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Think Big, Work Small: How to Get Your Startup Off the Ground Fast

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When you're starting your business, you want things to happen fast. You have some choices to make. You can choose to have the perfect store layout where everything to the last shelf is quintessential, you can have the perfect office environment where every chair has to match and your phones need to be working on day one, and you can have the perfect website to launch your business that took you seven months to build.

But I question you: Do you really need all these things in place before launching your business?

Get It Out the Door Now

I always tell my folks here at VerticalResponse to do something and get something out the door, whether they think it's perfect or not. The key is to learn what's right and what's wrong about it and make changes as you go. If they do nothing, they won't learn and they'll always be trying to be perfect, wasting precious time.

So as a new business owner, you need to be thinking: What are the bare minimums you need to really start your business? And does everything have to be perfect on day one?

Obviously you need a business license, you need to file for taxes, you need a name for your company and maybe a website address. If you're selling products, you'll need some inventory and a retailer's license. If you have a retail location, you'll need to secure the physical spot and make sure it's safe for customers, and you'll need to have your point-of-sale ready to go.

Here's a dirty secret: Almost nothing is forever. You'll always be making changes, so the key for you is to get people in the door or to your website and get them spending.

When I started VerticalResponse over 10 years ago, I can tell you that it was far from perfect. But I felt that launching our email marketing service sooner rather than later was important. Why? For one, it was important for us to learn how our customers were going to interact with us, then react and make changes to our business based on that data. Another reason why we needed to launch quickly was the fact that we didn't have the luxury of a big bankroll, so we needed to get customers spending fast.

Get Your Hands Dirty

At VerticalResponse, we began collecting email addresses on our website months before the launch. We collected information for a few hundred prospects and when the time came, my customer service person and I split the list of names and called people to try to convert them. For every person each of us converted, we'd get $50.

I also trolled through hundreds of websites where my prospective customers might visit and sent advertising requests to get the word out. I wrote the copy for all of our advertisements as well as our website to get new people coming to our site. And I wheeled our trade show booth and collateral to dozens of trade shows all over the country while standing for days selling our product.

As the owner of a business startup, there's no waiting to build the perfect team. You have to go out and get your hands dirty. Here are a few things you can do now to get your business up and running ASAP:

  • Put up a quick placeholder home page on your website and start collecting email addresses and phone numbers before your business has started.
  • Send an email marketing campaign out to your address book letting them know what you're doing, and ask them to sign up for updates on your pre-launch Web page.
  • Create your own Facebook page and Twitter feeds. Then post to them daily about your progress. Need some social media ideas? Check out our small business marketing blog for tips.
  • Websites are easy to build these days using any hosting service. Pick one of their professionally designed templates and go!
  • Take photos of your products with your own camera. Professional ones can come later.
  • Be your own fulfillment center. Pick, pack and ship your own products on day one. Print off collateral to cross-sell other products you might have and stick it in the box.
  • Get out in front of where your customers will be and leave something behind, like a datasheet or a sample of your products, with your information on it.

Don't be afraid to dive in head first. Once your business is booming, your hands might get a little less "dirty." Then you can start to learn from your successes and failures to think big.

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Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse, which provides a full suite of self-service online marketing solutions for small businesses and non-profits including email marketing, event marketing, online surveys, social media and direct mail. She's also the CEB (Chief Executive Blogger) of the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog for Small Businesses.