Why show behind the scenes?
Lockdown Presents started abruptly.
Simone (my co-founder) had a good idea one day to ask a musician friend to surprise her granny on a family Zoom catch-up for her birthday and seven days later we had a fully functioning platform on our hands, and had done our first 'genuine' hands-off paid gig.
If you know what tools are out there and how to use them, then setting up and running a business has never been easier. It's the knowing what's out there part that's hard to do. One of the reasons we have been able to ramp up so quickly is because I spend most of my day-job consulting with business, with a focus on strategic planning/finance, operations and tech/automation, which means I get to keep on top of this kind of stuff.
If you know what tools are out there and how to use them, then setting up and running a business has never been easier.
This post gives an overview of the steps we took to launch and our tech stack, and the decision making process behind these. In writing this post I hope:
- To take some of the guesswork out of setting up a business for some of you who read this, and that you go off and set up cool ventures
- That some of you click on the affiliate links peppered throughout, marked with a *. I only list software that is genuinely useful and I personally rate highly. Some links are not affiliated - that's not for a lack of trying, they just don't have an affiliate programs yet...
- That you find it useful and saves you time. If it doesn't or you don't agree - send me a message!
Since we would be running a platform business for arranging Zoom events, our first step was arranging a website. Our service is entirely online, so this is both our store-front and where service is going to be delivered.
We chose GoDaddy* based on time primarily and cost. GoDaddy is one of the largest domain name providers; this means the majority of the services you might need it to interact with, already have GoDaddy-specific integrations. This will save you time modifying your domain's records, e.g. when you link your site to your hosting provider, email provider, CRM and marketing tools.
I have historically used NameCheap for domains, which can be slightly cheaper but doesn't have as many one-click integrations. So for my intended purposes, time-saving wins out.
Website building and hosting
My recommendation, and chosen solution for Lockdown Presents is Webflow. I have used a number of different website builders historically, including Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress, as well as developing in HTML with Bootstrap css themes. Currently Webflow wins out on how quickly you can develop, flexibility and resulting page speed (clean code and good hosting).
The only time I tend to recommend anything other than Webflow these days is for ecommerce businesses in general, in particular those with a large range of products and tax reporting jurisdictions. Here Shopify is often the more appropriate choice, due to the range of Shopify plugins, in particular for currency conversion for shoppers in different locations and for sales tax / VAT reporting.
You've got your domain, you have a website builder, and you've chosen a theme to start with (because you are clever and who dreams of starting building a website from scratch these days...). Now you need to customise it and make it yours, starting with good copy and better imagery. We use Pixabay and Unsplash for free imagery and use Picresize to scale them down / optimise for the website.
Website Traffic Analysis
Next up, once your site is live, connect it to Google Analytics and learn where your traffic is coming from. Take it to the next level, and trial SEMRush to get at least an overview of good Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) practices and use their helpful resources / checklists to get your website in a position to be found, and found often by the people you want to find it.
Supposing you chose Webflow to run your website, you'll have a very easy time of keeping on top of your SEO. If not, use helpful plug-ins to check for best practice, e.g. Yoast is best-in-class for WordPress websites. This step is also a pre-cursor to your digital marketing.
Email, Cloud Storage, documents and spreadsheets 📧
Early on, you'll need to choose if you are in camp G Suite from Google or team Microsoft. We're a Google house because G Suite meets our needs entirely and is quicker and more intuitive to set up , but that's not to say that Microsoft doesn't cut it (in fact I still ♥ Excel and I prefer Outlook's interface).
Setting up email with your domain, GDrive for storage and working collaboratively with Google docs, is just that bit simpler and quicker. Similarly, most of the services we use have built specific integrations for Google, that don't exist or are third-party driven for the equivalent from Microsoft.
Internal chat and collaboration 📝
For written communication, Slack is my recommendation. Great functionality, intuitive, and free / cost-effective as you grow.
For video calls, Zoom. Free for calls up to 40 minutes (no meeting should be longer anyway IMHO...) and integrates with most software you might need it for, e.g. scheduling. If you're a GSuite user, with basic needs, then Google Hangouts does the job very nicely and doesn't ask your user to download an app if they're on desktop either!
