Starting a new business is an exciting time. It’s also a time when savvy business owners should be looking to make the most of the business tools on offer to streamline operations, promote their business and keep overhead costs as low as possible.
Setting up your financial, human resources and communication systems can be costly. However, there are many free and low-cost technology solutions available to help startups get off on the right foot. The advent of ‘cloud technology’ in particular has revolutionised the ability of small businesses to increase their competitiveness and rival the offer of bigger firms. In fact, many of these online tools are specifically designed for small businesses and startups, fully featured and easy to use so that you can spend more time focussing on other important aspects of running your business.
Here are some tips and tools to help make lighter work of some of the core tasks of any business:
- File transfer and storage – some of us old enough to remember the days of floppy disks will know what a pain file storage and transfer can be. Even storing information on local hard drives can present space and IT challenges. Now the cloud offers applications such as Dropbox, Google Drive and WeTransfer making it easier to access and share files amongst staff – most offer free space to get you started. Being cloud-based means that rights can be given to any number of authorised people to view, edit or download files. Files won’t be locked away on hard drives taking up valuable computing space and slowing down your systems.
- Communications – by 2022 it’s estimated that 60% of office-based employees will be regularly working from home, according to Virgin business research. For employers it can be challenging and expensive enough keeping in touch with staff working on site let alone working at remote locations. Free cloud-based phone systems such as WhatsApp can help keep employees connected. When face-to-face communication is needed, ensure everyone is set up with a video call system such as Skype.
- Accounting – employing an expensive accountant used to be part and parcel of running your own business. Now startups and smaller businesses are turning to cloud-based accounting software such as Intuit’s QuickBooks which offers instant financial support without the high cost. Such accounting innovations can be used via the web or a handy phone app to manage your invoicing, receipts, expenses and much more, for a small monthly subscription.
- Digital marketing – UK digital marketing spend now tops £8billion according to the Advertising Association, so startups can’t afford to ignore digital marketing. When many prospective clients are browsing and shopping online it makes sense for you to have an impactful presence on the web. A well designed website and regular social media postings are essential. Consider tools such as Hootsuite to manage all your social media in one place and even organise simultaneous posts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. Use Mailchimp to manage your email database and to easily design and send your email campaigns – both offer free plans. We’ve written a quick guide to Digital Marketing for smaller businesses which you may find useful.
- Managing staff – if you’ve got staff to keep track of then consider using an automated system which is far more accurate and effective than timesheets and spreadsheets. A cloud-based time and attendance system like uAttend will take care of clocking-in and out, keeping track of holidays and exporting data to payroll. There are cost effective monthly plans available which can be scaled up or down to suit your business.
While cloud-based services are dependent on internet access, they beat having your business systems stored locally and vulnerable to catastrophic events such as theft, fire or flood. An overwhelming advantage is the ability to access information anytime and from any location without having to remember to download files to memory sticks or be in the office. Embracing cloud-based tools has proved a cost-effective and time-saving option for many business owners, large and small.