6 Key Ingredients For Starting a Business
Most people have thought about starting their own business at some point in their life. For many, however, starting a new business never progresses beyond an idea. This isn’t surprising considering the capital involved, the risk, and often just the general mystery of what it takes to get off the ground. What’s worse is the laundry list of horror stories when speaking to others about their failed business attempts.
Despite all this, people the world over are starting businesses in record numbers. Many say that the internet is responsible for this boom and with the ability for anyone to market and connect with people online, it certainly seems plausible. What almost everyone can agree on is that savvy use of technology is a critical component in becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Even though most would-be entrepreneurs intuitively know that mastering the online presence is a critical component for success, finding out exactly how to use technology can be baffling, even for people who are comfortable with software.
The good news is that with the advent of the cloud, anyone with a business idea can utilize best of breed technologies to supercharge their new business. Cloud technologies have made the necessary tools easy to use, and more importantly, affordable for businesses of any size. Gone are the days of clunky software, server maintenance, having to hire an IT person, and long-term contracts. Do you have a laptop, a smartphone, and solid internet connection? Good, because that’s all you’ll need to come out of the gate running.
So, what exactly do you need and how do you do it? We will go through all the basic components one-by-one and talk about each as we go through.
1. Buy a Domain Name and Get a Website Up
A domain name, or URL, is necessary to put up a website and get a business email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Shop around, but a domain name will typically cost you around $10 per year. If you ever want anyone to find you online, you need a website. The good news is that you have many inexpensive options ranging from the do-it-yourself to full on custom-made sites. These days for as little as $40/year you can get a good looking, mobile-optimized DIY site that you can update and customize at will. No need to spend thousands of dollars to build a masterpiece just yet.
2. Get a Business Email
When you’re starting a business, impressions matter. When you show up with a free email account, your customers and partners know that you are probably not serious. If have a business email, on the other hand, nobody need suspect anything (even if you are working out of your garage). Google Apps is one of the most popular business email solutions, and for good reason. For about $5 per month, you can have your own business email--the same email platform that everyone from hot Silicon Valley startups to huge businesses like Whirlpool use.
3. Get Listed on Google Places
Regardless what kind of business you are operating, getting listed on Google Places will drastically increase your visibility when potential customers are trying to find you (especially local customers).
4. Manage Your Contacts with a CRM
Deploying a CRM, or Customer Relationship Manager, is not something that you need to do right away, but you should try to deploy one as soon as possible. The sooner you start using a CRM, the more organized you will be, and the more prepared you will be to handle volume and success. You can read some of the previous blog posts about how a CRM can help your business, but in the context of a startup, I will offer the following scenario.
Without a CRM: leads come in, customers call or email you, and leads get lost in the cracks of your email, sticky notes, or whatever system you’ve created.
With a CRM: when a lead comes in from your website, it lands in the lead bucket of your CRM, ensuring that you’re always on top of knowing who needs a call or email. Once you start talking to a customer, you collect valuable information about them, and you can manage your sales process so you know exactly where in the cycle every single lead is. You also have all of your contacts organized in one place, so that when you start email marketing you can be targeted and effective.
5. Email and Market to Your Customer Base
Be very careful about using your business email account to send out mass emails. Do this too many times, and you will be flagged for spam and your account shut down or domain blacklisted. Instead, use software like Zoho Campaigns or MailChimp that are built to handle mass emailing compliantly. Often services like Zoho Campaigns have a free trial, so you can start using them right away. Once you start using them, you’ll realize that you can send professional, high-quality coupons, newsletters, or alerts to your clients. Mailing services also allow you to do A/B testing among other things, so you can find out what messaging works and what doesn’t.
6. Think About a Voice Over IP (VOIP) Phone
VOIP is simply a phone that uses the internet instead of a conventional copper line. You may have heard of RingCentral, a popular VOIP provider, but there are other alternatives as well. If you find the right VOIP solution you can get incredible features like Google Apps integration, click to dial, call logging, call forwarding to cell phones and tablets, unlimited calling, auto-attendants, and voicemail to email. The best part of VOIP is that it’s scalable and often less expensive than a conventional business phone line.
Hopefully, the list above doesn’t sound too daunting. Every component above is easy to set up if you find the right partner. Some companies focus on launching small businesses and make it easy and inexpensive to get set up.
If you’re planning on starting a business, now is a great time to do it for a variety of reasons. Being an entrepreneur in today's market means you have access to the very same systems that the biggest and most successful companies on earth use. Another great perk is that all of these ingredients are incredibly stable and hosted in the cloud on reliable servers. Product updates will roll out on the fly without the need to hire anyone internally to maintain servers or manually overhaul software.
How Much Is All of This?
Most of these technologies are also mature enough that they can work together seamlessly, making it possible to do things that were impossible or too expensive to do ten years ago. Entrepreneurs are usually tight on capital, so speaking of cost, what does a system outlined above really go for? In years prior, much of this technology was out of reach for many because it required expensive hardware, long-term maintenance contracts, and expensive software licenses.
Contact a reputable company for pricing, but in general, you can expect to spend less than $70 per month for everything listed above. Probably a lot less than you thought right? Hopefully, this article sheds some light on what many successful entrepreneurs would consider essential to start a new business, and gives you some hope that the best of breed technologies are not out of your reach.