9 vital tools for shoestring startups
For many startup businesses out there, the idea of funding or angel investment is a mere pipe dream. ‘Bootstrapping’ is a much more realistic way for many new businesses to build their online presence and customer base – but that doesn’t mean that everything has to be a struggle.
No money doesn’t have to mean no hope and it is essential that you don’t scrimp on the essential aspects of running a business, such as staying in touch with customers, keeping track of your sales processes, and making sure your finances are up to date.
Luckily, whether you are looking to launch an online venture in your spare time or are launching a full time business with a limited budget, there are plenty of tools perfect for freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses which will make your life easier without breaking the bank.
Here are some of the best solutions out there to help you keep your business running smoothly right from the off.
Building an engaged audience through a mailing list is essential and something you need to concentrate on from day one.
Email is a vital tool for keeping customers informed about special offers, sending vouchers and discounts, sharing new content with your audience and generally keeping in contact with the people that matter most.
Mailchimp offers beautifully designed templates, accurate analytics and spam filter-proof mailing list functionality which grows with your business.
The free plan means it won’t cost you a penny until you have more than 2,000 subscribers so it’s an affordable way to get started.
A custom-built website is always the preferred option and has numerous benefits over generic templates, but it can also be expensive for new businesses with limited budgets.
Squarespace offers a happy medium with the opportunity to build good looking and affordable sites perfect for your business, ready to be expanded when you are ready.
Free trials are available and pricing starts from $8 per month for a fully hosted solution, plus the site builder is easy to navigate even for those without technical expertise, while fully-fledged developers will be able to build on your initial work when you are ready to move on to a customized solution.
Cash flow is king when it comes to running a business and if you don’t keep on top of your invoicing, bills and overdue payments then it’s likely that you won’t have a business to run for very long.
Accountants and bookkeepers can be expensive additions to your team in the early days but online accounting software offers an affordable way to keep on top of the finances without the huge bills.
Freshbooks is a popular solution for many freelancers and small businesses and takes the pain out of many of the processes essential for keeping your finances afloat, plus it integrates with a host of other online apps such as Mailchimp, Salesforce and Basecamp to help streamline your workflow.
Cloud computing has seen the cost of I.T. tumble for many businesses and small teams, with plenty of workforces eradicating the need for in-house servers and hardware or desktop-based software solutions. Cloud-based work systems help your workforce stay in sync wherever they are, sharing documents, storing essential information online and communicating easily and conveniently.
Google Apps is an affordable way to boost productivity without splashing out on pricey software and with essentials such as Gmail for professional standard emails, Google Docs as an online alternative to Office, Drive for online storage and integrated calendars to sync your schedules, managing a virtual workforce can be a breeze – and cheap too.
If a generic email address screams ‘AMATEUR!’ then the lack of a landline telephone number is not much better.
The growth in popularity of mobile devices, virtual workspaces, working from home and saving a chunk of cash by not taking up a permanent office space has meant more and more people don’t bother even setting up a landline these days.
But on business cards, web contact pages and other correspondence it still looks much more professional to have a geographical, freephone or fixed rate telephone number and the ongoing improvements in VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and other internet-based telephony services means that you don’t need an office to have your own landline number. You can even set up a fully-blown virtual telephone system complete with extensions and call transfers for just a few dollars a month.
Skype is perhaps the best known internet phone call provider and can also provide you with your own number which can be diverted to your mobile wherever you are.
Skype is not without its limits however and there are more specialist VoIP companies which specialize in providing business-quality telephone services, perfect for giving an air of professionalism no matter how new or small your company may be.
If your business involves sales — and there’s a fair chance that it does on some level — then it is essential to keep track of your leads and potential customers.
Even for freelancers who have no experience of sales in the traditional sense, it is still crucial to stick to some key principles and stay organized so that you have a clear understanding of where the money is coming from and can keep track of your latest contact with clients and would-be clients.
Karma CRM is a beautifully presented CRM system (CRM stands for ‘customer relationship management’) and makes it easy to automate much of your sales process, with easy to understand reports, calendar reminders and email tracking to take the pain out of selling. It’s a cloud-based solution which makes it easy to manage virtual workforces or outsourced sales teams, while it also integrates with many other business applications to keep everything streamlined.
CRM is becoming an increasingly competitive market for online software providers which means it is also becoming much better value for money and even more advanced and simple to use.
Organization is crucial to helping new businesses launch, build and flourish and with an effective CRM solution you can manage your teams, organize your contacts, make your sales processes as efficient as possible and get instant reports on what is working for you.
If you’re starting out on the road to a new venture or already running a business, then the chances are you’ll have ideas swirling round your head at all times of day, wherever you are. Sticky notes and scraps of paper certainly have their flaws, while trying to keep track of everything in your email inbox can become a nightmare waiting to happen.
Evernote’s tagline is ‘remember everything’ and it’s one of the most popular tools out there for helping you do just that.
Online research becomes so much quicker with the ability to clip images or entire web pages to your notebook, while you can also add photographs, voice memos and, of course, typed notes.
Syncing works flawlessly too which means you can update it with new ideas or search through your catalogue of notes using native apps or the web-based browser on a host of devices wherever you are including desktop, laptop, mobile or tablet.
No doubt you’ll feel like you have a million and one things to do to get your business up and running. Don’t get overwhelmed by it all and lose track of the important things, no matter how big or small your tasks.
The web is now awash with task management software options ranging from the cheap and cheerful to the complex and expensive and trying out which one works best for you can be a time consuming task. But Producteev certainly ticks as many boxes as most of its rivals and is perfect for small teams and the cost-conscious as it is free for up to two users, while the subscription options are affordable and flexible enough to grow with your business.
The simple to use interface is easy to navigate, uncluttered and not intimidating, using a combination of tags and workspaces to organize your tasks.
It syncs over the cloud for free so you can keep your tasks with you natively on your PC or Mac and mobile, while it also syncs with Google Calendar and can send you timely reminders by email or mobile phone notification.
And the feeling of satisfaction of ticking off a task makes it all worthwhile too.
One step further than task management software, Freedcamp is a project management solution, perfect for laying out all the steps you need to complete before you launch a project. And best of all, it’s free.
It is browser based which means you can access it anywhere you have an internet connection and it’s feature rich too, set up as a free alternative to the ever-popular paid for project management tool Basecamp.
Communicating with teams wherever they may be based becomes a pleasure with both instant chat and forum-style discussions, while there are various levels of permissions which means you can set up access for team-members to suit their role while client-facing businesses can also create a client area to make it easy for you to communicate with clients and update them on progress or get their feedback.
The dashboard helps you check progress on all of your projects on one easy-to-navigate screen and instant notification options also mean you can be kept up to date with the most essential tasks or developments.
Despite being a free solution, it performs like premium software and there are a range of free and paid for add-ons which will help you expand its usability to suit your business, even adding a full-on CRM solution to help you stay organized and keep track of projects all in one place.
What tools do you find indispensable? Are free tools as good or premium ones, or do you get what you pay for? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Featured image/thumbnail, frugal business image via Shutterstock.