If you're going to compete with the big dogs, you've got to dress the part. Look more professional with these essential apps.
Current lack of budget, manpower, and resources aside, you know your bedroom start-up has what it takes to compete with industry leaders. But do your customers know that?
If you're not doing it already, it's time to start dressing the part.
What follows is a list of cost-effective tech tools that will help you look bigger and more professional—without the crippling overhead.
Design a killer website – For a DIY, professional-looking website, try Onepager, which lets beginners build an attractive online presence in minutes. It has an intuitive point-and-click interface that lets you insert your company name, tagline, and body text into preexisting templates, then add photos and visual styling. Further options allow for insertion of newsletter signups, service rundowns, social media links, and contact information, including painless domain name registration. Providers like Intuit, 1&1 and Squarespace also offer painless off-the-shelf solutions.
Hire a virtual secretary – Set up a toll-free number with a customized receptionist that forwards to your cell or home office. Services like eVoice, Grasshopper, and FreedomNumber can provide local or long-distance extensions with automated attendant greetings and extensions, which adds to the professionalism of your company’s image. Others such as Phone.com, Onebox, and RingCentral even offer unlimited calling and faxing, and/or contract-free plans. Fax to email services with companion apps such as eFax are also handy.
Host more professional conference calls – Three-way calling is for the birds. To set up toll-free extensions for group conversation, try SimpleTollFree’s service, which also allows for optional audio recording as well. (The catch: You pay by the minute.) Additional services including FreeConference, Free Conference Calling, and Rondee can also provide lines on-demand without prior reservations. International callers may want to try alternatives PowWowNow or No Cost Conference as well.
Teleconference or telecommute – Popular service Skype remains a top way to place video calls free, even in the professional world. (Just remember to clean up and decorate your desk before pointing a webcam at it.) But rivals like ooVoo, FaceFlow and Fring are also good for group chats. Services like FaceTime and Tango provide solutions that extend beyond the desktop to mobile devices as well. All offer a useful way to stay in touch with virtual colleagues.
Get out of your basement – But don't jump into a long-term lease on office space yet. Besides providing professional call answering services and local addresses for package receipt, Regus also rents access to business lounges, conference rooms, office space, and equipment at multiple locations on-demand. Rival Alliance Virtual Offices can also supply receptionists, handle delivery receipts, and offer temporary office space. If you need more flexible or longer-term space, alternatives like co-ops and shared offices may be preferable. Intelligent Office, Regent Business Centers, and Green Desk can help locate suitable solutions.
Outsource graphic and logo design – Crowdspring lets you set a budget and project description then sit back while creative types compete to submit potential entries for logos, letterhead, and Web designs. 99Designs and DesignCrowd offer similar freelance marketplaces.
Add an online store – Multiple options from Goodsie and Shopify to Volusion and BigCommerce offer both basic solutions that require minimal to no programming and more sophisticated virtual bazaars. While it’s tempting to go big on features and selection here, it often pays to keep things simple. Start by staying focused on practicality, convenience, and popular high-margin goods, then expand organically, rather than overcomplicating your user interface and potentially overwhelming shoppers with too many choices.