Thinking of starting your own business? Here are the tools/services I use
In late 2016 I started preparing myself to go out on my own. There were signs my employer was going to be acquired, and a good chance my position would be eliminated. So I started to consider consulting as the next stage for me, and on Jan 10th I registered my LLC.
NOTE: This post will be updated as my ‘stack’ evolves. Latest updated Sept 20, 2017.
Sure enough, my position was eliminated on Feb 1, but it took until March 8th before I officially ‘stopped interviewing’ and dedicated myself to establishing a consulting practice.
Since that time I’ve had many conversations with other budding entrepreneurs (the Women Who Startup Community is a fantastic resource!), and figured I would share some of the tools and resources I’ve used so far. Because, you know, I’m such a veteran 6 months in :-P
For those of you who just want to cut to the chase:
Accounting: was FreshBooks, now QuickBooks Online
Business Checking: Spark Business by Capital One
Business Credit Card: Southwest Premier Business by Chase
Mileage Tracking: MileIQ
Payroll: none, I just do Owners’ Draws
Online Scheduling: YouCanBook.Me
Video Conferencing: Zoom
Domain Registration: Pop.co
Website Hosting: was TotalChoiceHosting, now SiteGround
Logo Design: Logojoy
Business cards: Moo.com
Marketing: LinkedIn Premium (not currently)
I registered Frameplay Consulting LLC for $199 using IncFile. I wanted to register an LLC for tax purposes, among other reasons. Although I don’t have any employees now, I can see that changing and didn’t want to tie myself to operating under my name.
A few years ago when I was looking at being a sub-contractor, I was told I needed Professional Liability insurance. My company also should have insurance. I went with HISCOX directly off their website, although I’ve since learned that going through a broker can be cheaper.
I had a few questions after going through their website wizard, but a quick chat on the phone helped me feel more confident I was covered.
If you get a cheaper rate, let me know! They are very quick at getting the policy in place, so I didn’t pull the trigger until I started working with my first client.
(Updated Sept 2017)
I knew I wanted to track my expenses right away, so I tried out QuickBooks Self-Employed and Freshbooks. The Freshbooks UI won me over initially, but a good friend who’s a tax accountant warned me that I was going to eventually have to grow into a ‘real’ double-entry accounting system. I figured it was better to switch sooner rather than later, so I recently switched to QuickBooks Online (not self-employed). And now I have a balance sheet! I feel like I run a real business! I have the Essentials package, which is normally $35/month but they have a 50% off discount for the first 6 months.
So this was a little thrill to find out about. Now that I am a consultant, I can track my mileage as I visit clients. I signed up for MileIQ, which is a simple mobile app that detects when you’re driving and lets you classify drives as personal or business (or even more granularity if you need it). It’s free for 40 rides a month, and after a month’s trial, I paid the $60/year fee for unlimited rides. There are other cheaper solutions out there, but again, the UX won me over
(Updated Sept 2017)
I originally planned to pay myself a salary, but after going down a rabbit hole of figuring out Unemployment and other random taxes, I ended up just taking out an Owners’ Draw. That’ll save me $45/month NOT using Gusto to pay myself, as I had planned!
I’ve pulled together a handful of proposals so far, and a full-fledged system like PandaDoc was too much for me. With DocHub I can share a PDF with a prospect to get them to review and e-sign. They let you do a limited number of docs for free each month, with a path to upgrade. They also integrate with Google drive, so I’ve actually been using them for e-signing my own documents for years!
Scheduling calls is a pain! I have a free account through YouCanBook.Me that syncs with my Google calendar so potential clients can see my availability and schedule time to talk. Right now I don’t get a lot of cold calls, but they do have a $10/month premium offer that offers more features and no branding. (My page looks like: https://frameplay-andrea.youcanbook.me/ )
I hate to admit this since I worked at ReadyTalk for years, but I signed up for a free account with Zoom. So far the 40 minute limit on calls hasn’t been a problem.
URL and Website Hosting
(Updated Sept 2017)
All the cool startups have .co domain extensions! I first heard about Go.co at a Startup Weekend event and they are trying to offer a community and more perks than just a domain name. I don’t know if that’s really the case, honestly. But especially here in Colorado there is a lot of traction with the .co extension.
I registered frameplay.co through Pop.co for a $19.99, which included a simple one-page ‘site’ to start. They’re also a Google Apps reseller, so I pay them $5/month for Google Apps (Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Drive, etc).
After 15 years using TotalChoiceHosting as a personal website host, I signed up for SiteGround because they offered a free one-year SSL certificate. Yup, Frameplay 2.0 will have an eCommerce component to it. So far the technical support at SiteGround has been fantastic. With an introductory price of $5.95/month (down from $14.95/month) It’s a step up from the $44/year I was paying at TCH for the GrowBig plan, but when you factor in the SSL certificate and support, I think it’s probably a wash.
Around the time I was working on Frameplay, a new “AI for Logo Design” product popped up on Product Hunt. I spent $65 on a logo, but mostly I just had fun playing with typefaces and icons!
Moo.com cards aren’t the cheapest, but damn they look good. I dropped $86 on 200 business cards. Ha, and I think I’ve given out 10 of them. I’m not sure people really use business cards anymore :-)
I wasn’t sure if an e-newsletter was worth the time and effort, but then I came across Revue. Super simple to pull together resources and send them out. I’m also on the free plan, although they do offer a premium white-labeled service as well. Hey! You should subscribe — https://www.getrevue.co/profile/frameplay
I have tried both LinkedIn Premium and Sales Navigator free trials to identify prospects. They’re both pretty expensive, and honestly I’m a one-woman shop, I don’t need to be doing that much prospecting ALL THE TIME. For $50–65/month (when paid annually), this is on my “in the future-maybe” list.
That’s what I’ve got in my toolkit so far. Would love to hear what you’re using!