You’ve probably heard a small business owner use the term “my baby” to describe their business. Just like raising an infant, the first year in business can be the most thrilling — and the most demanding — time of your life.
There are countless tasks needed to get your business up and running, and on top of that, there will be twice as many surprise issues that you never expected to deal with. You’ve got the passion to fuel your efforts, but sometimes it’s hard to keep track of everything you need to do.
As with any complicated endeavor, it helps to break the project into smaller pieces. We’ve compiled a list of the top items to take care of during your first year in business. Whether you’re just thinking about starting a business or you’ve already set your launch date, here are seven key tasks to take care of for year one.
1. Put aside money in your bank account
Very few small businesses make a profit in their first year, and simply being able to cover your expenses with sales should be considered a win. Set aside money to help fund your operations for the first year if you want to give your business a fighting chance.
A good rule of thumb is to have saved enough money to live for a year before you quit your day job to launch the business full time. If you’re planning to fund the business yourself, set that money aside in a separate account to better track expenses, income and how much runway you have left at any given time. If you’re going to need investors or a loan to get started, make sure you have access to that money before you open up shop.
2. Prepare your “elevator pitch”
Your company is brand-new, which means you’re going to spend a lot of time during the first year explaining your business to unfamiliar customers and partners. You’ve no doubt put a lot of thought into your business plan and mapped out how you’re going to address your niche in the market better than anyone else.
However, most people you interact with won’t want to hear the whole story. That’s why it’s essential to devise a brief narrative highlighting your value in a way that draws people in. This is known as an “elevator pitch,” based on the idea that you could deliver it to a stranger in the short time you share an elevator ride. It should be one or two sentences at most, and something listeners can easily grasp.
For example, say your new business has developed a machine learning system to translate tax regulations into an algorithm that can calculate liabilities based on multiple differing financial reports. The way you describe it to people for the first time might be more along the lines of, “My company uses smart technology to make filing taxes quick and painless for businesses.” That’s your elevator pitch.
If you’re aiming to jump into an established market, focus on what makes your business stand out and why that’s important for the customer. For entrepreneurs introducing a new product or service, stay away from technical jargon and use simple language to explain how your business helps customers.
3. Create a logo that tells your story
Before you establish a relationship with your customers, you need to establish your own identity, and a crucial part of that brand identity is your logo. Your business logo doesn’t just mark your products and services: It conveys a specific personality, evokes an emotional response that drives customer actions, strengthens consumers’ mental associations with your business and offers new avenues to build your brand through promotional merchandise.
4. Set up a website that speaks to your customers
An effective and exciting website is the best way to get unfamiliar customers to embrace your new business. It does more than provide information about your products and services, hours, location and other details shoppers consciously look for as they’re doing research online. It’s also a sign of credibility and competence.
Working with a professional to design your website will ensure a positive experience for customers who now expect a polished look and feel, easy navigation, and accessibility across different devices. A professional will also make sure your website content is optimized for search engines so that people can find you in the first place.
5. Alert the press!
Your business is new, and that means it’s also news. Take advantage of your arrival on the scene to build awareness about your company by going out to relevant media outlets, including those in your geographical region and those that cover the space you’re working in. Both physical and online publications are always looking for fresh content, so if you can tell your story in a way that people relate to (there’s your elevator pitch again), editors will be happy to run with it.
6. Spread the word on social media
Social media services offer one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reach new customers for your business. If you’re just starting out, set up profiles for your company on relevant social media channels so that you can spread the word. Use your personal and professional network to point people to your new business, but remember that not everything you post has to directly promote your products and services. Offering general advice and participating in conversations about your industry can build credibility and brand recognition much better than talking only about yourself.
7. Build a robust email list
Another effective and inexpensive way to promote your new business is to set up an email marketing campaign. As people become aware of your company and your offerings, you can start to build a quality list of potential repeat customers that email allows you to reach out to at practically no cost. You can capture email addresses in exchange for promotions and giveaways and by asking people to sign up for newsletters or alerts. Remember to treat these lists as delicate resources: Make sure your email campaigns come in a clean, professional, mobile-responsive format, and can be shared easily. Use automated follow-ups to increase open rates, but remember to give customers some time and space between messages if they’re not responsive.
The first year of running a small business offers plenty of excitement and anxiety as you watch your ideas come to life. Preparing a solid foundation will keep you grounded when the going gets tough — and put you in position to really take off when things start to click.