What tools do you rely on the most to help you run your business?
My husband and I just launched our new business; a Vermont Maple Syrup and Product outlet in Orlando, FL. What are the most useful tools and services we can use when just starting out to help our business take off as smoothly as possible? I.e. Do we need a CRM software at this stage? What else? Thanks in advance!
Your basic tools of email, calendaring and accounting services are all key. I use Gmail which you can set up as your email host for your domain, Google Calendar and Quickbooks Online which allows me to provide a login for my accountant, issue invoices, recieve payments and pay employees. Very convenient and reasonable.
As far as CRM goes, do you expect to need to be handling a lot of returns or communications with your customers, or are you looking to build and maintain mailing lists for marketing? If you expect the former, than by all means, a CRM tool may be nice to have. I would stay away from Salesforce and Zendesk, Too much functionality, very expensive, and quite frankly as a member of the S in SMB, they won't pay you much attention at all. You're better off looking at Freshdesk or Soho.
If you are just looking to build up mailing lists for email blasts to direct customers to your site, you may be fine with more of a marketing automation tool like Autopilot or Spokal. I'd also look at InfusionSoft as a possible solution if you want both CRM and Marketing Automation. It will probably cost you in the $60-$80/mo range per seat but depending on your needs, it may do the trick.
If you plan on doing a lot of online transactions, you're going to want to leverage a vendor that offers a platform to help you build and maintain that online shopping presence. Don't build it yourself at this point. Leverage an online platofrm such as Symphony Commerce, Shopify, Etsy, or even Square Market (from the makers of Square). Speaking of which, I'd also recommend sticking to something like Square or Intuit paymments as a POS solution. You can use standard technology like iPads or iPhones to act as POS terminals and not have to make a hefty investment in more traditional POS software and hardware, just a wifi network at your retial location (or wireless contracts with a data plan).
Before you start blindly signing up for business tools (outside of the basics mentioned in my first paragraph) you really need to sit down and figure out what your REALLY need and if you can afford it based on your business plan and growth expectations. It important to understand what your customer lifetime value expectations are (or what you desire them to be) and then determine what your cost of customer acquistion should look like. Having all of the systems in the world doesn't help if you are spending more to acquire your customers than you get from them.
Hi Rema, Congratulations - I've been through good and bad being self employed, however I jump out of bed in the morning and never think - uh work today.
My experience has mostly been with start ups that begun as 2 or 3 people and may have grown to 10 -15 person team, mostly in Real Estate and Service industries, we did however attempt a food processing venture with crushed garlic, ginger and chilli but it was probably the hardest business I found to get going in terms of being able to get things done as I wanted. We had great demand but could not afford the latest machinery etc and therefore were no where near as cost efficient in our manufacturing which in turn hurt our margins.
Keep in mind that your business model may change from what it is today and often we end up in the same industry but down a different path, my main tip would be to keep things as thrifty as possible in term of software etc until you see where things go.
In my experience I always think - go for sales first and then as the saying goes - bite of as much as you can and start chewing fast behind the scenes.
From a marketing perspective the biggest mistake people make is they focus too much on trying to tell people and potential consumers the benefits of your product or service and how much passion you have for your product, however ultimately don't forget it comes down to "what's in it for me" with every consumer purchase - so therefore i would suggest that it is really critical to know your customer, why are they buying your item - is it price?, taste? ease? etc. and how can you become the expert they rely on?
For database software I would suggest starting with a basic CRM package in the beginning. For our current venture we used CRM - FREE initially and it was great until we out grew it by which time we had found the ideal software to match the business. Very often the biggest name software may not be the best for your niche and you'll find this amazing software that you think thi will be ideal so its better to wait and make sure rather than being lumbered with an expensive headache but we have also kicked ourselves for the missed opportunity due to overspending in the first place. Efficiencies create profits.
The important thing is to start adding notes and contacts now rather than later and pretty soon you'll come accross a crm or software programme that clicks with the business.
