By Nick Rojas
Launching a new business is as difficult as it is worthwhile. But as an entrepreneur, you can take steps to grease the gears and lessen the burden of the monumental task in front of you. By choosing the right hardware, the right software and the right strategies, you can avoid some of the heavy lifting that is required to start a business. Here are eight tips to getting a head start on your start-up.
8 Small Business Start-up Tips
1. Your Phone is Your Lifeline: Go VoIP
The rise of Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) gives even the smallest businesses access to enterprise-level telephone networks. VoIP uses the Internet to send and receive phone calls and gives businesses far more network at a much lower cost. Unlike traditional telephone networks, which come with expensive and arbitrary long-distance and international charges, VoIP bills a consistent, flat rate. VoIP networks also offer a range of features, like call forwarding and sequential dialing that would have been considered paid add-ons a decade ago.
2. Focus on Landing Pages as Much as Ads
Spend as much time obsessing over your landing pages as you do over your ads. You can have the greatest ads in the world, but if they lead to landing pages that can't convert, your effort—and dollars—will have been spent in vain. Great landing pages are uncluttered, incorporate video, have clear, obvious calls to action, great headlines, and bulleted chunks of easily digestible text. Choose a landing page tool that lets you integrate payment directly into your LPs, and don't forget to back them up with confirmation pages that help you build your email list.
3. Responsive Web Design: Looking Good on Desktops Isn't Enough
Since you can't launch an effective business without a mobile strategy, you may be tempted to create two websites—one for desktops and one for tablets and smartphones. But you don't need to build multiple websites. Insist that your web designer use Responsive Web Design (RWD) to ensure that the same website looks great on any device, reducing your bounce rate and increasing mobile traffic to your landing pages.
4. Make Invoicing as Painless as Possible
Invoicing is not a glamorous part of doing business—but it is absolutely necessary to ensure quick payment and accurate books. When invoicing is a chore, invoices pile up, capital flow gets constricted and administration gets generally sloppy. Invest in invoicing software that matches your business's size and needs, and consider using an invoice generator template to maintain continuity.
5. Ditch Email for Collaboration Software
Keeping up with clients, contractors and far-flung employees through email threads is inefficient and unreliable — and totally unnecessary. Good collaboration software goes beyond the capabilities of popular file-sharing programs like Dropbox and lets all interested parties view, edit, assign tasks, and set up budgeting for projects.
6. You're in Business to Get Paid: Don't Make it Difficult
If you work in the field, use a mobile payment system that lets you settle up right away through your smartphone, in connection with your customers' digital wallet or credit card. There are many competing devices and applications, and the choice depends on the size and type of your business. But one thing remains the same across every industry—mailing a bill is bad for business. Customers expect to be able to pay immediately from any location.
7. Simplify Shipping
Big companies offer a range of shipping options. They can afford to—you probably can't. At least in the beginning, simplify and consolidate shipping. Every option you offer your customers comes with a big jump in price for you. The best way to keep shipping costs down when you're first starting out is to limit shipping to one option with one carrier.
8. Create a Social Media Editorial Calendar
For small startups that can't afford a social-media manager, an editorial calendar becomes the central hub of their entire social-media marketing strategy. A social media editorial calendar establishes who is responsible for what content, for which channels, and it determines what gets posted at which times of day and days of the week. A consistent social strategy backed by delegated responsibility and team accountability is not possible without a social editorial calendar.
These tips will not make running a business easy—nothing will. But they can help put the framework in place that is necessary for any business to run smoothly. Take shortcuts where you can, simplify wherever possible and let software and apps automate functions everywhere that they're able.
Nick Rojas, a Chicago-based business consultant and journalist, writes about social media and marketing for small businesses.
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