The 9 startup business investments I wish we had made sooner
In our frugality, sometimes business owners (myself included) get caught in the trap of ‘DIYing everything’ and wasting another precious commodity instead—time. In the hope that others can benefit from these miracle worker apps, products and services, I’ve listed the investments that we use day-to-day and never gave us buyer’s remorse.
1. An investment in automation
Oh, how I love to automate! If you have repetitive or menial tasks that are taking up precious time in your business, chances are it can be automated. Programs like IFTTT (If This, Then That) and Zapier (my personal favourite) can move contacts into CRMs, send out emails when certain criteria is met, or setup a new project in your project management software. The possibilities are endless!
At the very least I would highly recommend investing in some great email marketing software (like Mailchimp or ConvertKit) that allow you to create automated email sequences as a part of lead nurturing and customer engagement processes.
Let your programs talk to each other, rather than have them all talking to you. Our automation software has saved me from doing the boring tasks I’m not crazy about, and saves me boatloads of time, so in my eyes, it’s money very well spent.
2. An investment in project management software.
In my opinion, clear and well tested processes can be the difference between a good company and great company. It can save you from making errors, ensure consistency and quality in your work and ensure there is transparency between team members.
Project management software like Trello and Asana let you document every detail of your process, so it can be replicated over and over. It gives you a neat overview of what you should be working on, let’s you know exactly where a project is at, who’s working on it and when it’s due.
We started using Trello, but weren’t huge fans of the UI, so we switched to Asana. Having said that, I know people who use both programs (and others) successfully. They’re both free for basic versions too, so it won’t hurt to give them a go!
3. An investment in backups (and backups for the backups)
We work with big design files day to day, and over time, this can accumulate to a lot of storage use. We wanted a system that would allow us to work from the same shared folder, that didn’t lag and could be accessed anywhere.
We’ve made two investments that allow us to quickly access files in the studio and remotely. The first is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) server, which is basically like having our own cloud. This Choice Magazine article is what inspired the purchase so I’ll let you read more about it there. It’s really streamlined how we work and allows us to share files instantly.
Each night we back-up everything from the NAS server to Google Drive, just in case something happens to the server itself. You could also use Dropbox or OneDrive, but our Google Drive storage is a part of our G Suite subscription, which segues perfectly into the next great investment on the list...
4. An investment in your own, branded email address
If you’re running your own business, your own email domain adds polish and professionalism that you just don’t get with firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kane has used Gmail at his previous agencies and loved it, so he insisted that gmail was one of the first things we set-up at Baker Creative. It was a small adjustment for me, I’d skipped between Outlook, Entourage, Gmail and Thunderbird, but I have to say I’m a total Gmail convert now.
Our G Suite subscription (formerly Google Apps for Work) gives us access to Google Drive, Vault and the Google equivalent to the Microsoft Office Suite (Docs, Sheets etc.). It also allows us to use our own domain for emails. I also love it how I only have to login once to access any Google web apps — including Analytics, AdWords and Search Console. The UI is great, it never crashes (I’m looking at you Outlook) and everything just works.
5. An investment in software to manage your contacts
It took us a little while to realise the value of customer relationship management (CRM) software, and while it is probably more valuable to a bigger organisation, I am still so happy we set this up. There’s a bunch of great CRMs out there— Capsule, Insightly and Hubspot are some that we investigated. I thought they were all pretty great, but Hubspot’s the one that seemed to stick for us!
A CRM helps you to track communications to prospects, leads and customers and through your sales pipeline. It’s a very handy tool to have, because it lists of all your contacts, let’s you see at a glance see how many deals you’ve closed, won and lost and see what other team members have sent to contacts so there’s no double ups in communications.
6. An investment in a rock-solid contract
We ‘got by’ with contracts we had mish-mashed and edited from around the web for too long. They were just ok—we knew they weren’t rock solid. So, we bit the bullet and invested in a lawyer to draw up a proper contract, just for us. I won’t lie, it was expensive, but it is so handy having everything written out clearly, so there’s no misunderstandings. Our clients know exactly what they’re getting and it’s very easy to see what we promise to deliver. That transparency is really important to us as a business.
7. An investment in your website
Surely this one shouldn’t be difficult as web designers, right? Well, yes and no. It took us a bit of tweaking and trial and error to put together our website. Kane and I are both perfectionists and we wanted the website to epitomise our brand completely, so it was a work in progress for a while as we added to it in between client projects. Now, that time investment has paid off. We have a website that works seamlessly, shows off what we can do and is easy to use.
Our website is probably our greatest marketing asset to date. It helps us to attract leads and is our own piece of real estate online. While social media is great, you don't have complete control over what happens to your page like you do with your website. For all I know, facebook could be gone tomorrow. So that's why I'm a huge advocate for creating your own website and using it intelligently in combination with social media to attract leads.
8. An investment in software to track those hours
If you’re a service provider charging for time and materials, this is a must have. Even if you don’t bill by the hour, it’s a really good way to see how much time it actually takes you to complete a task. You’d be surprised at how long the less obvious line items, like project management, can take when you add it up. Software like Harvest, Toggl and Hours can help you to track time to clients and get a clearer picture of where you’re spending your time.
9. An investment in something to manage the books
If you’re running a business, you’ll be needing something to keep track of your income & expenses. Software like Xero, Quickbooks Online and Freshbooks are user-friendly and make this process a lot more manageable for people like me, whose accounting experience amounts to one unit in my first year of uni.
These programs come with a handy app too, so you can take a photo of receipts and upload them instantly, before they get lost in the abyss of your handbag, car or wallet.
I’m sure as our business evolves we’ll be able to add to this list, but for now, these are my faves! What investments are you using in your business? Would you recommend any not on this list? I would love to know!