So, you recently heard about SaaS businesses and thought, “maybe I should give that a try.” And good on you too, I mean, who doesn’t like a recurring revenue model. And yet, though they may be an emerging trend among startup businesses today, the model is nothing new.
For eons entrepreneurs have been trying to create the ideal business for generating passive income and, in this digital age, selling cloud based software/services on a monthly subscription is about as good as it gets. We’d love to take this opportunity to dive into the implications of the cloud-based-services-craze but, unfortunately, this post isn’t focused on that. Instead, as an emerging SaaS business ourselves, we thought we’d share the tools and services that we’ve come to love in our pursuits of SaaS stardom.
So, without further ado, here’s our unbiased guide to the essential services for an up-and-coming SaaS business.
Let’s start at the most obvious place because, let’s face it, even though most online services today are willing to give away a free trial of their product, there’s one little bit of info they’ll want in return… You guessed it: your email.
It’s easily enough to head to your favorite email provider and sign up for a hosted email account, and for some,that may be sufficient enough but for the majority of you we’ll assume you’ll more than likely want something with your business name in it such as, [email protected]. This is where things become a bit trickier and although this isn’t a tutorial on setting up your personal email, keep in mind that most email/hosting providers will help you with this for a marginal monthly fee.
With anything a startup business does, it’s important to plan for the future, and with it, future growth. You may be a one man show at the moment, but if you are planning on growing your business and with it your team, you’ll want to do a bit of research before choosing which email provider is going to be the best fit for you and your growing selves.
For our purposes we went with Google Apps for Work. As you guessed it, from the name, this is the entire host of Google “apps” or services geared towards business. For our purposes we’ve only worked with Gmail and Drive but they have a host of other services that may be helpful to you and your team.
Google Docs, through Google Apps, is a fantastic way to store and organize documents. Because of the ridiculously low prices of cloud storage these days it can be used to store just about anything. In fact, if you get it linked up with your computer you can essentially use it to backup your entire computer, which is what we do.
With Email through Google Apps, you get all the fantastic features from Gmail and taboot it’s likely your team is already familiar with Google’s interface. For $5/mo. per user/email you’ll unlock the power of Google with a relatively easy-to-use interface for getting started.
With email, the digital world’s your oyster; but email isn’t always the best way to communicate with your team. We’ve all been there where we’re looking for that email from “Sally Employee” sent a couple of months back that all but seems to have vanished. This is why we’ve come to love Slack.
Slack is, as they put it on their site, “a messaging app for teams.” But really it’s a messaging app on steroids because it’s really so much more than what we’ve come to expect from messaging apps. Just to name a few of it’s features: you can easily see who on your team is online, message them privately, create groups around projects or topics, send files and best of all, it’s all stored and backed up on the cloud and easily searchable.
Some people would rather pick up the phone then “slack” their team mate but studies have shown that “slacking” or messaging in general is far more effective for team collaboration. They force the writer to solidify their thoughts and because you can set your status in slack to away or busy you don’t risk constant interruptions from phone calls that destroy daily productivity.
Anyways, enough said about that, but with their plans starting at… well… Free! What do you have to lose?
If you’ve made it this far then you’re on a roll and that much closer to a highly efficient SaaS business, nice job! But don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. We’re just getting started.
Surely you’ve heard of project management tools, and for good reason. Without some sort of project management tool your ability to manage your projects, team and ultimately move your business forward become relatively impossible.
Where Slack is great for real-time team communications, a project management tool like Asana is all about ongoing collaborations.
For those yogis out there, no Asana is not a service for the practice of yoga – but it is flexible! Asana is one of many project management tools that help in the ongoing management of projects, teams and ultimately give you a pulse on the status of your business. Any project management tool is a bit of a time investment to get familiar with, but we’ve found Asana to have one of the best interfaces for getting up and running as quickly as possible. Again, this article isn’t to explain how to use these services but more to demonstrate the importance of the services in and of themselves.
Choosing the right project management tools all depends on your needs. We’re a digital agency so we manage lots of projects and have different team members and clients needing to plugin to different aspects of our workflow. Asana handles these complexities with ease.
Smaller business with less of a need for ongoing collaborations might find Asana a bit overkill. In that case something like Trello might be a better option. Trello is a more of a visual project management tool which can be great where only one or two projects are in play.
