There are some basics that you need to cover to give stronger credibility to your small business. A business phone, email, fax, invoicing system and legal contracts. This can add up quickly but below I am offering some tips on how to do it all under $50 per month.
Here are five websites that can help you get organized and help you give your company a more professional look without breaking the bank. Mobile is one of the key factors to consider in these days of real-time customer service and 24/7 support and most of the websites mentioned below have that option.
- Ease of use: Easy
- Cost: Low ($10 per month)
- Mobile: Yes
Setup a virtual voice mail service for under $10 per month. Don’t have a fax machine to receive faxes? Really who sends faxes any more, but every once in a while you have the need to receive something via fax. RingCentral gives you a fax number for under $6 per month. All faxes are turned into PDFs so that you can look at them easily in your laptop, desktop, iPhone or blackberry.
2. Google for your domain
- Ease of use: Way Easy
- Cost: Free
- Mobile: Yes
I believe that once you are running your own company or freelance business you should by default change your email to use your company’s domain name. There’s no bigger turn off than to receive a business email from firstname.lastname@example.org. Google Apps makes this extremely easy to do. All you need is to buy a domain name and change some settings in the Google Apps interface. Finding the information for the DNS settings is a little cumbersome but I took the time to link it here in case you need it.
- Ease of use: Way Easy
- Cost: Medium ($24 per month starter package)
- Mobile: Yes for iPhone
Basecamp is the ultimate “do less with more” project management tool. You can setup to-do lists, milestones and share this with your team very easily. If you have been used to heavy corporate project management packages, it takes a couple of days hours to get used to it. If you are managing different portions of a huge project for several clients, then basecamp might fall short due to the lack of some basic features such as deadlines for the to-do items. Overall is a very good starter project management tool.
- Ease of use: Moderate (Easy for accounting software)
- Cost: Medium (FREE for 3 clients. $19 per month starter package)
- Mobile: Yes for iPhone but App is not fully developed
Make your invoices and estimates look sharp. Provide your clients with online payment. Track expenses, time and integrate with basecamp. The integration is a little jerky but it works OK as long as you have some time to edit the invoice by hand before sending it to the client. FreshBooks is simple and has enough features that can help you keep the financial pulse of your growing business
- Ease of use: Moderate
- Cost: Free for many documents ($19.95 per month afterwards)
- Mobile: No
Rocket Lawyer can save you a lot of money and time for basic legal contracts. There are a lot of free legal forms in there as well. There is no mobile component which is not really needed. If you want you can take advantage of the e-signature service. However, it really depends on your client base and market. Many people don’t feel comfortable signing a legal contract online yet.
Allison Mooney wrote a wonderful article on Why Agencies need to think like software companies. Truth is, I was a happy to find her article as it validates what we do at Tangelo, an internet marketing and technology company. Â We look at advertising and marketing on the internet as an opportunity to create an integrated and deep web experiences that can help the client establish a long term and more valuable relationship with their audience. It is not only about the CTR on a single day, it is about the relationship you create with your client through social media apps, twitter, facebook, search and mobile.
Actually, it is a competency that I continuously talk about with my team of creative developers. Â To successfully market in this new world it is crucial to understand not only the code architecture but business opportunities along the way. Remember that your clients will know exactly what they want the moment you show them something awesome.
Often, internet marketing projects fail because the corporate marketer lacks the understanding of the technology Â and the agency buries the developer so deep under the layers of project management that issues are never discussed. For this to change, the developer needs to be able to communicate in plain english with the client. However, with the higher level of sophistication we are dealing with today, developers have the expectation that the marketer will have at least a basic understanding of the code. Believe me. There is no need to make it “so simple that your grandma should understand”. They are not building deep web experiences targeted to valuable audiences. Your grandma’s role is to see the final product and say WOW!
Another great gem in the article is the mention of Agile development practices. I believe that management should embrace parts of Agile into their business practices not only in their software development cycles. Agile processes for developers can be difficult to get used to but they can be trained and they can understand the value rather quickly. There is a big difference between talking Agile and doing Agile. Specially for marketers that are used to heavy duty enterprise level project management, Agile is difficult to adopt as it means a change in culture that they need to drive.
You care about the top 10 results more that anything else Google serves. As searcher if there are 100,000 or 1,000,000 results beyond the top 20 it really doesn’t matter. Top 20 is good enough.
A while back I wrote about Google’s PPC model needs to evolve or slowly deteriorate. Inevitably customers always want and need better services. Advertisers want more. Search at this point is the middle man that either needs to be cut out of the equation or evolve into something better.
Back when I wrote that article, there was nothing tangible yet that could be a threat to Google. The scenery was starting to blend together. It looked like social networks were obviously and without a doubt using AdSense (or competitor’s products) to advertise to their audiences. MySpace and Facebook did not have strong monetization strategies and search was 110% king and queen of the internet neighborhood. Exit strategies for start-ups like JOT or writely were targeted to Google.
Fast forward to today.
Google is slowly losing its relevance to the real time and social web. A web where people manage the information they want to find and that rely on each other to find the best (or silliest depending on purpose) possible content on the web on near real-time. Now, say Twitter together with me.
Arguably, Twitter has been able to quickly build the most active, distributed and addictive set of third party applications via its API. Most importantly, cheaper that Google ever did. Beyond this point, there is a very interesting and potentially troubling trend for Google, taking place in search. Real time, trust worthy recommendations made relevant by time. People by nature trustÂ recommendations made by people they know or respect. These recommendations factor in making decisions about the biggest purchases and actions in their lives. Think choosing a college, buying a car, shopping for baby clothes and choosing the best school. To solidify my choices I talk to people I know and read people I respect. That is what makes me decide one way or the other. As John Borthwick, CEO of BetaWorks points out in his blog, relevancy is driven mostly by time.
This means that a search engine that syndicates what people are saying about a product in real time is more valuable thanÂ 1,000,000 hits in Google, even if I only look at the top ten. I trust people that I know and respect and if these people are praising or bashing a product or service, I am very likely to listen to them rather than to a search engine. To quote John again, Google.com has suddenly become the source for pages not conversations, not the real time web. You can’t reply to a classic search engine result. You can reply to Twitter search and expect a real time often thoughtful reply in return.
Google Next Victim Of Creative Destruction? (GOOG)
Recession is a regenerative cycle that is healthy for innovation. It’s hard and painful but necessary. Our brains needed a reboot badly. When I first came to the Silicon Valley the bubble had just burst. There were ever present news about pets.com and tales of lavish parties long gone. I, not only a foreigner to the Silicon Valley but to the technology scene did not know what the burst of the bubble meant. Truly, it did not bother me knowing that a silly idea like pets.com did not work. I was honestly surprised and worried to hear really smart people thinking that it was actually viable.
After riding the bubble and listening, watching and learning about the general misconceptions about economic models andÂ ill-conceivedÂ companies, I am confident that recession procures innovation and thatÂ discomfortÂ begets new thinking. Seldom technological breakthroughs happen during the good times. There is no incentive to thinking outside the box when times are [too] good. We just find ourselves thinking in a bigger fancier box.