Getting Rich Without Leaving Your Sofa?

No! This is not a post for a new Ponzi scheme and my CMS [Content Management System] was not hacked last night (hopefully...)

Even though slightly provocative and often exaggerated—not everyone becomes rich by going down this road—the title refers to entrepreneurship in the digital era.

Online Business Is More Online Than Ever

The youngest of you may not remember but, until fairly recently, starting up even a solo business required a lot of paperwork, capital investment, long-term contracts (e.g. office lease, landline contract), etc.

Today, most of the commonly required basic components of a new startup can be subscribed on a rolling monthly basis, paid for online by credit card, and with no upfront capital investment (e.g. cloud computing allows to pay for actual use with no need to invest in physical servers that are used only to a small percentage of their capacity).

The Checklist of an Entrepreneur-To-Be

Of course, each project has its own requirements and there is no "one size fits all" checklist for all entrepreneurs. But some items often pop up on the list of a new online-based "digital" business.

Virtual Office: a Home for Your Business

First things first: if you don't want to mix private and pro (which is often better), you'll need a postal (business) address and, perhaps, also a phone number and receptionist to handle calls and collect messages for your new business. You may want some place where you could also pop-up from time to time! Many companies offer these services nationwide at a cost varying from a few dozens dollars to several hundred dollars per month.

For over 10 years, I've been using Regus, a multinational provider of business centers. There are many competitors (sometimes cheaper) but Regus have an impressive number of centers worldwide that you can visit any working day (during working hours) to rent an office or a meeting room (charged by the hour or day). Plus, they offer fixed-fee memberships with a monthly credit of days for private office, shared office, or mere business lounge access (useful when you're commuting from one client's office to another and you need a place to work conveniently in between).

Email & Collaboration

Today's business involves instant communication and collaboration with clients, partners, and colleagues. A collaboration suite like Google's G Suite or Microsoft's Office365 is usually a must-have (and it includes email hosting and—possibly—a domain name, as well).

But they shouldn't be the universal solution to all collaboration needs. Other options to consider include:

  • Cisco WebEx for conference calls and their new WebEx Teams full service suite.
  • Slack, for team collaboration. Useful, especially for larger, distributed teams (e.g. full remote teams can really replace part of the face-to-face interaction with asynchronous Slack communication). Some competitors are Microsoft Teams (included in some Office365) and Cisco WebEx Teams (see above) but Slack enjoys a longer history with fantastic user experience...
  • Trello, for project and tasks management (for a team but also for oneself!)

Do not forget the small lines, though!...

It's always better to check the Terms & Conditions thoroughly and to consider paying a fee for a "premium" plan, as free plans often lack necessary terms to protect you (and your data) adequately. Free plans are usually "consumer-grade" products, and premium plans are "enterprise-grade."

Never underestimate the impacts of privacy legislation on your business, especially when dealing with customer data! If in doubt, you should seek legal advice.

Phone Number

You probably already have a private phone subscription... but no intention to share it with all your clients either!

You might also be tempted to directly use the phone number included with your virtual office package (if you subscribed to one, as suggested above). Rarely a good idea: most of the time, if you read carefully the small lines in the agreement, you will notice that the phone number remains the business center's property and therefore cannot be ported to a different provider later. In other words: either you keep your contract alive to keep the phone number, or you change the phone number the day you leave the business center.

Here again, some cloud solutions exist:

  • Cisco WebEx coupled with IntelePeer's WebEx Calling is basically a virtual PSTN bridge provider to connect to your WebEx subscription and receiving/making calls directly from within the WebEx Teams application!
  • Google Voice is also a good alternative to a full Cisco virtual PBX, especially if you're already a G Suite subscriber: it comes on top of the existing G Suite Hangout chat and collaboration service, offering a fully virtualized PBX with local phone number(s) for each user.
  • Good old Microsoft Skype is, of course, a reference for both receiving and making calls with a local phone number that follows you everywhere. They have plans with unlimited calls to U.S, or both U.S. & Canada (+ another more expensive with International calls to an impressive number of destinations). Skype for Business is included in some Office365 subscriptions. But, honestly, the user experience is now a bit outdated, compared to the two competitors mentioned above...

Payment Processing

A business isn't worth much if it's unable to collect payments from its customers! Not so long ago, accepting credit cards online meant opening a merchant account with a payment processing company, negotiating tailored-made agreements with banks and—sometimes—intermediaries. It was a cumbersome, expensive procedure that required time, energy, and money.

Today, some mainstream providers offer turnkey solutions for collecting payments online from customers (and even, sometimes, in-person payments!)

  • PayPal is the unavoidable player in the field! With transparent fee schedule for merchants (even though not cheap), it's an easy-to-deploy, ready-for-market service, often enjoyed by businesses looking to start up fast.
  • The raising star in this area (especially for innovative startups) is the relatively new Stripe! Founded in 2009, they acquired a great reputation in the world of developers, as they offer all the tools and documentation to make developing apps and services around Stripe not only efficient but also enjoyable. Their range of services is also impressive, and worth having a look at it! Ideal for a SaaS (Software as a Service) startup...
  • It's also worth noting Braintree, a service provider specialized in mobile payments (and aggregating other payment methods), has an interesting service offer. It's been bought by PayPal in 2013 and has since become a reference to consider, too.

Paperwork Is Now Often Digital

Drafting Articles of Incorporation, a Shareholders Agreement, or an LLC Operating Agreement require expert knowledge to avoid pitfalls. For that, you should seek professional advice, as even a small mistake may have bad consequences.

Once the preparatory work is dealt with diligently and adequately, most paperwork (not all, though...) can be handled online with the Secretary of State (in California) or its local equivalent.

But paperwork doesn't end with incorporation and corporate documentation! Your business may (and, most likely, will) require additional formalities to keep running and expanding.

Notarization

Documents notarization is often a stressful matter for entrepreneurs. But it should no longer be an issue, since some states (e.g. Viriginia) now allow their notaries to authenticate documents fully online! I sometimes work with NotaryCam myself. And, thanks to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, other states have to recognize these "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings."

Contractual Formalities

Contracts are at the heart of every business: with clients, with suppliers, with partners... everywhere you go and for the whole life of your business, you'll have to deal with them.

Drafting them is a business in itself and it's always better to have them at least reviewed by an attorney (did I ever mention that I can do it for you in the most convenient way, entirely online?...)

But complying with formalities shouldn't become a new opus of Back to the Future either! The old hard copy signed by all parties and circulated by postal mail or courier is no longer the industry standard... electronic signature is becoming more and more common, if not the prevalent method in some industries!

  • DocuSign was the pioneer in this industry, with a full cloud solution, which has the merit of offering a fantastic user experience, both from the subscriber's (sender's) point of view and other (receiving) parties (whether or not subscribers themselves).
  • Adobe Sign is also a good alternative, offering a service similar to DocuSign but included more recently in Adobe's suite (2016—it used to be an independent product before, bought by Adobe in 2011).

Conclusion

To set up your business in California in the best possible way, it's always better to seek advice from a professional lawyer for paperwork and legal requirements.

For all the rest, the world is now your playground!

So, when are you launching your own online business?