5 Must-Have Apps & Programs for a Start-up Business

5 Must-Have Apps & Programs for a Start-up Business by Cultivate CommunicationsBuilding your new business isn’t easy.

In this economy — where profit margins are razor thin due to competition — you have to figure out creative ways to establish your brand while also promoting your start-up’s products and services AND balancing a cost-effective, professional, and efficient way of conducting business.

Many software tools available today would be AMAZING to have, but you just can’t afford them right now. What’s an entrepreneur to do?

The first thing you should look for are creative alternatives to those pricey tools, platforms, and software programs designed for core business areas like Project Management, Customer Relationship Management, Social Management, Accounting, Creative, Marketing, and Content Management (e.g., Web Building).

There is an upside to our economy being the way it is right now — It’s forced people to look for, create, and share affordable tools for businesses JUST LIKE YOU.

Here’s my personal list of 5 must-have tools for your start-up business, at prices (some even FREE!) that are sure to fit your budget.

{5 Must-Have Apps & Programs for a Start-up Business} *And why!1. Basecamp (www.basecamp.com) — Basecamp is a project management and collaboration tool that not only offers you a free 60-day trial, but also integrates with a plethora of web applications to make collaborating with your clients a breeze. It has web-based calendars and drag-and-drop file sharing. It’s simple, intuitive, and best of all, after your free trial period is up, it’s completely affordable, with plans starting at $20 per month.

{5 Must-Have Apps & Programs for a Start-up Business} *And why!2. FreshBooks (www.freshbooks.com) — This cloud-based Accounting platform is an amazing tool for the budget-minded entrepreneur who does not fancy his/herself an accountant. FreshBooks offers a free 30-day trial; however, this doesn’t mean you have to stop using it when the trial period is over. You can use the software indefinitely for up to 3 clients. When your business begins to grow, you can upgrade to 25 clients for only $19.95 a month. FreshBooks makes invoicing simple, and integrates with a large number of payment options both on- and offline. For someone starting out, FreshBooks is a no-brainer when it comes to wanting to professionally manage billing and accounting.

{5 Must-Have Apps & Programs for a Start-up Business} *And why!3. DropBox (www.dropbox.com) — DropBox is one of those tools that has revolutionized how we share files with one another. The best part? DropBox is essentially FREE, with tons of storage; the ability to back up your mobile devices; and drag-and-drop convenience for sharing documents and files with clients, family, and friends. Being able to collaborate and share documents through the cloud on almost any device with DropBox has made complicated FTP file-sharing systems almost obsolete. DropBox offers creative ways to increase your storage space, too, by simply getting friends to sign up, install, and use the mobile app. It has an application programming interface to integrate with a number of applications so wide and vast, I can’t even begin to count. Be sure to get DropBox today!

{5 Must-Have Apps & Programs for a Start-up Business} *And why!4. Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics/) — Let’s face it… If you have a website, you need to know how effective your website is and what its place in your industry is. Google Analytics has revolutionized how you manage the direction you want your website, your messaging, and your brand to go — and it’s FREE! There’s no reason you shouldn’t already be using this powerhouse tool to measure your website’s performance. The tools within Google Analytics are infinitely customizable to see the statistics you need to out-perform your competition. If you have a WordPress site, be sure to check out my colleague Mike Kissel’s post about adding the Google Analyticator plug-in to your site.

If you’re not already using Google Analytics,
Contact Cultivate Communications today to find out how to get
it integrated into your website:

{5 Must-Have Apps & Programs for a Start-up Business} *And why!5. Gimp (www.gimp.org) — To really make anything happen with great design, you need expensive photo-editing software (like Adobe Photoshop). But not everyone can afford this expensive program when they’re just starting out. Fortunately for those of you trying to establish your start-up’s presence in the world, you don’t have to be pressured into pirating that precious Adobe software to get your feet wet. Check out Gimp’s features to see if this program might be an option for you.


