I am currently directly involved in the running of 5 small and medium sized businesses in South Africa, not to mention giving advice to a multitude of other small businesses on the daily. Generally the information relates to operational matters, streamlining and software solutions to problems that face small businesses daily. My personal business exposure varies from product sales, vehicle tracking, equipment rental and residential & commercial property investment and letting.
I spend a lot of my time testing new software platforms and solutions, even if I have a good solution in place. The reason being, I am always looking for that competitive edge, how can I improve my operations, customer responsiveness and service beyond what is ordinarily expected in the industry on a shoe string budget (as always!). Some of these services do have a usage fee, but none of them have month to month contracts.
- SALES – Hubspot
- TELEPHONE – Axxess
- EMAIL & WEBSITE – Axxess
- BULK EMAIL – Mailchimp
- ACCOUNTING – Wave Accounting
- QUOTING – Wave Accounting
- CREDIT CARD PAYMENTS
- Point of Sale – Yoco
- Online – Payfast
- HELP DESK / SUPPORT – Freshdesk
- BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE – Cyfe
- CUSTOMER VETTING & CREDIT BUREAU – TPN
With these services, for a grand total of R0.00 you can setup a fully functional, professional business. Sure it’ll take some time to get everything setup the way you like it, and if you’re not technically inclined there might be some painful moments, but you’re getting some serious value for free. In certain instances you’ll pay some usage fees, but operating like this allows you to ring-fence the expenses and keep them to an absolute minimum by only paying for what you actually use. Bootstrapping a startup means every cent counts.
Managing sales is integral to making your business work. No matter what you’re selling, you need to keep on top of your leads and customers to ensure that you close the deals. Always be closing. So how to manage this? A pipeline. You need to know which deals are in what stage of closing as you’re going to treat them differently depending on their stage. Do they need a gentle reminder, or all the product specs to make a decision. Presenting the right information at the right time is key to closing sales.
HUBSPOT – Price: FREE
Hubspot is split into 3 products. Their Customer Relationship Manager (CRM), Sales and Marketing modules. All of which can be used for free! In particular the sales module is impressive as it gives you access to a customization “Deals” section which allows you to setup the sales pipeline specific to your business, you can have as many or as few stages as you need. i.e: 1st Contact Made – Quotation Sent to Customer – Followed Up with Phone Call – Followed up with Email. As and when you move the customer through the sales cycle, you’ll always know exactly what stage they’re at, as well as the ability to add notes, attachments and emails to the deal so you have all the information specific to that deal at your fingertips. If you’re serious about your sales process, you MUST use a pipeline.
So you’ve setup your sales pipeline and you’re ready to start pursuing those leads! One small problem, where do you find those leads and how do you communicate your awesome new company to them?
AXXESS – Price: FREE (Prepaid airtime for calls) If you’re not one of the lucky ones to afford an unlimited calling package from your cellphone, then VOIP is the way to go. Take advantage of the lowest call rates as well as getting a “landline” number in your pocket. Any iOS or Android device can run the required app to get this working. You’ll be making and receiving calls in no time. If you expand, you can always increase the number of phones using the same number, or get desk phones for the office. It’s a landline without the Telkom.
3. EMAIL & WEBSITE
EMAIL & WEBSITE One of the most important things when starting your business is to look professional. That doesn’t happen if you’re using a Yahoo, gmail, ymail, webmail etc etc, you get the idea. For a minimal amount of money, you can easily setup your own domain name, website and email. So whilst this one is not technically free forever, it is pretty important to get right so that you portray your business as professional.
AXXESS – Price: Free Domain name & 6 months free Hosting – R29 p/month there after.
What will you get? Well pretty much everything you need! You’ll get a free domain name of your choice, email accounts and the ability to setup a WordPress website of your own. So for less than a Big Mac (per month!), you can show the world your awesome business and have personalized email addresses.
BULK EMAIL – Depending on the size of your customer database, you might want to send out some bulk emails. Whilst Mailchimp is a great solution for this if you have less than 2000 emails to send out a month, some other solutions present themselves well in this arena too.
