Here are 19 free or low-cost apps and services that can give your startup a boost.
Whether driven by the desire to change the world or be the boss who enjoys a healthy salary, the dream of starting a business is a powerful one. But most startups face an onslaught of challenges when they enter the rat race, and, unfortunately, 90 percent of them fail. According to a CB Insights poll, the second most common reason for a company's failure is running out of cash. This equates to nearly one in three (29 percent) businesses going under due to this fact alone.
From my experience, startups often run out of cash after they've finished creating their product and are ready to take it to market. This is a huge problem as many companies underestimate just how much money is needed to kick-start a successful marketing campaign that will acquire new customers, fill the sales funnel and ultimately bring in some return cash to help them reinvest.
In a booming startup economy where venture capital funding is limited and it is a race against the clock to beat the competition, it's critical that startups keep a tight rein on their cash from the outset. This is especially important, because, rest assured, unexpected costs will pop up at every turn, such as product issues, supply management challenges and underestimated marketing costs.
The key to not running out of funds is to not spend cash where you don't have to. Even in today's advanced technological era, many startups fail to consider new and better ways of doing things. It amazes me how much I see this happening – from startups investing in on-premises storage systems, installing outdated PBX systems and phones employees rarely use, and even spending a fortune on high-end web design and development.
The good news – there are a ton of fantastic, cutting-edge applications and services (particularly those that are in the cloud) available that can give startups a competitive edge and help them cut significant costs at a pinnacle time of growth. These tools are often extremely scalable, with larger providers often providing free options for startups with the idea that once they get on their feet, they will grow their business with them. So, without further ado, below are valuable resources worth checking out.
Zoho offers tools for email hosting, CRM, accounting, help desk, word processing, human resources and more all in one place. Many of the suite's solutions have free and very low-cost tiers. For startups, these tools provide peace of mind, ensuring all facets of the business are being tracked on a single platform while allowing employees to focus on bigger-picture matters.
Slack is an internal employee-messaging tool that offers a free plan. As the lives of startup employees can be hectic – with new ideas and to-do list items cooking around the clock – having an internal communication platform to stay connected and productive throughout the day is essential. Essentially an "iMessage" for work, Slack allows for quick and convenient conversations to take place amongst large groups of employees or one-on-one with a direct messages feature.
Don't yet have the budget for a million-dollar marketing campaign? MailChimp lets businesses design and manage email marketing campaigns. Customers can be targeted based on behavior, preferences, and previous sales, and a company can integrate its campaigns with ecommerce solutions. Revenue reports also allow businesses to monitor sales and website activity, and inform the email and advertising content with purchase data using Google Analytics. The free account supports up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month.
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If you're a startup, chances are the last thing on your list of wants is desk phones for your employees; rather, what's necessary is a cloud platform that allows for a seamless communications experience across your company. The Dialpad business communications platform offers voice, video, messaging, meetings, call center, analytics and integrations with G Suite and Office 365. Dialpad eliminates the need for desk phones while enabling the business to assign employees business phone numbers that ring their personal devices, and it is free for qualifying startups.
For easy collaboration on documents, spreadsheets and presentations, Google apps, like Docs, Sheets and Slides, are tools startups should have handy. Creating and editing existing content in one place, as opposed to saving multiple different versions each time updates are made, allows for seamless and quick collaboration across business materials.
Similar to Google apps, LibreOffice is a suite of tools that includes word processing, spreadsheet, drawing, chart creation and formula-editing features. The suite prides itself on clean and aesthetically pleasing templates, allowing the creator to focus on the content itself. For startups, LibreOffice is a comprehensive and free option for multiple types of business content creation. (Note: This app is not cloud-based, but it offers comprehensive features and is free.)
Canva enables businesses to design modern documents, presentations, social media graphics and more using a drag-and-drop interface and professional templates and layouts. The site even has a built-in photo editor. Canva's free account supports up to 10 team members, two folders for organizing designs, 1GB storage for photos and assets, and access to over 8,000 templates, giving new businesses the start they need in producing creative, eye-catching content.
Piktochart offers an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop editor for quick creation of infographics, a key tool for startups approaching investors and the press. The site includes more than 600 professionally designed templates. A free account provides limited access to templates and file sizes.
Dropbox offers backup and sharing of documents, making content creation and storage simple for businesses with a lot of documents that you may need to upload or access when you're on the go. Users can store up to 2GB for free.
Like Dropbox, Google Drive provides a space for documents to be created, stored and shared among employees. It also comes with GMail and other Google apps, like the ones mentioned above, so that all of a company's content and communications can be in one place. Google Drive is free to use with a Gmail account.
Project Management and Collaboration
Asana offers project and task management assistance. Users can create projects and tasks to be completed within those projects. Progress can be tracked using a browser or smart device. Further, team members can manage their working space, prioritize and organize tasks, upload files, delegate duties, and create reports all within the platform. Asana is free for up to 15 members.
Trello focuses on collaboration, utilizing the "board" metaphor to correspond to projects and tasks. Team members can discuss projects in real time, and progress is supported by task assignments, activity logs and email notifications. Trello starts free and the paid plan then begins at $9.99 per user/month.
For startups, finding and keeping customers is crucial for building the business, and so customer management tools can play a critical element role. Freshdesk is a customer service platform that allows businesses to put stronger customer support in place. The platform offers a free version with a limited number of features, and paid options start at $19 per agent/month.
Smooch allows businesses to connect with their customers across a variety of messaging services and platforms, allowing for a more integrated experience for customers. The tool works with Facebook Messenger, Telegram and SMS, and converts to emails, Slack, etc. Smooch is free for 10,000 monthly active users, with the paid plan for $495 a month.
For startups, getting the word out about your business is an important starting point. The best way to do this is through social media. Hootsuite allows businesses to manage multiple social media accounts through a single dashboard. People can schedule posts ahead of time to create a consistent social presence and increase engagement with followers. The free version lets companies manage up to three social media platforms.
Bitly is a free URL shortening service. It is essential for any fledgling Twitter campaign because it allows a company to say more in a tweet, instead of having half of the characters eaten up by a lengthy URL. Bitly also provides statistical information, such as the number of clicks on a link, to help measure campaign performance. Basic Bitly is 100 percent free.
Uptime Robot lets a business know when its website or app has crashed, a crucial feature for a new business that may be experiencing initial setup troubles. The service offers a free plan that checks every five minutes whether a company's website or app is up and running smoothly.
Domo lets business leaders easily access and organize all of the data running throughout their company. The application also simplifies all information in a visual and simple way, allowing users to make informed decisions and ask the right questions about the business. It provides real-time status updates, works in progress and sales data. Domo offers free starter accounts for iOS, Android and desktop users. Pricing for professional and enterprise accounts are available for a cost.
Okta is an identity management service built in the cloud that allows businesses to manage employees' access to any application or device used throughout the organization. The tool eases the job of the IT team and helps companies stay secure through the growing number of technologies and devices people now use at work. Okta includes features like single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA).