Starting a new business takes a ton of work.
Even with your initial passion, it’s never an easy undertaking.
There are a great number of things that you need to research, plan out, get created, etc. before you “launch.”
And you’ll always be wondering, “Did I forget anything?”
What I’ve put together here is a list of great tools that you’ll want to know about, and possibly use, before you start your next business.
They cover the most important and common things you’ll need to address.
These tools will help you do them faster, cheaper, and/or better than you would be able to do otherwise.
Wherever possible, I’ve given you both a free and paid version to choose from.
Market research tools
When you have a business idea, first you need to confirm that it’s a good idea.
Basically, you need to answer two questions:
- Is there a market for this type of product or service (if so, how big)?
- Will that market like my product or service?
Those are the most important questions to answer. Beyond that, it’s helpful to know how the market is distributed (by location or medium) and whether it will grow in the future.
These tools will help you gain insight into your market.
They do similar things, but this tool is geared much more towards business in the US.
If part of your market is in the US, you’ll want to use this tool.
It’s simple to use. Just type in a specific product (e.g., a competitor’s product) or a general type of product:
As an example, I put in “microwave ovens,” which gave me these results:
There are two main things you get from these results.
The first is that you learn whether there are any places that are much more interested in your type of product than others. In this example, it’s clear the the states on the East Coast buy many more microwaves than on the West Coast (who knew?).
In addition, if you look at the graph on the bottom, you can see the popularity of searches related to buying microwaves.
You don’t get absolute numbers-this is a relative scale. But you can see whether your product type is trending up or down in popularity.
A graph like the one above, where searches have more than doubled in about 2 years, is perfect to see. It shows that your market is still likely growing.
That leaves you with your standard public relations and paid advertising for the most part.
This ad spend calculator is great for two reasons:
- It makes a complicated topic simple
- Everything is based on real numbers
The tool guides you through a few questions where you input one or two numbers about your business to find what your target CPC (cost per click) should be.
To start with, you’re asked about your average revenue per month as well as your churn rate.
Obviously, you don’t have actual data to use, but you can make a good estimate on the revenue side.
You can also use industry standards for churn rate. I went with 5% as an example even though that’s not a good churn rate.
If you’re selling individual products and don’t have recurring income, just put 100% here.
That’s one big area down. Next up is your customer acquisition cost.
You need to answer how long you’re willing to wait until you recoup your initial cost. While patience is good, if you wait too long, you might run out of money.
The tool provides default values, which are good for most cases.
Finally, you’re asked to estimate a conversion rate of your traffic to the site.
This will allow the tool to calculate a CPC:
I left out one or two basic questions, but you get the point. In a quick example illustrated above, I found that my hypothetical business could pay up to $0.66 per click (visitor).
Use this tool to plan your initial advertising budget for the first few months.
3. SurveyMonkey: One thing that all good business launching guides will tell you to do is talk to your market.
The only feedback about your idea and product that you must listen to is from your potential customers.
If you know some of your potential customers in real life already, you might be able to interview them in person (or through Skype).
That’s the best option.
But when that’s not an option, consider using SurveyMonkey.
Originally, the tool was used to create surveys and collect answers, but now it can do much more.
Most importantly, you can pay a modest fee and get your survey sent to a panel of survey takers.
While you won’t get perfect targeting, it’ll be pretty accurate, and the results you get will help you design your product and know which features to focus on.
4. Buzzsumo: I’ve mentioned Buzzsumo in many previous lists but need to include it here for anyone who doesn’t know about it. I’ll keep it brief.
Buzzsumo allows you to search for a keyword and see the most popular articles that focus on it (based on social shares):
Immediately, you’ll be able to see which social network is most popular with your target audience.
On top of that, you can enter the URL of a competitor and find their most popular content.
Those results will help you plan your content marketing and learn about the main problems of your market (the more popular, the bigger the problem).
Putting together your first impression
The next area of a business launch is your product and website (which may be one and the same).
The tools in this section will help you with your branding and creating a favorable first impression.
5. NameMesh: Every business and website needs a name. You probably already know that it can be difficult to find a good one that’s actually available for registration (without paying thousands of dollars for it).
