Some aspects of your business can be done faster, provided you know the shortcuts. Here are some tips for wrapping up some of the business basics more quickly:
- Finding an attorney and an accountant: This is actually the first thing you should do as you're starting your company. To speed up the process, be targeted. "Get somebody with background and experience in your particular industry," Goldfarb says. "Find a firm under 50 people, but where the partners, managers and seniors have big-firm experience." This way, you'll get more attention and cheaper rates from a seasoned pro. Online references that can help you get a step closer to the right professional include www.nationalbar.org and www.smallbizaccountants.com.
- Locating outside financial resources: You can easily spend all your time looking for money rather than building your business. "Raising money is time-consuming," explains Joseph Bartlett, a partner with law firm Morrison & Foerster in New York City and co-author of Raising Capital for Dummies (Wiley). It can be challenging to get early-stage money these days, Bartlett says, and many beginning entrepreneurs rely on friends, family, loans and their own resources until they reach a certain size. But if you're bent on obtaining some outside funds, you have to know what you're looking for to make the process go faster. Angel investment is one option. Online resources such as www.moneyhunter.com will help get you up to speed. Contact your local chamber of commerce, business development groups, universities and entrepreneurial forums for help in locating outside investors in your area. Depending on your type of business, you may qualify for an SBA loan, too. See www.sba.gov/financing for more information. You can also pick up a copy of Ralph Alterowitz and John Zonderman's book, Financing Your New or Growing Business: How to Find and Raise Capital for Your Venture (Entrepreneur Press).
Today, it's important to look beyond the obvious when money-hunting. Have you considered starting with your developing client and customer base? If you land a customer of some magnitude, you can try to get impending invoices financed early on to provide working capital, says Petersen. Another option is the convertible bridge loan, which converts debt into equity in the form of preferred stock as a company grows. "It's very tied-up equity money," says Tom Kinnear, executive director, also of the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. This loan can give investors incentive to provide you with funding in your company's early years.
- Obtaining the required permits: Instead of spending hours in line, take a shortcut with www.sba.gov/hotlist/license.html, which provides links to the state agencies that handle licenses and permits. You'll get a good overview of what's required in your state.
- Finding a mentor: Get free business counseling with the SCORE program. It's associated with the SBA, which offers its own mentoring programs. Call successful businesspeople, ask who mentored them, then map your strategy. "You can shorten the [start-up] process by a month or more," says Bob Wilson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
If you're really stuck, try this creative approach: "Take out a classified ad in the help wanted section saying 'Needed: a mentor for a young entrepreneur,'" Krupp says. "That would catch someone's attention."
- Creating your first board. A great board of directors can lead to funding, so you don't want to take years to find these people. Have a plan. Make a list of people who understand your industry and can open doors to other people. Your board members, in some ways, are also your mentors. Call their people, Wilson says, and ask permission to mail a summary of your idea, the kind of time commitment you would need, why you want this person on your board and what he or she would receive in return. Then follow up and work down your list. Log on to www.mapnp.org/library/boards/boards.htm for more advice on selecting your board faster.
- Securing trademarks and patents: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has put all its trademark and patent information online, free for anyone to access. You can search to check if someone else has already trademarked your business name, and you can also research U.S. patents dating back to the 1700s. "It's a tremendous resource," says John P. Blasko, special counsel for Fox Rothschild O'Brien & Frankel LLP in Princeton, New Jersey. "And it can speed up the process." Visit www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm and www.uspto.gov/main/patents.htm for more information. Sites such as LegalZoom.com can offer research help, too.
- Finding your first customers: Besides spinning your card file and networking for customer leads, why not offer a finder's fee to friends who bring in your first customers? And don't be afraid to be a buttinski, either. Krupp landed one of her earliest clients after she eavesdropped on a woman talking about her organization's publicity efforts while riding a stationary bike at her gym. Krupp shared her thoughts with the woman on how she would redo the company's campaign. The next day, the woman called Krupp, and the two started a business relationship that continues to this day. Take a look at www.powerhomebiz.com/vol36/customer.htm for additional advice.
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.