Every startup and small business has the same thought: We need to scale quickly, but we must also do so efficiently. This means, typically, we can’t just go out and hire an army of people large enough to invade a small continent in order to dominate our competition. Instead, we need to adopt clever software to do the heavy lifting for us—and, most importantly, not break the bank while doing so.
Note: This is the 4th installment in "The Five Essentials: How to Start a New Business” series, dedicated to small, medium and startup businesses. In this series, we cover how to create a Business Plan, Company Overview, and Annual Marketing Plan, as well as free Sales Proposal templates you can customize. Here, you'll learn how to draft an Annual Marketing Plan.
Being a startup ourselves, we've given the subject quite a bit of thought — and learned from some mistakes along the way that we want you to avoid. Read on for our "Beautiful Guide to Tech Hacks": our recommendations for the best (and least expensive) digital tools to help your business scale smart and fast.
BEST TOOL FOR HR
It’s perhaps one of the biggest hurdles small startups face: You know how to build the product, and you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of how you want to market it, but how do you go about paying your employees, sorting out their benefits, onboarding new team members, figuring out visa requirements, and so on? Unless you have a background in HR, that all may seem very foreign.
Fortunately, starting at just $45 per month, Gusto can help. From legal advice to payroll and all your HR needs (including signing up new employees) Gusto makes it easy so you can focus on what matters most—growing your business.
BEST TOOL FOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT
There’s a problem with most project management tools: they’re ugly. Typically, they’re just a sea of incomprehensible text and buttons that lack any intuitiveness. This is where Trello comes in. It’s as simple as can be, and yet it still boasts all of the necessary functionality. If you want to be able to visualize where your projects are in the pipeline, Trello is a great option. As a company that loves beautiful design, it’s perhaps no surprise that we love this tool.
BEST TOOL FOR DESIGN
Speaking of design, as a startup, managing how your web pages look, how your sales brochures turn out, your product’s packaging, and so on, is likely a high priority out of the gate. InVision is the gold standard in terms of providing a platform where you can give feedback and work with your designer to knock things out of the park.
In even better news, just because it's used by large companies such as Salesforce, Airbnb and LinkedIn doesn’t mean it’s out of range for most startups. InVision is actually very affordable: You can try it out with a free account and upgrade to more premium offerings for just a few bucks per month.
BEST TOOL FOR MARKETING AND SALES
Everyone needs a jack of all trades; that person you call when you need help renovating your bathroom or painting the fence in your yard. HubSpot is that person for sales, marketing, and automation. In fact, HubSpot has a product for practically every potential need — including support integration, building landing pages, CRM, and more.
The one problem, perhaps, is that when you add all the bells and whistles, HubSpot can get pricey. But when you’re talking marketing spend and automation, this is an area you can’t skimp on. After all, you need to know that the dollars you’re spending are delivering the ROI you expect.
BEST (BUDGET) TOOL FOR EMAIL MARKETING
It’s fair to say, though, that not every startup will require all of HubSpot’s functionality. In fact, often startups may choose to break each channel down individually (optimize paid social through Facebook’s own analytics, for instance, or manage email marketing via a designated tool).
If you’re looking for email marketing, MailChimp is a great option. It’s cheap, simple, boasts great reporting and automation, and it can easily handle things like A/B tests to ensure you get the most out of each campaign.
BEST TOOL FOR EMPLOYEE COMMUNICATION
If you’re in meetings all day talking about what you need to get done, chances are you’ll never finish any of it. Slack is the perfect tool to keep meetings and emails to a minimum, and for your team to efficiently communicate without wasting time. It's a simple Chat app that lets you ping your team in real time, as well as organize projects under specific subject threads ("channels"). As the old cliche goes, “time is money,” and Slack does away with the traditional, clunky, back-and-forth often associated with email chains so you can move projects down the pipeline faster and GSD as best you can.
BEST TOOL FOR CLOUD COLLABORATION
Syncing calendars, managing emails, creating video meetings, collaborating on shared documents, sharing images, Google Drivedoes it all. There are arguments for new tools — like DropBox’s Paper — as being a nicer, sleeker way to collaborate on documents, but the versatility (and FREE price point!!!) Google offers on a range of products makes it a tough one to pass up.
BEST TOOL FOR MARKET RESEARCH
As a startup, the most important thing you can do is understand how your audience is responding to your product or service. This includes your landing pages, social media ads, the headlines you’re using, and so on. If your audience is not responding as intended to the language you’re using on your site, you need that insight immediately so you can make adjustments.
The UserTesting tool is a quick and easy way to get real people to check out your things and provide video and audio feedback. Best of all, this feedback is delivered in just a matter of hours.
BEST TOOL FOR MARKETING AUTOMATION
Not sure what you'll need? Try the User.com Starter Pack. User.com is a full-stack marketing automation software for turning your visitors into happy customers.
User.com allows you to gather information about your prospects, communicate with them via live chat, chatbots, gather contact information by using popups, send automated emails and SMS and much more. The tool makes it easy to create automated paths where you can pinpoint the moments your leads receive messages. It will save your time and make sure your communication is consistent.
Right now available in Freemium Starter Pack - 100% free, includes modules like: Chat, CRM, Knowledge Base and Calendar.
BEST TOOL FOR PRESENTATIONS
When starting out, there are a few important documents that every business owner should put together, with a Business Plan (or Pitch Deck), Company Overview, Annual Marketing Plan and a Human Resources Manual being most popular. Instead of being a dreaded time suck, make it a delight by using a free (!) tool with "smart" templates that actually adapt as your add your content and ensure each page's layout always looks its best.
Obviously, we're drinking the Kool-Aid on our own company and think it's the best presentation tool around — for small, medium, startup and enterprise companies alike. Why? Simply put, no other tool lets you make a professional-looking presentation faster and easier than Beautiful. But don't take our word for it — just ask Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Harvard professor Vivek Wadhwa.... or try it yourself (it's 100% free!).
ADDITIONAL TOOLS TO BENEFIT YOUR BIZ
Needless to say, there are a wealth of other fantastic tools out there to help you scale fast, many of which we haven’t mentioned here. But the above slide highlights a few key platforms you should definitely consider in addition to the ones we mentioned under the larger categories.
As a startup, you’re always balancing cost versus efficiency. You want to grow your business quickly, but you can’t afford to cut too deeply into your runway. Making smart decisions on the best tools available to help you prosper is the first step to success. We hope this "Beautiful Guide to Tech Hacks" will help you narrow down which software programs are best suited for you and your company goals.
As always, we'd love to hear from you about which tools you prefer — especially if they didn't make this list. Simply join our private Facebook group here or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll update this post in the coming months with your suggestions.