What software do you need to test if you have a viable business idea?

...Or "Setting up the right software to get your business up and running for less than US$ 100"

I've tried to set up and run a few small businesses online. On reflection, I'm struck by my ability to

  • Get my social media accounts muddled up,
  • Be unable to manage my 'Google My Business' profile with the correct business account, and
  • Waste too much time & money on software.

I figured there has to be a 'better' way - well at least for me. There has to be a simple order to set up software and online accounts that

  1. Is free or as cheap as possible to start with, but
  2. If the idea works are simple to upscale and pay for what's needed.

So here's my list, it's the software I use. If think this list makes sense, I'd recommend following them in order.

If you've got recommendations or suggestions, please feel free to add them to the comments. My list isn't exhaustive, and it may not have everything you need.

Please note - none of these links below are affiliate links.

1. Find a name

TheNameApp - Free

The Name App is useful for sorting through domain names and social media accounts. It’s limited to 4 top level domains, and 4 social media accounts. But it covers the most important ones including .com, Facebook and Twitter.

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2. Buy A Domain Name

NameCheap – US$ 8.88 / year

There are a TON of of domain registrars, many with tempting headline offers. It definitely pays to shop around and review prices. I found the best way to compare prices is look at their renewal rates.

I use NameCheap. Their website is pretty user friendly and they’re the cheapest domain registrar I have found.

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3. 2-Factor Authentication

Google Authenticator - Free

Set up 2 Factor Authentiction on all your email and software accounts. There are lots of reasons to do this. Not least to prevent unauthorised people accessing your accounts. If you want to learn more click here

I use Google Authenticator, it's free and is available on the Google Play Store and on iTunes. Here's a link on how to install it.

Tip

  1. Download, print and store the backup codes somewhere safe.

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4. Professional Email

Google (or 'G Suite') – US$ 5.00 / month

You can manage any website with a free email account such as Google or Yahoo. I recommend not to for two reasons

  1. It's more professional. If you want people to take you seriously get a professional email ending in @yourdomain.com.
  2. It's easier to manage other software. You can set up the software (below) with a free email account. If you run multiple businesses, it is less confusing to use a professional email.

Sign up for the Basic version of 'G Suite'

Tips

  1. I suggest you use Chrome as your web browser.
  2. Sign In your Google Account in the web browser.
  3. Make sure you're signed into Chrome before signing up to online websites & subscriptions.
  4. Create two email aliases

If the future, you can set up dedicated social@ and info@ email addresses and assign them to someone else.

  1. Secure your email using Google Authenticator. If you have a Professional Email with Gsuite, manage everything through Gsuite. Here is a guide. If you use a personal Google email account, here are Googles' help pages.

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5. Webhosting

DigitalOcean – US$ 5.00 / month

DigitalOcean, Linode and Vultr all provide high quality, cloud based webhosting services. They have (to varying degrees)

  1. Well written documentation to help you get set up,
  2. Online support, and
  3. One click installations for popular software platforms such as WordPress.

I use DigitalOcean.

If you’re not confident rolling up your sleeves,you have some great options for a basic website. These include Weebly and Wix. They both offer free accounts. You can link your domain name to them, but you’ll need to pay a monthly subscription fee.

Tips

Don't forget to set up your

i) DNS records at your domain registrar to point to Digital Ocean
ii) MX records for G Suite. You'll need to verify your domain on Digital Ocean.

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5. User Tracking

Google Analytics - Free

Sign up to Google Analytics to start tracking users to your website.

Find your Google Analytics ID you’ll need it in the next step. Your user ID will be in the format UA-XXXXXXXX-X. Make a note of it.

If you need help click here.

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6. Manage 'Tags'

Google Tag Manager - Free

Google Analytics is a 'Tag'. Online businesses such as Facebook and Twitter publish 'Tags'. These help them track the actions people take on your website. Google Tag Manager allows you to mange all Tags in one place.

Here is a basic guide to setting up Google Analyics in Google Tag Manager.

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7. Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising & SEO

Google Adwords – Free until you set up an advert

Pay Per Click ('PPC') advertising can be a good way of bringing traffic to your website. Be warned: It can be a very expensive way bringing traffic to your site if you don't know what you're doing.

