Bootstrapping a startup—financing it on a shoestring using your own resources—was a tall order even five or 10 years ago. Back then, building a business meant buying computers to run hardware, hiring a staff, and renting work space. But the advent of applications and online services has obviated many of these needs (and made bootstrapping easier for any business).
“Cloud apps do not require a big up-front investment, and that’s the key,” explains Anita Campbell, CEO of online publication Small Business Trends. “Some are free for limited use, but even the paid versions can be had for a reasonable monthly fee, so that you can spread out the cost.”
What’s more, most online apps are highly scalable, so you can pay for just the capabilities and users you need. They never need updating, and most are designed to work with multiple types of devices, including tablets and phones. Here’s a shortlist of areas and functions made easier by technology.
- The basics. Even essential business applications, such as word processing, spreadsheets, file storage, and email are available online from a number of vendors, including Google and Microsoft. The advantage of working with these programs online is that users can collaborate (sometimes simultaneously) on a single document without creating multiple copies.
- CRM (Customer Relationship Management). If you’re ready to graduate from a plain old contact program to a more sophisticated way to manage your customer contacts, you’ll need CRM. The 800lb gorilla in this category is Salesforce.com, which can be had for as little as $5 per month for a single user, while retaining the ability to scale up to enterprise proportions. Salesforce’s success has led to a slew of new CRM offerings, each of which have their own personalities, so it’s worth signing up at the free or trial level to give them a test run. Popular entrants include Insightly, Nimble, and Streak, which works directly in your Google mail inbox.
- Collaboration. Microsoft Office Online and Google Docs are excellent for collaborating on single documents, but if you have to manage a larger project, you should consider apps specifically designed for keeping teams on track and on the same page. Here again, your choice depends on how you like to work. Basecamp, like Salesforce, is the go-to enterprise app, but Asana is not far behind. Trello and Mural.ly use a whiteboard-style interface that is highly flexible, while Wiggio, Zoho, and Box.com offer a more complete suite of features such as groups, virtual meetings, conference calls, file sharing, and more.
- Accounting. In the past few years, even enterprise-scale accounting has moved online. One great feature of these apps is the ability to remain in sync with your bank accounts, depending on the financial institution. The most popular desktop program, Quickbooks, has an online version that boasts a robust suite of third-party integrations that make it an appealing choice. Other full-featured services include Xero, AccountingSuite, NetSuite, and Wave. If you’re new to accounting but want to hit the ground running with an easy to use interface, give FreshBooks a try.
- Expertise. For some tasks, only a human will do, which is where freelance marketplaces such as ELance, Upwork, and Freelancer.com come into play. With these marketplaces, you can find experienced professionals including writers, designers, web developers and programmers willing to bid on your project. “A freelance marketplace can be great for a one-time project, such as creating a logo, developing an integration for your online and desktop business applications, or helping out with a last-minute presentation,” Campbell says.
This list just scratches the surface of what types of services are available online. Depending on your needs, you may want to consider a virtual phone system, software development platform such as Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine, or industry-specific solutions. The point is not only to keep your expenses at a minimum until you have revenue to reinvest, but also to build a foundation that can scale as your company grows—and grows.
Sprinter: A Smart Business Decision
When every dollar you spend on your business matters, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter represents a truly sound investment. Its BlueEFFICIENCY program ensures that the Sprinter maximizes fuel consumption while it reduces emissions; its choice of two BlueTEC® diesel engines both combine class-leading fuel savings and torque; and, when it comes to total cost of ownership, the Sprinter is second-to-none. According to independent research, other vehicles just don't measure up to its low depreciation. With Cargo Van, Crew Van, Passenger Van, Cab Chassis, and Minibus configurations, there’s a Sprinter that fits your business needs.
To learn more about the efficiency Sprinter can bring to your business, visit MBVans.com/sprinter/sprinter-2015.