Let’s face it: as an entrepreneur, the odds are stacked against you. Most businesses fail after the first few years, and even if you do manage to survive, that doesn’t mean your business will redefine an industry, become profitable, or change the world. Getting off on the right foot is essential to navigating a startup from its infancy to profitability.
Luckily, there have been countless entrepreneurs that have gone through the same toils building their own businesses, and most of them are happy to share their experiences to better prepare you for the journey ahead. In addition, there is now an array of social media and web apps that no entrepreneur has ever had access to before. Together, these resources can give you the edge in a fast-changing business world.
While we can’t highlight the thousands of resources at your disposal, we have put together twenty of our favorite guides, web apps, and tools that can help you build and launch a startup. This guide is divided into six sections, covering everything from coming up with the right idea to the steps you need to take and tools you’ll want to have to secure funding for your early-stage company. In total, you will find that this guide is a comprehensive resource for anybody who’s trying to realize his or her entrepreneurial dreams.
Guides to Getting Started
Before you dive into your startup (or maybe after you’re neck-deep), you should get yourself a crash course education in starting a business. There is no education like doing, but reading up on incorporating, collecting some checklists, and understanding just what it takes to get your specific business off the ground will save you plenty of headaches later on.
1. The Entrepreneur.com Startup Kits: Entrepreneur Magazine’s website has a gem for entrepreneurs: startup kits. There are kits for everything from starting a restaurant to a consulting firm, complete with articles, guides, marketing tips, and more.
2. eHow’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship: Collaborative knowledge resource website eHow has hundreds of thousands of great articles, including a strong set of guides and resources for how to open a business, how to incorporate, raising money, and bookkeeping.
3. About.com Starting a Business Hub: Another resource you should not miss is About.com’s Entrepreneurs Hub. They’ve curated some of their best content for starting a business, including checklists, a small business startup kit, and detailed articles on naming and calculating the cost of your startup.
4. Library of Congress’s Entrepreneur’s Reference Guide: Yes, the U.S. Library of Congress has an entrepreneur’s reference guide, while it’s dated (1999), it also lists a lot of great books that are updated yearly. It covers practically every topic related to starting a small business.
Inspirations for the Idea
There are few things more important to the success of your startup than having the right idea and continuing to be innovative with your product as it gets built and released to your customers. Ideas don’t just come in cans from the store, though. That’s why we’ve brought together some resources that should help inspire your creative juices and help you nail down the next big idea.
5. Vator.tv: A play on ‘elevator pitch,’ Vator.tv is a place where entrepreneurs can upload short video pitches about their startup. Not only that, but you can follow industry news and specific companies. Watching these pitches will certainly jolt your brain’s creative juices. Also check out VentureBeat Profiles (formerly TradeVibes), which also has a great database of startups and a community discussing each one.
6. Alltop Startups: Reading the latest news and opinions in the startup world can only help jolt your brain and keep you current. Alltop has a great list of blogs and news websites dedicated to the subject (including my personal blog). Take a read, subscribe to the blogs that interest you, and you’ll be guaranteed to be reading about great ideas soon enough.
Startup Web Apps
While there is an array of great web tools for entrepreneurs (10 of the best we previously highlighted), there are some tools that just make your life easier when you’re trying to bring order to the chaos of launching your startup. Consider these tools when you’re in the early stages of building a company:
7. Evernote: Information is king, and there are few web apps that do a better job of collecting information in front of the computer screen or on-the-go than Evernote. The service simply helps you remember everything. You can take pictures of your receipts for easy organization or save key info while you browse, for example, among many other ways to organize and catalog the things you need to remember for your startup.
8. Zoho: Zoho is a suite of online collaboration tools. Not only does it include email and spreadsheets, but it includes, wiki, chat, customer relationship management (CRM), and web conferencing as well. While it is similar to Google Apps, it is built specifically for businesses.
9. PBWorks: Wikis are amazing for organizing ideas and sharing them with team members. There are few better suited for business than PBWorks, which is not only a wiki but a collaboration tool, document manager, and project management tool.
10. FreshBooks: If your business is client-based, you need to track invoices, teams, and payments constantly. While there are many choices, Freshbooks is one of the best due to its mobile apps, integration with Basecamp, and reasonable pricing.
