I’m a big admirer of bootstrapped businesses. Running a self sustaining Business without ceding control to investors is a great way to experience entrepreneurship nirvana.
I’ve nothing against getting external funding for a business early on and avoid all the heartburn of juggling growth and revenue. However, from the point of running a business exactly the way you have envisioned, all the while holding on to the majority stake, bootstrapping is the way to go.
There is a catch though. Bootstrapping is an enamoring idea on paper. When you try to put it in practice, it might not be as appealing. The problem is, you’ll have to run a business that’s lean, agile and is extremely well budgeted.
Every business has it’s own set of expenses. IT spending is something that’s common across all verticals. So, if you are small business trying to stick to a budget, you would be better off choosing the right, cost effective set of software to run your business.
After the break, let us take a look at how effectively a small business can put a bouquet of Google apps together for a streamlined workflow on the cheap!
Team Communication and Productivity
Gmail is the undisputed king of the email inbox. It’s also a great example of stellar product development. New updates and UI refreshes are constantly coming in, making Gmail the most usable mailbox ever.
You and your team can stay focussed on emails that matter by embracing the priority inbox. This way, you can ensure that an important mail from a customer doesn’t get drowned in a sea of email newsletters and B2B sales pitches.
Gmail excels in being your one true inbox. Push all the emails from your many personal and professional email addresses and manage them comfortably from a single inbox. Combine this with a powerful search box, you don’t ever have to worry about finding any email that has been sent to you.
Did you know that you can convert an email to a task in your to do list? Just dig into the “More” drop down from a message and convert an email to a task in your to do list. The related email is attached to the task for your reference as well!
It’s not advisable, but, you could actually run a pseudo helpdesk by using filters and labels wisely. The fact that there hardly is any bloat unlike the modern day support software and the productivity boost that the familiar user interface brings to the table adds another point in Gmail’s column.
Another perk of using Gmail is the ability to extend its features. You can find a bunch of useful and quirky addons to super size your inbox. If you are looking to supercharge your lead management efforts, try using Rapportive to learn more about a contact. Boomerang, which reminds you to follow up on emails, is my personal favorite though!
Collaboration and Cloud Storage
Microsoft Office is the best in its class. It’s loaded with features, we have all used it at some point in life and it’s very easy to use. Google Docs is absolutely no match to it in comparison. But, the twist is, not every business needs to buy Microsoft Office suite.
Not all the features in the ultra pricey Office suite are business critical. For a small and medium business, most of the commonly used features are available in the Google Docs suite. Yes, you’ll need Internet access at all times, but, that’s doesn’t compare with the huge upfront licensing costs of MS Office.
The collaboration features that come with Google Docs is something even money can’t buy. Stop creating a business proposal and sending it as an attachment to seek feedback from your teammates. Instead, create a Google Doc and collaborate with the entire team in real time.
The comprehensive control over who gets see a document or a folder and what level of access they should have, make the case even stronger in favor of Docs.
The revision history in each document and the activity feed for the entire folder ensure that there is always a trail of all the changes that are made to files and business documents.
Choosing between Dropbox and Google Drive for cloud storage is a tough choice. Dropbox is unbelievably simple to use. Drive is a bit bloated in comparison. The Google Drive desktop client isn’t as awesome as Dropbox either.
The amount of free space that comes with each Google Drive account is unbeatable though. Compare this to Dropbox’s tiny 2GB free space, the choice becomes easy. Besides, when you upgrade in future to buy more storage, Google Drive will be many times cheaper.
Figuring out a workflow for storing all your files at a centralized cloud destination is a no brainer. Upload the files from the web interface or add it to the desktop app.
From there, it’s the same routine as sharing a Google Document. Mediafire and Box are two other worthy alternatives that you could take a look at.
Skype and Google Hangouts compete neck to neck in this space. They both have all the features and there are splendid mobile apps as well. Better yet, they both have a very generous free tier that’s more than enough for any small and medium business.
The one feature that tips the scale in favor of Google Hangouts is that you don’t have to leave your web browser to chat with your peers and friends. Just switch between tabs and keep working.
Add this to the seamless integration with Gmail’s threaded conversations that are extremely easy to search (searching for something in a Skype conversation is a major pain), Hangouts is a clear productivity booster.
Google Calendar is a shared calendar, work planning and task scheduling app rolled into one. Plan appointments with clients and prospects without disturbing the work routine of your team mates.
Maintain calendars based on multiple time zones if you manage a remote team. It’s so easy to maintain a different holidays roster in that case as well. By scheduling events and tasks ahead of time, you are better positioned when it comes planning your manpower better.
Use the multiple reminders that the app lets you set to ensure that nobody misses something that’s vital. Almost all desktop and mobile apps support Gcal, so you might consider attaching maps to events and help the boots on ground find their destinations without a hassle.
By using a combo of Gmail, Google Drive, Google Sites and Calendar you could skip getting a HR management solution till you outgrow this hack.
Okay, you can create websites with extreme ease using Google Sites. But, you definitely shouldn’t do that. At least, not to design your public facing corporate website. The reason is they aren’t very good to look at.
Google Sites can be very useful for internal team collaboration. It lets you build sites to share and collaborate on documents, videos, schedules, and more. Sort of like a replacement for Sharepoint.
One practical use case is to create a Wiki without having to spend a lot of time. Simultaneous editing capabilities are available out of the box and it’s very helpful if you are planning to create a knowledge base that you can share privately or publicly.
Groups is one app that’s unappreciated. Be it for creating publicly used forums or to run an internal message board, Google Groups is a handy little friend. Threaded conversations are a major highlight and so is the ability to moderate comments.
Organize with favourite threads and folders, choose to follow along via email and find unread posts quickly. Email digests of varying frequencies offer you a way to be either hands on or picky when it comes taking part in the conversations.
The shared email address that comes with each Google Group is an absolute gem. Every team member can now respond to customer queries from a collaborative inbox. You’ll be surprised how easily you can tag and categorize emails!
It isn’t humanly possible to cover the merits of using Google’s apps and services in one blog post. Even in this list, I have left out quite a few - Google Analytics, Alerts, Translate among others.
I’ll have to make one thing clear though. This post is not an endorsement of Google and it’s products. They have their own set of baggage and they come with their spotty track record on privacy.
It’s all good as long as you are in Google’s good books. If you violate the terms and conditions of one app or service and you’ll be kicked out of the other ones too. It’s not something that happens very often, but, it has happened before.
You’ll have to factor into their tendency to sunset apps where they can’t plaster their ads as well (Google Reader, anyone?). So, it’s not a very good idea to put all your eggs in one basket.
That said, you won’t find a better ecosystem to start your bootstrapping process. It’s just that you should have a roadmap for you to graduate to using highly focussed, third party apps eventually!
This post first appeared on The ClinchPad, please read the originial post: here