12 Essential Tools for Your Startup Business
If you're like me, you didn't go to business school. You don't have a background in finance, and your parents weren't entrepreneurs.
Also, if you're like me, you're building a startup business one step at a time. You're figuring things out along the way, getting many things right, and other things, well… they're “learning” experiences.
However, unlike me, you may have never worked for a Fortune 50 company. Maybe you haven't managed revenue in the tens of millions, but would love to know how it's done.
Ok, I lied. Sorta. I did go to business school, but only for a semester during my freshman year at Baylor. I walked into class and was told to not do business with liars or cheaters. I figured I knew that already, and switched my major to psychology.
Although I didn't graduate with a degree in business, I did get an education in the real world. While on IBM and Dell's dime, I spent five years learning how to do business on a national scale.
I learned about profit and loss. I spent my time figuring out how to sell to current customers and acquire new ones. My Corporate education taught me the basics of how to run the startup business I'm building now.
If you happened to study biology, or art, or creative writing in school, and if you haven't had the benefits of Corporate training, don't worry. This post will provide you with some of the tools the Pros use to connect with their customers, increase sales, and scale their startup businesses.
Some of the resources will help you get started, others will make your more efficient, and others still will help you communicate with your ever-growing team (if you chose to have one).
The tools are broken into these 12 categories:
Client Relationship Management (CRM)
While you don't need every one of these tools when you start, having this list and using the tools below will help you scale your startup business.
When it comes to tools, think efficient. When working with people, think effective. Systems will help your business scale. Templates can help you get there faster.
These tools are in no particular order other than from beginner to intermediate and advanced.
The beginner tools are ones you need immediately. The intermediate tools will help you grow your site from hobby-blog to income-generating and can probably wait until after you've made your first dollar. The advanced tools are more for when you're ready to hire your first Virtual Assistant or add to your team.
Sharing your story through blogging is one of the best ways to establish yourself online. By letting your readers in on your journey, the struggles, the highs and the lows, you enlist people to your side of the ring. Your readers will be in the fight with you, and they'll be in your corner.
Yes, there are millions of blogs out there. And, yes, it's a crowded market. But people still love to read. If you blog with authenticity, vulnerability, courage and a knack for story-telling, you can change the world with your words.
Want me to help you grow your blog in ? Then check out my free 30 Day Blog Transformation email course!
Writing is also therapeutic and a great way to organize your thoughts – two very good things for the busy mind of an entrepreneur.
If you're still not convinced blogging is good for your startup business, read this.
I started blogging in 2012. I had nothing, and I knew almost nothing. Now, three years later, I have thousands of readers in over 150 countries. You do everything I've done, or your version of it, and it all starts with a blog.
If you'd like more information about our Website/Content Management services, CLICK HERE.
While you can host your blog on free sites, owning your digital space is the best way to do it. If you own everything on your site, from header to footer, from the home page to the database, you have more control over your business.
No one can tell me what I can or can't put on my site, because I own it. Plus, no one can put something on my site unless I approve it.
You wouldn't open your own restaurant but give up control over the type of food you serve. So, why would you open an online business if you don't have full control over it?
Free hosting plans do just that – they let you own most of the space, but not all of it. You can write blog posts, but the header and/or sidebars are rented out to the highest bidder, and you're cut completely out.
While hosting may be your biggest up-front cost when you're first starting, it's a necessary investment to get your online business started properly. Even though you may have to pay for three years up front to get your best hosting price, you shouldn't have to pay more than $4-6 per month when you get started.
We offer high-performance hosting for as little as $9/mo. If you'd like more information, CLICK HERE.
Everyone I talk to about email marketing says they wish they'd started building their email list earlier in their business. Learn from that advice.
Start capturing the email addresses of your visitors from day one. With free tools like MailChimp, you can embed/paste HTML code in a text widget placed on your sidebar and have a subscription form within minutes.
When you're first starting, attract subscribers with opt-in boxes with wording like “Join the Community” and “Stay Connected”. As you gain more experience and further refine your message, start adding opt-in boxes with tools and resource downloads.