The hardest part I alway find is time and resources, or lack thereof, until your cash flow is positive and you are able to afford to start building a team of support around you there is always never enough hours in the day - so anything you can find to add leverage or automation in terms of admin or production will provide more time to go out and grow the sales and most importantly communicate with your customers.
I hope it all goes well and the business becomes a legacy way into the future
Wishing you success.
This will depend entirely on how much you are producing and selling. If you are working with fewer than 20 workers, and selling mostly at local venues, demo-ing at stores, etc. You can probably project exactly how things will go using simple office software for now. Don't be averted to hiring someone to look after the logistics as you get past that point though, because you shouldn't have to do everything yourselves if it's profittable to do otherwise.
I have started a couple of different businesses and the biggest difference between the two has been the use of CRM software. Our business decided to use Salesforce.com (SFDC) as our tool of choice. Sounds like a very bigger hammer approach to our smaller company, but SFDC caters to businesses of all sizes as you can grow with the business. The integration capabilities it offers is priceless as I am sure you do not have a technology group in place to setup your business and I am sure you want to avoid entering data into multiple tools / systems. With SFDC, you can integrate other essential tools for your business, like QuickBooks Online, Office365 etc.
Much of what you really need depends solely on how you plan to run your business. What percentage of time do you plan on being in the field vs. in the office? What is your company size? Do you want to be click and mortar? How much do you rely on word of mouth vs. advertising?
Other advantages you get with SFDC is the integration with marketing tools as well as a number of various software solutions through the app exchange. With SFDC you are also instantly mobile capable.
Here is what I see as basic then you would have to customize base on your type of business, vision and strategy.
1. Clean Direct Responsive Website (potentially with online sales capability if you choose to sell online)
2. Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Yelp)
3. POS (Point of Sale - Check out Square Up)
4. CRM - I recommend SFDC (Very affordable - group edition)
5. Quickbooks Online (Integrating with CRM)
6. Marketing Integration Tool with CRM ( Hubspot, Pardot, Constant Contact)
7. Office365 (E-Mail, etc)
Once most important to realize is that although these tools are helpful, it truly depends on what your business needs and to what degree it needs it. As you have these essentials in place, you will start to get clarity of your needs...Be sure to drive towards your needs and be careful of technology that does not match your needs. Many businesses believe technology is the silver bullet to making them successful. Technology is only the enabler.
Let me know if there is anything you need to help you get started.
Good Luck and Congratulations!
Hello Mrs. Monez,
your questions open a wide range of software and tools, you can use. Therefore they can't be completely answered, but I try to give you some hints:
Website: built on a Content Management System, f.e. WordPress, Typo3, Contao, Joomla etc. and search engine optimized with SEO plugins
E-Commerce: you either integrate e-commerce functionality to sell your products online by using CMS-related e-commerce plugins (f.e. woo commerce for WordPress) or by using shop-ready systems like shopify, amazon webstore, nimble commerce or goodsie etc. without the hassle of coding.
CRM: Yes, I can recommend using CRM software as early as possible, because you get used to it at a very early stage and it helps you managing your growing customer base very effectively. There are numerous solutions available, so I just name a few (without further affiliation) - SugarCRM, vTiger, insightly, zoho etc. A lot of them have free or test accounts (like insightly) and also integrate features like email marketing, project management etc.
Email Marketing: If you offer a newsletter on your website, you can use tools like MailChimp, AWeber, Sendgrid or Clever Reach to create, send and control your email campaigns.
Social Media Marketing: Choose the channels you wanna use and track them with tools like Hootsuite, Brandwatch, socialmetrix etc.
Based on your marketing strategy and the instruments you want to use, there are a lot more tools available. I recommend starting with a small selection of tools, trying them out, tracking and evaluating your actions and the deciding what works and what doesn't.
Daily Business: To keep track of my daily tasks, I use Evernote and Google Calendar.
Financial Accounting: Use the tools that your tax consultant recommends.
