29 Tools & Resources Your Startup Should Be Using to Scale in 2017 – Part 1

[Originally published on LinkedIn.com – December 8, 2016]

 

You’re a startup with a market-shattering concept (or a successful small business) and you’re at the point where you’re ready to scale, but how do you do it?

It’s easy to get lost in the maze of business solutions available to entrepreneurs, and even easier to choose options that—while they’re clever—might not be what you need to take your company to the next level. After helping businesses reach unrealized potential for more than 25 years, I understand how to help leaders select and implement the tools they need in order to scale.

Here are three key areas of growth you should consider as you scale, complete with recommendations for tools that can help you do more, with confidence:

Growth Area #1: Strategy & Planning

Nothing works without strategy, and moves such as securing a small business loan or that next round of funding depend on your ability to account for all the angles.

The good news is that you don’t need an MBA to create a strategy for your business. I recommend blending these tools with free resources from your local board of trade to plan a roadmap for your business:

RESULTS.com: Don’t let the robust features of this platform intimidate you. Their free one-page Strategic Plan is a great way to crystallize your business strategy.

When you’re ready to step up your pace and manage your business and team based on clear KPIs, subscribe to the entry-level GROW.RESULTS plan and opt for live business coaching where you can chat with credible consultants versed in proven frameworks for creating and managing your business strategy.

LivePlan: At face value, LivePlan is a program with detailed guides and hundreds templates to draft your own business plan, which is great, but when you consider that it also includes tools for financial planning, scheduling, and tracking performance over time, it’s well worth the $10-$20 monthly subscription.

Growth Area #2: Customer Acquisition, Engagement, & Management

You can have the most dynamic customer acquisition plan out there, and a firm grip on the right metrics and how to measure them, but without tools and processes in place to support your funnel, it’s like that planning never took place.

Go from a place of simply hacking growth, to strategizing and managing it by using:

Salesforce CRM for Small Business: This cloud-based platform provides all the tools you need to acquire, engage, manage and grow your customers at a price point that’s right for small businesses. You may check out Salesforce for Startups if you are a tech start-up.

Want to start off with a free, yet robust CRM platform? Then take HubSpot CRM for a spin!

Woodbox: This tool is all about winning new leads and engaging your audience. Woodbox is a cost-effective platform for a variety of marketing campaigns like sweepstakes, polls and giveaways (yes, the sky’s the limit). It’s got tons of options for customizing your campaigns than you’ll know what to do with.

Curata: You always hear that “content is king” in digital marketing, but you’ve got to know which content wears a crown, and which doesn’t. Measure the impact of your curated content and increase engagement with your brand using Curata.

Salesforce Email Studio: The Studio is especially useful when you’re already a Salesforce user, but valuable for anyone exploring new ways to market products and reach an audience. There are many email marketing software options out there, but I recommend this one because of its robust deliverability, tracking, and reporting as well as integration with the already impressive Salesforce CRM platform.

Yesware: Ever click send and then wonder happens afterwards? If you’re a Gmail or Outlook user, Yesware is the awesome tool that will satisfy your curiosity. You’ll receive real-time notifications when a recipient opens your email or clicks on your link, giving you the power to follow up while the iron is hot. And yes, you can also schedule your emails to be sent at any time or day, making you look efficient and busy (even when you’re out shopping or playing golf).

Growth Area #3: Infrastructure

When you start digging into the idea of your startup’s “infrastructure,” it can mean just about everything from the actual walls and floors of your office, to the computers you use, and a casserole of other elements. I’m going to focus on a few tools related to day-to-day operational systems and administrative processes, because while minute on their own, these details combined will allow your team to collaborate and grow at a rapid clip:

UberConference: Outstanding call quality, a clean and organized user interface, and a top notch support desk. Engaging customers in sales presentations or teams in growth brainstorming isn’t so hard when you have all of those things! Like many of the other tools I’ve listed here, try UberConference’s free option to test how it lives up to your needs.

Zendesk: A great way to manage customer service for roughly the price of a meal at your favorite fast food joint. I recommend Zendesk because you’ll be able to keep up with many different types of situations and adapt the software to the way your team gets things done.

Calendly: Cut down on the back and forth of scheduling appointments by email or over the phone. Eliminate confusion over time zones. Accept more bookings and update your calendar automatically. That’s Calendly in a nutshell. You’ll save time no matter what the stage of your business.

Dropbox Business: Online storage where files are continually synced, allowing for file backups, sharing, and a range of collaborative mashups thanks to its integration with many other apps. Dropbox makes it possible for your clients and team members to access “everything” all the time. It also saves the day when your laptop or mobile is lost or destroyed.

DocuSign: Move the process of getting important documents signed completely online. Yes, they’re legally-binding, and yes, your recipients will understand exactly what they need to do during the process.

LegalShield: Legal advice, document reviews, and other basic legal services at a reasonable monthly rate ($40 gets you 20 consultations and 20 document reviews each year). While it’s no replacement for a dedicated attorney, it’s better than having to invest in a pricey retainer for quick questions about contracts or run-of-the-mill grey areas.

1Password: Unless you’re one of the few people who can recall a gazillion passwords, you need 1Password. You can store PIN codes, documents, and credit cards in one place, and  even strengthen weak passwords. Start channeling your mental energy toward the details that actually grow your company.

Choosing the Right Tools for Your Business

When you embrace tools that are a poor fit for your business and/or existing systems, it’ll eventually cost your business in dollars, lost data, and precious man-hours.

A three- to five-year view of your growth potential can help you choose the right tools. By viewing your investment in solutions through a long lens, you’ll avoid the pitfalls of limited scalability and performance bottlenecks; you’ll also save yourself the nail-biting incurred when you migrate to the tools you should have used in the first place.

Ask yourself these 4 questions before you invest your time and money in any new tool:

·      What problems do I want the tool to solve?

·      How do I currently perform these tasks?

·      How will this tool fit into my existing process?

·      How does this tool integrate / co-exist with my existing tools?

The 15 tools I’ve recommended here have growth plans built into them so that you can upgrade them over time, but keep in mind that some growth plans are better than others.

Always consider the vendor’s track record, reputation for customer support, adoption learning curve, and pricing—and don’t forget, you’ll also have to weigh how each tool supports other key areas of business growth, such as your collaboration and team building, your web presence, and ability to stay fresh in the market. We’ll talk more about those in part two of this article, where I share 14 more tools and resources for scaling your startup or small business in the new year.