Bootstrap Startup Tools Used by ZipShipit
After almost a year and a half of discussions and negotiation with major shipping carriers I began developing ZipShipit with a lean budget. I wanted to develop the site with as little cash injection as possible so that IF it doesn’t work then I am not in the red. I think I did a good job of staying on track with the budget, though it took longer than I would have liked. But, I’d rather spend a little extra time than the money in early development.
With that said, in my experience of developing a startup website I read a lot and therefore learned a lot. Every, blog, e-book, newsletter, podcast, and website I could find about startups and the steps to make it successful, I read it. The only thing I didn’t do is learn to code myself, but I didn’t need to do that because I had a trusted advisor and developer.
From what I know now, I think there are a few steps and categories of things that need to be concentrated on, so let’s jump into those now and the tools I used to keep my costs as close to $0 as possible. There may be others, but for one reason or another I used what fit my needs at the time. So use your own judgement and make an educated decision as some things are dependent on the type of business, the business model, and the scope of growth.
Step one: Validating the Idea
Just because you think a startup idea is great doesn’t mean it is. That’s the harsh reality. So you want to make sure that you do your due diligence before you start spending any money or quitting your day job. Develop a list of questions that can be asked, without revealing what your business idea is. Once you’ve got that list then here are a few options that you can use to get answers and feedback.
Face to face – This is probably the most effective and revealing way to get feedback. Because you are sitting face to face, you can see reactions and ask follow up questions. This method needs to be reserved for those that are obviously within driving distance but also for your most valued advisors. These should be the people you trust the most and who will give their honest and creative answers to your questions.
Email survey – This method works when you send a personal email to a list of people who are your next level of trusted advisors or those high level advisors who are just too far away to meet face to face. This personalized email would give them some sense of value for their input and therefore make them feel important and will in turn give them more reason to respond than just ignoring the email.
Survey Monkey – Another way to validate your idea is to use a survey for those mass individuals who you think would be good to get feedback from. Sending to a group of 100 or more to get their comments, would be good so that you could get a decent cross-section of the community. If you can get more than that’s even better.
Step two: Setting Up the Company
There are a number of steps to setting up a business including creating a corporation, securing the domain name, and applying for the necessary tax and license numbers needed to do business in your state and municipality. So below are some resources to help you along.
Secretary of State – Each state has a corporations division within the Secretary of State’s office that is in charge of registering and managing the corporations within that state. You can go to your state’s Secretary of State’s website and lookup to see if the name you are considering for your company/website is available and not already taken. You can also register your corporation or LLC here as well if you have all the documents needed.
NoLo.com – You can use this site IF you want a low cost way to setup your corporation though it would be recommended to see an attorney if you are not sure about the exact process.
Website Domain – Whether you use GoDaddy or some other registration site, make sure that the domain name is renewed on time…every time.
Federal EIN – Just like you have a social security number; your company needs a Federal Employer Identification Number. This is the number needed to file federal taxes, open bank accounts and any other financially related accounts necessary including merchant accounts for credit card payments.
State Withholding Tax # - Every business will have employees and will need to collect employment taxes and pass them on to the state. Therefore, you can use this list of state sites to apply for the necessary accounts to open in your state.
State Sales & Use Number – If you sell a product online some states require that you collect sales tax and therefore pay sales & use tax. Whether you have to collect or not you need to have the number and file the returns on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Trade Name Registration – Once you have all this done you should register your name and/or logo with the US Patent and Trademark Office so you can protect your brand from others infringing on the name or logo.
Web Hosting – There are so many options on this that my mind was spinning. However, we decided to use our developer’s server to start off so we would have the most control and least cost. Once we begin to grow and need other functions like a “Content Delivery Network” we will move to Amazon Hosting to help speed up the website and deliver the website across the nation at the fastest speeds.
Step three: Developing the Brand
Now that we have the legal stuff out of the way, here comes the fun stuff. You have a company name and/or a Trade Name, but you need a create a brand.
