“You can be sure that when you have come up with a great idea, at least 10 other people in the world came up independently with the same great idea. The difference will be who is going to make it happen first”.
This is probably the most tough, disheartening and, at the same time, honest and empowering piece of advice any aspiring entrepreneur can ever receive. Whatever the idea, it is the execution that differentiates you from the competition. In this Insights article we will therefore focus on examples of tools that can help you be the first one out off the starting blocks. These tools are available mostly at no cost and are easy to deploy for the technology enthusiast. They won't make you idea a better one, but they will save you time and money, accelerating your execution, while safeguarding your financial resources.
Despite all the “freebies” we are going to list, in our opinion, there are areas no entrepreneur can afford to neglect, and every entrepreneur should invest time and money in. These areas include branding (logo, business cards, sales collateral), financial (accounting), legal (contracts, terms and conditions) and business advice (mentoring and coaching). We know from experience that failure in any of these areas can critically damage, or even break a business. After all, the first impression counts, you want to make money, good contracts make good friends, and good advice is priceless (we are biased).
In the remaining part of the article we will focus on your daily routine as an entrepreneur and how available tools can safeguard your budget and release productive time for you to spend with customers developing your idea.
BEING REACHABLE: CALLS & MOBILE DATA
Starting out as an entrepreneur, reaching out to customers and being reachable to receive their calls on you mobile phone will be(come) part of your life. Previously a significant cost, calling and surfing the internet on a mobile is now possible at minimal cost. If you live in the United Kingdom FreedomPop offers a completely free SIM-only tariff with 200 minutes, 200 texts and 200MB of 4G data per month.
This paragraph was updated in 2015 to reflect that OVIVO stopped its operations and FoggMobile was acquired by Globetouch. FreedomPop was added as a UK entry.
FINDING & SECURING YOUR START-UP NAME
Finding a name for your new business can be a daunting task. Thankfully, many have tried before and some have written down the steps you need to take. Check the very complete compendium from Mashable. If you can not wait, try Instant Domain Search, a free service that instantly checks domain name availability. We would also strongly recommend registering the name of your new company as a trademark. In the UK, make sure to visit Intellectual Property Office which provides the ability to search registered trademarks before applying, or engaging a patent lawyer.
BUILDING A PRESENCE: WEB HOSTING & WEBSITE
With the perfect start-up name in hand, it is important to register your domain fast - you do not want the other 10 people to beat you. Fortunately, one.com offers a comprehensive package at no cost in the first year. Install WordPress or the equally well supported Joomla, add Google Analytics and you have the ingredients needed to get you going with an initial website. If not done already, this is a good time to start thinking about branding, and investing in a professional designer to create the logo and visual identity for your company.
EMAIL, CALENDAR, INTERNET TELEPHONY & WEB CHAT
Get Thunderbird and install the Lightning add-on. Install Skype. To let customers engage with you while they browse your new website, use LiveChat for start-ups (hint: choose “Get Startup Tools” in the “select the incubator” drop-down menu).
GETTING CLOUD INFRASTRUCTURE
While you may have been working on your own laptop until now, companies like Amazon offer 12-month access to Amazon Web Services and Elastic Cloud (EC2) at no cost. Visit Infoworld to get more information on how to make the most out of the Amazon offering. Google App Engine is another excellent choice, offering “up to 1 GB of storage and enough CPU and bandwidth to support an efficient app serving around 5 million page views a month, absolutely free”. Finally, have a look at Microsoft BizSpark for “Developer tools, support, and training to build apps & scale your business, and technology to get you in the cloud”. Rather than taking those examples for granted, ask for expert advice on what makes sense for your app / software product and what will be financially appropriate when your business scales.
MANAGING RELATIONSHIPS & CONTENT: CRM & ECM
Equipped with your online presence, you existing engagement with customers and partners will accelerate, and you will be required to manage opportunities, as well as the documentation you will be exchanging. From a suite of many open-source Customer Relationship Management tools, the community edition of SugarCRM is a favorite for many. As far as Enterprise Content Management is concerned, the community edition of OpenDocMan is a solid choice. We learned that the key to increase the effectiveness of those tools is proportional to your discipline in entering the data.
ENGAGING & COLLABORATING
Whether to optimise working with remote members of your team or reaching out to your customers, collaboration tools are key. Google Drive is an one-stop-shop when it comes to sharing all kinds of documents. A very generous 15GB of storage across all Google services differentiates it substantially from offerings like Dropbox (2GB) and Box (5GB). For working with customers, screen sharing tools like join.me require no setup from customers, and offer a hassle-free experience. For resilience reasons (e.g. backup) we would always advise to use at least 2 cloud drives. At this point you should be thinking about good Non-Disclosure Agreements, solid contracts. Get legal advice.
You have news that are relevant and helpful to your customers? You have asked your customers if they are interested to receive such news from you, and have evidence of their positive reply? Then the free version of Mailchimp gives you the ability to send up to 12,000 emails per month to up to 2,000 recipients at no cost. Alternatively, get the very popular and open-source phpList.