For older entrepreneurs, one of the big concerns with starting a business is that they can feel somewhat left behind in the ever-progressing digital age. You know that the work you do can be as good as anyone else’s, but what if nobody ever hears about you? What if you can’t keep track of all the new types of engagement that are suddenly thrust upon you? Here, we have put together the essential online toolkit for all new business that are looking to keep up with their modern customers.
Market Research & Testing Your Idea
One of the biggest mistakes that first-time entrepreneurs make in starting a business is assuming that their idea is completely new and the greatest thing since sliced bread. They are convinced that what they have come up with has never been done before; solves an existing problem that people have; or is a product and service that people will use (and hopefully pay for). While they may be right, they need to validate it by someone other than themselves.
Before you dive into ANY new business venture, it is worth it to really test each of those three assumptions:
1. Is your idea really a ‘NEW’ idea?
2. Does your new product/service really solve the problems that you think it does?
3. Are there potential customers for your business?
To test these assumptions it is vital that entrepreneurs carry out some initial Market Research in the industry that they’re looking to get involved with. Speak to others in the industry. Ask as many questions as you can. Spend time listening to others that area already active in the space.
Begin with a simple Google SearchGoogle — The longer you can spend on Google researching competitors, reasons why your company doesn’t ALREADY exist, and seeing exactly how the industry presents itself will pay huge dividends in the days and weeks to come. Try to be as specific in the questions that you ask. Good Questions Lead to Good Data.
Twitter — Set up an account explaining your idea. Follow 100+ people in the industry. See how many follow you back. If 20 or so decide to follow you back it would indicate you may have something.
Get as much feedback on your idea as possible. Typeform — The easiest way to build a quick survey/questionnaire that can get instant feedback on your idea. Take the time to craft the questions and reflect on what information that you want to learn. Send it to people that may become your future customers.
One of the scariest things that all new businesses face is how they want to present themselves to the world. In this day and age, all businesses (with almost no exceptions) rely heavily on their website as the main presentation tool to get the idea, offering and story of the company out to the public. Getting the look, tone and feel of this right from the start will set you up for years to come.
Nowadays, thankfully, there are so many great online tools to help people set up a website that it doesn’t require an expensive website-designer or coding genius to get this off the ground. Money is usually tight at the beginning of new businesses, so it may be worth having a look at setting up your own site so that you have full control of how it looks and what goes onto it.
WordPress — This is probably the easiest to use and you can fully customise how you want your website to look. You may recognise the familiar themes they offer from other websites that you use on a regular basis.
Choose from a wide range of great looking websites.
Squarespace — Squarespace are another great option for creating your own website and they offer slightly more in terms of design capabilities.
Most of these services also tie in with web domain providers so that you can buy your unique website address all in the same place. e.g. www.cathyandpaulmakeamazingcakes.com etc.
Finding Your Website
Once you have the website set up, one of the most important things that you’ll hear people talk about is SEO. This stands for Search Engine Optimisation, or in real language — how high you rank on Google Search. Who really reads to the 6th, 7th or 8,000th page of the results in Google?? You need to be on page one!
Ranking highly on Google is an entire artform in of itself; there are lots of things that you need to do to keep your website up at the top.
- Register your website and company’s address on Google Maps.
- The more external websites that link to YOUR website the better. If you are a member of any industry bodies, work with existing large companies or have connections with large organisations it is worth asking if they can add a link to your website through their already established site.
- Tags on your pages making them easier to search.
In this day and age having a website may not be enough. People search for companies and businesses through Facebook also. If you don’t have a personal Facebook page, now is the time to set one up. You need one to create a Company Page.
The company Facebook page can be a great place to have natural conversations with your customers. Facebook — The team at Facebook offer a great tutorial on how you can get this set up. It should only take 15 minutes.
When you’ve finally launched and are beginning to have the occasional visitor to your website, it’s very important to analyse the activity and to try to capture the details of those that show interest in your idea. The easiest way to solve these problems is through Google Analytics and MailChimp
Google Analytics for your website Google Analytics — This is set up through your website provider (WordPress/Squarespace). It can track how many people visited your site, which pages they looked at, how long they stayed on each page, which links they clicked onto, what type of web browser they used… the data it collects are terrifying!
MailChimp — A good business practice is to develop a dialogue and conversation with your customers. You want them to be able to keep up to date with what you’re doing even if they decide to not use your services for a while. Sending out newletters, information updates, sales offers and other email campaigns to lots of people at once is made simple using their software. You can put a sign-up form on your site that takes people’s email address and puts them directly onto your mailing list.
Additional Tools & Tricks
Customer Relationship Management
Keeping a track of all the people that you meet and speak to over the course of a business day can sometimes be a daunting task. Overflowing drawers full of business cards, excel spreadsheets, lists of names, addresses and contact details all quickly become more complicated than helpful. Mapping your network of contacts onto a user-friendly system and then keeping a track of all your interactions with that person can be a life-saver to most high-activity businesses.
Pipedrive — this amazing tool will help to keep this information neatly and tidily in one place. It takes a bit of time to get used to the layout but once you’re up and running, you can sync your phone to your account and then whenever you add someone’s details to your phone when you meet them (making sure you input as many fields as you can e.g. company name, mobile number, email, etc) it will populate that profile online. When you log onto your account later, it will have embedded this information into your system. What separates Pipedrive from others, is that it is a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) that is specifically designed around Sales Activity. You can track these conversations with potential customers and aim to move the deal through your sales process from First Meeting to Invoice Paid!
Scheduling an Activity in Pipedrive for your next sale.
Taking payments online through your website, or even via Smartphones, is fast-becoming a norm with upcoming start-ups. It makes things much easier in terms of tracking payments, allowing more ways to pay and your business accounting.
Stripe — is the market leader in this area and nearly all the major websites use their technology (It was set up by two teenagers from County Limerick who are now billionaires!). They embed their technology into your site in an easy-to-use way that connects to your bank account. They’re safe and trusted.
Stripe’s iPhone and website payment forms
Organising or hosting ticketed events is something that nearly all businesses do from time to time. Instead of engaging an event-organiser or dedicating too much of your time to keeping a track of who’s paid, who’s still involved, who’s pulled out etc. This can now be done online and in one place.
Eventbrite — this is the easiest way to organise events and charge ticket prices. You describe the event, set the time, venue and cost, send it out to your mailing list or advertise through other media channels. It really couldn’t be easier. When they pay, the money goes straight through to your bank account.
An example of how to use Eventbrite to market your event.
While these are the main tools that I think are applicable to ALL new businesses, it is by no means an exhaustive list. We would love to hear from you if you have others that you’ve used and would like to let me know.
p.s. We thought we’d keep the best for last… All of the above online tools are FREE!!
Once you get set up and are using them for a while, it may be worth upgrading to their paid Premium Versions which offer more tools and functionality, but the free versions are absolutely brilliant.