If you use Gimp to build your business and get to the point when you can afford to buy a suite of Adobe creative products, please feel a little obligated to throw a donation their way for making it possible for you to get your start without breaking the bank. You can donate to Gimp here: http://www.gimp.org/donating/

I hope this list of useful apps and programs motivates you to grow your business in new and exciting ways. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or Google+.

Have you used any of these great applications? Share your experience and tell us how it benefited you, your business, and/or your clients.


2 Simple Ways to Track the Success of Your Marketing

 3 Simple Ways to Measure the Success of Your Marketing
As the old saying goes: more than half of your advertising isn’t working – digital marketing analytics to the rescue! Still, don’t forget the value of these classic approaches. You can figure out which campaigns are successful and which are flops through word-of-mouth.

These two simple techniques will help you
measure the success of your marketing:

  1. When you talk to a prospect, ask them where they heard about you. It really is that simple – but be prepared to keep asking follow-up questions until you know exactly which piece of advertising or marketing they saw. Add this information to your database in a separate column that you can analyze. Then add a column for referrals, too. It’s often surprising how many new customers come to you after talking to an existing customer.
  2. Set up a dedicated phone line for each campaign. Securing a range of phone numbers and assigning one specifically to each marketing activity requires a relatively small investment that really pays off. You can use your phone records to monitor the number of callers for each activity or simply update your database for incoming calls on each number.

These approaches provide valuable information that enables you to drop activities that produce poor results and emphasize the ones that work.  Analytics are great for measuring success too, but don’t forget the benefits of mixing in good-old-fashion conversations into the mix.

Image Source: Thank you to Louise Docker for sharing the featured photo above under Creative Commons!

The SEO Essentials Guide for Beginners – Part 2

Last week we explored how search engines work by using programs called robots to crawl the web, index pages, determine importance & relevance and present search results. This week we’re going to cover a few key things that will help answer the question…

Where do I start?

If you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to install a web analytics tool that offers insight into where your web traffic is coming from, and will help you make more informed decisions. There are a number of analytics packages on the market, but for all intents and purposes Google Analytics will meet just about any webmaster’s needs. All you have to do is sign up for a Google account for free access, place a small bit of code on pages you want tracked and you’ll have free reign to slice and dice data as you please.

Your next step will be a tedious but important one, keyword research. Everything revolves around the keyword because that’s what people are using to search. Ask yourself what sorts of words and phrases people would use to search for your site and what sorts of keywords you want to be found for. Even better, ask real customers what they would use and write all these terms down including all possible variations and common misspelling of those words.

Now we want to see if people are actually searching for these terms with a keyword analysis tool.  If you set up your analytics with Google (you did that right?) then I’d suggest using the keyword tool in Google AdWords, it’s also free. Use this tool to evaluate all those words and phrases you wrote down earlier. Look at the number of searches for each word and pick a handful (say 5 or 6) that have the highest number of searches each month. In the screen shot below, we can see the Google AdWords keyword tool not only predicts the estimated search numbers, but also gives you an idea of how competitive the term is, estimates cost per click (CPC) and provides other related keyword suggestions. Very handy.

Determining how many other web pages in the world compete for the same keywords is also very important. The more competitive the term the harder it will be to rank highly for it. Google’s keyword tool gives you a general idea (high, medium, low), but you can dig a little deeper and even dust off your high school algebra skills to better determine where to pick your battles. Google the keywords you selected and see who is currently ranking high for them. If you’re keyword is competing for top rank with likes of Wikipedia or a major brand, chances are you’re not going to break their dominant position and should focus on a different keyword. Check to see how many pages Google has indexed for your keyword and divide that by the number of monthly searches to figure out which keyword has the best relative ratio of pages to # of searches.

This week’s homework is to work on your keywords and practice using some of the tools I mentioned above. Don’t forget to let us know your SEO questions in the comments section below, on Facebook or our Twitter page.

Next week we’ll get under the hood with on-page optimization tips!



The SEO Essentials Guide for Beginners Round Up:
Part 1 – How search engines work?
Part 2 – Where do I start?
Part 3 – Getting under the hood
Part 4 – Building links & directory submissions