So, yeah… a website is pretty important if you’re planning on selling a SaaS product. For most of you I’m assuming this will be a moot point as you’ve already created your killer site and it’s the most beautiful thing since the Mona Lisa. But for those of you who really are just getting started we won’t turn down an opportunity to tell you what we think!
Let’s start by saying we’re going to take an enormous topic and condense it into the a summary, of a summary, of a summary on what you need to know.
With that out of the way, let’s get started.
Most websites today are setup on a CMS (content management systems). Although they’re all a bit different, they all do essentially the same thing: give you an interface to easily edit your site without knowing code or design.
Our CMS of choice is WordPress.
WordPress markets itself as the free service you can use to create a website, blog or app.
There are two versions of WordPress; wordpress.org and wordpress.com. The difference between the two is that one is a hosted solution from WP and the other is self-hosted, meaning you go out and find your host of choice. We’re not going to go into the specifics in this article but it’s good to know the differences.
It’s great if you’re wanting to build your own site too, but if you don’t have any experience, keep in mind it’s going to take some time. It’s a bit of a learning curve and for those of you who are skipping this step and hiring a professional to take care of it for you, you’ll probably live a few years longer because of it.
Oops…I almost forgot, lest we forget the definition of a SaaS business – providing a subscription based service – we need some way of managing those “subscriptions.” That’s where our friends at WooCommerce come in.
WooCommerce comes from they guys/gals over at WooThemes – now a part of the team at Automattic (aka WordPress). It’s a shop plugin for WordPress websites making it easy to sell… well, just about anything.
The power of WooCommerce, combined with their extension Woo Subscriptions, makes setting up a subscription based SaaS business easier than ever. This coupled with the integration of our payment gateway of choice (ahem… Stripe) makes it so that you could be signing people up faster then you can say onomatopoeia.
We’ll, let’s just face it, nobody likes accounting, and if you’re the guy reading this saying, “I like accounting,” well then you’re one of a kind; or maybe you just need a hobby, or a girlfriend.
But regardless of your “status” unless you live in the Congo, the IRS is coming for you and if you start out with an accounting service that makes things simple, you’ll be grateful come April 15th.
For me personally, I could never understand why accounting was so bloody confusing and apparently our friends at Freshbooks felt the same way!
Freshbooks says they’re the small business accounting software designed for you, making accounting easy, fast and secure.
Obviously we feel the same way otherwise they wouldn’t have made the cut. With their simplified interface and colorful designs it almost feels like you’re playing a game and not logging expenses. For our company freshbooks has made accounting something approachable and we’ll recommend them time and time again.
Regardless of your views of social media and whether you use it personally or not, there is no doubt that it can be an effective outlet for sharing your business with the world. I’m not going to take the time to list all the different social medias and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years you should be quite well versed in them all-ready.
I would, however, like to talk about some tools that could help in the management of all your social media accounts. One tool that we’ve just started using recently, and has joined our arsenal, is Buffer.
Buffer is the lesser-known tool of its rival Hootsuite. And although it’s a slightly different product, we’ve found it to be a great help in managing our social media accounts and making sure that posting new content isn’t a tedious event but an enjoyable and easy process.
Not only will Buffer easily allow you to post to multiple social media accounts, they also can pull content from all your favorite authors and blogs into a content feed making it easy to re-post your favorite content.
Buffer has also released a tool recently called Pablo that makes it easy to create and post quotes/text overlaid on images. This is a great tool to mix up your feed a bit because even though “content may be king,” we all know “a picture tells a thousand words.”
Well, here we are at the end of our long journey through the wonderful services essential to a SaaS business. We hope we’ve helped to guide your sails a bit as you embark on this exciting new adventure towards SaaS stardom.
Keep in mind that this wasn’t meant to be a complete list, and in all reality every business is different and will require slightly different services. These are simply the services that we’ve found to be invaluable in the way we manage and evolve our SaaS business.
Our good friends over at Cloudwards have created a much more intense list of apps that are helpful for a small business. There blog, 30 App Ideas for Your Small Business, is a great resource for small business apps and list many of the apps we use in our day-to-day.If you’re able to integrate these services into your daily routines you’ll be well on your way to a highly efficient SaaS business.
Have other tools that you prefer, have questions about getting started, already created a successful SaaS business? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Until then bon voyage!