If you're unsure about when you should transition to a paid email marketing service, read this comparison post.
While 43% of my traffic comes from search engines, 23% still comes from social sites.
If you're not sharing your content on social media, you're missing the boat. If you're not making content that people want to share, you're missing out.
Even if you don't have any interest in LinkedIn, maybe your audience does. Maybe you don't have time for Twitter, but your readers do. With tools like Buffer and Hootsuite, you can create a sharable post and send it to multiple networks at the same time.
Another way to take advantage of social sharing (and social proof), is to enable sharing in your WordPress Settings > Sharing, and install the SumoMe Image Sharer Plugin.
Your visitors won't necessarily share your content just because you make it easy to, but they definitely won't share it if you don't make it easy.
Your readers want to share content that makes them look smarter, cooler and empowered. If your content helps them feel that way, they'll be more likely to share it.
I rarely store my downloads and giveaways on my site. There are several reasons why I use a file hosting service:
- If you make any changes or updates to your giveaway, you'll have to re-upload the file in the exact same location or risk broken links.
- If you store your ebooks on a service like Box, you don't have to worry about bandwidth issues due to a popular file being downloaded.
- Files shared by uploading to WordPress give unnecessary access to your other files in the same folder (not good for premium/paid downloadable items).
- With Box Sync, you can sync all of your files automatically to the cloud, which makes it easy to share file URLs from your desktop.
- If you have a podcast, you definitely want to use a file hosting service to avoid degraded website performance.
I wrote a post about how I create my own personal cloud and sync most of my files and data across any device. You can read that post here.
When you're looking to build your online business, try to think about mobility first. Just the other day, I told a friend I don't use any tool or app that doesn't sync to every device I use. It's too much of a hassle to try to remember which device I saved my work too.
Whether you want to travel the world and work from anywhere, or not, having the option is nice. Hosting and backing up your files to the cloud makes it possible.
If you think you'd like to sell a product or service someday, you need a sales funnel. Sales funnels will help you to convert prospects into buyers.
Think of your site, and your business, as an actual storefront with people walking by.
First, people notice the sign in the window; they're interested.
Second, they come inside and try a sample of what you have to sell; they're involved.
Third, they spend their hard-earned cash on what you have to offer; they're invested.
If this sounds a little weird to you, it's ok.
As you begin transforming your blog into a startup business, your curiosity about your audience will grow. You'll want to learn more about them, what they need, and what their goals are. Once you know how to better help your readers, you can provide resources to give them a boost.
It's not that you'll have to start going in for the “hard sell,” it's not that at all. But, a sales funnel will help you progress readers from casual observers to client's who've purchased from you.
To be a business, you need sales. To make sales, you need a product and a way to accept payment for that product.
Regarding software, you need something displaying your items on the front end and managing the storing and distribution of files on the back-end. Your cart, products, subscriptions, etc., are the front-end. Your payment processors are the back-end.
Combine your front-end payment software with a file hosting site like Box on the back-end, and all of your transactions are handled off of your site and the transaction is secured by someone else.
Tools like Easy Digital Downloads and WooCommerce will track your sales via a graphical dashboard inside of your WordPress Dashboard.
These plugins handle almost every aspect of selling your products. They'll display them on a page, allow customers to add them to the cart (front-end), process payment and deliver your digital products to your customers (back-end).
If you have a membership site or are looking to start one, I highly recommend OptimizeMember, which comes included with OptimizePress. This plugin integrates with most payment systems and will make sign-ups easy.
Buying and selling online is what allows us to work from anywhere. Every tool you use should make the process simple and fluid for both you and your customers. They should also scale with your business.
In order to grow your business, you have to know where your customers are, how they get to your site, and what they do when they get there.
Analytics tools tell you where visitors come from. You can see if you're getting search engine traffic or if more of your visitors come from social media sites.
Knowing how people are finding your business is helpful because that information tells you where to focus.
If 75% of your social traffic comes from Facebook, you know your audience is on Facebook. You can use that information to help you manage your time, your ad spending and where you should be the most active.
