About a year and a half ago, I accidentally launched what would quickly become a company. I put an idea out into the universe and people responded to it - a lot of them. Since then, I’ve been figuring out how to make it work as I go. You can probably relate.
Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. But I was lucky to have mentors and friends to help me - in more ways than one. One of the most immediate benefits of having that support was a list of resources and tools to help run a business more efficiently.
Of course, each business is unique and will have it’s own set of problems to solve. I had built a community of curators sending personalized song recommendations to subscribers via email. That meant I needed legal advice around copyright laws, contracts for developers, and NDAs for curators. I also needed logistical and organizational help. And of course, I needed to make the decisions every founder does around branding, marketing, and growth. On top of that, I had a full-time job, so I needed to run the business in a very lean way - working on it on nights and weekends.
Below is the list of tools that I found helpful for running my fledgling business more effectively. I know that you may be further along than I was in growing your business so you might want to skip to number three. I hope you find these helpful!
What it is: Hover is a domain name marketplace for purchasing your company’s URL.
Cost: Depends on your domain name. Available .coms start at $12.99/year. If your desired domain is owned by someone else, you’ll have to place a bid to purchase it.
Why use it: I actually used GoDaddy to buy asongaday.co because I didn’t know any better. I wish I had known about Hover.com and have purchased domains from them since. There are two reasons I prefer Hover - for one, my values don’t align with GoDaddy’s (you may recall some controversial news around the company over the past few years). Secondly, Hover is much easier to use and overall, a more pleasant user experience.
What it is: Squarespace
is a platform for building simple websites.
Why use it: Honestly, I found Squarespace to be far less intuitive to use than I thought it would be. That said, it’s the easiest tool for building the most beautiful websites, in my opinion. Wix and Weebly are alternatives that may be easier to use, but the templates aren’t quite as nice looking. Another option is to use Wordpress or Siteleaf (which geckoboard.com uses), but you’ll want to work with a web designer on a customized site (if you don’t code), which defeats the purpose of getting a website up quickly.
Squarespace, on the other hand, eliminates much of the decision making you could get wrapped up in when designing your company’s website. I suggest getting something clean, simple, and visually pleasing up using Squarespace and explore working with a designer on a Wordpress site down the road. Then, you can worry about things like optimization and advanced analytics - as Squarespace is not the ideal platform in those areas.
3. Stocksy or StockSnap.io
Cost: $15 for a small image (12x8” for example) / free
Why use it: When building your website, you’ll need captivating imagery to help tell your story. That is, unless you go the minimalist route, which is fine too. If you have your own photos or product images - awesome. If you’re like me and are flying by the seat of your pants, you’ll likely need to find some that don’t infringe on any copyright laws.
I chose to purchase mine from Stocksy.com because I wanted something that I hadn’t seen on other websites. A free alternative is StockSnap.io, which aggregates all of the royalty-free and legal to use photos from sites like Unsplash and Gratisography.
4. Product Hunt
What it is: Product Hunt
is a community where people discover, upvote, and comment on cool products.
Why use it: Product Hunt is the reason why A Song A Day exists. This is what happened: I had an idea, built the Squarespace, bought the domain, and tweeted it. My friend retweeted it to his audience, then someone saw it and posted it to Product Hunt. A couple hours later, we had a few hundred signups. At the end of the day, I think we had over 600. It was insane. These people became our beta testers and earliest community members - some of whom still play a big role in the project.
Like most startups, Product Hunt itself has evolved and looks a bit different than it did when we were discovered. However, it’s still an engaged community of internet nerds willing to learn more about your product and test it out. I wrote about the impact PH had on A Song A Day if you’re interested. :)
5. Typeform or Google Forms
Cost: Free (Typeform charges a monthly fee for premium features)
Why use it: It’s crucial to collect quality feedback when building your business. This was especially true for me, since I had no idea what I was doing and was focused on building a community over a product. One of the quickest and easiest ways to collect feedback is through a survey, and Typeform and Google Forms are both easy-to-use tools for this.
I opted for Typeform because I liked the design of the surveys. I also upgraded to a paid account a few times to use its premium features such as logic jump (if, then statements for skipping questions based on a respondent's answer).
Typeform also gives you an easy-to-read analysis of your results. Of course, you can do this with Google Forms results if you’re good at building graphs in Google Sheets - but I am not. The one downside to using Typeform is that you do have to export your results to .csv or .xlsx then copy and paste into Google Sheets.
You’ll notice that I said “quality feedback.” When you open yourself up to customer feedback, you’ll likely get a lot of different opinions. It’s important to filter through and look for trends. Use your discretion on what is feasible and what aligns with your mission. Some requests simply mean a person isn’t a fit for your product. One of the hardest parts about being a first-time entrepreneur is coming to grips with that and not trying to please everyone - but you’ll be better off for accepting that. If you're not sure where to start with collecting feedback, check out Typeform's customer feedback template.
What it is: BetaList
is a place to share and discover products and companies currently operating in beta.
Why use it: Like Product Hunt, BetaList is a great place to recruit your earliest customers. People who find your product on BetaList are looking to get in early and provide feedback. Another benefit is that BetaList will share your startup on their social media channels (39k Twitter followers!) and potentially their newsletter as well for extra exposure.
What it is: Upcounsel is a marketplace for hiring attorneys. You can find an attorney for any need on the platform, but there are a ton who specialize in startups.
Cost: Ranges depending on what you need. I paid $200 for a developer agreement.
