Since there’s no official roadmap for business success, many startups invest in tools and resources that offer the veneer of legitimacy:
- They buy business cards with heavy stock and glossy print.
- They rent office spaces with corporate-looking furniture.
Although these investments can make you feel like you’re moving in the right direction, they’re actually a waste of both time and money. If you haven’t made any sales yet, you’re better off sticking with tools that can help you secure your first customer. Fancy stationery and sleek offices are simply expensive distractions. This is only scratching the surface.
Don’t Waste Time or Money on These Other Small Business Tools
The sheer number of tools geared toward startups is impressive. However, the vast majority of them aren’t essential during the early stages of your new venture. Below are three of the most popular small business tools that startups crave (but don’t really need).
1. CRM Platforms
It’s easy to understand the allure of customer relationship management (CRM) platforms such as HubSpot or Salesforce. These powerful tools allow you to set up sales funnels to help you track prospects and convert customers. They even offer free packages that are specifically targeted toward the startup crowd.
But in the early stages, you can track everything you need using a simple spreadsheet. There’s no learning curve involved — and you won’t have to waste precious time reading manuals or watching interactive tutorials.
This isn’t to say that CRMs aren’t useful. They absolutely are, especially as your client base grows over time — but you need to manage customer relationships only after you have customers.
There’s no doubt that email marketing can help you grow your business, especially when you use autoresponder services such as MailChimp, AWeber and Constant Contact. These tools send automated messages at predefined intervals whenever someone fills out a contact form or signs up for your newsletter.
However, most of these services aren’t really free. If you have fewer than 100 customers, it doesn’t make sense to automate anything at this point. You can get by with personalized emails that are sent manually.
Technically, employees aren’t tools. They’re people. But when you leverage those “people” correctly, they become powerful assets that can propel your business forward. So, it’s not uncommon for startups to go on a hiring spree to find the best talent they can.
This is a mistake.
You can still build a team. In fact, you can build a really good one. But you don’t need to hire full-time staff just yet. Here’s why.
- Most projects can be handled in-house. In fact, it’s best to start this way so you develop a better understanding of what your business actually needs.
- If you hit a roadblock, you’re better off hiring outside help on a case-by-case basis. Freelance websites such as Upwork, Guru, and Fiverr can help you connect with affordable experts across countless disciplines — including programming, web design, accounting, and even legal advice. Freelancers might charge higher hourly rates, but they don’t require benefits. Plus, you pay only for the hours you use.
3 Small Business Tools You Need (ASAP)
If employees, business cards or sales funnels aren’t required, what tools do you need to launch your small business? The list depends on the nature of your business, but here are three essentials most startups can’t do without.
1. Minimum Viable Product
The minimum viable product (MVP) is the simplest, most scaled-down version of whatever product (or service) you’re offering. Think of it as the working prototype required to secure your first customer.
As such, the MVP isn’t simply a tool. It is THE tool that puts your business “in business.”
Yet, most startups don’t launch with an MVP. Instead, they invest hours improving their prototype in secret — adding bells and whistles. When they finally unveil their product to the world, they discover there isn’t a market for their great business idea.
Here’s an example. Imagine you come up with an idea for a horseless carriage that gets people from point A to point B — i.e., the world’s first automobile. To get started, you need a chassis, some tires, a steering column, an accelerator and some brakes. This is your minimum viable product.
- If your prototype succeeds, you can use those sales to finance bells and whistles such as cup holders, fog lights and spoilers.
- If your prototype fails, your losses are limited — and you can start over with a better business idea.
2. A Website
In 2018 and beyond, having an online presence is no longer optional, even if you’re launching a brick-and-mortar shop. However, building a website requires bringing several smaller tools together. To get started, you’ll need:
- A hosting provider. Companies such as PrecisionWeb, HostMonster and FastDomain all cater to the startup crowd. Be sure to choose the cheapest package (until your needs change).
- A domain name. It should be as short and as memorable as possible. Ideally, you should choose a .com (over .net or .biz). You can usually buy a domain through your hosting provider.
- A content management system (CMS) that allows you to easily build a website, complete with product pages, content and pictures. WordPress is the simplest CMS to use, although Joomla! and Drupal are worth checking out as well. Whichever CMS you choose, stick with default (or free) themes for now. Once the money starts rolling in, you can invest in more professional-looking designs.
3. Secure Payment Processing
Americans carry increasingly less cash. In fact, many millennials don’t use paper money at all — therefore you need a collection system that can handle other forms of payment such as credit cards, Bitcoin or Apple Pay.
Equally important, you need a payment processor that can grow with your business. While it’s possible to change payment providers, the switching costs are painful — especially if you already have recurring billing and electronic invoicing set up.
Arguably most important of all, your processor should excel at payment security, complete with:
Statistically speaking, small businesses are more vulnerable to cybercrime because they lack the resources to protect themselves. The last thing you want is for your business to go under before it even has a chance to get off the ground.
Finding the Right Small Business Tools for Your Launch
There are so many competing small business solutions vying for your time and attention, it can be tough to wade through all the noise. The leaner you make your business, the more likely you are to succeed.
Here are some resources to get you started:
- For help developing your MVP, be sure to check out Hacker Noon’s "The Ultimate Guide to the Minium Viable Product."
- For help launching your website, contact PrecisionWeb, HostMonster or FastDomain They can walk you through the setup process, including domain name selection and WordPress installation.