[Guest article by Sahil Parikh, founder of DeskAway– an online project collaboration service for small businesses and teams.]
Startups are a rage in emerging economies. Look at India, China or Brazil, you will find hundreds of startups sprouting all across the country. It just has become so easy to start and market a web business (even in developing countries) – increased broadband penetration, inexpensive computers, smart-phones, easy access to the Internet, free-for-all social networking tools and above all, the availability of software tools that were either out of the reach of a small business or expensive and cumbersome to setup.
Startups today have no IT infrastructure of their own. They are lean, agile, and small. They work virtually using applications that are hosted in the Cloud. According to Wikipedia, a typical Cloud Computing provider deliver common business applications online which are accessed from another web service or software like a web browser, while the software and data are stored on servers.
You can crank up your startup idea over a weekend and automate every essential function of the business by using services in the Cloud. Here is a blueprint on how to achieve utopia:
Email is the heartbeat of a business. In the past, it used to take businesses weeks to buy licenses, setup mail servers, troubleshoot email delivery issues etc. Or, most of the startups would buy shared hosting from a hosting provider and then host their mails with them. This proved to be marginally better than hosting it yourself but still clunky. Today, your startup can just sign-up with Google Apps. Setting up takes a few hours and you get a Gmail-like interface (including a host of collaboration tools) to run your corporate email. Smooth, fast and hassle-free.
Website/ Blog/ Analytics
Setting up a website in the past included buying a domain, server space and then working with a designer, web developer to design the website. Today, with WordPress, Posterous, Tumblr, TypePad and SquareSpace, hosting, designing and developing a website is all self-service even for the non-technically. Signup with a service, choose a theme from a catalog of themes provided and start updating your new site right from your browser! These services also provide you to the ability run Google Analytics to track and analyze traffic to your site, so you know exactly what people are doing on your site or where have they come from? If you are savvy, Google Webmaster toolset can help you optimize your site for search (SEO).
Online CRM tools like Salesforce, BatchBook, Zoho CRM let you keep a track of your leads, prospects, customers, sales and all communications that you have with prospects and customers. You might not have a sales team when starting out, but having a CRM application will truly help your startup get organized and streamlined from day one where tracking each lead-to-sale can be crucial. The more details you capture along this process, the more insights you get into what you can do better.
Startup days are crazy. There are always more things to do than the number of resources you have to do them. A tool to organize, manage and track your internal work and projects can go a long way to reduce chaos. Tools like DeskAway help you streamline work amongst teams and adds accountability, control and transparency when working with virtual teams. With dashboards, alerts you can run projects in a much more agile way.
With so much information being produced each day in the form of documents, images, presentations, spreadsheets etc. you need an easy way to store your media assets. As a startup you might be working virtually and need access to all your files from anywhere. With a service like DropBox you get storage space on the Internet and you can keeep all your computers, laptops in sync with the latest files and documents. Think of it as your virtual hard-drive.
You have setup your systems and so now is the time to spread the word and drive mind share to your business. With tools like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, YouTube it has become really easy to spread your message and build relationships from the very moment you start your business. You don’t need deep pockets or an expensive agency to walk you through participating on social networks. If people love what you do, they will tell their friends who inturn will tell theirs. The viral nature of these social networks makes it extremely powerful to spread your message and drive leads for your business. The key skill is in listening, tracking what people are saying about your industry, brand, product or service and then engaging with them over time. Tools like HubSpot help your business get found by people on the Internet and help you do inbound marketing.
With these cloud-based services in your arsenal your startup team now can easily spend the time envisioning and growing your business rather than setting up software, configuring, troubleshooting servers or spending scarce capital on archaic marketing activities.
And before you knew it, your idea will have grown into a viable business on Cloud 9.
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