When the world turned on its head in 2020 and people had more time on their hands than ever before, an unexpected shift happened in the realm of small business. In the U.S. alone, business applications increased by more than 24% compared to 2019. While traditional brick-and-mortar businesses struggled to stay afloat, entrepreneurs in every industry—from health and wellness, to clothing and jewelry—took the world of e-commerce by storm. With more time, more flexibility, and a world of resources at their disposal, people saw an opportunity to turn their hobbies into hustles.
I started my business in November of 2019, just a few months before...well, you know. And while growing a business during a pandemic surely wasn't the path I initially saw for myself, I was amazed by the number of people who were in the same boat I was in: unemployed, bored, and ready to channel my creativity into something profitable (maybe "profitable" is a stretch—but something lucrative enough to at least sustain itself instead of depleting my bank account entirely).
The scope of my entrepreneurial skills included the one year of college courses that I spent as a business major before abruptly pivoting to a degree in English. So my knowledge was...limited, to say the least. But, thanks to the ever-expanding Internet, finding the tools and resources I needed to get my small business off the ground was much less intimidating than I thought it was going to be. In fact, I actually found myself *overwhelmed* with options, and no clear idea of where to start. So, that's where this handy-dandy guide comes in.
There's a lot of information out there about launching your own brand. I mean...a LOT. But these six tools are a great (and free) place to start.
If you are not a natural-born graphic designer, allow me to introduce you to Canva. The difficult reality of starting a business online is that you are not only your own product development team, and customer service team, and operations management team, and IT department...you are also your only marketing team. And with that comes the need for marketing material, from business cards and logos to social media posts and flyers.
Canva provides hundreds of customizable templates for just about any kind of digital and print media you may need. They also provide educational resources to help guide amateur designers through the processes of font pairing, color coordination, and more. If you have the budget, of course you should source a designer for your business. But if you are your only resource, Canva makes the work of creating marketing material a lot more manageable.
Word to the wise, however: think of pre-made templates as a jumping-off point, not a final product. Because of Canva's popularity, it's not uncommon to find brands that have the exact same logos or social media posts. Use their ideas and resources as inspiration, but don't rely on them to create content *for* you.
One of the first steps you should take in launching your own brand is to set up an Instagram Business account, or make the switch from a personal account to a business account. If you aren't using Instagram to connect with your customers, you're missing out on major free marketing opportunities. According to HubSpot, 90% of Instagram users follow at least one business on the platform, and more than 83% of users have discovered a new product or service through Instagram, making it an incredibly impactful tool for driving brand awareness.
There are numerous benefits to having a business account for Instagram, including free analytics to help you gauge who's seeing your content, what kind of content your followers interact with most, and what actions your audience is taking on your profile. These powerful tools give you important insights about your followers and also provide you with a platform to create a community for existing and potential customers.
There are few resources out there as comprehensive and accessible as HubSpot Academy when it comes to business education. With dozens of courses and certifications for inbound marketing, sales, and customer support, the value of this 100% free digital classroom cannot be overstated.
No matter how little experience you may have in the realms of everything from advertising to web design, HubSpot Academy provides you with all the fundamentals you need to scale and manage your business. Their courses break down large topics and concepts into digestible pieces and impart invaluable lessons in the worlds of business and e-commerce.
Okay, hear me out. I know what you're thinking. Really? TikTok? As a business tool? Yes, really. With one of the most powerful and effective algorithms in today's social media landscape, TikTok has the ability to take your brand visibility from 0 to 100 overnight. Since the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, small businesses have exploded across TikTok because of the platform's unmatched ability to deliver your content to the exact people who want to see it at the exact right time.
Even if producing your own TikTok content seems like a huge undertaking, it's definitely worth at least creating an account for your brand so that you can connect with the rest of TikTok's small business community and see what's trending in your industry. From tips on where to score cheap packaging, to DIY ideas that can elevate your products, to insider advice from industry experts, TikTok is the hottest club in town and you do not want to miss your invite.
Honestly, as someone who has made PLENTY of typos on important documents, there is nothing more embarrassing than a spelling, punctuation, or grammar mistake on your brand's content. If you want people to trust you as a reputable brand in your industry, strong writing is a solid place to start. Think about it: would you trust a brand whose website or social media is fraught with grammatical errors? Small writing mistakes can easily detract from your messaging and credibility, but a writing assistant tool like Grammarly makes it easy to check if you're communicating clearly and concisely.
An email automation software is going to be your best friend in generating leads and connecting with your customers. After testing a few different tools, I found SmartrMail to be the most all-encompassing for my business needs. It's easy to use and allows you to generate different a variety of different email marketing content such as newsletters, abandoned cart reminders, and my personal favorite: conversion workflows. These workflows can be custom designed to automatically send targeted content to different segments of customers, such as product recommendation emails after someone buys a certain product, and review inquiry emails asking customers to review their recent purchases. SmartrMail also provides detailed analytics that easily break down how often your emails are being opened and the number of subscribers taking actions from your emails.
When it comes to getting your startup off the ground, there is no "one size fits all" path to success. But, there are infinite tools available out there that can help propel your mission forward and turn your abstract ideas into actionable items. It may not be an easy journey, if it's something you're passionate about, then shoot for the moon—you'll find your find your footing along the way.