This is the third part (Part 1: The Idea and Part 2: The Goods) of a five-part series in which I describe how I started a Web-based business, grew it and then sold it. It was an experience I would never trade and wanted to share it with you as inspiration to try it for yourself.
By this point, I had the idea decided, the Web site built and all of the items I needed to make the product. The next step was setting up the business.
I knew that I needed to have my own Web domain and the capability to send and receive email addresses from that domain. I had seen multiple small businesses that had set up a Web site under their unique domain, but still used a yahoo or aol email address for their business email. That may work fine, but it does not portray a business in the way I wanted it to be viewed.
In order to spread the word about my new business, I printed business cards and had a small amount of letterhead and matching envelopes printed. Since I was going to target businesses directly, these would be handy to send letters and the business cards were needed for me to hand out at networking events and local Chamber of Commerce meetings.
From my point of view, a separate phone and fax line was also a necessity, since even back in 1997, those were the preferred ways for customers to get in touch with a business. I even set up a toll-free number that went directly to a 24-hour-a-day answering service who would take the orders for me. My goal was to make it as easy as possible for customers to order the gift baskets, since the arrival of a baby is a big affair and people generally want to get the gift delivered as soon as possible.
I worked with Nick Davis, the president of Sans Serif Communications, to develop a tri-fold, 4-color glossy brochure and rolodex card. Nick was awesome at helping me organize my thoughts into a selling proposition. We included the name and phrase of the company: Ishtot – I Should Have Thought Of That, in order to help generate some recall ability. And his idea to do a rolodex card helped us get repeat business, especially from the multitude of New York City brokerage firms that soon became my largest customers. You can see a PDF of the brochure, business letterhead and rolodex card here: Baby Necessities Marketing
I decided that Ishtot, Inc. would be a sub-chapter S corporation (s-corp), and did all of the paperwork to get that in place. I had to register with the Commonwealth of Virginia and even Fairfax County, the local business authority. Ishtot had its own bank account and credit card, and since I wanted to allow customers to use their credit cards, I worked with a credit card processing company to be able to accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Today, you can do most of this online and more quickly than you could in 1997, but in all cases, it takes diligence and a lot of checklists!
You would think that at this point you are more than half-way to getting your business off the ground. But you are mistaken – you are not even close. While everything I outlined above is required to get your business ready, the most important and sink-or-swim factor still remains: how to get paying customers. My next post will cover what I did to get that ball rolling – uphill at first!