By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting
Wednesday, July 30, 2003; 5:00pm EST
In part 2 of our article on starting a home business, we will continue to look at crucial first steps and considerations you need to make, when starting a home business...
5. Trade Marking
Branding of your company is an important first step. Equally important is the long term protection of this branding which you will work so hard to build and cultivate into something that has mindshare. You can trademark your company name, the logo, specific products, product lines, names of services, pretty much anything you want to protect. However, it must be something that has not already been trademarked for your category of business, and a proper filing with your government is required. That is why it may be advisable to have an incorporation specialist company or individual. The specialist will handle the initial search for possible trademarks that could prohibit you to register the trademark, and secondly to handle the form filling and submission of the appropriate documents to the government. It will then most likely go through a review process and the government will provide an opportunity for other trademark holders to protest having your trademark instated. After a specified time frame, and no objections have been raised, you then make a final trademark registration payment to the government and a certificate will be issued to your company. In the event there is protest against your filing, you may file an appeal and state your reasons as to why it should be accepted. Trademarks, depending on the one you have chosen, can be a difficult to register if there are other companies that believe yours closely resembles theirs, even if it is not the same. Typically, once registered, trademarks have a validity period of between 7 and 10 years, and are renewable for basically an infinite number of times. Although registering your trademark does not entitle you to automatic government protection and representation, it gives you legal grounds for you yourself to pursue companies that infringe your trademark ownership.
When developing any documentation, images, marketing materials, etc, get into the habit of copyrighting it. Copyright is something that protects your intellectual material from being copied by other companies or individuals for their own profit. Copyrighting can be as simple as writing on the original document a copyright notice with date and company name, to as difficult as actual registering with a copyright organization - depending on your country and the level of protection you feel fit for your material. For a majority of material, a simple copyright notice is sufficient protection. However, if there is for an example a piece of highly valuable computer programming language that was developed by your company and you wish to protect it, you may wish to take additional measures to make a more "formal" copyright claim. Note, as with trade marking, it is up to you to police and pursue and copyright infringements.
7. Advertising and Marketing
Nobody will know you exist until you let them know you are there. A popular myth for example is that if you simply put a web site on the Internet, swarms of people will be knocking on your door, since there are millions of people online. In reality that is completely and utterly false. It is like saying because you open up a store on a side street, people will just somehow miraculously know you are there and be banging down your door. You need to "send the word out", that you exist, where you are, what you offer, and some sort of enticing reason for people to visit you (whether in person, on the net, or other means of getting in contact with you) rather than your competitors or someone they already deal with. Fortunately, there are countless ways you can advertise or get the word out about your company - ranging from free methods, to methods that involve significant time and financial investments. Advertising is the classic example of "you have to spend money to make money". Although advertising money at first may seem like its just disappearing and is not worth spending, without it, there is little point of having the business.
So what methods can you investigate? Newspapers, magazines, local papers, radio, television, internet, bulletin boards, billboards, flyers, public transit, the list goes on and on. Typically when you are starting a business, you want to first try out methods that cost less or nothing, and that require creativity and a bit of leg work. Later when your first revenues are generated or you have exhausted your initial methods - you can try some that require a financial injection. You would be surprised how the lost cost options can drive business if done correctly.
Never underestimate the power of networking. Networking involves all of the people that touch your life in some way or another. By compiling a COMPLETE list of every single individual you know, and who they know and sorting them by their likelihood of interest in your company products or services - start contacting them and pitching your offerings. You will most likely have family members, co-workers from the past, friends, a dentist, buddies at a local club or social activity, etc. All of these people, and the people they are connected to, have the potential to be interested in your business. And the great thing is - since you already know them, the cost of getting to them through advertising is eliminated. And you would be surprised how many people, the people you know, know! If you are trying to sell them something, and they don't have interest, in many cases they WILL know someone who may. It's just like when you are trying to sell your old stereo and you ask around to your friends and suddenly one of them says "Well, I'm not interested, but I know my friend Steve is looking for an inexpensive stereo to buy for his cottage." The emphasis here is exploiting the contacts you already have, and to develop more. You are literally attempting to grow branches out from the tree that represents the people in your life. And that, is networking!
Another important advertising method is to have a web site, and make sure that it is properly search engine optimized and submitted to all the major search engines, directories and other related web sites. We will get into that at a later point in this article.
8. Software and Licensing
For many businesses, software is a critical factor in its operation. Documentation, accounting, graphic design, all is typically done through the use of computers. So what kinds of software will your small business need to get going? This certainly is influenced by the type of company you are starting - however there is a typical set of base applications that are most likely going to be needed. A required piece of software would be the operating system your workstations and possibly server would run. Make sure the one you select is well supported with the software you see being important to your business, and that will let you be compatible with a large client base. Most importantly after the operating system would be some sort of business applications suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software and email application. Possibly a small database program would be recommended to store certain company information such as clients, accounting data and other important records. Luckily it is quite easy (although sometimes expensive) to purchase packages from companies such as Corel and Microsoft that contain literally all of this software in one box, saving you from having to buy multiple products from multiple vendors. Be sure to shop around as prices vary depending on the retailer. Online vendors sometimes offer inventory wide discounts that can be applied to software. You may also want to try large software retailers targeted to business rather than consumers as they can sometimes offer some discounting or competitive price drops.
Once you have purchased your software, it is worth the time to manage your software licenses right from the beginning. Create a spreadsheet or database containing all the information about what software titles you own, the number of copies, where they are installed physically and the codes you use to unlock them. That way you can prevent any licensing issues that may arise from poorly managed licenses once your company grows and additional software licenses are required. Piracy (unlicensed / paid for copies of software) can have hefty fines that would certainly put a dent in any companies profits - it is well worth keeping a legitimate software library. Not only that, but obtaining pirated copies or "cracked" copies of business software from the Internet can be prone to major security risks such as containing viruses, trojan horses, and lack of support in the event you have problems with the software.
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In the final part of this article, we will examine the following:
Employees or Contractors
Ongoing Costs & Expenditures
About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding this article or interest in the services available from Visca Consulting.
http://www. viscaconsulting. com/