According to Babson College, the average cost to start a business today is around $65,000, but Elizabeth Edwards, venture capital investor and CEO of Metro Innovation, says you can get going for a tiny fraction of that amount. Edwards, who is also the author of Startup: The Complete Handbook for Launching a Company for Less, offers these 10 steps to starting a business for less than $2,000.
1. Branding: Spend the time, but not the money and do it yourself. A brand that people like and remember is an essential ingredient for a successful startup, but hiring a branding firm can be a big investment - one that you may not be able to afford up front. A quality branding firm might charge $20,000 to create a brand from scratch. Here's the $20 do-it-yourself substitute: grab five creative friends, a case of beer, and a whiteboard. Block out a few hours and brainstorm brand values and name ideas - then get impartial feedback.
2. Logo Design: Crowdsourcing sites like crowdSPRING.com give you high-quality professional design and more choices for less. CrowdSPRING has a community of hundreds of thousands of designers who compete with their design concepts. The site allows you to create a design contest for all kinds of print and web design projects including logo designs, websites, business cards, brochures, and more. Simply post your design project (for example, a logo), requirements, preferences, and prize amount (say, $500). Within a few hours, creatives from all over the world will start posting designs. The site allows you to interact and give designers feedback, ensuring that you get exactly what you're looking for.
3. Website: Do-it-yourself web design tools like Squarespace are perfect for entrepreneurs looking to build a sophisticated presence on the web without the expense of a web developer. Squarespace is a blog-like web design tool that is easy to set up, customize, and manage. Plans start at $20 per month and include hosting, analytics, and search engine optimization. If you're tech-savvy enough to manage your own Facebook page, this won't be a challenge.
4. Publicity: Opening a store? Launching a website? Well, if you want anyone to know about it, you're going to have to get the word out over the newswires. Check out BusinessWire, PRNewswire and PRWeb. Good publicity is priceless, but it's not always free. For local press releases, go straight to the source and build relationships with local reporters and media outlets - and let them know what you're up to. Need national coverage? Getting the word out nationally is going to take a lot more legwork - and it's going to cost you. A publicist can really come in handy here, but if you can't afford to hire someone to write and post your press releases for you, try writing them yourself.
5. Email: Don't hire an IT guy to set up your business email. With Google Apps, you don't need software and you don't need email servers. Once you've purchased your domain name, creating business email accounts for you and your team online is quick and easy. Set up takes just a few minutes. Like Gmail, your email is always safe and automatically backed up on Google's servers and accessible from anywhere. Mobile apps for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android are free and easy to set up.
6. Phone Number and Voicemail: Who needs a landline? If your business is on the go anyway, you don't have to spring for a business line right away. Instead, use Google's nifty Voice feature and create a new phone number that forwards to your cell phone. Voicemails are automatically transcribed and emailed to you.
7. Accounting: Accounting can be an intimidating task, but one that you can tackle on your own. Keeping track of invoices, payables, employee time cards, and your income statement has never been easier - or more affordable. The gold standard for accounting for small businesses is QuickBooks - and the new QuickBooks Online version is perfect for startups. QuickBooks Online starts at $12 per month and there's no software to install. Because QuickBooks Online is cloud-hosted, all your data is secure and always backed up - and accessible from any Internet connection or mobile device.
8. Tax: While certainty is not a word in the vocabulary of most startups, you can certainly count on taxes. TurboTax Online makes it easy to file your federal and state taxes by guiding you through your tax return with simple yes or no questions. The best part? You're going to save hundreds on tax preparation.
9. Legal: Don't pay a lawyer thousands to file boilerplate documents. Do it yourself using the online templates at MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation guides you through a simple questionnaire to help you decide what type of entity to create (LLC, C Corp, etc.) and then creates custom documents and files the necessary forms with federal and state agencies for you.
10. Intellectual Property: Need to trademark your brand name or logo? Save a lot of time and a lot of money by doing your own preliminary patent and trademark searches with the US Patent and Trademark Office's online portal at Filing trademarks using their online system is not entirely intuitive, so download the step-by-step instructions and budget plenty of time to file online. The Copyright office is a separate site through the Library of Congress, Copyright.gov. Both sites accept major credit cards for filing fees, which range from $35 to over $1,000, depending on the type of filing.