Wednesday Apr 11, 2012 by Ravi Mehta - VP of Product, Viximo
This is the final part in a three part series about how to launch your startup on a shoestring budget. In the first post, we looked at back office and operational tools that enable you to launch and run a business without spending a lot of money. In the second post, we looked at tools that help you acquire traffic and drive conversions. Today, we'll look at tools that help you establish profitable, long-term relationships with your customers.
Getting setup to accept and store credit cards used to be an expensive and time consuming process. Stripe makes it almost as easy to accept credit cards as it is to accept PayPal. They have a clean, well-documented API that makes it easy to collect, store, and process cards seamlessly from your site without forcing users to go off-site to complete the transaction. They also offer streamlined pricing compared to the typical web of merchant account and payment gateway fees—just 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction with no setup fees or monthly minimums.
Just as Stripe is disrupting online payments, Square is disrupting point of sale credit card processing. With Square, you can turn any iPhone, iPad, or Android device into a low cost credit card reader. There are no setup costs (even the card reader is provided free), monthly minimums, or fixed transaction costs. All payments cost just 2.75% per transaction. While many technology businesses won't need to process physical transactions often, Square could be a good way to turn your next trade show or event into a revenue generator. Maybe its time to start charging for those rad t-shirts you've been giving away.
Pulley provides a simple, flawlessly executed solution for selling digital downloads such as music, art, software, fonts, or e-books. Simply upload what you want to sell, set a price, enter your PayPal info, and start selling via a "Buy Now" button that can be integrated into your site or blog. If you need more sophisticated e-commerce functionality like a shopping cart and inventory management, the same company provides an equally well designed system called Big Cartel. Pulley's starter tier, which is suitable for most early companies, is just $6 a month.
There are lots of tools in the email marketing space. MailChimp is my favorite because it features a nice balance of power and simplicity. Basic features, like list management and email creation, are done via a clean, modern user interface. More advanced features, like A/B testing and API integration, are there for the taking, but don't clutter the experience for more novice users. The company's free forever plan is a real win for early entrepreneurs—you can have up to 2,000 subscribers and send up to 12,000 emails per month entirely for free.
MailChimp is great for email marketing, but not a good fit for sending transactional emails such as order receipts or sign-up confirmations. These days, email deliverability can be issue due to the reputation requirements that the anti-SPAM industry has put in place. During the formative days of your business, the last thing you want is to lose customers because they aren't getting your emails. Postmark is one of several providers that focus on high deliverability for transactional emails. I was impressed with how easy it was to setup and I haven't gotten a single deliverability complaint. Plus, the first 1,000 emails are free.
Social media marketing is a key part of starting a business today, but it takes a lot of time to actively maintain a presence on the major networks. Buffer is a beautifully designed app that makes this process much easier. With Buffer, you can share content from any web page via Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Content can be posted immediately or added to a queue that will be posted over time.
In the early days of a business, you'll be reaching out to a lot of people including early customers, journalists, advisors, investors, partners, and job candidates, and you'll need to keep all those conversations moving forward, but you won't be ready for an industrial strength CRM system like Salesforce. Highrise is a simple CRM that provides a streamlined system for managing your contacts. You can see all of your conversations with a person aggregated onto a single page, add tasks related to certain people, track the status of deals, and provide a company-wide repository for managing contact info. Highrise has a free tier that can be used by up to two people and supports up to 250 contacts. Upgraded plans start at $24 per month.
When you're just starting out, you can get away with doing customer support using nothing but email. However, if you have multiple people handling support or an even moderate volume of support tickets, a good customer support tool can make the process easier and delight your customers. Tender is a streamlined customer support system that lets you manage tickets, build a knowledge base, and moderate public discussion forums. Unfortunately, they don't have a free tier, but their core tier is a pretty reasonable $9 per month.
Some times the best way to talk to customers is actually to talk to them. You know, on the phone. But using your personal phone for your business can get annoying and setting up a new phone line can be a hassle. With Google Voice, you can setup a new local phone number in minutes and it's completely free. You can have calls to that number privately routed to your mobile phone or have voicemails transcribed and delivered to your email inbox. That way, you don't have to keep tabs on a phone line that may not get used very often.
That brings us to the end of the series. These great tools, and many others, have made it much easier to launch a new business. What other tools can you not live without?
Ravi Mehta is VP of Product at Viximo, a Cambridge-based company that provides solutions for social and mobile game developers looking to expand their distribution, and is the creator of Slidevana, a presentation toolkit that enables presenters to build better presentations in less time. You can follow Ravi on Twitter (@ravi_mehta).