New Start-ups: Here's Your Digital To-Do List
I asked a number of entrepreneurs and experts for the essential things every new start-up must do to establish its Web presence. Here's the digital to-do list they came up with:
1. Register the domain.
If you've seen the GoDaddy.com commercials, you know you shouldn't wait long to register a domain. Someone might swoop in and steal the perfect dotcom. Just about every expert listed this first, knowing the domain is one of the easiest things to do, but also the one that can get you into a bind if you don't get the one you want.
2. Create your LinkedIn company page.
You may already have a personal page on LinkedIn, but you'll also want a LinkedIn company page. Start-up coach Anna Colibri says a company page lets you use a corporate logo on your resume. Bonus points if you add tons of links to your company page--to your own profile, to your company site, and to other social nets.
It's critical to start using Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools right away. Serial entrepreneur Ryan Alovis, the CEO and founder of interactive agency ArkNet Media, says these tools form the foundation of online marketing. You can analyze your new domain for traffic, SEO, bounce rates (how long someone sticks around), and much more.
4. Claim your Google+ business page.
Speaking of Google, you'll also want to create a Google+ business page. You'll get exposure on this more technically minded social network, but more importantly your customers will see a well-organized summary of your company (one you control) at the top of search results.
5. Round out your social networking.
For a new business, experts say LinkedIn is critical (it connects you with other businesses) and Google+ helps with search engine optimization. You'll also want to establish your company on Facebook and Twitter. One trick I tell people: Go to Klout.com and register for all of the accounts they list, including Instagram and Foursquare.
6. Fill out local citations.
You not only own a company, you own an address. Jennifer Stagner, who does SEO for office supplier Tops, says you should always use the same format, spelling, and syntax for your physical address (e.g., 101 Main Street not Main St). Claim your citations at Yelp, Google Places, UrbanSpoon, and other local search sites. She says you can also use a local search service like Whitespark or Yext to speed up the process.
7. Start using MailChimp.
Most experts specifically called out MailChimp, the e-newsletter and mass email distribution service, as a critical step. For starters, Stagner says MailChimp is a great way to manage contacts and keeps your company compliant with spam laws. You'll also start out with a professional image for email blasts and can track the success of these campaigns.
8. Pick an anti-virus tool.
Sure, it might seem boring--why would a hacker come after your new company anyway? But tools for protecting against malware and viruses such as the ones from companies like McAfee and Symantec are important right from the get-go (especially since some spambots check for recently registered domains). Sameep Shah, who runs a Web design company, says it's also important to make sure your anti-virus software is always running the latest signature files and is installed on all computers.
9. Start blogging.
An extra step that could help with marketing? Yes, but early on it serves other useful purposes. Colibri says blogging is critical for search engine optimization and generating buzz. You claim your authority on a topic and add credibility to your presence on the Web. But the best reason is to create links back to that domain you registered.
10. Choose how to collaborate.
In-person collaboration is easy: Just walk over to the desk of an employee. For a distributed company with remote workers, or to connect better with customers and partners, you'll need to pick a collaborative online environment. Michelle Lam, co-founder of RecoverORS, recommends tools like Redbooth (formerly Teambox), Teamlab, and Basecamp. They help you keep up on overall company progress so you don't rely only on email.
11. Install a router.
Some small companies can get by without a router, but not for long. Many new laptops like the Chromebook Pixel do offer a built-in 4G connection, but you'll want to start thinking about network storage in the office, connecting a printer, and sharing files. The latest models like the NETGEAR R6300 use a wireless standard called 802.11ac, which runs at a speedy 1750Mbps. (Keep in mind that connected gadgets might not run at that speed... yet.)
12. Choose a cloud storage provider.
This is a tough one, because there are so many options. I've been testing a business-oriented storage service called Soonr, which is geared more for teams. Dropbox, Google Cloud Storage, and Carbonite are also good options. Shah says one of the key benefits to a cloud storage service, other than the easy remote access, is low-cost disaster recovery.
13. Think like a SurveyMonkey.
Several experts also called out SurveyMonkey.com as a critical tool for any new company. The site lets you create questionnaires you can send out to customers. But the reason this step is important is to create a feedback loop. By asking for feedback from customers, you can keep innovating and change direction as needed. Surveys also serve a different purpose: They're a marketing tool. You can even ask current customers for referrals.
14. Get a virtual phone number.
You'll need a way for people to contact you beyond email. In lieu of a cell phone or a business line, consider a virtual phone number from companies like RingCentral or Twilio. Mikhail Malamud, who started a cloud auditing company called CloudAware, says these services offer advanced call routing features and can provide a 1-800 number.
15. Choose your SEO keywords.
Early on, you'll want to start thinking about SEO keywords--the search terms people will use to find your new business. You'll add these to your site when you get one developed, and you might use them if you start buying Google ads. Kelsey McBride, a PR representative, says you should think about SEO before you pick your company name. She recently started a new company called Book Publicity Services because it is so Google-friendly.
16. Make YouTube videos.
Malamud also mentioned that a critical first step is to make YouTube videos, because these can help explain your company to the uninitiated and generate site traffic. (I know of one friend who generated almost all of his initial sales from a YouTube video.) Google, who owns YouTube, will analyze and associate your video keywords with your new company domain, helping people find your new company.
17. Create a back-up system.
Even if you do most of your business online or use cloud services, you'll probably end up with some local files storage. Most of the experts said a back-up system--even if it is a simple USB thumbdrive or an external disk connected to your mac--is critical as a first step. I also like the Pogoplug for cloud back-ups.
18. Go online for CRM.
Choosing a Customer Relationship Management tool like Salesforce.com is a critical first step, even though it may not seem like a critical item for a tech to-do list. Most of the experts said CRM is a business process that has become more technical than ever. You'll need to pick a tool that can communicate with the other services you use, like MailChimp. And, if you choose an open source tool like SugarCRM, you might need to hire a programmer to help.
19. Pick an email platform.
Before you click "activate" on your new company, you'll need to pick a real email platform--unless you plan to stick with Gmail. Outlook.com is one good option, since it doesn't have as many ads. But a full-on business email platform like BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 or Microsoft Exchange online provide admin tools, password resets, and better security.
20. Create a way to accept payments.
Oh, and one last technical step: People will need a way to pay you. You can sign up for a service like PayPal.com or use one of those nifty iPad credit card scanners like Square. Make sure whatever service you use fits in with your overall gameplan for tech. For example, if you use Square, make sure it will work on the tablets you're using.