I hope this helps you a little bit. If you have further questions, please don´t hesitate to get in touch.
Best regards from Germany
Hello Rema, a PoS is necessary for your type of business. This Point of Sale will need to be tied in with an accounting software. Quickbooks is an ideal solution for a small business. Implementing the two solutions will be easy if you have technical expertise in-house. This is just the beginning. Make sure you backup your data each day. I highly recommend you have a website and implement an SEO and an adword strategy. Your clients need to find you, best way to let them know you are in business...Social media is a great platform and its free. As for a CRM. If you plan to send newsletters to your followers. You need to have an email address to give them updates and educate them on your product/solution. I would hold off on the CRM. You can keep track of your visitors on a spreadsheet. Do you need apps like Word, Excel a back end to host email. Office 365 is an ideal solution for a small business. I am scratching the surface on what needs to be done, but email me if you have additional questions. We help our clients keep IT costs down and help them implement solutions so their businesses run efficient.
There are a lot of possible answers to your question however I will start with the CRM question. You certainly want to track sales and margins and if your product has a shelf life then inventory rotation of course as well as customer buying habits are important to track. I would suggest using an excel spreadsheet and create your own CRM tool in the beginning and you may even be able to find a template to down load and modify to your specific needs to track things in the beginning. I only suggest this because it will save you money in the short term and long term. Investing in a CRM is tricky and you don't know right what you want to use it for completely so you don't want to spend money needlessly and a simple spreadsheet will suffice and help you develop your CRM needs over the first year or two of the business. In addition I still use Quick Books Pro for the accounting functionality.
I'm late to the party - but wanted to congratulate you on starting the business. I'm glad to once again see that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the US! I would definitely look into a CRM - you want to know what works, what doesn't, who your customer is, etc. There are a lot of POS systems with integrated business intelligence modules with ways to get the information you need to scale your business. Sounds like you have a large number of people offering you "systems direction" but if I can help in any way, let me know. And again, congrats on the business. Would love to hear how it goes...
There are a lot of questions one may have to best assist you with your question, so be prepared for that as people respond as there are TONS of web tools/services to be leveraged.
My quick two cents:
A CRM, yes - especially now! I've been sharing this really good cheat sheet at length for friends/clients: https://www.dropbox.com/s/x7z2rdw6kx51rfg/zapier_s_crm_app_cheat_sheet.pdf?dl=0
What else do you feel that you need, aka what are your biggest challenges?
Is your presence a storefront, online or both?
Have you engaged your personal/professional networks to get the word out asap?
Vision/Mission/Objectives/etc - Any plan for growth in place?
Social Media strategy?
Do you have / can you share your website?
Tools should be based on risk & reward. The risk bits usually revolve around "waste" so tools that help you plan, execute, and control with visibility and clarity are important.
Given you business, I think the "reward" side is focused on connecting with and expanding distribution of your products. This would mean creating and solidifying your "brand" in your local market via general presence efforts using CRM tools (web, FB, et al) and other outlet channels such as local restaurants and tourist businesses (Press Releases, LinkedIn, Chambers & BNI, etc.)
Hi, a CRM would be useful, although any kind of database software might be useful. CiviCRM is a free open source CRM. Mailchimp is also free. In addition, you want to make sure to 'store' documents centrally in google docs or dropbox. And you might want to use a task management software. I am in the process to research them, but someone else might have insights already.
In my experience what really matters for start-ups is advertisement and customer sevice. Sales are crucial advertisement to get the new customers in and great customer service to keep them coming back to you for more. If you are not dealing with them personally get feedback. Think out of the box surprise them with personalized hand-outs or small samples of your new products.
While CRM's are a great tools but they are focused on one side of the business, the revenue side. The business is both revenues and expenses. So don't focus so much on the customer at the expense of expenses. I think what is more important than a system is knowing what you want to achieve and asking the right questions. An excel sheet might be enough to track information depending on the kind of information you want to track and the details. So in my opinion the best advice I can give without knowing more details.
