As we near completion of construction here at Maple Ventures, we are extremely thankful for all the support it has taken to get the Entrepreneur Support Center from dream to reality. Taking a leap as a startup is no easy task and we are humbled to share the journey with some truly exceptional companies. On that note, we want to take a minute to share some appreciation for the tools that have made our lives as entrepreneurs easier and more productive along the way. Here are some our favorites. Please share yours as well!
In product design, it’s essential to be able to visualize your concept before you implement. Moqups lets you test out concepts, share ideas and collaborate with your team with wireframes and mockups. You can even create prototypes to walk through the user experience and find issues and opportunities. There is a free plan with limited features that allows you to test it out on one project before you commit to a monthly plan.
Accounting and payroll, taxes and reporting can seem like a daunting part of running a business for most folks, but QuickBooks makes it fairly simple no matter your level of expertise. They have very simple packages that can help you track your income and expenses and run basic reports and of course, more robust options that would let you manage inventory and contractors and more. It integrates with some popular apps and you can connect it to your business banking to make for easier reporting and management. The mobile app is also really easy to use on the go.
It seems like there is a new social posting tool coming out every day. Two that we have used and liked are Hootsuite and Buffer. They are both very user friendly. Hootsuite has an integration with Instagram so you don’t have to do anything manually to post there. Buffer has a nice content queue feature that lets you pre-populate content or at least have some good options waiting for you when you log in. Both are also pretty affordable considering the hassles they eliminate.
Canva is a life-saver for those of us who don’t know InDesign or Illustator or other professional graphic design programs. With pre-sized templates for everything from flyers and brochures to digital ads and social images, it makes it incredibly easy to make your brand look good. Photos, icons, fonts, backgrounds and tons of other design elements are included to help your marketing materials look professional. If you upgrade to the Canva for Work option, you can even upload your brand’s colors and fonts and manage teams.
If you need to map it out, SmartDraw can help. From flowcharts to mind maps to floor plans and decision trees, they have tons of templates to get you started. What’s really helpful is the “intelligent formatting” feature, which automatically adjusts your chart when you add, delete or move items around. A single user plan is just $9.95 (billed annually).
Animoto lets you easily upload photos and images and turn it into a dynamic marketing video. Their storyboard feature is really easy to use, helping you plan out your content before you commit to a final video. You can choose from different music tracks to play in the background as well. The professional version lets you share videos without the Animoto watermark on them, which can be important when you are trying to raise awareness of your brand.
When you think of MailChimp, you may think of email marketing, but it’s actually way more. You can create landing pages, launch social and remarketing ads and integrate with tools like Salesforce, Evenbrite and WooCommerce. They charge based on how many subscribers you have and how many emails you send per month. The good news is that if you send less than 12,000 emails per month to 2,000 or fewer subscribers, it’s free! It’s a good place to start if you are a small company that needs to nurture leads and communicate with customers.
If you like looking at someone’s face when you talk to them then video conferencing is for you. These tools are ridiculously easy to use. If you and your participant have web cams, you can easily do a video call and share your screen as well. Join.me is quick to access in a pinch and you can try it for free. Zoom has some sophisticated offerings, like Zoom Rooms, which are basically video conference rooms built on their cloud platform, using the hardware of your choice. They even have a developer platform to allow you to add their video, voice & screen sharing into your app. Their basic personal meeting option is free, just like Join.me.
For a growing brand, professional photography is essential, but hiring a photographer to build your library can be expensive. For stock photos on a budget, Unsplash.com has a ton of great photos for free that are quite useful.
Startups have a lot of moving parts on the way to MVP and beyond. A project management tool like Monday can be extremely helpful to keep plans moving quickly and reduce redundancies. Monday is great because it’s visual and has templates that can be customized based on your use case scenario.
There are so many online tools, apps and software that make our work lives easier, it's hard to capture them all in one post. Let us know if your favorite tool isn't on our list and we will plan to share more lists like this in the future. Be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram and connect on LinkedIn to catch our latest updates and helpful tips.