How to outsource everything to the cloud (except yourself)
November 30, 2011 by Guest Contributor
Remember the blurry old days when software was sold in boxes? If you were born in early 80’s, you might even have had the joy of installing software from floppy disks. Gladly, those times are past us.
Setting up a website, building a customer database, sending out newsletters and many other impractical tasks have become affordable for everyone, at a fraction of the costs 20 years ago, thanks to a plethora of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) businesses.
Here you’ll find a brief overview of web-based services that you can start using today to help bootstrap your company.
Designing your logo and corporate identity
That said, crowdsourcing your corporate identity design can be a much more affordable alternative especially when every cent counts: 99designs and crowdSPRING both enable you to put your project in front of thousands of designers who deliver their best work in exchange for the price you set.
Email and Office Software
Google provides businesses web-based tools such as Gmail, Calendar, Documents and more with Google Apps. Unless your business requires you to create super-complicated financial plans in Excel or prepare 1200 PowerPoint slide presentations, Google Apps is more than enough due to its compatibility with Microsoft Office products.
The free plan is limited to 10 users, but you can also consider the paid version — complete with a Service Level Agreement and more features — at US$50/year/user. Compare the versions and see which is best for your business. Alternatives include Zimbra from WMware and Zoho.
Setting up your website
Depending on your business, you have a multitude of options which do not include your geek nephew. If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, you can setup a website with beautifully designed themes for only US$10/month at Virb. Looking for more functionality off the shelf? Adobe’s Business Catalyst plans gives you all the tools you’ll need starting at US$9/month.
If you aim to go really big, check out Magento and Volusion. Finally, you can also consider the Singapore based e-commerce platform The EZsuite (see our product feature), which has exclusive partnerships with PayPal and Singapore Post.
If you need more control of your website, you can easily set up one for yourself. There are many open source tools such as WordPress to get you started. Start by buying a web hosting package and then install WordPress in five minutes.
For a WordPress site to look good, you’ll need to install a theme. You can get a professionally designed theme at WooThemes for only US$70.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a custom design, you can probably find the best designers in Singapore at Sortfolio to create a theme for you for less than US$3000.
The most popular web analytics tool around is the free and awesome Google Analytics, followed by Yahoo! Web Analytics. Also do look at KISSmetrics for customer-based analytics, ClickTale to understand what your visitors are doing on your website, and Crazy Egg for a combination of both.
Zendesk is a popular choice for most startups with plans starting from US$9/month. Equally popular alternatives include Get Satisfaction, which has great community management functionality, or UserVoice.
Finally, Tender Support is another great tool with advanced reporting options but a heftier price tag (from US$24/month).
As a startup founder, you will probably spend a significant portion of your time marketing your business to other people. One of the best ways to keep track of your interactions is Highrise, which is simply a joy to use. If your business model is more sales-driven, Salesforce CRM or PipelineDeals would be a wiser choice. For a free alternative, try Zoho CRM.
Sending promotional emails and newsletters
Luckily, permission-based email service providers take care of almost everything: Building and maintaining email lists, delivering your emails to inboxes, tracking opens and clicks and automatic follow-up on unsubscription requests and bounces. Madmimi has been praised for its ease of use and excellent customer support.
MailChimp is another great choice, with high delivery rates and integration with popular services. Constant Contact provides a complete suite of additional applications such as online surveys, social media tracking, etc. All of these services are permission-based, meaning that they require everyone in your list to give you explicit permission to send emails to them.
Forms and Surveys
Collect information from your audience is something you will do once in a while, whether it’s about figuring out if they like your offering, or to see who will attend your event, or for accepting job applications.
For general purpose surveys, SurveyMonkey is the most popular solution with a complete set of features. For simpler forms, you can take a look at Wufoo. If you just need to collect data into a spreadsheet, you can always create free forms with Google Docs.
Social Media Management, Monitoring and Analysis
Keeping a close eye on what people are saying about your business on social networks is a great way to understand what you’re doing great (and doing wrong). CoTweet does a very good job of helping you co-managing a Twitter account with your colleagues.
HootSuite is a complete social media dashboard for your Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts. TweetDeck makes it easy to manage your twitter account on your desktop, iPhone, Android and more. For social media monitoring, SocialBro helps you analyze your Twitter followers and Singapore-based JamiQ is great for monitoring social media across Asian markets.
Accounting and Invoicing
One of the best services for online accounting is New Zealand based Xero with its mobile support, developer-friendly API to connect with your existing infrastructure, and a beautiful interface. Saasu easily integrates with many services including Google Contacts, Highrise and Magento. FreshBooks focuses more on invoicing and has a lot of features such as automatic follow-up reminder emails and recurring invoicing.
For almost all startups, having a laser-like focus on your core business and fast execution is key to success. You don’t need to have the perfect design to get your website up and running, or wait a few months for your tech-savvy friend to build an accounting software for you. Smart outsourcing enables you to get your business up and running, fast.
Decide what your core business is, and outsource everything else. You won’t regret it.
Onur Ozer is one of the co-founders of and head of marketing at Brandsfever, a private shopping club headquartered in Singapore. Since 2001, he has worked in digital marketing agencies producing award-winning web projects and online marketing campaigns for blue-chip clients such as Coca Cola, HSBC, Garanti Bank and Turkcell.
Homepage photo: theaucitron
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