Have you noticed the number of new websites you keep hearing of these days? Whether it’s a quirky service that’ll deliver essentials to your doorstep in the wee hours or a niche shopping site that only sells bags – ideas and in turn budding entrepreneurs are cropping up faster than err mould on damp bread. Gross analogies aside, you must’ve sensed the startup culture in the air (unless of course you’ve been hiding under the proverbial rock). The atmosphere is almost palpable and more and more entrepreneurs are being driven to do their own thing. If you too have had an idea buzzing in your cranium and want to do something about it, but don’t know where to start, here are some tools to get you on your way.
1. The basics
For any business, the basics need to be taken care of at the outset. What do you need? You need a domain for your idea. Whether if only to host an “under construction” board or simply to get yourself an @yourbusiness.com email idea, buying a domain name is essential. It gives a digital identity to your venture. Perhaps the best way to get yourself a domain is through Google Apps. You can register a new domain starting from $8 a year and with it you get Google Apps support for upto 10 users - that means Email, Calendar and Google Docs all bundled. Of course you could register a domain name from anywhere, but doing it with Google, just get’s you preconfigured email in a format that you’re probably familiar with. Head over to http://goo.gl/Xokl5 to get started.
2. Create your presence
Once your identity is established, you need a presence. The digital personality equivalent of your business in the virtual world is a website. To get your website up you need two things –space to host the website and the website itself. Space can be bought from re-sellers such as http://www.bigrock.in/ and http://www.hostgator.in/ have attractive offers going on. If you have questions about hosting, they have toll-free numbers and live-chat help to clear your doubts. While choosing a hosting service choose one that has maximum data uptime guarantee. Also things to keep in mind include, bandwidth restrictions (if any) payment options, take a demo of the control panel, and check for
Now comes the part of making a website. “Coding, webdesigners, hassles” is what you’re thinking right? You needn’t fret. Services such as www.moonfruit.com and www.weebly.com allow you to build websites with drag and drop ease for free. Some amount of website design and deployment is even offered by hosting services for a small premium.
Think you can get your hands dirty? Wordpress is the way to go. Wordpress is easy to deploy (many hosting services such as BigRock provide one click installation) and while initially intended as a blogging platform it’s a great way to build no fuss, ultra-cool websites even for businesses. Not only creation, management too is a breeze – creating a new page, new menu item, integrating analytics, translating your page into different languages basically anything you can think of, is made available to you through the dashboard and wordpress plugin repository. So creating an about page, services page, etc., is quite easy. Here are some nice free business themes to get you started – http://dgit.in/NitWi5
3. Get funding
Getting funding until recently meant sucking up to that rich uncle or pandering to a bunch of angel investors who eventually turn out to be not so angelic. With the ushering of crowdfunding the game has changed. Kickstarter.com (and few clones) allow you to present your business idea, expansion plan, or service to regular folks who buy into it. Backers to your idea can pledge anywhere between $5 to literally thousands of dollars. And why would people do that? Be warned these pledges are not necessarily donations, they’re more like pre-bookings in most cases. You need to obviously offer people a hook to buy into your idea. This can be an acknowledgement in the form of a mention in the product sheet, a thank you note, a visit to your facility, something named after them (for high-value pledgers), a limited edition product SKU or even a free T-shirt!
To start a project on Kickstarter you need a clear pitch, an explanatory video and incentive plan for investors. Does the Indian regulatory framework allow you to source funds from the crowd? The concept is pretty new and we all know the breakneck speed with which regulators react to change. But fear not we saw a few successful Indian crowdfunded projects on Kickstarter right now that have met their targets, so if they can do it so can you. If you don’t have an idea yet this could be it – start a Kickstarter clone for India. And if you’re feeling super-adventurous you could even post this project on Kickstarter itself.
A screenshot of project management tool Asana
4. Making sense of social media
Once your venture / startup is off the ground there’s no escaping social media. You’ll need a presence on the popular social platforms. That’s easy – a Twitter account and a Facebook page and you’re set. But how do you manage them effectively? That’s where tools like http://hootsuite.com come in. HootSuite let’s you manage multiple social profiles, schedule messages and tweets, track brand mentions, analyze social media traffic.
5. Manage stuff like a boss
Project management or task tracking tools help you focus on the work at hand rather than do tedious operations such as sending status emails, checking up on subordinates and attending non-productive meetings. Asana is one such management tool that lets you quickly capture, organize, track and communicate everything you and your team are working on. It is free for a team size of 30 members. There are other tools out there that have other functionalities integrated such as version control, document management and other collaboration tools such as shared whiteboards. Most of these have free trials. You can take a dip and see which one suits your needs. Some names to give a spin are Basecamp, Trello, TeamBox and Freedcamp.
6. Other tools to help you get by
During the course of your day-to-day business, you’ll need certain tools handy to help you get all sorts of functional tasks done. Below are some:
There are times when getting feedback from customers is critical. You may even need to look for responses from other target audiences for service improvement or some kind of quick market research. For such times www.surveymonkey.com is a good option. In the free plan it offers 10 questions per survey and the ability to collect a 100 responses per survey. For more sophisticated needs there are other plans starting approximately at `500.
• Jazzy presentations
Sometimes plain old powerpoint presentations just don’t cut it when it comes to impressing clients. In such cases use www.prezi.com to come up with fluid, large-scale motion-oriented presentations that are guaranteed to leave your audience spellbound.
• Mass Mailers
Reaching out to your customers is good for business. You may have some product update, some new offer, or maybe you just want to spam their inboxes so that they remember you every now and then. Whatever the reason http://mailchimp.com is your weapon of choice. MailChimp helps you design email newsletters, share them on social networks, integrate with services you already use and track your results. The free plan lets you mass-mail 2,000 subscribers and you can send up to 12,000 emails per month absolutely free.
Do you really need Tally for keeping those simple in/out records? Maybe not. To fullfill your simple bookkeeping needs try out www.manager.io a free opensource software for Linux, Windows and Mac. You can create all sorts of invoices, charts from data, and even call up reports from time to time. Online tools such as http://outright.com may work just as well but be warned, these are designed for overseas bookkeeping standards.
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