Know/set your goals and targets; they should be ambitious but achievable.
Manage your business towards these targets meaning track your progress and ask the question why and why not the goals were reached or not reached.
In general crm systems nowadays are inexpensive and it wouldn't hurt to get one. However, it's hard to tell whether you need a crm yet because we don't know the business structure/model. Do you sell retail? Do you have sales reps? How many employees and sales reps do you have? What are your business goals? What are your growth targets?
Assuming its only you and your husband for now and you sell retail from a retail outlet, I would say no you don't need one. If you have many employees and "larger" accounts to repeat customers then yes you need one.
When you want to purchase something for your business always ask yourself what is the cost of acquiring it and operating it vs. the benefits gained from having it, if the benefits outweigh the cost then get it.
All the best to both of you!
I have found that a good accounting system will help you with cash flow. QuickBooks (look into a “cloud” subscription as I have found it cheaper and more reliable) is one example of a good starting out application. You should be able to do much within the application to measure where the money is coming from and where it is going.
Having a basic business plan has been roadmaps in my past endeavors. For example, if you want to be a $200,000 company in three years, what do you need to do in year 1 to make $50,000, year 2 $100,000, and year 3 $200,000. You can also look at how profitable you want to be as you grow your business. All this is covered in a basic business plan.
I always remember a comment from one of my Professors: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
Bob Schmitt has given you the 7 top items to organize your business. Your choice of software for the CRM, POS and Marketing integration depend on the time you have to learn the systems and integrate them into your business. I suggest at the beginning that you use a simple Marketing Tool such as Constant Contact or Mailchimp to capture the email addresses at the POS and from your website. I suggest going to a full scale CRM at a later date, once your business has grown out of the initial startup phase and you have a better idea of your needs.
I have found Intuit's QuickBase platform to be an incredibly helpful tool for a wide variety of business purposes - see quickbase.intuit.com for more information.
That said, I disclose that I have started my own company specializing in business application development on this platform specifically - that's how helpful I have found the platform to be over the past 10 years in using it while I was employed at two different e-commerce companies.
Yes you need a CRM to maintain your Leads, Prospects, customers, delas etc. Also you need a invoicing tool. My recommendation will be you can look at Zoho CRM which gives you CRM with Invoicing included in it. If you decide to go with Zoho CRM and if you need assistance in setting up the complete sales process and also the CRM system for your need please feel free to contact me.
How quickly does your sales by debit and credit card turn into cash in your bank account and what percentage are you paying ? A sale is not a sale until the money is in the bank.
CRM - it depends how many sales people you have and how complex the sales process is. You need good financial software. Both CRM and finances can be started in Excel - it all depends how complex the business is. There are ERP systems (including free one's) that manage finances, logistics and customers in one system
CRM, newsletters campaigns, social media (facebook and twitter), hosting and domain accounts (a website), server systems, affiliate opportunities, social engagement, promos, coupons, gifts (if it's possible), intuit, your business bank manager, SBA, and few other associations, and few more groups (including expo opportunities). Backup support, business coaches, and even a program coordinator and marketing assistant can help tremendously.
You make use of these different tools based on specific tasks and intentions. Have a list of them and ponder how can you implement few of them smoothly. A database or to-do list in any agenda can work too.
There is a vast range of tools and services available for different purposes, type of businesses, and overall idea (business plan). You may initially need to think which tasks need attention first and what resources and budget can you make use of at that moment - without compromising cash flow or going into further debt. There are services so costly out there that are not important at first. Your concerns about your business and the areas you want to improve are things to consider to move on.
My suggestion, Rema, would be taking a careful look to services you may be interested and use their trial version, or even contacting their sales department and come into an agreement for trial or a month to month service for newbies. When we are in sales, we look to engage with a potential and find ways to keep them coming and using our services.
May I see your actual website? :)
Success to you.