Company Set Up 🏗
Naturally, this varies by country. In the UK, like most countries, you can simply be a Sole Trader. In our case, we chose to incorporate a Limited Company - there are many reasons for this but primarily to keep finances and tax treatment separate.
Setting up a company is easy to do in the UK, so I did it myself directly at Companies House. It costs £13 to do, and for probably 9 in 10 businesses, the default provisions and share classes are all you need. This takes 1 to 2 working days before you get your company formation docs.
With your business structure decided, you can now get a bank account. We deal in multiple currencies, so this alone was reason enough for us to go for TransferWise. We also need to process bulk transfers, and you'd be as surprised as I was to learn how few banking providers make this available. If we were UK only, likely we would have used Tide.
For payment processing, the things to optimise for are how trusted the provider is in your region, i.e. to your customers, the fees, and ability to integrate with the rest of your tech stack. For us, Stripe was an easy choice because it is well recognised throughout the UK, Europe and the US. Square would have been equally acceptable choice, especially if you have Point-Of-Sale (POS) requirements, e.g. if you run a stall or physical store. PayPal deserves a mention, but fees and drop-off rates are the reason we do not use it for this project.
Define your business' terms and policies. There are great templates available from Rocket Lawyer and you should cross-reference with those of similar established companies to ensure you cover industry specific issues.
Naturally, this is not relevant for every business. In both my accounting line of work and for Lockdown Presents, managing bookings, multiple diaries and having this effortless sync with personal calendars and engagements, is a must. We use Acuity scheduling for Lockdown Presents because it works really well for our needs and is the more cost effective solution. However, for certain applications, i.e. sales and consulting roles such as in the accountancy practice, Calendly is more appropriate because it gives greater flexibility for the individual (which is not needed for Lockdown Presents where bookable events are defined at the business rather than individual level).
Project and Task Management Software ☑
Running the business is complex but can be boiled down simply to: there are tasks and there are people who are responsible for getting them done. Every business should have a system in place to ensure that tasks are defined, owned, and done to deadline. We use Asana for this (so does Nasa!) and our development pipeline, scheduled work (like payruns) and ad-hoc tasks all live and are assigned to people here.
We additionally use Nuclino as a knowledge base for complex processes. This is a really neat bit of kit for those with a large knowledge base they want to make easily accessible. The main reason I use it, is because it is ultra-quick to write in (I actually drafted this blog in Nuclino because it's just so quick to work and collaborate in).
Email marketing and CRM 📣
I've spent the last 6 years implementing and building Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, so this is a topic I want to speak at length on... but I'll keep it brief instead.
We use Mailchimp both for email marketing and as a CRM because it is both best-in-class and free to begin / cost-effective as you scale. For some large/complex businesses Salesforce is almost always going to be the right choice, but increasingly, challengers, in particular HubSpot, are both cost-effective and straight-forward to implement.
For certain industries, particularly the ones subject to industry-specific regulation, getting a CRM that targets your industry is the right solution, but as a starting point, MailChimp is hard to beat and you can build up clean, easy-to-export data should you decide to migrate later on as your business scales.
Social Media 🤳
Throughout the first month whilst running the business on a shoestring and prior to our successful Crowdfund, we drove traffic to our site mainly via social media. Our Head of Marketing, Helen, uses Hootsuite to manage our social media accounts and schedule posts ahead of time.
We occasionally need to gather data from our customers. For all but the most basic forms, which we gather using the native forms in Webflow, we use a form builder.
We use JotForm because we wanted to be able to take payments in various currencies and freely add logic to our forms. Subjectively, it does not look as nice as Typeform out of the box, but you are able to customise the styling / css, so with a bit of developer knowledge, it can look just as nice.
Connecting your tech stack 🔌
We want to have a fully automated platform as far as possible so that we can focus our time on business development instead. We use Zapier as a connector and automation tool. This is the no-code alternative to developing an app to connect to your various software providers' APIs. It is intuitive to set up, is available for 1,000s of apps, and has is the cornerstone of any low-code / no-code set-up.
That's it. That's every step we took from start to launch in 7 days. Next up from here is defining your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), digital marketing, and setting up your accounting (wooooooo!). If you want to get it in touch to comment or ask me anything about the business, use our contact form. Feedback and questions are welcome.