Fiverr – I used Fiverr and spent only $50 and got 10 different logos to select from. Take a look at the past work that as artist has done to get an idea of what design styles you like. Once you have found an artist that fits what you like, select 4-5 of them and give all of them the same information about your company, website, and business market, and let them do their thing. Once you have your logo you can use Fiverr to get designs for business cards, social media covers, web banners, and intro videos for your business at very nominal prices.
Website Development – This is a tough one because there are so many options and it can be the largest cost you will incur compared to the others mentioned before this. If you can’t do it yourself with companies like Wordpress or Wix, my recommendation is to find a developer, you personally know and trust. This is especially true if your site is one that needs to have complicated coding such as API integration and other custom coding.
Social Media Accounts – Once you have all the above done, don’t forget to get the social media account name that’s related to you brand. If the exact name is taken, then you will have to be a little creative and more vigilant about ensuring people associate your account name with your brand.
Step four: Promoting the Site
Promoting your business and getting traction is the most difficult part of this process so far. It is also the most painstaking slow process unless you have a business model that the whole world has been waiting for. This is the step that caught me by surprise and is the one we are working on and will continue to tweak as we go. To understand this process you should read the book Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. With that said here are some tools that will help with some of the traction ideas.
Buffer – This is a good tool to help post ongoing tweets, facebook posts, and Google+ posts to your social media accounts all from one place.
Tweet Jukebox – Though you want to have original content on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram, on Twitter reposting the same tweet spaced out over a span of a few hours, days, weeks, or months is pretty normal. Tweets may or may not be seen very consistently and therefore certain messages can be scheduled to go out at preset dates and times. This is where Tweet Jukebox excels.
Email Marketing – Email is the most personal and most likely seen marketing platform. So setting up a drip campaign for individuals who signup on your website, or customers who buy something on your site, or those who have requested further information about your product or service, is the best and easiest way to consistently stay in touch. Once again there are a number of different ways to accomplish this however I found that MailChimp is the most cost effective for startups since it is free for those that have less than 2,000 users.
Blog – Inbound marketing is the big thing right now, so educating your audience is very important. What better way to educate than to have a blog that sits on your site’s domain. This brings the potential customer one step closer to your product. So make this a priority and if possible start blogging as soon as possible, even before your website is finished. This will help develop some traffic prior to launch and hopefully create some loyalty.
Step five: Monitoring the Traffic
Google Analytics – This is the key site when it comes to monitoring traffic and improving your SEO rankings. Google Analytics has many tools that deserve to be explored and used, to not only improve site performance, but also to learn techniques to get higher search rankings.
SEMrush – SEMrush is a great tool to research and monitor the competition and in turn improve your site’s SEO performance. SEMrush allows you to stalk your competitors and determine the key words they use, backlinks that are associated with the site, and much much more. Take a look here and use this wisely.
Step Six: Managing the Customers
AgileCRM – This is the CRM we use because it integrates seamlessly with wordpress and woocommerce to monitor and track our visitors, customers, and newsletter signups. Best of all, for small startups it is all free! Which is exactly what we need because we do need all the help we can get.
Insightly CRM – Insightly is another good site and some may prefer this CRM as it has some features that AgileCRM doesn’t have. So compare the two and see which one best fits your sales process.
Step seven: Tracking the Income
By the time you get to this step you are probably making some money and need help tracking income and expenses and monitoring the cash flow. So below are two great options to help with this.
Quickbooks – This is the tried and true software that gives many options for tracking your income, expenses and cash flow. With so many different plugins and integration for your site, including credit card processing and CRM, this option, though not free, is a good one.
Freshbooks – As yet another option that may fit your needs, Freshbooks also provides extensions that may work better for you than those available through Quickbooks. So compare your options and pick what best fits your process.
Wow! We did it. We have created a startup with a bootstrapped budget and it feels good on the wallet and is the smart way to put together a business. One that has little to no debt and has very minimal expenses moving forward. All of which help the possibilities of survival through the initial traction and ramp up months.
I hope this collection of startup tools used by ZipShipit comes in handy while you’re working on your startup. Feel free to leave comments below to suggest other tools that may help other entrepreneurs to make their dream business come to life.
Don’t forget to check us out and follow ZipShipit on Social Media as well.