Welcome new business owner! You’ve made the leap! You’ve taken the first step to financial independence where you will work more hours for arguably less money (initially, hopefully) and determine your own hours i.e. how long you lounge around in your robe with a MacBook Air on your lap staring at the desktop screen.
I jest. A little. So you have your business plan all sussed out and you have a clear idea of who your clients are and your product or service has been fine tuned to within an inch of its life. Now all you need to do is get an email address, set up a website, design a logo, gather leads, build a database of potential customers and promote your product to them. Not a bad way to start your first day is it?
I’m going to assume you don’t have a massive round of funding led by a famous VC firm or angel investor and that you haven’t survived the Shark Tank and walked away with a tidy sum of money from Mark Cuban. For the vast majority of new small businesses, cash flow is critical and keeping overheads low is key. To be competitive, you will need to have a few basics in place to ensure you are able to communicate with your customers and suppliers in a professional manner. A previous post I wrote will help guide you on what is available within various disciplines in your business from human resources to invoicing and from marketing to cloud storage.
This post will refine those options to the bare basics a new small business would need to start generating revenue as soon as possible with the lowest possible overhead. I present to you: The Small Business Owners Toolkit [cue canned applause].
For literally $25 (R309 as on 11 June) per month and a yearly $6 (R75) you will have your own web domain and email address, powerful graphic design tools, in-bound lead generation and customer data acquisition capability as well as full productivity software and content generation and dissemination tools.
I probably didn’t cover all the types of tools available, I wanted to cover the ones that would have an immediate impact and that you could set up in one day. I will mention a few others that are supplementary or complementary within each product description.
Let’s start with the basics and work our way up from there. It’s 07:00 in the morning and you’re dressed, wait, no. It’s 06:00 in the morning… I’m going the wrong way aren’t I? Fine, it’s 08:00 in the morning and you’ve had a hearty breakfast and the second cup of coffee (the one you’ll drink only half of and then forget about the rest of the day) is steaming on the desk. Normally you would have fired off countless emails by this point but now, you have your Google account open in front of you and your cursor is hovering over the Compose button.
Two questions: who’re you going to send an email to and secondly, you’re not going to use your private email account (or worse, and alias) are you? We’ll get to the first question in a moment but the answer to the second question is no. No you are not going to use firstname.lastname@example.org. You need a email@example.com.
It’ll only take you a few minutes to set up a domain. Visit Register Domain if you’re in South Africa (I’ve found them an excellent registrar and hosting provider) or GoDaddy for international readers. You’ll have a choice here to also set up email at a small additional fee. My suggestion would be to skip this and set up your email through Office 365.
Once you’ve set up your domain, head over to Office 365, choose either the Office 365 Business Essentials ($5 per month, online productivity) or if you need offline access to Office you can pony up an extra $3.25. Complete the setup process through the handy Wizard (follow the on-screen help links if you haven’t set up domains before) and within a few minutes you’ll have full access to the glory of Office 2016 with 1TB of cloud storage and your own domain personalised email address.
I’ve used Google Apps and Office Online and the latter comes out tops in my books. Having full access online and offline to Microsoft’s newest productivity suite is glorious, having a full Exchange platform available is immensely empowering and the 1TB of storage sweetens the deal. If you insist on using Apple’s products, you’ll get iWork for free with a new purchase of an Apple hardware product but you’ll still need to set up email somewhere else although you will get 5GB of free storage on iCloud that you can increase starting at 20GB for $1.
Great, you can send and receive communication and you have productivity software that enables you to set up letterheads, budgets and build your sales deck.
Now you can use your business name in a text only format on these documents, but you’re also going to be setting up a website and generating leads through email marketing. You’re gonna need a logo and, with a little help from our friends at Canva, decide on a design language that all your communication follows.
Head over to Canva, sign up for a free account and then jump straight into the Design School Build A Brand in 5 Days tutorial. This is an amazing resource for new businesses to easily define their brand and at the same time, design a look & feel that will speak to your target market by using Canva’s easy-but-powerful online design software.
Great thing about all this? It’s free! Yup, gratis. Canva contains all you’ll need to design everything from email templates, presentations, social media collateral and many more. Canva includes many elements that are free to use, and while there are elements that carry a cost, they only cost $1.
If you have the time and skills to code your own website, skip this step. In fact, why are you reading this? You should be making money already! For the rest of us, there’s Strikingly.
While Strikingly offers a free tier, I suggest you cough up the $20 a month ($16 if you pay annually) and go Pro which will get you all the free functionality and then includes the use of your custom domain as your URL and pro features such as media sliders and integrated apps. Strikingly also has mobile optimisation built-in from the get go.
Strikingly works on a template basis (although they do offer the option of injecting your own code) and structured layout. By combining the various options, you should be able to put together a fully functional website (including contact forms, e-commerce integration, surveys etc) that shows off your business professionally.
Combined with your newly acquired Canva design skills, you’ll have a beautifully designed, optimised website in a few hours.
Ah, Old Faithful. MailChimp is a great service to send customised emails to your database.
MailChimp, even on the free tier (up to 2000 subscribers up to 12 000 emails) has a feature rich offering including analytics, flexible design options, automation and customisation as well as an app so you can manage your campaigns from anywhere.
MailChimp also offers great tutorials on how to start which you can find here. MailChimp also includes full integration with Strikingly, so you’re good to go.
Your website tells people who you are and what you do. Emails you send to a database directs people to your website to learn more. Once they are on your website, it would be great to gather some information about them.
That’s where Jotform comes in. This nifty online form builder will allow you to set up any form you may need and features form design tools (pull out those Canva skills again), embed your forms on your website complete with redirection after a form has been submitted, email notifications and database integration (Google how to integrate Jotform with Google Docs, free and easy to set up).
You can combine Jotform with SurveyMonkey, another free online survey tool, to boost your ability to gather information from customers and visitors to your website.
Buffer and your social media
I’m not going to go into how to use social media as a marketing tool (this post from Entrepreneur will help you). The social media part on the infographic above are my 6 tips.
A Facebook and Twitter presence allows you to engage with your target market and drive traffic to your website where they are able to do business with you.
Attracting an audience on your social media platforms is a delicate balancing act. You need to post content (either created by yourself or sourced from other outlets) that you can share with your target market that they will find interesting and relevant.
Creating content is a difficult process and the easier way is to source content from other channels. Here, free tools such as Feedly can help you find relevant content to your business and industry.
Now to the sharing part. If you could automate the process of sharing interesting or valuable content with your target market, you can save time and populate your channels quickly. Buffer does just that.
By registering your social media account on your Buffer account, you can share content to your social media channels with just one click. Add the Buffer extension to your browser and your news feed and you’ll be able to share content with ease.
And that ladies and gentleman, should be your first day. With these 6 tools you’ll be generating leads and building a customer base in no time. Keeping costs low without sacrificing functionality is critical. The 6 solutions mentioned above will provide you with a solid base to build your business, from there it’s all you.