Is 2017 the year you decide to start up that company you’ve always wanted? Exciting times! These days almost every business needs to be online in some way or another, regardless of your industry. There is a long list of online tools and resources to keep you organised, efficient and productive, so to make it easy, here are some essentials you should definitely use for your new venture!
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1. Documents & Storage: Google Drive
Google Drive is epic. It allows you to store files, create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and collaborate with your team or your clients. Most importantly, you can access all of them from anywhere through secure cloud storage! You start off with 15GB of free online storage, which is more than enough to get you going. I love the accessibility of it, and it keeps my computer fast because the files aren’t taking up space on my computer. Their app is a winner too! A must for business owners.
2. Website: Squarespace
When it comes to quickly making your own website, there’s nothing better than Squarespace. This is one of my all-time favourites. It’s incredibly user friendly, easy to set up, and you can create a variety of things from simple landing pages to galleries, blogs, online stores and more. Most importantly, every template is mobile responsive and optimised for every device, with an easy drag and drop functionality to make your website pop. You’ll have a kick ass website up in less than a day. They also have an amazing support team that replies incredibly quickly with useful and friendly responses.
If you do have some tech knowledge and more time on your hands, you can check out Wordpress. It’s much harder to use, but does offer a lot more customisation. That said - make sure you have something up and running! Having a nice site is important, but it’s more important to give your customers something to look at instead of nothing.
If you want to get an amazing website done at an affordable price, I can help you! Click here for more.
3. Email Marketing: Mailchimp
Every business needs to use inbound marketing to some extent. This means creating content on your website and giving away an incentive in exchange for their email address. This is called a lead magnet, and is a great way to build your email list. ‘Subscribe for updates’ is not even close to enough - nobody’s going to do that. There’s no call to action and there's no value (yet so many businesses do just this!). You have to give away something useful, something awesome. Maybe it’s a free book, a checklist, an exclusive video, a 5 - email marketing course… the possibilities are endless. Just make it valuable! I give away three free books and access to a community of hundreds of other entrepreneurs (which has probably popped up if you're reading this!). You can join The Exceptions for free here.
When it comes to implementing it, Mailchimp is the easiest and the best platform for simple email marketing. Design beautiful emails, create customer lists and segments, automate welcome emails, view analytics and more. They have a free plan which is a great way to get started, although upgrading to a paid plan (which is still super cheap) unlocks some more features, the best of which is the email automation. This is perfect for when you're sending a welcome email after someone opts in on your website when they signed up for your lead magnet.
In a similar light to Squarespace, there are more advanced platforms that are pricier and customisable, but Mailchimp let’s you keep it simple and cheap, and will be more than enough to get it done.
4. Invoicing: Freshbooks
When it comes to small business accounting, Freshbooks rules. I've been using it for years. You can easily send invoices, track time, manage expenses, and get paid online. With other competitors such as Xero and Quickbooks, I've found Freshbooks to be the easiest to use and also the most cost effective. If you have complex accounts then Xero may be better, however it's certainly harder to use, and you're also only allowed to send 5 invoices a month on the starter plan which is very annoying if you’re doing consulting or freelancing.
To try Freshbooks free for a month, click here!
5. Processing Payments: Stripe
If you’re launching an eCommerce business, you’ll need a platform for processing online payments, and Stripe is the way to go in my opinion. It’s very easy to use and easily integrates with web platforms like Squarespace and Wordpress.
As good as stripe is, it doesn’t always create an end-to-end checkout experience on all custom websites. I recently made an eCommerce site for a client that had a subscription model, and finding the best way to do it was difficult. The best solution I found was WooCommerce (which is for Wordpress - it isn’t available on Squarespace). For easier alternatives you can check out Moonclerk which integrates with Stripe, and handles recurring payments. PayFunnels is also a handy way to create recurring payments for consultants or freelancers that easily links with Stripe.
6. Design & Social Media: Canva
This is easily in my top 3 (ever). I would be very surprised if you have never heard of and / or used this before. For those of us not sufficient with Photoshop or other complex design platforms, Canva is the best god damn design site around. Whether you're designing posters, Facebook cover photos, social media posts, business cards, YouTube thumbnails or almost anything else, this makes it a breeze! It's so easy to use, there are great templates available with endless possibilities, and I highly recommend upgrading and getting Canva for Work. It's only $13 or so a month and offers way more options, custom dimensions, transparent backgrounds and more.
You will be doing social media marketing, and one of the most important things when it comes to social is making posts native. This means, adjusting content to fit each platform. For example, if you have a blog article, you can’t just take a screenshot and post it on Instagram, because that will look like crap. You need to make a sexy square version for the gram, and Canva makes things like this very easy. For more on making content native, check out this video.
7. Collaboration: Trello
If it’s not just you, you’ll need to keep everyone organised. This is often also important when working with clients. Trello is a platform used to keep track of everything that needs to be done with easy collaboration abilities. Trello keeps track of everything, from the big picture to the minute details. You can create tasks, checklists, boards and different projects. Their app is great too. Best of all, it's free!
If you want to ramp it up and get the Rolls Royce of collaboration tools, you can check out Basecamp, but it comes with a price.
8. Prototyping: Invision
This one is especially useful if you’re making a website, mobile app or tech company. Invision is awesome. It transforms your web and mobile designs into clickable, interactive prototypes and mockups, and you can share and collaborate on them with others. It’s simple, easy to use, and makes a big difference when you can actually touch and feel something, rather than just looking at designs. You’ll be able to find holes in your UX (user experience) and figure out all the other screens you need to make. You will need to create your own wireframes / sketches of your website or app, but they don’t need to be flashy. You can even use a napkin and a pen! If you have some design skill you can use Sketch 3 to beef them up.
To make it even easier, here’s a simple step by step process to getting a functioning prototype up and running.
- Create your wireframes or designs.
- Create a new project.
- Upload all of your screens / wireframes.
- Select the first screen.
- Click on Build Mode.
- Link it to the other screens with relevant transitions. Make sure you include ‘back’ buttons to go
to previous screens, and try not to miss anything. It’s quite common to forget some buttons.
- Once you’ve finished with Build Mode, test every screen vigorously.
- Once you’ve tested, test it again!
- Send it to whoever you want!
9. Social Media: Hootsuite
Hootsuite allows you to manage all of your social media from one dashboard. There are a few similar services such as Buffer and Social Pilot (and several others) although from experience I have found that Hootsuite is the best. At first glance it can be a bit confusing (especially compared to Buffer's very simple layout), although once you get the hang of it, it offers some great services and much more functionality than other platforms that I've used. You also get to manage 3 platforms for free, which for most of you may be enough, meaning you can use the entire website and app for zero cost!
To be honest, you don’t have to use Hootsuite or a scheduling platform to manage your social media. You can use the native platforms separately (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc) and nobody’s going to die - this just makes it a lot easier. Especially for Twitter. This is only a must if you’re setting up a social media or marketing agency. Trust me!
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I cannot even imagine where I would be without using amazing tools like the ones above! Save time, get more done and work more productively by using the amazing resources we now have out our disposal. If you've got any other favourites, feel free to add them to the list! And don't forget you can hit me up any time on Twitter @ mitchills. Happy new year!