When it comes to starting or running a business, the devil is often in the details -- finding the right permits, filing quarterly taxes on time, creating a logo that builds your brand, or using ads to attract the kinds of customers you're trying to reach.
These details can be confounding for any entrepreneur, let alone first-timers. And there are currently over half a million new businesses being created in the U.S. each month, according to the recently released Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. It's no surprise, then, that a growing number of startups are trying to simplify the complex process of building a business in a way that's both compliant and cohesive.
Of course, consumer-facing sites like Kickstarter and Pinterest have become widely popular for leveraging large communities to help businesses raise funds or inspire customers to buy. Here, we feature companies that help you handle those behind-the-scenes tasks that are just as important for success:
Launched in 2007, Docstoc is home to millions of documents for small businesses. While its mission may sound decidedly unsexy in comparison to Pinterest, it's a business owner's virtual candy store. You can download documents and templates to your heart's content: a rental agreement template for that first office lease; an employee handbook for when it's time to hire; or even a terms-of-use agreement for your shiny new website.
There are a variety of free resources on the site -- including some basic documents and how-to articles and videos -- and you can even share and trade documents with other people in your industry through the Docstoc community. But the good stuff comes with a price, naturally. You can buy documents and templates a la carte or in packages according to your needs, or you can pay for a membership (starting at $9.95 a month) that gets you broader access and support.
License123 is actually a part of Docstoc -- but it solves such a big business problem that it seems worth mentioning on its own. This new service, which won the Best Business Model award at the 2012 Launch conference, helps business owners find the licenses and permits they need according to location, industry and business type. The goal is to help growing businesses avoid the costly, potentially devastating fines and penalties that can come from noncompliance with the latest regulations.
So you want to start an ice cream shop in San Francisco? You're going to need five local and two state licenses for that. Your report from License123 includes the applications you need, as well as the estimated fees, filing location and instructions. Because License123 is still in beta, small-business owners can get a personalized report of all the paperwork they need to file (along with a detailed explanation) for $9.95 -- a price that isn't likely to last forever.
The crowd is hotter than ever in the business world, and crowdSPRING has helped lead the charge. Launched in 2007, this business uses crowdsourcing (outsourcing tasks to a large group of people) to offer companies creative services at an affordable price. Need a logo for your new consulting company but can only pay $1,000? Pay crowdSPRING a fee starting at $269 to get access to its marketplace of designers. Then, name your price and delivery date, and you'll get to choose from a pool of actual logos submitted by designers from around the world.
The benefits for you as the business owner are that you get to see actual work rather than bids or proposals, you don't have to spend like a big business to get professional creative services, and there's a money-back guarantee if you're unhappy with the results. It can also be a way for aspiring designers to attract high-profile clients -- "Fight Club" author Chuck Palahniuk got over 400 entries for a poster promoting his latest book.
When it comes to advertising on the Web, you've probably heard that your best bet is to think local -- after all, more than 80 percent of us do some online research before buying locally. Signpost offers two primary services to help small businesses connect with local customers through the Web: (1) a platform that lets you access over 1,200 online advertising partners, like Google and AOL; and (2) a service that helps small businesses create content and special offers that get syndicated to local online publications.
The local problem can be a tough nut for business owners to crack on their own, largely because it takes up a great deal of time. And creating local deals that don't overwhelm your business can be a delicate science. That's why Signpost is banking on business owners paying $99 a month to get measurable results and the kinds of customers who are likely to come back.
Being an entrepreneur still comes with a unique set of challenges, but the above companies are striving to make your day-to-day job a little less difficult, so you can break free from the sometimes tedious details and actually get back to business.