Analysis paralysis is the bane of every startup, as you likely know if you run such an operation. Unlike a larger company, you possess incredible flexibility, lacking the complicated management structure or established client relationships that would slow your reaction times and prevent you from adapting quickly — but too much freedom is tough to deal with.
Think about it this way: you know that using technology to optimize your daily processes is an essential ingredient for achieving stability and building a platform capable of massive growth. When you start looking, though, you realize that there are so many tools out there, and start to wonder how you’re supposed to choose between them. You don’t have the time or the budget to try them all, and the mere thought of attempting it is quite exhausting.
Pick well, and your business will benefit. Pick poorly, and you’ll know that you missed something far better. So what’s the secret? Well, there are two components: the first is looking for sensible recommendations, and the second is being willing to put time into testing tools before you make a long-term commitment to using them. The latter is up to you, but I can help with the former. Here are my suggestions for some key tool types — and specific tools — you should consider:
Human resources systems
During the startup phase, getting the right team in place should be a top priority: perhaps the top priority. A well-chosen employee is an extraordinary investment with incredible potential. Ten years down the line, they might still be with your company, only with a lot more experience and high-value expertise to offer. Naturally, you need to work on your recruitment and retention.
There are several relevant issues you must take into account. There’s the matter of employee cooperation, of course, which can’t be taken for granted. Disagreements between colleagues (even those that are relatively minimal and contained) can prove highly destructive, lowering productivity and breeding resentment. They can even damage your brand’s reputation in the event that enmity spills into highly-visible social media squabbles and/or vitriol in the office.
Then there’s the process of sourcing, assessing and onboarding the right candidates. Regardless of whether you’re looking for seasoned professionals or inexperienced newcomers, you’re going to be up against other businesses with goals similar to yours, and simply being someone’s first choice might not be enough: if you make them wait long enough for an interview, or send them mixed signals about your level of interest, they might take an offer elsewhere and leave you with nothing but a wasted opportunity.
HR systems are thus worthy of your time and consideration. The sooner you get one into place, the sooner you can smooth out your candidate tracking, start getting great feedback from employees, and figure out the team arrangement that’ll maximize productivity and worker satisfaction. I recommend trying BambooHR: it’s an industry standard for a reason, and HR really isn’t something you want to get too creative with.
Financial management systems
Keeping your spending under control and lining up all your invoicing is mission-critical when you don’t have a large budget to play with and your cash flow is often under threat of turning negative (cash flow, distinct from profitability, concerns your liquidity — how much money you’re bringing in each month versus what you’re losing). Startup success rates aren’t that great, so you can hardly discount the possibility that one slip-up will consign you to failure.
Your temptation might be to do everything yourself: that way, you can fully trust in the dedication of the person responsible, and you directly deal with any issues that arise. You should fight this temptation for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it isn’t a good idea to start playing around with awkward spreadsheets and assuming that you’ll get it right. It only takes one omitted field or missed column deletion for your entire system to be rendered completely inaccurate.
Secondly, your time is far better spent on almost anything else. There are so many things that go into growing a startup — most notably sales, because you need to be incredibly active when it comes to promotion. You should be attending networking events, meeting with prospective clients, pitching to investors, and working on your long-term business plan. The management of your finances should be a blip on your radar at best, which is why you should implement as much procedural automation as you can (while retaining operational safety, of course).
Thankfully, there are plenty of comparably-good accounting tools out there, so you can simply pick whichever option best suits your needs and feel confident that you’ve got what you need. HubSpot has a great list, so take a look through the features. If your chosen HR tool doesn’t have any kind of payroll functionality, though, I suggest running with something like Wave because there’s a free payroll tool baked into the Wave software suite.
Rich content creation tools
Every modern business with any online presence needs to create content for marketing and general brand representation. It’s a key way of providing value, earning relevant search rankings, demonstrating expertise, and driving conversions. There are so many viable channels these days, each with a different style and unique strengths and weaknesses, that it’s always possible to move ahead with a unique approach.
There are some major problems, though. For a start, that freedom of opportunity can weigh on you through perpetually reminding you of what else you could be doing. No matter how big your business gets, you won’t have enough time in the day to distribute every type of post across every platform that might prove suitable for your business. There’s no sense in trying.
Another big concern is the near-saturation of the web with fresh content. Assuming you have more than a handful of accounts followed, each refresh of your Twitter homepage will yield a totally new array of posts, images and links — and only the best pieces of media can survive that onslaught, defying the tide to float to the top. This is why one exceptional article will always be more valuable to you than a hundred mediocre pieces (100 multiplied by 0 is still 0).
Since creating great content takes time, you need all the help you can get along the way. Not only do you need a core tool for building it (something like Google Docs should be fine), but you also need tools for things like creating eye-catching images (something high-level like Photoshop, or a simple tool like Stencil) or building infographics (I recommend Piktochart). Consider that these tools are all free or built with free trials, so if you’re not sure, you can alternate trials to see what works best for you.
Social media utilities
When you’re working on your brand, social media is a significant battleground. You need to know what people are saying about you, when they’re saying it, and the audiences they’re reaching. Even if you’re not engaging in influencer marketing, so much of your success rests in the hands of those with the sway to push prospects towards or away from you.
You also need the capability to get involved rapidly, whether to make the most of positive comments or run damage control on negative remarks. The court of public opinion has become utterly brutal and unrelenting, and even the appearance of impropriety or controversy is often enough to damage a brand so severely that it can’t recover. It’s only by engaging with people in real time that you can make a difference, because popping up down the line with a formal statement will only make things worse.
Lastly (but not any less importantly), you need to be able to rapidly share any exceptional content that you create to promote your brand. If you’ve gone to the effort of producing a long-form piece on a valuable topic that outperforms anything similar, you need to make the most of it by marketing it as widely as you can. That means reposting it at appropriate times, striking the optimal balance between posting insufficiently and excessively (this isn’t easy).
Social media utilities can not only allow you to easily gauge how your brand is resonating with people, but they can also allow you to post to various social media platforms simultaneously (neatly reformatting your source content to fit and saving you a lot of time in the process). There are countless solid options for each role, but I suggest turning to Loomly because it’s a suite that does everything. It isn’t cheap, with the standard package running to $684 per year, but it’s worth that investment given everything it brings to the table.
You could spend many hours each day just looking through tools designed to make business more efficient, but that would cost you more time than you’d ultimately save. While your business is in the startup phase, concentrate on the core priorities we’ve covered here (HR, accounting, content creation, and social media), and try the suggested tools. They might be just what you need to take things to the next level.