Soon after we announced the milestone of our one year in business, we began to receive questions about exactly how did just the two of us do it. But not the deep questions about our strategy or leadership styles. They were about the tactical things such as, who created your website? How did you design your business cards? Or how did we market ourselves?
Good questions, but more than just creating a list of references and tools, we realized two big things when answering these questions. The first is that online tools available today are powerful, inexpensive (sometimes free) and with just a bit of trial an error, fairly easy to master.
These tools are effective for an existing business owner, entrepreneur, and some can be used in any size organization to help with communication.
The second is that if it weren’t for the incredible support and selflessness of the positive business community in Cleveland, it’s not clear how well we would have made it, if at all.
This list is by no way an end-all or possibly even the best in each category, it just happens to be what we used and what worked for us. We recommend you do your research, speak to others, and try a few things out and see what makes sense for you.
Web Domain: GoDaddy
This domain provider has strong brand recognition stemming from some racy Super Bowl ads. However, their marketing strategy has shifted and beginning in 2012, they have decided that their sweet spot is the small business entrepreneur – and it shows. They have a solid platform that makes it very easy to search and lock in your website name with a variety of ancillary options along with pricing tiers. It’s kind of one stop shop, as they can also help you secure your email address and service along with hosting your website.
Email: Microsoft Outlook
This one gets personal, as we have yet to find that perfect email service we love. But outside of a few quirks here and there, Outlook gets as close as we think possible. Their desktop and mobile app work well. And given we primarily use the suite of Microsoft products such as PowerPoint, Word, and Excel, they all play together nicely - except for macs. We are Apple lovers and sometimes things just don’t work as smoothly as you would like them between the Apple iOS and Microsoft products.
Love it. We built our site over the weekend. Then of course, we’ve spent the last year endlessly tweaking it, but that would be the same regardless of platform. There was quite a bit of trial and error – but let’s be clear, you are building a website, not just signing up for a domain. If you have the patience and at least a moderate level of comfort with using something more advanced than email or social media on your computer, you can do this. Before plunging in, take the time to really think what you want to say. Look at other sites you love and ask yourself what you like about them. Write this all out ahead of time, it will make the process of building it much easier. We also felt it was important to have good photography. Don’t use some generic stock photos – it will look amateurish and impersonal. There are a several sites that allow you to download high resolution photos from independent photographers, and many are free. One of our favorites is picjumbo.com.
Our accountant said so and he is amazing. It allows you to give your accountant access to the site to help manage it on your behalf. It links to your bank account and most importantly, we can send all our invoices through the program. The great thing about that is by linking the program with your bank account and sending the invoice via email, your clients can pay you electronically (meaning – you get your money faster and less banking stuff to do). One of the best ways to find professional help such as an accountant or lawyer is to ask your friends or colleagues for a reference.
Data Storage: Dropbox
This is how the two of us keep our files organized and collaborate on our work. We can access all our documents via the cloud through our computers or on our mobile devices. It’s secure, though know, that nothing is 100% secure. It also allows us to work on a document simultaneously. It’s kind of creepy though when one person has the file open and is making edits, and it’s telling you what the other person is doing. Some of our colleagues use Google Docs which allows for real time co-editing and more powerful collaboration tools, however, the program converts the document into a google docs version of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc. and as a result, you have to get used to a different interface. That just wasn’t our preference.
Email Marketing: Mailchimp
If you are going to be sending out batches of emails, this is the way to go. You have to spend a little time learning it, but after you create an email template, it’s simple to use and provides great analytics for simple email marketing campaigns. The amazing part is that if your list has less than 2,000 subscribers and you will be sending less than 12,000 emails per month, it’s free! The important part is that by using their service, you can help ensure you stay within the email marketing laws and guidelines.
Tools will only get you so far. Find your support structure within your business community.
Jumping into the abyss of entrepreneurship was as scary as it was exciting. High hopes mixed with high anxiety. And it’s still there. Though now our focus is not on how do we launch the business, instead, how we keep evolving and continue to grow. Other agencies, even those who offered some of our same services, reached out an offered guidance and support, and not just in words. One agency asked us if we had a logo or a color palette. We said no. They said, why don’t we create something for you? Another asked where our offices were. We said, in our homes and through a variety of coffee shops around town. They offered use of their facilities. Another sat down with us and gave us a two-hour lesson on how to build our social media presence. Our accountant wouldn’t take payment until we started generating income.
Grit, authenticity, tenacity, resourcefulness, and curiosity go a long way. But the added support of your community is as MasterCard said, priceless. We have a lot to be grateful and thankful for. And we look forward to giving back, paying-forward to other aspiring new businesses, and to play our part in helping the Cleveland economic environment prosper.
So, check out some of these tools and if you are wondering where you might want to launch your new business, come on over to Cleveland- it’s pretty awesome here. We’d be happy to show you around and introduce you to an amazing business community.