Q. Dear Zenagos, I’m starting my own business. I’m discovering that I need a website and all kinds of technology, but I don’t know anything about technology. What should I do?
The good news is that there are a wide variety of low-cost technologies that are designed specifically for small business owners. In some ways, it is easier and less expensive to start a business now than it ever has been. As the iPhone commercials used to say, “There’s an app for that!”
However, if you have never run your own business before, the variety of options can be confusing. Start with what you know you need:
You will most likely need a business email address. There are many options, including GMail (Google Workspace), Zoho Email, and GoDaddy Email. Cybersecurity is an important consideration, given all of the hacking that occurs, so you should review each option with an eye toward keeping your information secure.
Most businesses keep records, so you will need a place to file and store those records. Cloud-based data storage is convenient and can be accessed from almost any computer with a browser and internet access. Solutions with a small-business focus include: Dropbox, Box, and Drive (Google Workspace), and OneDrive (Microsoft 365). Once again, as you evaluate options, be cognizant of cybersecurity.
Today, most businesses need some kind of website, which serves as your online storefront to the public. If you don’t have a lot of experience with technology, then your first step should be to examine why you need the website.
Selling and Shipping Products
If you will need to sell physical products through the website and then ship them to customers, then you need an ecommerce website. The website programming and logistics of ecommerce are actually fairly complicated. You should not try to build an ecommerce website yourself without having a sophisticated technology leader on your team. Fortunately, there are several companies that partner with small businesses to provide a full suite of ecommerce services. These include eBay Seller Hub, Etsy Sellers, Amazon Seller, and Squarespace ecommerce. Offerings such as these are turnkey – you can get your store up in a matter of days (or even hours), and you don’t need to know anything about the underlying technology.
If you are selling services, you may not need a selling partner. You can build your website using a “web builder” – a templated (do-it-yourself) website building experience that gives you everything you need to launch a website, including some control over the design of the site. Examples include: Wix, Weebly, web.com, Squarespace, GoDaddy, and Leadpages. These sites will be more than sufficient for setting up an informational website, and they may include the ability to collect payment.
If you need to collect money from customers, and the website option you are considering does not include payment processing, there are standalone payment-collection apps, including PayPal, Stripe, CashApp, Zelle, and Venmo. Before you commit to one of these as a primary means of accepting payment, you should verify that your customers are willing to pay via such an app. Insisting on a specific app may limit the customers who will purchase your offering. Also, all payment processing solutions charge for their services, typically as a percentage of the transaction. Make sure that you fully understand the fee structure of the payment processor that you select.
You will need to keep your business funds separate from your personal funds in order to fill out your tax forms, so it is important to track all of your revenue and expenses. You don’t need technology to do this. You can use a paper ledger, if you are comfortable with that. You can also track your finances in any spreadsheet, such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. If you want to use an accounting software, there are several options that are reasonably priced, including Wave, Zoho Books, and Xero. Once you have chosen a software package, it can take a lot of time to switch to another, so it is worth your time to research the options and make sure you are getting all of the features that you need.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software
In the early stages of your business, you may not need a CRM. You can track your customers on paper (such as on 3×5 cards) or using any spreadsheet. However, if you deal with a large number of prospective customers (or “leads”) or if you have a complicated sales process, you may want to look at the CRM options. There are marketing communications tools, such as Constant Contact and MailChimp, that enable you to build mailing lists and coordinate email campaigns. If you need a broader suite of services, you may look into tools like Zoho CRM, Hubspot, and Monday.
When you apply for a business license or do anything else that lets vendors know that you are setting up a new business, you will suddenly be approached by all kinds of vendors who are presenting technology options. It may seem like you really need each one. However, the cost of technology subscriptions can add up quickly. So, we recommend that you try to go without each technology as long as you can. Don’t pay for any technology until you know exactly what value it will create for your business.