Conversely, if you know only 5% of your traffic is coming from LinkedIn, you probably shouldn't be spending too much time there. Other tools can even tell you when your audience is online and active.
By the way, it's more cost-effective to reach your audience where they are than to try to build an audience somewhere else.
Traffic analytics can tell you the most popular pages and posts on your site. They can tell you which pages receive the most traffic so you can leverage additional opt-in forms and know what to write about in the future.
Heat map analytics can show you mouse clicks, track how far users scroll down your page, and where users hover their mouse icon on sales pages.
Sometimes the best way to learn about your customers is to just ask (Tweet that!)
Surveys are also a great, and straightforward, way to understand your audience. Just asking your readers and listeners about their interests is a very simple way to learn how to help them achieve their goals.
I automate everything I can. If you're repeating a task on a regular basis, you need to automate that task.
Creating systems will allow your business to scale and grow. (Tweet that!)
I automate scheduling with Calendly, social sharing with IFTTT and Buffer. I automate emails with autoresponders. I automate payment subscriptions with PayPal.
Anything that can be handled by software should be automated. (Tweet that!)
If I can save 30 minutes a week by automating a task, that's an extra thirty minutes I can spend with my wife, creating resources for my mastermind members, or relaxing.
Tools like IFTTT and Zapier connect two tools, allowing them to communicate with one another. If you're interested in downloading some of my favorite, time-saving IFTTT recipes, I'll send them to you.
Solopreneurs like myself rarely need collaboration tools. At least not in the beginning.
But, if you ever plan on contracting a Virtual Assistant, or VA, you'll need a way to communicate with them and track their work. If you plan on hiring someone and adding them to your team as your startup business grows, the principle is the same.
The bottom line is, you need to be able to communicate with all members of your team.
One of the benefits of using a collaboration tool is that you make it easy to give and receive feedback for ideas. You can propose a new project or pitch a new idea, and your teammates around the globe can critique them.
One of the ways I use collaboration tools in my business is to communicate with my spouse. We can keep track of work that needs to be done, track progress and growth, as well as add items to a task list.
The more you have on your plate, the more organized you'll need to become to stay on top of it all.
If you're not quite ready to implement collaboration software in your startup business, you can still get a head start by syncing your documents and files to the cloud via one of the file hosting tools mentioned above. That way, if you need to send a document, you can paste a file URL into your favorite messaging app.
If you're selling products, offering services, or providing something that could piss somebody off, you should consider a “Terms and Conditions” page. You can see my terms page at http://members.ellorywells.com/terms/. I used this free tool by Shopify to create it. I don't use Shopify for e-commerce, but their tool makes it easy.
If you're doing affiliate marketing, you're required by the Federal Trade Commission to have an Affiliate Disclosure. You can copy/paste mine from the bottom of today's blog post.
No need to tell your visitors that your opinions are your own. That's pointless. We already know your opinions are your own, and saying so won't prevent you from getting fired anyway.
Popular Legal Tools: Best check with your attorney.
Client Relationship Management (CRM)
The more you know about your clients and customers the better off you'll be. If you've ever heard of, or been scared off by, terms like “Big Data,” this is part of that.
While it's not as scary as it seems, CRM can be complex. However, CRM is simply knowing about your current and future customers. Combine your CRM with your analytics (see below) and you'll know who your customers are, where they come from, and what they do whenever they visit your site.
A good CRM tool will help you track people as they move from “interested in your business” to people who “have bought something from your business.”
If part of your business includes creating quotes and proposals, you need a CRM tool. If you're working with accounts with more than one employee, you need a CRM tool. If you've got more than one person on your team, you need a CRM tool.
Do you need all of these tools before you can get started?
No. Absolutely not!
But, knowing the tools that can help you scale your startup business is part of the struggle every beginner entrepreneur faces. Now you should have everything you need to get your business started, and, most-likely for a lower cost than you expected!
No more excuses to hold you back. Go do something awesome!
Question: What's your favorite business-related tool?