Even if you’re good at coming up with names, it might take you an hour or two to do so.
NameMesh is a free tool that may be able to help you with this.
To use it, type in 2-3 words that describe main features of your business.
For example, if I were starting a business that helped others bring their product ideas to life, I could enter:
- Product creation
- Product life
- Product idea creation
Think of as many combinations as you can to improve your chances of finding a good one.
The tool will automatically try hundreds of combinations and see whether the domains are available. You will get a final list of what you could register:
There are tons of other free tools like this. You can find them by searching for “domain name generator.”
6. Name Geniuses: Sometimes you can find a great name with those free generators, but most of the results aren’t very good. You get what you pay for.
Name Geniuses is not free; it’s a pay-what-you-want tool with a $20 minimum that allows you to crowdsource your domain name.
Basically, you pick the amount you want to pay. A large portion of this payment is offered as a prize to a few hundred users on the site.
These users come up with domain names (that are available) and submit them to you. Then, you pick a winner whenever you want.
The good part from your perspective is that only the winner gets paid. This incentivizes users to spend a lot of effort to come up with names that are much better than those created by a free generator.
To use the tool, answer a few questions about your business idea:
Then, your project goes on the job board once you pay for it.
Depending on what you pay, you’ll get anywhere from 50 suggestions to hundreds:
By all means, come up with your own name, but this can save you hours of time and potentially generate an even better name.
7. DesignMantic: After the name, comes the logo. While it’s sometimes optional, you’ll likely need some sort of logo.
DesignMantic is a tool that is very quick and simple to use.
All you do is type in your company name and then choose what industry it’s in:
It will quickly generate several logos you can use, complete with your business name:
They’re obviously going to be generic, but they’re fairly attractive and will work as temporary logos.
8. 99Designs: At some point, you’ll need a unique, professional logo. No free tool will do that for you.
You can cheap out on a designer from Fiverr, but that will cost you more in the long run and won’t get you a much better result than what you’ll get from the free tools.
99Designs is another crowdsourcing site/tool I really like.
You buy a package and then get tons of designs (30+) from different designers.
Again, you pick the winner, and they get paid.
Just about all the designs are of great quality, so you can’t go wrong.
Payroll and accounting
The tools in this final group have varying levels of importance.
They will help you manage incoming and outgoing payments, which just about all businesses need to do.
If you’re starting really small, you can probably handle it manually, but I recommend using tools to simplify things (and keep them accurate) once you have a decent cash flow.
On top of that, if you have employees right off the bat, you need to make sure they’re paid on time and that their taxes are taken care of. Hire an accountant, or use these tools.
9. Freshbooks: If you have a service-based business that requires you to send out invoices on a regular basis, Freshbooks is a great tool to help you stay organized.
The time it’ll save you on generating invoices alone is probably worth the cost. On top of that, it will also let you send payments if you work with any freelancers or buy products for your business.
You can then generate reports of all your invoices, expenses, and payments, which will make doing your taxes much easier.
How much does it cost? Not much.
Depending on whether you’re going to allow any employees to use the tool as well (you could have them handle invoicing and expensing, etc.), you’re looking at $30-40 a month:
10. ZenPayroll: This is a great tool that helps you handle employees as you grow. You may not need it right away, but keep it in mind because you might in the future.
The main purpose of ZenPayroll, as the name suggests, is to make your payroll simple.
It automatically takes care of setting up taxes for new employees and paying contractors (and taking care of their tax needs), and it can even be set up to do automatic tax filings for you.
Keep in mind that this tool is made for the US. As far as I know, it won’t work as well in other countries.
As far as the pricing, it’s very simple: you pay a base fee and then an extra $6 for each person you add (all per month):
You can then configure it so that you just have to add new employees, and it will get all their tax and payment information set up without you having to do anything:
For small- to medium-sized companies, it’s more or less HR and accounting departments in one simple tool.
You have a long road in front of you.
By all means, expect to put in a lot of work. However, if you have a problem that can be solved by the tools I’ve given you, take advantage of them.
To end off, I’ve got to ask you whether I’ve left any tools off this list that you love. I know that I haven’t included every tool in the world here. Please share any of your favorites in a comment below.