Whether you’re bootstrapping or not, keeping costs down is essential to building and growing your company. Some costs are unavoidable – office space if you don’t want to work from home; new hires to grow the company; and administrative costs like business setup costs and computers for your staff. But in the past ten years, the barrier to entry to starting a small business has drastically lowered. Now if you have a computer and a corner of your parent’s basement you can start a successful business without incurring many costs at all. This isn’t a realistic scenario for most small business owners, especially those who aren’t starting web companies.
But regardless of what your product/service is, there are several ways to manage your startup’s costs using new online tools, all without compromising customer service or quality. After all, according to the quarterly American Express Small Business Monitor 47% of small business owners would rather reduce profitability than risk losing customers due to price increases, proving customer loyalty is just as important as short-term financial gain. Read on for some effective ways to cut costs without compromising quality:
Grasshopper – Want a professional phone number and directory but don’t want to pay big bucks? The perfect solution is Grasshopper, a virtual phone system designed for entrepreneurs. It allows you to choose your 1-800 number, record a custom main greeting, add departments and employees, and receive calls, voicemails and faxes anywhere (to your cell phone, office phone, home phone, etc…). And best of all, you don’t have to purchase any expensive hardware – you manage your account online. Pricing starts at $9.95/month, and the most popular package is $49.95/month.
GetSatisfaction – Most companies have a customer service person available 24/7 to answer questions, but when you’re a startup you can’t always afford someone to do that. GetSatisfaction provides an affordable customer support solution that allows you to listen to problems and solve them quickly and easily. Once you’re signed up, you get a devoted brand page where customers can submit questions, issues, bugs or praise about your company. They can also use a “Feedback” widget on your website to submit their comments. Every time someone submits feedback you immediately get an email and can respond to their question, and the responses are public so other community members can browse topics and find answers to their own questions. Plans start at $19/month.
Olark – If you want to provide a real-time customer support person to help visitors on your website, Olark is a great solution. It’s a live-chat tool that allows any staff member (from the founder to the intern) to live-chat with visitors about their experience and answer questions. You chat inside your IM client instead of using a new tool, and you can customize the message when staff is offline. For CRM integration and four chat operators,it costs $44/month, but there’s also a basic plan offered for only $15/month.
Dropbox – Dropbox provides an affordable solution to storing your company’s files in the cloud. Once installed on your computer you can save files to your Dropbox folders and they’re immediately saved to your computer, your mobile device (using the Dropbox mobile app), and stored online in case you need to access files from another computer. You can add shared users so some or all files are shared with your staff members. The basic 2GB version is free, and 100GB of storage is $19.99/month.
Freshbooks – The tagline for Freshbooks is ‘focus on your work, not your paperwork.’ The time-tracking and invoicing tool helps you organize your expenses and invoice your clients, all from a convenient online account. You can create professional-looking invoices, send them automatically via email or snail mail (they’ll stamp and address the envelope), and get paid via PayPal or one of 11 other payment gateways. You can also set recurring invoices, and pull time and expenses into your invoices. Signup is free, but you require a paid account to add more than a few clients.
These are just a few tools that can help you organize your books, manage customer service, and share and protect your files. While they may not help you get a deal on a talented developer, they can help keep your costs down, so you have more money for hiring and growing your business. After all, according to the American Express Small Business Monitor nearly 75% of small business owners believe their companies are financially flexible enough to weather another recession – and these tools will help them do just that.
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