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Bootstrapping Toolkit

Discussion in 'Business & Tax Advice' started by drahcirwalsh, Jul 3, 2015.

  1. drahcirwalsh

    drahcirwalsh Newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2014
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    Occupation:
    Sales
    Location:
    Indianapolis
    Hey y'all. I have been lurking these forums for a few years, but I rarely post. I think it's about time I contribute something.

    I have started five businesses in the last four years, four of which are successful. I have learned quite a bit about business from perusing these forums. I wanted to share some of my bootstrapping resources to help other people that are interested in moving forward with a business venture without much capital on hand. Every service on this list is something that I have used and enjoyed working with at one point or another. I'm sure that there are plenty of other (possibly better) resources out there, but this is my go-to list when people ask me for advice. I'll break them down by category.

    Phone Services:

    • Google Voice - Operate 2 different phone numbers from the same mobile device. Separate personal and business by getting a free phone number from Google. This number can receive calls and texts, and even separates voicemail and text inboxes from your personal phone number. Very useful for keeping a strong work/life balance. Cost: Free for nationwide communication. Extremely low rates for international calling.
    • Grasshopper - Establish a 1-800 number for your business to give customers confidence when reaching out to you. All calls forward to your mobile phones (use your Google Voice number?) and voicemails are saved in a different inbox. There is a companion app that you can install on your phone to be able to make outbound calls from the 1-800 number. Cost is 12/month base, and 0.06/minute. You might even find some decent coupon codes on RetailMeNot.

    Customer Service / Resource Management / Marketing


    • ZenDesk - As you know the fastest way to grow your brand is by word of mouth. Customers are far more likely to speak of your business to others when they've had an exceptional customer service experience. ZenDesk offers a simple workflow for managing email and social media interactions to ensure that customer inquiries are handled quickly, efficiently, and without duplicating efforts. It also gives you the ability to create a self-serve knowledgebase where customers can find the answers to many of their questions, which will reduce the time that you spend composing emails. The cost for this service is 12/user/year.
    • Insightly - I learned quickly that keeping detailed client records is crucial for building long term partnerships. Insightly allows you to track a database of clients, build out project workflows for tracking orders, manage your calendars, and track your business leads. This is a service that I recommend setting up immediately. The cost is free for 2 users, up to 2,500 "records". This should get you through your first few months of operation.
    • MailChimp - Once you've established a client base you'll want to keep them engaged. One very easy way to do this is by maintaining an easy-going mailing list. Mailchimp makes this simple by integrating with existing services like Insightly to automatically import customers into your email lists. Creating professional emails is incredibly easy - you use pre-made templates and drag and drop content into it. Many of the emails you receive on a daily basis are sent via mailchimp. Price is free for up to 2,000 subscribers, 12,000 emails per month.
    • Vistaprint - One of the first things that you should invest in is quality business cards. I can vouch for the efficiency of business cards when it comes to establishing authority within the market. Send a few of these to every client that purchases from you. They WILL pass them on to others when they have a great experience with you. You can get 500 high quality, unique business cards from Vistaprint for about 45 including shipping. You do not want to skimp on your business cards - they are truly the first impression people have of your business. Using thin, poorly printed cards can really put a bad taste in the mouth of clients. If you cut corners with your marketing materials, one can only assume what you do with your other business practices.
    • Google Apps - This is a complete communications suite hosted by Google. It allows you to route your domain through Gmail so that you can have professional email addresses when communicating with your clients. In addition, it gives you access to the full Google Drive Productivity suite, google calendars, and much more. There are ways around paying for this, but you'll eventually want to invest in Google Apps for the security of your business. The cost is 5/user/month.

    Financial / Legal

    • SCORE - Business plans, contract templates, and a plethora of small business advice. SCORE is a great resource to browse in your spare time to find really interesting and helpful resources for all aspects of your business.
    • Freshbooks - Although PayPal allows you to create and send invoices to clients, it does very little for managing inventory, detailing expenses, tracking client payment history, and building client confidence. All of this can be done in Freshbooks. It's a great way to get a holistic view of your business' finances. It'll track invoices, pending payments, send invoice reminders, issue estimates, track expenses, manage inventory, send reminders for tasks, track your billable time, and offer multiple payment options for customers. It also integrates easily with other resources listed in this list. The service is free to try with 1 client, and paid packages start at 19.95/month. It'll pay for itself with your first client.
    • Wave Accounting - Similar to Freshbooks, however it does not track time, inventory, or provide expansive reporting. That being said, if those services don't interest you this would be a great place to start with your invoicing. It's completely free for up to 9 employees and unlimited invoices. I would highly recommend using this service to start, and then migrating to Freshbooks once business picks up. There's also a really nice personal finance product that they offer that I love using.
    • ZenPayroll - Once you're on your feet and have in-house employees you'll need a way to pay them and manage the taxes associated with hiring help. ZenPayroll takes the headache away by giving you all of the tools that you need to do this, including direct deposit, W-2's, 1099's, and new-hire reporting. This is especially helpful with paying yourselves - as an LLC this is something you'll need to manage very closely for tax purposes. The pricing starts at 25/month base cost, plus 4/month/employee.

    Outsourcing

    • UpWork - You will reach a point where you are unable to handle the processing of all of your orders in a timely manner. This is the point at which you'll consider hiring help. An in-house employee can be very expensive, and the tax and legal implications can be a nightmare. An easy way to avoid this (early on) is to outsource the work to a contractor. UpWork is a service that allows you to put out a contract describing the services that you require (i.e. processing client orders and handling fulfillment during the hours of 5pm-5am EST) and candidates can apply for the position. You then review the applicants, interview them, and make an offer for hourly pay. Once they accept you'll sign the contract and they begin working for you. You're backed by protections offered by UpWork for any damages, and you can end the contract and terminate the employee at any time. UpWork handles all payments and tax implications. You will, of course, eventually want to move all operations in-house once you're financially established enough to do so. One word of advice: You get what you pay for. You can pay less than minimum wage, but I don't recommend it. I pay all of my contractors 15+/hour, and I'm rarely disappointed with the results.
    • Fiverr - You're going to need a logo, marketing materials, and various other odds and ends that can be very expensive to get locally or from professional firms. Many of these items can be obtained from freelancers for as little as 5 on Fiverr. I recommend using Fiverr as an inexpensive way to build your brand early on. Use it to get a logo, letterhead, and other similar resources. As you grow you can always rebrand if you feel that your business has outgrown the image that you start with.

    What other resources do members of the BHW community use with startups? Are there any that are significantly better than what I'm using? I'd love to get a few new services to look into.
     
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