Sign up and create a Google AdWords account. Link Google Adwords to your Google Analytics account.

One good feature of Google Adwords is the Keyword Planner tool. This gives you access to Google's search data, and allows you to understand what people are search for online.

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8. Host Advertising on Your Site

Google Adsense – Free

If you want to host advertising on your website or blog, set up Google Adsense and link it to your Google Analytics account.

I don't set up Google Adsense on any of my websites. I don't think it looks professional, but I recognise many bloggers use it as a source of income.

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9. Online Business Listings

Even if you don’t have a physical store it’s worth setting these up. They’re yet more sign posts around the web for people to find you

10. Set Up A Home Page On Your Website

This is a massive subject area and way outside the scope of this article.

You’ve a million variations from

  1. Code it yourself, to
  2. Using WordPress, to
  3. WYSIWYG editors such as Weebly or Wix.

There are lots of online resources available to help you if you need help.

If you use WordPress, check if it's cheaper host on DigitalOcean than on WordPress.

Make sure you include on your home page

  • A description of what you’re offering,
  • Your contact details (amazing how many people forget or bury it on their website...)
  • Links to your social media accounts (link everything to everything else)
  • A newsletter sign up

Other Free Tools You Can Use

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11. Mass Email Program

Mailerlite – Free until you reach 1,000 subscribers

If you're going to send lots of emails - you’ll need a mass email program. They ensure the emails get into recipients’s inboxes and not their spam.

Mail Chimp is one of the best known but there are lots of alternatives. I prefer Mailerlite. It's simpler than Mailchimp, but still a robust solution to start with. You can use it to insert sign up forms into your website, set up auto responders and send your newsletters from.

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12. Set Up Social Media accounts – Free

Make sure you're signed into Google Chrome when setting up the Social Media accounts.

You may have the option to sign in using Google (or another social media network). Feel free to do so, or to sign up using email and password.

In order I’d set up

  1. Facebook. Most of the world are on Facebook. You may want to set up a Facebook Business Page.
  2. Twitter. Twitter allows you to set up a Business profile.
  3. Google Plus – not sure how useful it is – people argue either way. These are managed through Google My Business
  4. Instagram. Instagram allows you to set up Business profile.
  5. LinkedIn. LinkedIn allows you to set up a Company page.
  6. Pinterest. Pinterest allows you to set up a Business page.

Why so many? They’re all signposts pointing to your business on the web. I’m going to tell you what tools to help to manage them next.

What's the point of setting up Business pages? They allow you to separate your personal (or business profile) from that of your Business'. Meaning you can Blog, Post or Tweet either on behalf of your business, or as an individual.

13. Social Media Management

Buffer - Free

Buffer allows you to post to many social media accounts all at the same time. It’s free version supports

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn

There are some differences as to how you whould write your posts for different social media platforms. See these guides for Twitter and Facebook.

If you’re time pressed and want to send something from your smart phone – Buffer is great. If you want to plan and manage your social media posts from your laptop or desktop, Buffer’s also great.

Tip

  1. Download & setup the Buffer App for your mobile phone, so you can post on the go.
  2. It's available on iTunes or in the Google Play store.

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14. Chrome Extensions – Free

These make working in Google Chrome a little easier.

  • Buffer - a quick way to add online content to social media posts
  • Pablo - a quick way to add images into social media posts
  • Bit.ly - for creating short trackable links
  • Pinterest - a quick way to add online content to you Pinterest account.

15. Surveys

Google Forms - Free

Google Forms is incredibly versitile and can be used to collect email addresses, for surveys and more.

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In summary

Hopefully by now you’ve got an idea on what software you might want to use to help you test your business idea. If you've got any recommendations or suggestions, please feel free to add them in the comments below.

I've included only 3 paid services - Buying a Domain name, Webhosting and an email from Google. Testing your idea for 6 months will cost around US$70. If you've used Weebly or Wix to host your website, it may be slightly more.

Hugo Elliott

Passionate about building businesses, managing people, the outdoors, nature, and renewable energy.