By Gavin Klose
Feedsy recently gave a presentation about the journey it had taken as a business from its origins through to where it is today.
Looking back at it there were some key themes, tips and tools that you, as a small business, may find of benefit – particularly if you are looking at starting something new (like a new online service).
It’s been a fun ride so far and we are learning new things every day.
Hopefully, reading this you’ll pick up a thing or two to help your business… I’d love your feedback.
THEME #1: Is your idea a good business to get into?
There is a myth that with (online) businesses, you can simply “Build it and they will come”.
Before you start something new you should first find proof whether there is a market willing to pay for what you have – and identify what the real problem is that you are solving for them.
There are two great books for this and both are easy/quick reads with tonnes of practical tips and tools:
Whilst you are looking for good business reads, another classic (if you want to set-up your business to scale) is:
THEME #2: Keep it lean
When starting out, avoid over-investing in creating the perfect product or service.
Instead get it good enough to test on your early customers (maybe offer them a discount for trying).
Then use their feedback to learn and improve your offer over time – or to see whether there is actually a REAL demand for it in the first place.
Note: was the iPhone totally perfect and fully featured when it first launched? Heck no!
Instead of developing something from scratch, look for off-the-shelf “look-a-like” products that do something similar to what you want and modify it (or white label it) – like we did with our first and second generation apps (before were developed our own).
And with web or software development, look for open-source platforms (eg WordPress) and consider outsourcing overseas where there is lots of amazing and cheap(er) talent.
Here is a tip: go through a third party who aggregate and find freelancers or vendors for you, because:
- You can read comments and ratings on these vendors by other people like you.
- You can even ask an account manager to recommend a vendor for you based on your needs.
- You can resolve disputes and payments (or give vendors a bad rating if not resolved).
I have found that the best way to treat outsourcing is like hiring someone locally:
- Provide detailed briefs.
- Look (or ask) for evidence that they have done something similar before.
- Turn on your “Bulls**t” detector (eg beware of people who say “Yes, we can do that” but then do not deliver).
- Give feedback when asked for.
- Treat them like they are in your building as part of your team – be nice and complimentary.
Here are some outsource options that we have used:
- Upwork (formerly O-Desk and Elance, best for larger scale projects).
- Freelancer (great for small projects/tasks).
- Fiverr (also great for small projects/tasks).
Note: we have not get to a scale where we have brought most of our top level development back to Australia. This is because we have found that some downsides to overseas development over time:
- Time delays
- Language/communication issues.
Oh, and if you are developing something brand new, you might be eligible for R&D Tax benefits. To discover if and how, we recommend contacting our good friends, Inventure Partners.
THEME #3: Manage your marketing and sales
If you do not already have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System then you should.
If you are in the financial services industry you may be using something like XPLAN or AdviserLogic but if you are using an Excel spreadsheet to manage your customer contact details and marketing activities then you may want to invest in a proper CRM.
- We have tried Salesforce but found it too complex and expensive.
- We now use Insightly which we love.
- What’s good about Insightly is that it tracks emails sent to contacts, helps you manage and prioritise sales tasks and track sales funnel activity. And it’s only US$35 per month per user (and there is also a limited FREE option).
- Another CRM contender for us moving forward is Infusionsoft – stay tuned…
- We have found the nicest looking online calendar booking system to be Calendly (which syncs to your diary for people to find and book an available time slot without the to-ing an fro-ing of emails).
- There are lots of other choices out there also.
Online demos, meetings and webinars:
- We love Zoom for our online demos (for screen sharing) and webinars.
- Zoom is superior to Skype and easier and more affordable than other vendors we have tried.
- Oh, and another tip on the side is, if you are providing email support then use something like Zendesk.
- But we prefer Freshdesk – which is awesome and cheaper.
- Note: we used someone from Fiverr to customise our Freshdesk for us.
THEME #4: Seek automation in your sales and billing
We have done everything we can to streamline our new client sign-up process – from gathering customer details, receiving initial and ongoing subscription fees, through to our book keeping and budgeting.
- To capture our client info we use online forms.
- We started with Wufoo (cheap forms with payment integration if needed – now owned by free online surveys, SurveyMonkey).
- We now create sexier forms with Typeform.
- These forms then link to our subscription products and billing via Chargify (which also handles auto email payment confirmation and credit card expiries).
- Chargify also integrates with a range of payment gateways and Xero.
- Credit card payments used to be gathered via PayPal but we hated its reporting (for reconciliations).
- So we switched to the sexier, cheaper and easier Stripe. Note: if you have a simple (subscription) product offer, Stripe can also be used instead of Chargify as it also works well with Xero.
- In the future we will be creating our own merchant account (via Commbank’s BPOINT) to replace Stripe which, after setting up, will process payments faster than Stripe‘s weekly transfers and be cheaper per transaction.
Book keeping and budgeting:
- We used to manage our finances with MYOB.
- But we moved to Xero which we found far easier to use and more versatile to integrate with other online services (see above).
- We found that Xero’s budgeting tool wasn’t ppowerful enough for our slightly complex subscription based business.
- So we customised a free found Google Sheet template for our budgeting (which gets fed data from another exported Google Sheet) – fancy!
THEME #5: Look to the Cloud
Keeping all of your documents shared in the Cloud is a cheap and easy way to keep all your office stuff in sync and backed up – no matter where you are located or what machine you are on.
The beauty about all of these online tools is that they can all talk to each other, either natively or via integration tools.
Our favourite integrator is Zapier – which is easy to use once you know how.
An example of how we use Zapier is when someone fills out a Typeform set-up form, it generates a “brief” Google Doc (like an online Word Doc) and adds its link to an Asana ticket notifying our team that it is ready for set-up.
So, was any of this helpful?
Do you have any questions or suggestions?
If so, I’d love to hear from you by emailing me here.