So you are out on your own – congratulations! The world needs more people like you who are looking to create their own path vs walk down one that has already been traveled. This is a critical time where decisions are made that have long lasting effects. How you structure your company, how you position your brand, design and marketing, financial models and of course – tech stack.
We can’t answer all of these here but we will be talking about tools. It’s easy. Early on to get drawn into some of the sexier enterprise tools that will make life so much easier but when you add up your monthly fees, before you know it you’re in for hundreds a month before you make your first dollar.
These are the tools we’ve used time and time again to get small companies off the ground. They’re apt to change and we’d love to hear your favorites but hopefully there will be some you haven’t heard of to get you started.
Let’s start with the most exciting one first. Accounting software is a hard one to get for free. The closest we’ve found is Google Sheets. This still requires you to do the work but it’s easy as long as you stay on top of it. There are lots of free templates out there for creating expenses, Profit and Loss sheets, Balance Sheets etc. In addition to this, you can create your invoices in Google Docs which also has templates that are available.
If you are willing to spend a little money here, Freshbooks has become a staple in the contractor community. For about $30/month you get it all pretty much automated along with time tracking, payment reminders, integration with accounting software etc. If it’s in the budget it goes along way to keeping the books straight and looking more professional.
Whether you are pitching an idea, asking for funding or doing research, presentations are a fundamental for almost every entrepreneur. You are going to need something to make those snazzy slides that change minds have people begging you to let them fund your next project. Google Slides is probably the most affordable (IE it’s Free) option here. If you’ve ever used PowerPoint, Google slides is basically the same. And, like all Google products, it will integrate with other applications like docs and sheets also.
Emails and CRM
At some point you may want to collect emails and send email out to the masses. Nothing looks more unprofessional than a poorly constructed email. Plus, if you are sending out multiple emails there’s always a chance it will get caught in spam unless you use professional software. Luckily there are some free options here that are world class.
Mailchimp is a great option. Completely free, Mailchimp allows you to create professional, mobile-friendly emails and capture information using forms on your websites. They have also introduced landing pages recently as they are striving to become a complete marketing automation platform. This can also act as your CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) as it keeps a master list of your customers and data.
The Advantages of Mailchimp is that it’s free and very easy to use. Another good option is Hubspot. Their free version has recently been updated to include email marketing which makes it a very powerful option. Hubspot has the ability to grow much further than Mailchimp can down the road with paid plans so as your marketing needs get more sophisticated, this tool will be able to keep up with you. The only drawback is the learning curve is steep on this one. Time well spent however and lots of resources to pull from makes this still a great option.
This is often overlooked but you’ll find that as your little company starts growing the amount of logins you’ll accumulate will be growing exponentially. Getting in a good habit of keeping these organized is a great thing to start early not only for work but also for your personal life too.
Lastpast a great first option. It’s free and if you want to mobile version it’s only $5/year. If you want to move to something else down the road you can always export it out to whatever format you need.
Websites are complex and depending on what you need its a bit of a moving target. However in the last 10 years there have been some great options for those of us on a budget.
Wix and SquareSpace being the two most notable ones that have come on board recently. If all you’re after is a simple marketing site these are very affordable (approx $30/month) and hand hold you through the building process. If you are looking to get your hands dirty then WordPress is still a viable option too but it’s important to note that WordPress is a framework whereas the others are hosted solutions so with WordPress you have to figure out where you are going to host the site as well as you have options.
If eCommerce is your bag then it’s hard to go wrong with Shopify. Shopify will essentially do it all; domain registration, blog, website, payment gateway, storefront even payment hardware if you are setting up a physical presence. Starting at about $30, this is a great option as some of the stuff you don’t see are the fulfillment and shipping options in the background that are also top notch. Where you may get frustrated down the road is the lack of customization in the platform on the lower payment tiers.
Finally we should talk about domain registration. You can keep everything in one place (for example Shopify will register your domain, set up your email and host your site) or you can separate them. I prefer the latter for the control but it is also pretty complicated to manage. If you are so inclined, namecheap.org is the domain provider of choice around here. Cheap, nice UI and no hidden costs.
Email unfortunately is something you are likely going to need to pay for if you want it to look professional (ie not firstname.lastname@example.org). On you register a domain, you can set up email hosting so that you can make email@example.com which will lend credibility to your organization and give those business cards a little bit of polish.
Our choice for this won’t come as too much of a surprise. G-suite from Google. This works out to be about $6USD/month so it’s great when there are only a few of you and more costly when your company expands. Email is so critical to your company that when it fails it can be catostrophic. For that reason we prefer to keep it with Google as it’s consistent and set-up is a snap on most devices.
There’s a reason why most suppliers are using Zoom lately. The quality is exceptional and the cost is well, free. Obviously there are ways to tier up and there are limits to the free version but if you’re small, this is a great way to get going.
Forgive the shameless plug but we really believe this is key to success. Last but not least is community. Being a solopreneur can be hard. Working from home or out of coffee shops works for a while but sooner or later you will miss the excitement of working with a team and the energy that brings. For those of you about to make the transition to Coworking, Evrywork makes it possible to sample these spaces with a low monthly fee and credit system to allow you to find your tribe before committing.
Anything we missed? We’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s working for you. Give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org