- Mailchimp – Price: Free (Up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month)
Mailchimp is a really easy to use system that allows you to import your client list and send out bulk emails for free! Depending on the size of your database, this option is a winner. If you’re growing fast, I would suggest looking at Mautic or Sendy to allow you to scale your email marketing for a fraction of the cost of the larger Mailchimp plans.
Wave Accounting – PRICE: Free
This is one of my favorite tools for small business, so often I speak to small business owners and entrepreneurs who’re either completely overwhelmed by this side of the business or are using paid for solutions which aren’t necessary. Introducing Wave accounting. 100% free, in the cloud, accessible by smartphone with native iOS and Android Apps! Send invoices, record payments and keep track of your expenses all for free. Customize the invoices and even schedule them to send as often as necessary if needed. (I personally use this for my vehicle tracking business and rental apartments, the recurring invoice feature makes my life so much easier!
6. QUOTING / ESTIMATES
Wave Accounting – PRICE: Free
Wave account is not only great for the invoicing and expenses side of things, but also for the quoting or estimate side. Once you’ve added all your products and services to wave, you can easily create standard estimates for potential customers. They’ll look professional and uniform as well as being able to do them on the fly. On your laptop or phone from anywhere, anytime. If the customer accepts the quotation, you can easily convert it into an Invoice and send it to them straight away from your phone. Boom, sale done.
7. CREDIT CARD PAYMENTS
YOCO (Physical Point of Sale) – PRICE: Free (kinda…. You have to purchase the card machine, but there are no monthly fees)
Being able to accept credit and debit cards in this day and age is important. Reducing the barriers to purchase can quickly improve your bottom line. Yoco have a nice model for small businesses whereby you purchase the card reader device. Most banks require you to rent this device from them (Normally +/- R500 p/month) on top of having to have a merchant account with them, more $$ for this account too, oh wait and then you must also pay them a % per transaction. So when all is said and done, you’re paying a pretty penny to be able to accept cards as a small business. With Yoco, you purchase the device once off (about R1500 – R2500 depending on the model you get) and then you pay a small % per transaction, starting at 2,95% at the time of writing this. This reduces as the value of the transactions increase. The money is deposited straight into your account automatically daily (might take a few days to clear into your account). No merchant account necessary. Yoco also has the ability to be used as a point of sale with a tablet which is convenient, but a little beyond the scope of this list.
PAYFAST (Online Payments) – PRICE: Free
Payfast, like yoco doesn’t charge you a monthly fee, nor do you need to have a merchant account. The fees are a bit higher with Payfast, but once again, when starting out, you want to keep recurring costs to a minimum. With Payfast you can integrate into online shopping carts like WooCommerce or Opencart with their free plugins. In addition you can also make “PAY NOW” buttons which will allow you to generate the code for a button automatically and easily sell a product on your standard website without the need for shopping cart software. Again the benefit here is the no monthly fees, If you’re not using it, or sales are slower than expected you’re not on the hook for a monthly expense.
8. HELP DESK / SUPPORT
FRESHDESK – PRICE: Free (Sprout edition)
Ever wondered how big companies keep track of so many support queries without dropping the ball? They use a support ticketing system. A system that uses a single support address and distributes the tickets amoungst its agents. When a customer replies, the query should be routed back to the same agent.
9. BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE
CYFE – PRICE: Free
Cyfe is a great tool to visualize loads of different data sources in 1 place quickly. They have integrations with LOADS of different services. Some of the popular ones being for Google Analytics, Google Adwords and Facebook. You can make multiple dashboard with tightly grouped themes in order to get a holistic view of a specific business operation. Think sales figures graphed over a period (you can pull data from google sheets), or marketing spend vs website hits, or average cost per conversion for your marketing. Get the right information at a glance once setup. Having the right information at your fingertips will allow you to make informed decisions quicker. Something that every small business should be able to do to be successful. Don’t think working on gut feel will cut it. Do the numbers, numbers don’t lie.
10. CUSTOMER VETTING & CREDIT BUREAU
TPN – PRICE: Free (Pay per inquiry)
Vetting your customers or potential renters doesn’t need to be complicated or cost a lot of money. With Tenant Profile Network (TPN) you can vet them from ID no, company registration, credit record and payment history. These reports are all pay per use. Depending on the type of product or service you’re offering this may or may not be useful.