Social Media for Startup Success
Social media is about connecting with people. Interestingly enough, so is business and entrepreneurship, which is perhaps why there is so much overlap between the two. If you want to get your startup off the ground, you have to network, build up your social circle, and reach out to the right people. These social tools are adept at that task:
11. Plaxo: There are few tasks more important in business than maintaining and organizing your contacts. You never know when someone you meet will lead you to a big business deal, venture capital, or a new team member. Plaxo acts as a digital address book that efficiently organizes everyone you meet. Plus, it integrates with Outlook, Thunderbird and the Mac OS X Address Book to make importing contacts a snap. You have to be diligent about adding contacts, though.
12. Google Wave: Google’s experimental real-time communication platform not only has a consumer version, but also comes in a corporate flavor for users of Google apps. Having your team collaborate on projects through waves is a unique experience, one that we have used with success over here at Mashable. No other social tool has the same collaboration features.
13. LinkedIn: This one may be obvious, but its importance in business cannot be overstated. It is the world’s most popular business social network for a reason. Its business features, especially those connecting you to friends of friends, are unmatched, and with over 50 million users, it’s a social media tool you need to be using constantly.
Bringing your startup to the next level takes more than willpower, determination, and grit. In most cases, you need startup capital to build the product, hire the right team members, and maintain the product after it launches. That’s why it’s vital to do your homework on how to effectively raise money.
These are a few resources that will give you a crash course education in venture capital and raising money to grow your startup:
14. Introduction to Venture Capital: If you’re clueless about how venture capital works (most people are), this short presentation by Will Price, former venture capitalist and the current CEO of Widgetbox, explains all of the basics. It was given at Stanford University in 2007:
15. TheFunded: This entrepreneurship community is very unique in that it is focused on helping you raise money. How? By giving you ratings and inside details of the practices of countless venture capital and angel investor funds. The information, once you’re in, is invaluable to choosing the firm that will help propel your business to the next level.
16. How to Fund a Startup: This guide by Y Combinator co-founder and early-stage investor Paul Graham is shockingly detailed on the different ways to raise money, the disadvantages of each approach, how venture capital firms operate, and the reality of bringing investors into your company. A must-read for any startup founder before raising capital.
Startup Social Communities
You cannot and should not build your business alone. The world’s greatest entrepreneurs not only had co-founders, but they had friends, family, and a community of entrepreneurs and advisors that helped them with difficult decisions, overcoming adversity, and fixing mistakes.
With the rise of social media and the web, a crop of incredible startup communities have popped up, each one with a unique character but with a wealth of community knowledge that you’d be crazy to pass up on your journey to build a great company.
17. StartupNation: The recently redesigned startup community network has extensive and active forums, useful knowledge hubs, community groups, and plenty more.
18. Hacker News: The seed investment firm Y Combinator has built a thriving and active startup community known as Hacker News. Users add relevant and interesting stories on the topics of programming and startup entrepreneurship and consistently hold thought-provoking discussions. It’s an incredible place for insight and advice on startups.
19. Young Entrepreneur: Focused around discussion forums, Young Entrepreneur is a great place to ask any startup question on your mind or just to read the over 240,000 posts made over the years on the site.
20. PartnerUp: PartnerUp is a community that really focuses on one thing: helping you find business partners. In business, finding the right co-founders is often the difference between stellar success and a quick, painful startup death. PartnerUp is a community ideal for finding and networking with people that will shore up your weaknesses and help you answer those nagging questions about the partnership side of business.
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Mark Montoya has been working in personal branding for more than a decade for hundreds of online and offline companies, small businesses and individual service professionals. His focus has been toward improving the way jobseekers find employment on the Internet. He has synthesized his expertise by helping job seekers obtain their ideal choice of employment over the Internet on his sites MyOnlineCareerSpace.com and MyOnlineCareerCoach.com, and through his books 101 Tips Every Job Seeker Should Know and The Ultimate Online Job Search eBook.
“It is the responsibility of the individual to reject the prospect of mediocrity and to strive for the betterment of society as a whole” ~ Mark Montoya