While the foundation of entrepreneurship may be your mindset, work ethic, and aptitude for solving problems, you’ll also need to get a handle on many practical aspects of starting a company. From staying organized to sourcing quality marketing collateral, and finding the best talent to keeping the lines of communication open, you need the right tools and processes in place to sustain your startup and make it run smoothly. Fortunately, there’s an app (or five) for all that. We’ll explore some of the most important components of running a company, and a few of the key tools that can support you.
Staying organized is a must for any business owner, but it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the daily demands and allow things to slip through the cracks. Try these tools to help you better manage your time and tasks.
Urgent-Important Matrix: Eisenhower Matrix
Former US President and decorated general Dwight Eisenhower developed this strategy to better prioritize the many tasks constantly competing for his attention as a leader. He realized each task was not equally valuable to his end goal or the big picture, and came up with a method of visually classifying his to-do list into 4 categories/quadrants:
- Urgent and Important
- Important but not urgent
- Urgent but not important
- Not urgent and not important
The idea is to do to the “urgent and important” tasks right away; schedule the “important but not urgent” ones; delegate what’s “urgent but not important”; and avoid what’s neither important nor urgent.
You’ll also need a way to manage the projects your entire team is working on and make sure that collaboration is real-time, efficient, and effective. Long email threads and hours-long meetings won’t get you there. To make your team agile and able to harness their productivity, try an app like Asana or Trello. They allow you to track projects through various stages, facilitate easy exchange of ideas all in one place, and view progress visually.
File Management: Google Drive
Being able to easily store, share, and collaborate on project files is just as important as the ability to organize and plan out tasks. You’ll want something that’s cloud-based so that you can access and edit your files from anywhere. There are a number of popular apps and services that can help you do this, but Google Drive is probably the best place to start. You’ll get a decent amount of free storage, plus solid apps for desktop, iOS, and Android devices. You’ll also be able to assign permissions to your files when you share them (you can make files read-only, comment-only, or give full edit permissions).
Scheduling meetings: youcanbook.me and Doodle
Sometimes you need to schedule real-time meetings with clients, investors, or people on your team. Youcanbook.me lets you customize the length of your meetings and how much information you collect and display, accounts for time zone differences — great for if you have a distributed team or meet with investors from elsewhere in the country or the world — syncs with Google and other calendars so you don’t end up double-booked, and more.
Doodle is another, more simplified, tool for scheduling meetings and events. It allows your invitees to choose times that work for them, then you can see which times work best for the highest number of people. It’s a great option for scheduling meetings with people who have packed schedules.
Communicating with your team and important players outside your company can be a challenge, especially if everyone isn’t in the same place, or if your business type isn’t bound to an office. You’ll need good tools in place to make sure you can stay in touch with the people poised to make your business a success.
Team communication: Slack
Slack is a versatile and easy to use solution for keeping in touch with everyone on your team. It may look like just another group chat app, but it’s much more. On Slack, you can set up different channels (both private and public) for different purposes, so that only the people who need to be involved on a particular topic are in the conversation. Your marketing team can have its own channel, or you can have a channel that’s specific to a particular project on which you’re working. Slack also integrates with a ton of business-critical products like Salesforce, Asana, Trello, Google Drive and other Google apps, and GitHub (just to name a few).
Conference calls: Zoom
Zoom is a great solution for holding virtual meetings and webinars. It’s easy to use, but has a good feature set, and it scales. There’s a Basic free plan, all the way up to an Enterprise plan that will support you when your team of hosts/presenters grows to over 100. The pricing is reasonable, and the feature set is robust across the board.
Finding the Right Team
I’ve written before about how essential your team is to your entrepreneurial endeavor. Without a great group of people who share and can build on your vision, you’ll have a steep uphill climb and a ton more obstacles than you need. Here are two sites that will help you find the best people for the roles you need to fill.
