We were fortunate as a start up in our first year. We’ll likely end the year in the black. In case you were looking to start a business, here are some of the things we found to be helpful.
- Squareup.com – You need to make it easy for people to pay for your product. Squareup makes ANY Droid or Iphone a credit card processor for free! You pay a 2.75% fee per swipe or 3.15% if you don’t have your swiper on you. You can use it while you’re on the phone with a customer. Receipts are emailed or texted. The money is directly deposited into your account the next business day. You can create a store online so you can sell your products easily online for free! You’ll wonder why I use this over a regular processor that might charge a little less for transactions. First, my business is brand new and most banks run your personal and business credit to approve you for those super aggressive rates. Next, they all make you pay for equipment. Finally, they make you go through all kinds of training. Squareup let me sign up online, verified I wasn’t fraudulent and sent me the swiper for free. Additionally, I was able to sign up our entire cast to be able to take credit card payments for tickets in order to make it even easier for people to buy tickets to our shows.
- Paypal.com – Paypal is another important tool for payment processing. You can easily sign your business up and create buttons and links on your website so that customers can pay with all credit cards and paypal, of course. Paypal used to be our only web payment processing until squareup developed their online store. We still rely on paypal when offering special offers, group discounts or tracking a marketing effort to know exactly where our business is coming from. You can customize links for each of your employees so that if they sell something on their website, you can see exactly where the traffic came from. The major downside to Paypal is that the money doesn’t go directly to your bank account and if you initiate a transfer, it takes a few days. This can be overcome by getting a paypal debit card. The bonus to the card is a 1% cash back reward. If you use your paypal account properly, your net cost can be lower than squareup. Paypal also offers the ability to make your phone a POS device.
- Google Docs – Most businesses rely on some form of word processing and spreadsheet programs. For years, I used word and excel. These products are invaluable, but there are two major holdbacks to using Microsoft Office products: a. Not everyone owns word, nor does everyone want to pay $300 for it. b. Sharing documents can quickly become a game of “did you see the most recent document I sent? no, from yesterday… no, the one with the XXXX updates?”. Enter Google Docs. Free. Their word processor and spreadsheet do EVERYTHING that I need for them to do. Additionally, I can access them on ANY device, edit them on any device and always have the most updated version. Why is this so important for my business? I have profit agreements and we use the Google spreadsheet to figure out who owes what. The google docs are living documents which means once I update it, the other users can see the updates. You can also track all of the changes made to the documents, who made the changes and even restore the document to a previous condition. To my knowledge, it is unlimited on how far back you can go. We also use google docs for our show line ups, sketch writing, idea generation and other creative processes that sit in a folder for all staff and cast members to access.
- Google Voice – It’s important for your business to sound professional. There’s nothing more telling of a small business than getting a cell phone voice mail “Hey, this is Ted, leave a message.”… Get a google voice number for free, set up a voice mail specifically for your business and know that when you get a call, it’s for your business. It goes right to your cell phone and you can answer the phone “Sick Puppies Comedy, this is Casey” with full confidence the call you are getting is for your business. Google voice is also awesome for our business, because you can record phone calls… we use this tool to make podcasts.
- WordPress.com – Our site is powered by wordpress.com. For years, I fought with the idea of designing and developing my own websites. My wife began a website mamasheels.com and powered it with wordpress. It seemed so easy for her to use that I realized that I needed to ditch the idea of having some revolutionary webpage that ultimately was just going to be an exaggerated blog. Now that I’ve used it for a year, it would take a lot of convincing for me to move away from it. Design is done for you. It’s Free. You can authorize other people to post for you. It tracks statistics for you. It makes it exceptionally easy to be searchable. It has an app that allows you to post remotely. Once you post something, it can post to all of the other social media sites you use. I could go on about wordpress for a long time. Just know that it is powerful.
- Mailchimp.com – We use this for our email pushes. It’s free. It’s easy. It’s important to have some sort of email distribution for people that don’t always use facebook or twitter. Using squareup and paypal is a great way to collect email addresses. Make sure you are always collecting email addresses.
- Outright.com – A free way to import and analyze your business income and expenses. Now owned by godaddy, the software is relatively easy to use and it’s FREE.
- Sir Speedy Printing – These guys are aggressively priced and make it super affordable to professionally print business cards, brochures and other collateral that makes you look professional.
- Facebook – Facebook may not be what you think. I will likely write another blog about Facebook alone, so I’ll keep this brief. Consider Facebook to be a highway and your posts to be billboards. Billboards rarely generate action, but they do purchase brain cells. Do not rely on facebook to grow your business. Facebook is simply a way to notify people what you are doing. Facebook yields about a .5% return on your efforts, much like direct mail marketing.
- Twitter – Admittedly, The Sick Puppies don’t use twitter as much as we should. Twitter is a contact sport. You have to actively follow as many people as you can, retweet the good tweets and tag as many people as possible when tweeting to get people to pay attention to you. Simply posting “good” content isn’t enough. You have to read other people’s stuff to be read.
- PEOPLE – if you read this far, you can ignore all of the other tips. People are everything. The Sick Puppies have the very best people involved. There can’t be any room in your organization for negative people. You must cut negativity immediately. Everyone involved with Sick Puppies is the best. Our cast, staff, students, instructors, vendors and partners are top notch. Everyone is empowered to make decisions and feel as though they are part owner of the company. The people involved with our company are a family. They are some of the hardest working, most dedicated people I’ve ever been around. Their drive is contagious. If you surround yourself with the right people and create a mission that everyone can stand behind, you will win. You can be terrible with technology, awful at marketing and even have a mediocre product and still win if you have the right people. Say YES to everyone. Say YES. Say YES. This company was started by me, but it runs off of the 45+ people that have been involved with it in the last year. Sometimes I think I have an unfair advantage. To think all of these people are actively working to make this company work is humbling and rewarding. People are everything in your business. Make it easy for people to innovate, create new ideas and build your business. Thank you to everyone that makes the Sick Puppies Comedy company successful. Casey.