When starting a business, it’s crucial to purchase the appropriate equipment and products required to succeed. In the past, this usually focused on setting up a physical office, with everything from office space and warehousing to computers, chairs, and even paper clips factoring into the equation.
In the COVID-19 era, though, the focus has shifted heavily from physical space and equipment to technology and remote work. If you can use tech to establish a functioning virtual-first workspace that is as close to 100% remote as possible, you won’t just be helping your business succeed; you’ll also be setting it up to weather any unexpected challenges — like quarantine or some other economic catastrophe — that it may face in the future.
Here are some of the topologically-focused solutions that entrepreneurs should have in mind as they launch a business. They’re broken down into four categories: internal operations, data and testing, finances, and online marketing. Each category isn’t meant to be a comprehensive breakdown so much as a brief overview. These are designed to encourage further investigation into each tool listed to discover how it can benefit your particular startup.
Internal Office Tools
A year ago tech was utilized sporadically in a hodgepodge manner from one business to the next. Now, with so many businesses operating remotely due to the pandemic, several technological tools have become commonplace. These have often replaced previously in-person activities, such as conference room meetings and physical documentation. They mostly revolve around two primary business ingredients: communication and collaboration.
The former is critical with so many employees working from home, often with towns, states, and even countries between them. All of the communication in the world won’t do you much good, though, if you can’t couple it with concrete collaboration as well. The ability to come together, share progress, and collectively work towards a goal is essential, and both are required to keep a remote workspace running efficiently and productively.
With that said, here are some of the top internal office communication and collaboration tools available. They’re particularly focused on keeping things running smoothly, whether you’re gathered together in an office or working from homes and coffee shops:
- Video chat tools: Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, Facebook Messenger the list goes on and on. Regardless of the size and scope of your operation, you’re going to want to have a dependable video chat tool picked out to keep you all in touch no matter where you are.
- Text chat tools: Along with visual communication, you’re going to want to have a solid text-driven communication option or two available. Slack, email, and instant messaging are all great ways to keep your office interconnected and available, even when you’re focused on individual work.
- Collaboration platforms: Cloud-based tools like Trello and Asana are excellent ways for your team to keep all of their work in one location. Projects can be assigned, documents can be attached, deadlines can be set, and schedules can be tracked, keeping everyone on the same page as they work.
- Doc sharing: Google Suite, Microsoft Office, and other similar platforms provide easily shareable, cloud-based documentation that can be quickly distributed amongst a team at the click of a button. It’s a great way to compile information for your business and can help with tasks, such as creating a universal employee guideline booklet to help your team define your brand and remain consistent.
There are numerous options to help with internal operations. The important thing is that you select the specific tools that your team will use and then ensure that your employees are all well versed in the use of those particular applications.
Data and Testing Tools
Data allows you to track your successes, identify your failures, and generally learn about your audience. Once again, there are multiple ways to collect data, and the process of using data and testing tech begins with identifying what available tech you can utilize in your particular situation. For instance, you can install Google Analytics on your website, set up Facebook Pixel for your social media, or use built-in analytics trackers in website builders like Shopify.
Success doesn’t come simply with collecting data, though. Once you have the data itself, you still have to figure out what to do with it — processes known as data mining and data analysis. Data mining is the specific practice of taking raw data that you’ve collected and turning it into useful information by looking for patterns of behavior. Data analysis goes further, refining your data and looking for ways to use the knowledge you’ve obtained to make informed business decisions.
If you begin to collect data right from your business’s inception, you can eventually glean innumerable valuable insights. Many of these are customer-centric. For instance, you can understand which products are more popular than others or what posts on social media perform best. It can also be more nuanced, such as helping you create targeted audiences that increase the effectiveness of your marketing. You can also execute feature testing that associates various features on your website with positive or negative behavior.
Regardless of the specific application, setting up data collecting, mining, and analysis is an important technological step to take early in your business.
Fintech has been one area of business that has boomed — technologically speaking — over the past couple of decades. Even with so many tech tools and solutions available, though, it can be tricky deciding which ones to utilize for your business. While each situation is unique, and you must make your own decisions regarding what you need, here are a few of the best fintech tools to consider for your new company:
- Accounting software: Using software like QuickBooks or FreshBooks is an excellent way to bring order to the mire of financial activity that comes with starting a business. Even if you outsource something like payroll to a company like Paychex, it’s still worth purchasing accounting software to keep track of income, expenses, and other financial minutiae. This can help ensure you’re operating in the black and is good to have on hand when the taxman rolls into town.
- Financial calculators: There are many free calculators online that can help you make basic financial calculations. Income tax calculators can help with making quarterly estimated tax payments, payroll tax calculators can help you estimate your hiring costs, and so on.
- Mobile banking: Once you’ve set up a business bank account, it’s worth figuring out how to use that specific lender’s mobile app. Many apps allow for mobile check deposit, easy transfers between accounts, and can even help you set up auto-deposit or make payments.
Once again, fintech will need to find its unique place in your business’s operations. However, there’s no doubt that, however, you choose to apply it, using the financial tools available can immensely reduce the stress associated with your startup.
Online Marketing Tools
Selling products and services over digital networks has become essential in the coronavirus era. As businesses of all sizes look for ways to proffer their goods and services to an audience that is social distancing, online marketing has become a technologically-driven business lifeline that cannot be ignored.
There are many ways to utilize online marketing, with a few of the major options including:
- Your website: Your website is your online hub. Every company should have a website at this point, whether you’re taking curbside pickup orders online, selling and shipping products, providing SaaS services, or anything else.
- Email marketing: This is a great way to collect a loyal list of both potential and repeat clients, all of whom have opted in to hear what you have to say. You can use an email list to cultivate a following, promote special deals, and make company announcements.
- Social media: If you can identify which social media platforms are used by your target demographic, it can prove to be an excellent channel to connect. Social media works well as a place to create a community, make announcements, share resources, answer questions, and provide customer service.
- Search engine marketing: Pay per click ads (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) are both powerful ways to reach your audience. Activities like creating a company blog, generating social media content, and composing guest posts can all boost the organic traffic that you receive through search engines.
Online marketing is such a vast space that it’s difficult to condense it down to a few specific recommendations. However, each of the three categories above can be accessed through a wide variety of tools.
For instance, MailChimp is a great way to start an email list. Facebook provides access to hundreds of millions of potential customers. Intuitive tools like WordPress, Wix, Shopify, and Square can help you build a powerfully elegant website. Whatever you choose to do, incorporating online marketing should be in your tech plans.
Utilizing Tech in Your Startup
From internal communication and collaboration to data collection, testing, fintech, and online marketing, there are numerous ways that tech can help your startup.
The critical factor is that you, as the business owner, look for ways to apply the available technology where it makes the most sense to do so. Simply reading an article like this and then shoehorning various tech applications and software into your operation will likely do more harm than good.
However, if you consider how each of the above recommendations can impact your fledgling company, you may be surprised at how many different ways you can use tech to create a more productive, efficient, and effective operation right from the get-go.