Do you have a red-hot vision to make a difference that's distinct from what everyone else is doing? If you really need to start from scratch, you'll need to arm yourself and your team with the right tools. Great news: it's light years easier to start something in 2016 than it was 10 or 20 years ago (remember when we needed an actual web designer to build a webpage?) As a nonprofit we launched our own with minimal capital and discovered many free or low-cost tools that are totally effective.
Here are tools we’ve relied on since day one — and a few others we’ve discovered along the way.
Asana - Asana is a project management tool that is free for small teams. The cloud based software (also an app) allows teams to create projects, assign tasks, communicate within the software and much more. Asana is a great way to eliminate email chains among your team as they work together and still keep track of everyone's 'to-dos'. A similar tool that receives a lot of press for being free for a small team is Slack. If you’re going to get things done, you need great communication.
Google Drive - This is our favorite place for collaborative work. Google Drive does it all, from survey-like forms, a word processor that is great for team editing and collaboration, to data management tools similar to Excel. The best part? It’s free. Plus, since it’s a cloud-based service, we fill up our own hard drive less. Drive is accessible from our computers, tablets and phones. And did we mention it’s FREE?
Microsoft Outlook on iOS - We heard about a big change Microsoft had made to its Outlook app and we had to see it to believe it; sure enough, it’s awesome. But it’s so much more than just an email client. Outlook iOS connects to your cloud storage, like Dropbox or Drive. Furthermore, it manages your calendars, and the user can add attachments from the cloud or calendar management right there inside the app! We love scheduling a meeting in an email and using the exact same app to add the meeting to our calendar.
Evernote - The entrepreneurial life means finding cool ideas while you're driving or watching a movie. It also means waking up at 3:30 in the morning with a burning issue you forgot to resolve two days ago. Forget chicken scratches on a envelope next to the bed (that's so 1996). Use Evernote to capture all those ideas.
Skitch - Created by Evernote, Skitch is the best screen grab utility we’ve ever used. It’s intuitive and easy to learn. Much of it is drag-and-drop making it easy to save whatever it is on your screen you needed to take a picture of. Plus, if you use Evernote, it automatically adds every image to your Evernote account so it’s easy to find these images later.
MailChimp - There are many email marketing platforms out there, but our favorite free option is MailChimp. Once you’ve chosen a template that works best for your message, the rest is drag and drop. There’s plenty of space on the free option, up to 2,000 subscribers before you have to invest any money. Startups benefit from sharing their vision and email is a great medium to share your journey.
Wave Accounting - If you need to basic business accounting, a great place to start is Wave Accounting. Wave is secure, syncs with your bank account to track expenses and accepts online payments. Plus, you get all the necessary applications you need to be prepared for your first tax season as a startup.
99Designs - Branding is an important part of a startup. 99Designs allows the user to submit a design need and then designers compete for your business. You choose the design you like best and the designer gets paid if their design is chosen. The cost ranges from $299 up to $1,199. You’re the real winner when 30-plus designers compete for your business.
Squarespace - Design can be one of the most important functions of a website, and a startup may not have the capital to invest in a completely custom site. We were so excited when we discovered Squarespace.com. In full transparency, users don’t have the same amount of control over the look and feel of a site on the Wordpress platform,which is why people with coding skills may not be fans of Squarespace. But for someone with limited technical ability, it is the easiest platform we have found to design an attractive website. The yearly cost for a basic site is $96 if you pay annually. And included in that price is a domain, which saves you the extra work ofusing a separate site like GoDaddy.com to puchase a unique domain (ie. www.”yourbusiness”.com).
Unsplash - We operate in a visual world, especially in regards to social media. And when you’re trying to capture the attention of an audience, graphics can play an important role. Too many startups make the mistake of using a Google image search to find a graphic for their blog post or tweet, and that’s often a copyright violation. Unsplash broke the mold of “pay for” images by offering free images with permission to both use and edit. You’ve likely seen images offered on Unsplash.com but thought someone had paid a significant price for them.
In the startup world, reducing the outgoing cash is critical. These tools will give you a big leap forward while minimizing the cost to you. And hey, these recommendations are descriptive, not prescriptive. Don’t feel like you have to use all of them. Find what works for you and go for it. Good luck!