LinkedIn is the business and career social network where you can find the perfect talent for your startup’s needs. Keyword searches help you find exactly who you’re looking for. You can also post job openings, network, and build your brand as an influencer and expert in your field using LinkedIn. The business network has 467 million users, 133 million of whom are in the US. So if the person you’re looking for is out there, chances are you’ll find them on LinkedIn
To keep your startup lean, you might consider hiring freelancers to do some of the smaller, less consistently needed jobs. Say you need graphic design work or a whitepaper written from time to time, but there isn’t enough consistent design or content work needed to warrant hiring someone on full time. On Upwork, you can post short-term projects and long-term but low-hour jobs, and attract freelancers in any area of expertise you might need (designers, writers, programmers, and more).
You’ll need great marketing collateral (images, designs that pop, a polished website) in order to reach and attract clients and investors to your business. In the world of business, your delivery is as important as your message.
Branding and design: 99designs
Your business needs a winning logo, and probably some other design collateral as well. On 99designs, the process of finding the right design for your project is simple (and fun). You post as much detail as possible about your project and company, choose some styles that speak to you, then designers on the site create competing designs for you to choose from. This process is easier and more cost-friendly than seeking out and hiring a single designer. If you do find a designer whose work you love, 99designs gives you the option to work directly with them, instead of having to hold a contest each time you need some new work done.
Regardless of what your business does, a website is a must-have these days. And you can’t just slap anything up and call it a site, either. Your site should look and feel professional, polished, and put together. But you may not have the budget to hire a web designer or a design company to create the site. Sites like WordPress, Wix and Weebly let you create beautiful, sharp websites from pre-existing templates, often for free (there are some paid options, as well).
Email & Marketing Automation: Mailchimp
Mailchimp makes email marketing easy. Tons of useful templates and a simple to use interface allow you to focus on the content of your messages, instead of having to spend hours making them look amazing. Mailchimp also provides analytics and plugs into e-commerce platforms, to help you better target your messaging to the right people.
Images: Creative Commons, Pexels & Unsplash
Sourcing images for your blog, website, emails and other creative projects doesn’t have to cost a fortune, thanks to the myriad free stock image sites on the Web. Creative Commons is a great place to start, and you can use it to search for the right image on a number of sites (including Google Images, Flickr, Pixabay, and Wikimedia Commons). On Pexels and Unsplash you can find beautiful professional photographs to use however you’d like. All photos on those sites have a CC0 license, meaning they’re free to use for personal and commercial use and don’t require attribution (although it’s always nice to give credit if you’re able to).
When it comes to your business and the law, you need to make sure you’re protected and doing everything properly. If you can’t afford in-house counsel or to keep a law firm on retainer, these services and sites should be your go-to resources.
Protecting your idea: United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
The USPTO’s searchable site provides everything you need to get started registering a patent or trademark. You can also search their trademark database, to ensure you’re not inadvertently using a trademark that’s already been registered by another company or entity. It also contains resources to help you if you’re filing for patent protection without a lawyer, or need free legal assistance throughout the process.
Simple legal questions & more: LegalZoom
When it’s time to register your business, you’ll need to know which type of entity you’d like it to be (LLC? Corporation? Limited Partnership?). To do that, you’ll need to understand a bit about the benefits, protections, and downsides of each option. LegalZoom has straightforward information on all that and more. You can find help with issues surrounding intellectual property, being a sole proprietor, and many other business law-related concerns.
If your startup makes a physical product, one of the things you must do fairly early on is make a prototype of your invention or idea. But that doesn’t mean you need to have the materials and machines required to do so in-house. And if you are developing an app, there are tools that allow you to design the user interface before you start any coding, allowing you to test the interface with customers before spending too much time programming.
Building your product: Shapeways
Building a prototype of your invention or product is incredibly easy with Shapeways. You can upload a 3D design or create one on the site, get a quote for how much printing will cost, and have it in your hands in just a few days. You can also produce small batches of your product, so that your team or potential investors can all have their own.
Designing Your App: Invision
Invision allows you to develop a professional looking interface in minutes. All you need to do is upload your design files and transitions, and this tool will transform your static screens into clickable, interactive prototypes. The entire team can collaborate on sketches, drawings, and the wireframe, to share and get feedback in real-time.