Starting your own business is never an easy task. You need to decide what you will be selling, who you will be selling to, how you will be finding your prospective customers, and how you intend to keep them. Blended into this mix, of course, is cost and the tools you need to succeed in your venture. Following are some tools that have helped me.
1. SCORE - Your local SCORE chapter is a free resource if you need an advisor. It is not just a group of retired executives any more. Many entrepreneurs of varying backgrounds volunteer their time and effort to help their fellow entrepreneurs succeed. (Full disclosure: I like SCORE so much, I've recently become the marketing vice chair for my local chapter, Palm Beach SCORE.)
2. Insightly - I have tried several cloud-based CRMs, and in my opinion Insightly is by far the best bang for the buck. It's filled with cool features like pulling in your contacts' social network profiles and integration with Google apps and MailChimp. This is a winner in my book. Not only does it take in the information you gather from your prospects, but it adds to that information by searching out social networking profiles on such sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Insightly helps you gather critical intel on your clients and prospects, giving you a fuller profile picture of your customer and prospects.
3. MailChimp - When you go to MailChimp's home page, the headline reads, "Send Better Email." This is it in a nutshell. Whether its email marketing, newsletter distribution, or customer follow up, MailChimp gives you the tools to design engaging emails efficiently. The best thing about it is that you can send 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers for free. No contracts, and no credit cards... Awesome.
4. Square & Paypal - Getting paid for what you sell is the number-one rule for every business. For the micro company, Square and Paypal rule the market space. Offering fixed pricing and cool features like electronic invoicing with a "pay me now" button to reduce the incidence of net 30 turning into net 45. For startups, credit card processing can be daunting and expensive. Square and Paypal are simple solutions for businesses that don't yet have the customer base or the money to invest in a counter terminal or point-of-sale system. (Read my past post on pricing to get a more in-depth understanding of credit card processing rates.)
5. Onsite Catalog App - If you are a "solopreneur" or have just one salesperson, there is no better app than the Onsite App. It offers the first year free for your army of one, and allows you to have a mobile catalog of your products. Automating things like invoice generation and orders via a mobile app and desktop login. This is great for B2B businesses.
6. Slack - An online collaboration tool that is just plain cool. Instead of having your team clutter your inbox with chatter, Slack offers a cloud-based service that allows you to manage your team's communications. And it integrates with a ton of outside tools. It's compatible with Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android (Windows phone is in the works.) Think of it as your company's internal IM/content sharing/all around good guy to have around.
7. Social Networks - LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. You need to have a routine in place for processing and connecting with every new person you meet. Derek Miller, contributor for Entrepreneur magazine, has a great article titled "8 Digital-Marketing Tips for Bootstrapped Startups" that breaks down the key points to remember when using social networks to promote your business.
I'm always looking for cool new apps to try out. What are your favorites?