by the myriad of virtual teams available to you, there are a wealth of training resources online for pretty much any product or service you could need in launching and maintaining your business.
I’m sure you’re both excited and apprehensive about starting your new business. While the apprehension is understandable (and normal), try spending as much time as possible in your excitement. You’re starting on a path that many others are also embarking on. There is indeed safety in numbers, and the virtual team resources (some of which are mentioned above) make it easier than ever before to get established and avoid many of the mistakes business owners made in the pre-digital age. So be excited, be confident and be resourceful. Your new business awaits.
NOTE: The websites mentioned in this post are listed as examples of resources available to small business owners and are not intended to be exhaustive or definitive. The author has no professional relationship with any of them, and has received no consideration in connection with their mention.
This post appeared previously as one of my blog posts for Guidant Financial, a financial services company focused on small business, including Roll-Overs for Business Startups (ROBS).