Peter Gasca (Entrpreneur Magazine) – February 13, 2015 (Entrepreneur and Small Business Strategist)
Getting your startup idea out of the gates can be tough and intimidating. The first steps, however, are actually much easier and more affordable than many entrepreneurs believe, especially with the slew of useful tools available online.
Here are 10 free or very affordable, and easy-to-use tools to help you take action and get started.
With the wildly varying licensing requirements and business structures available, setting up the legal structure of your business can get confusing.
For this reason, consider using SCORE, an organization of experienced and often retired entrepreneurs and business professionals that was set up by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide advice to small business owners at no charge. While you can certainly change the legal aspects of your business later, it’s best to set up your business properly from the start and avoid unnecessary expenses later.
Find your local SCORE office and contact a business professional for help.
One of the easiest and highest impact tasks you can complete for your business is securing a website domain and setting up a great landing page. I have had success with Squarespace, which is very easy to use and provides a great web and mobile interface. Other sites, likeGoDaddy and Wix, also have great resources for getting started, and all allow you to reserve your business website domain (URL) with their service.
While you are at it, you should also look at securing other website domains for your business (such as .com, .net, .co, .ninja, etc.), which can be done affordably through Names.com or CheapNames.com. You may then simply forward these secondary domains to your primary landing page.
If you need creative help with your brand or producing quality images for your website and digital channels, consider using a crowdsourcing site to get started. I have used 99 Designs on a number of occasions to tap into the immense pool of talented designers who helped me formulate a creative design I needed.
For images, consider Dollar Photo Club, which provides licensed use of tens of thousands of high-definition photos for only a dollar each. Also,Canva provides a free and easy online design platform for everything from a Twitter masthead to business cards and letterhead.
4. Digital document storage.
Risking the loss of important documents to a computer crash is no longer necessary these days. Instead, use cloud storage to securely save documents and allow for easy collaboration and sharing with others.
Google Drive provides up to 15 gigabytes (GB) of storage for free, which unless you are producing videos or storing thousands of photos is more than enough space to store digital files. Google also allows you to collaborate on documents through Google Docs.
Other cloud storage sites, such as Dropbox, are affordable, convenient and easy to use. Both Dropbox and Google provide tools that allow you easy access to your files on your PC or Mac or via mobile device.
Signing the required long term business phone contracts can be expensive and intimidating. Instead, consider voice over internet protocol (VOIP) service, which allows you to make phone calls through the Internet. You can set up a Google Voice phone number for free and make unlimited domestic calls (WIFI is required, and some restrictions apply) with a free mobile app.
If you would like a more robust phone service, consider RingCentral, which offers complete office phone systems, with conference calling and a host of other convenient features, that run completely through VOIP. RingCentral is more affordable than most business phone plans and provides for unlimited phone lines and domestic calls. It also has a great mobile app that allows you to control your entire phone system through your mobile device.
6. Management software.
Once you start looking like a company, it is time to start behaving like one. These days, more and more business are moving to software as a service (SAAS), or online software that provides the same service as those you might download and use on your computer.
For instance, for a small monthly fee, Quickbooks online allows you to manage your finances from any computer or mobile device with access to the internet. In the long run, this fee beats the inevitable upgrade costs and, more important, provides secure storage of all your data.
You should also research and utilize SAASs for your specific industry, such as FreshBooks, which provides an easy to use platform for service companies that bill on time.
Staying on top of industry trends and news does not require you to scour the internet for hours each day. Instead, set up free Google Alerts, which will notify you of news daily based on keywords you tell it to research.
8. Social media.
Securing your business name and profile on all major social media sites is critical for managing your online brand, but keeping up with all of them can be headache.
Hootsuite is a great tool for monitoring your social media sites in one place, and it also provides you the ability to monitor social media feeds for specific keywords. For a small fee, you can add individuals to your account and allow the same management access as you.
Find co-working spaces and incubators in your area, which are fantastic places to work and network with other talented entrepreneurs and business professionals who might make great resources as you start and as you grow.
Be certain to do your research before you join, however, and make sure you understand what is at stake and what is expected when you participate.
10. Personal tools.
I strongly recommend purchasing a high quality computer and high-speed internet access. From experience, I know what happens when you try to cut corners on these. While you may perceive the cost savings as significant and important, especially at this early stage, it is nothing compared to the lost productivity (and frustration) you will have dealing with a sluggish computer or slow internet connection.
This goes for mobile data service as well. When choosing your mobile data provider, prioritize coverage over price. You will not regret it.