Why: With the power of Google, you can figure out how to incorporate and what contracts you need on your own when getting started. But it’s a whole lot easier to have a licensed professional in your corner. Hiring professional counsel ensures that you’re on the up and up in terms of legalities and also provides peace of mind - which you can use plenty of as a founder. Of the things you don’t want to take a risk on, lawsuits and protecting your intellectual property are among them.
The great things about UpCounsel is that you can find a quality attorney for way less than you’d normally pay. I recommend doing some research online or talking to people with legal experience you know to get a basic understanding of what you need before hiring a lawyer (thanks dad and brother!). That said, the attorneys I’ve worked with on Upcounsel have been incredibly kind and helpful. They too are trying to grow their own businesses, so the attorneys on the platform are typically empathetic and easy to work with.
What it is: HelloSign is a platform for uploading, sending, signing, and downloading documents.
Cost: Free - $40/month (with a $13/month option)
Why use it: As someone who’s not naturally organized and a bit logistically challenged, HelloSign was a huge lifesaver for me. I used it to send NDAs to 40+ curators and contracts to developers across the globe. It’s great because it’s very intuitive to use and your documents can be signed and downloaded within minutes. I personally like it better than Adobe for collecting signatures. I paid for the Pro account for a year when I had a ton of contracts to send, but the free account (three documents per month) suits me just fine now. They have awesome customer service as well - very responsive.
What it is: Trello is a visual project management and organizational tool.
Why use it: Trello has been the perfect tool for organizing and collaborating with curators and developers. It hasn’t worked out for every project, but the ones it has been useful for include managing the build out of an app with a developer, planning a Kickstarter campaign with friends, creating an editorial schedule for a publication, and my own weekly to-do list.
We also use it on the marketing team at Geckoboard to stay focused and aligned. I suggest trying Trello to organize projects with many moving parts into “to-do,” “doing,” “done,” and “backlog” categories to track your progress. The simpler you keep your Trello boards, the more effective they will be at keeping you focused.
10. Google Analytics
What it is: Google Analytics is an analytics platform for measuring traffic, signups, mobile downloads, and more!
Why use it: There are few things worse than not understanding the impact that your decisions make on your success. It’s only with these findings that you’re able to iterate and improve. Even if you just get the basics setup in Google Analytics to monitor traffic to your website and to understand where your visitors are coming from - you’ll be one step ahead from those who aren’t measuring their success. If you use Squarespace, the setup process is pretty self-explanatory.
11. Your social media channel(s) of choice
What it is: Your channel for connecting with the world.
Cost: Free (technically)
Why use it: I wavered on whether or not to include this one because social media can be a big distraction for founders and teams. It can also be a powerful awareness building tool that will not only bring in customers but also be a vehicle for your brand’s personality.
For example, A Song A Day was posted to Product Hunt because I tweeted about it and a friend retweeted me to his audience. I met about 80% (probably) of our current curators through social media. We use Facebook Groups to manage our curator community and the group is my happy place. We use Instagram to connect with bands and artists. We’ve been written about because people learned about us on social media.
That’s all to say there are several reasons to use social media to promote your brand. Just try to not let it get in the way of making product decisions and moving projects forward.
What it is: Buffer is a social media scheduling and analytics tool.
Cost: Free - $8.50/month (for annual)
Why use it: If you do decide to use social media, Buffer is handy for scheduling posts in advance. That way, you can set aside 30-60 minutes to schedule your outgoing messages at once without distracting yourself throughout the day. Many people also like using HootSuite for managing several social media accounts as well. It’s also a great tool, I just prefer to go to the individual platform when replying to comments, etc.
13. Awesome Screenshot
What it is: Awesome Screenshot is a Chrome extension for taking and saving screenshots.
Why use it: Try to capture everything. Seriously, everything. Your first tweet, your first customer signup, your first angry email from a customer or competitor, your first love note - all of it. Not only are these things a ton of fun to look back at, but they’ll help you tell your story on your website, on investor decks, crowdfunding campaigns, grant applications, etc.
The extension can be a bit wonky sometimes. An alternative if you use a Mac is to use the Command-Shift-4 shortcut on your keyboard and set all of your screenshots to save to a Dropbox folder (or any folder). You can rename and save them properly as you go, or later.
What it is: Dropbox is a cloud-based file storage system.
Cost: Free - $9.99/month
Why use it: If you’re going to capture everything, you should be saving it too. Dropbox saves you memory space on your computer and allows you to easily save files via URL. Most importantly, it allows you to access your files from anywhere with an internet connection if goodness forbid, something happens to your hardware. I pay for the $9.99/month plan and it’s so worth it.
15. An awesome illustrator
What it is: A human who illustrates sharp looking logos and collateral.
Why use one: One of my favorite moments in our journey was choosing a logo and getting it on our site and in our emails - and later tote bags. There’s so much gratification in seeing your brand come to life with its own unique personality. I was lucky to find Brooklyn-based illustrator Sunny Eckerle who loved what we were building and just “got us.” I saw her work on Instagram, loved what she did, and thought it’d be a great fit for A Song A Day. She was enjoyable to work with and worked with us on cost since we weren’t (and don’t) make any money. She also designed this awesome poster for our Kickstarter campaign.
If you can’t afford an illustrator or designer, or simply aren’t ready to commit to something, check out Squarespace’s logo creator, which is free!
Tools for marketing your startup
Now you've discovered the best tools for running your startup, head on over to Shane Barker's awesome blog where you'll find the ultimate list of tools and platforms for marketing your startup.
Oh, and one last tool: coffee. So. Much. Coffee.