Thanks to a bevy of cloud-based applications, you can be in business faster than it takes for the cable company to install your internet connection. Follow our steps to get the technology side of your venture up and running today.
Step 1: Lock down a URL or domain name for your website through a registrar such as GoDaddy. Pricing and support options vary, but expect to pay roughly $15 per year for your domain name.
Step 2: Set up your website. If you've never built or managed one before, try Squarespace or Wix. They'll host your site (i.e., store your site's information on their servers) and provide easy-to-use templates and tools for you to get started.
If you have more experience online, check out the web-hosting and domain-registration deals from Intuit or Yahoo Small Business.
When Brooklyn's Tina Roth Eisenberg launched Tattly to sell designer temporary tattoos, she already had experience buying URLs. "I bought my own domain and set up the site on our servers," she says.
Step 3: Most website building or hosting providers offer one or more e-mail addresses with each domain. An alternative is to use an external service like Google's Gmail or Microsoft's Outlook.
Manny Gonzales, owner of Tiger Lily florists in Charleston, S.C., went with Gmail through Google Apps for Business, so all of his mail stays on Google's servers and is searchable. "We do about 300 weddings a year," he says, "and each wedding has a trail of 10 or 15 e-mails." Previously, those e-mails were scattered among the shop's multiple computers, making them difficult to track down.
Step 4: To sell goods online, Tattly uses Shopify, which handles credit card transactions, basic inventory management and allows Eisenberg to keep visitors on her site instead of directing them to a third party such as eBay or Amazon. There are several e-commerce options for small businesses (and more popping up each year), but Bigcommerce, Intuit and Squarespace are worth investigating for their manageable cost and useful features.
Step 5: E-mail marketing may not get as much attention as social media marketing these days, but it's actually much more effective than Twitter and Facebook postings at developing paying customers. As your database of current and prospective customers grows, you'll want to use an e-mail marketing program from the likes of Constant Contact or MailChimp, both of which offer e-mail templates, mailing-list segmentation and tracking tools that will tell you which offers work better than others.
Step 6: Move operations off your spreadsheets and into the cloud. Intuit's QuickBooks Online, FreshBooks and Kashoo are easy-to-use accounting software tools designed specifically for small businesses. Do yourself a favor and start using one from day one; it'll make future growth much easier to manage.
If you're a hair stylist, consultant or mechanic, or run some other appointment-intensive business, use a cloud-based appointment service such as Genbook to manage your time. Motorsport Lab, a Boston-based car service, reduced its staff and saved $50,000 per year after moving booking and scheduling to Genbook.