The ink has barely dried on your office rental agreement, and you just started scoping out Monster.com for qualified employees to add to your minuscule staff. What's next?
Apart from the three stages of startup anxiety (questioning why you ever did this, panicking because you did, and stressing out because you have to actually start growing), you will have to start managing business operations. And by "you" I mean you. In an early stage, it's likely you will be the one who does all of your accounting, handles the task list, and buys the coffee. Here are a few good options to get your footing before the real stress of needing a regular income and dealing with office space issues sets in.
1. Use Freshbooks for your accounting
The best time to get your accounting in order is before you make your first dollar. I really, really prefer Freshbooks because it has a clean interface and seems to be geared for people who barely have time to drink coffee in the morning, let alone run a profit-and-loss statement. I have figured out how to add an invoice in under 14 seconds. Throw me a party for that one, eh? This accounting tool lets you e-mail invoices, run reports, and manage expense items but does it all in an intuitive way that saves time.
2. Organize your tasks with Smartsheet
I recently decided to give up the Plaxo ghost. It's a great contact manager but I was using it to manage my tasks for some strange reason. Since 2008. For just about everything I do. Go figure, huh? It never really made much sense. When I wanted to use something better that let me track tasks according with a bit more data (such as, how much that project pays and who is involved), I tested a dozen options. The one that works the best for me is Smartsheet, which has an outdated user interface (it looks like someone loves Excel spreadsheets a bit too much) but plenty of high-end functions like sorting, searching, and the ability to have multiple projects with their own tasks.
3. Get a constant Campfire discussion going
Even if you just have one other person involved with your company (and that person is your spouse), keep a constant discussion going on Campfire. I've heard this handy online discussion tool, which saves a history of everything you type, is going away at some point, but it appears to be still available. I use it constantly. It's a great way to openly discuss any topic in your company and avoid the dreaded inner circle problem that can quickly arise. (The one where only a few people know what is going on.)
4. Start managing your social media
It's tempting to just use Twitter.com or Facebook to manage your social media. A better approach? Use a management tool like HootSuite or SproutSocial. You can post to multiple networks at once, see interactions from every network in one list, and schedule your posts to run at various times during the day (if you like that strategy). Social media can quickly become a digital hairball if you don't manage it properly.
5. Store your data on Google Drive
Pick your own cloud storage provider (e.g., Dropbox or Box), but make sure you decide on the one that works best for you and then use it routinely. Local storage is for people who like to do back-ups and worry about data loss. I use Google Drive in the cloud because it works so smoothly with Gmail and other Google apps. Next, get really hardcore about storing everything you do on the cloud, from business reports to marketing lit.
6. Start taking notes
Business intelligence is a buzzword...but also a really important thing to collect at an early stage. I use Google Keep for taking notes, but I know many people prefer Evernote. The point is to make sure the little pieces of information you collect each day are documented somewhere. Google Keep is not that fancy but at least it is available as an app and it's always just a browser-click away. Is it possible to run a startup without having a journal full of reminders, accumulated knowledge, contacts, and other bits of information? Sure, but I would not wish that kind of chaos on anyone.