Let’s say you wanted to launch a startup this weekend. What would you need? A logo? A website? A domain name? And where would you find these things? What technology should you use?
I promise you that you could easily spend an entire weekend just selecting the ‘perfect’ web host.
Alternatively, refer to my startup technology blueprint, laid out in all it’s beauty below – essentially a startup tech infrastructure in a box – and actually get something done.
Note: This article has gotten so long, I’ve split it into 2 parts:
Part 1 (you’re reading it!) – Domain Name, Blog, Landing Page, Logo
Part 2 – Hosting Your Online Application
When you’re starting a business, it’s all about spending time where it matters most: Finding customers, growing your audience, developing a product that sells. Don’t waste your valuable time by agonising over choice of technology or choice of the tools you use to run your business. It’s time to make quick decisions and move on!
“Starting a company? Stop researching, save time, and use this technology blueprint instead.”
To help you get your startup started quicker, here’s my list of best of a breed tech stack to start and run your online business:
There are literally 1000s of companies that can sell you a domain name. If you have already heard of one or have used one previously, keep using it. Otherwise, I’d suggest Namecheap. They are an established company with good customer service ratings.
Buy the .com and .net for your domain. If you’re feeling generous, pick up some other combinations, like ‘.io’ or ‘.info’ or ‘.biz’. Don’t overthink it or come up with complicated scenarios where someone tries to steal your brand, you can deal with this at a later date.
Ok, domain name sorted, let’s move on.
Domain Name Links:
Namecheap Domain Names
Designing Your Startup Logo
My advice: Use a DIY logo creator. I really like Smashing Logo because they take the design decisions away from you – and it’s playing around with logo editors that are the main time drain here. Not the cheapest but gives the most consistent results and gets you there very quickly.
Getting stuck with your logo? Ask yourself this:
“Is it good enough for the current phase of your business?”
If so, then let’s go with it and move on.
Here’s a few that I ran up using Smashing Logos in a few minutes. Are they amazing? No. Are they good enough to start a new business? Absolutely, yes.
Big warning: There are free logo design programs as well – but even I spent about 20 minutes just now playing around with a logo creator just researching this article. It’s a massive time sink, don’t get trapped!
Logo Design Links:
Project Management Software
Most business owners struggle with managing to get everything done. Help yourself by using project management software.
My pick is Trello. I’ve found Trello to have the fastest learning curve and it can adapt to just about any project under the sun.
Recent client comments: “Thank you so much for introducing us to Trello, we love it and it has completely changed the way we work.”
Email Responder Software
I’m making an assumption here that you will be building an email list as part of your sales efforts. If not, why not?
There are 100s if not 1000s of email responders out there. In reality, your choice comes down to two:
Why only 2? Because it’s important that your email responders integrates with other software you use. These 2 have the best level of integration out there by far. I recently finished migrating a startup’s marketing list away from another supplier for just this reason – don’t make the same mistake.
Note: Companies are doing amazing things with marketing automation. These are the email responders of the future. Ones to watch are ConvertKit and Drip (which I use for Tech Hugs, incidentally). My advice: At your early startup stage you’re likely to set up a simple email list, so unless you know your way around marketing automation tools already, stick with MailChimp for now and switch to marketing automation once you have grown a working sales strategy.
Let me ask you a question:
Are you sure your startup even needs a website?
Well, of course the answer is yet – but what I’m getting at is that in this day and age, you are unlikely to need to ‘design’ and program your own website.
At the early stage of your business, you won’t have a clear brand and your sales strategy and messaging is likely to change at the drop of a hat. I would highly recommend using a landing page builder over hiring a web designer and setting up your own website.
Here are a few of the key players:
All of these landing page builders will literally host your website for you. You can set up new pages, change images or messaging and split-test different designs, all without technical web-design knowledge.
Pro Tip: Point your main domain name at the landing page builder website. They all have tutorials on how to do this and their support teams will be happy to help. Your company website will essentially ‘live’ at the landing page builder.
Incidentally, all of these landing page builders will also allow you to publish the resulting landing page to your WordPress blog. If you go down this route, then it opens up the market to lots of other landing page builders that only exist as WordPress plugins. At the risk of opening up a rabbit hole of immense proportions, here is a good review of the 5 Top Landing Page Plugins for WordPress.
Before you click on that WordPress link: Remember: It’s crucial that you make a quick decision at this stage and move on! Don’t get sucked into analysis paralysis!
If I had to pick one of the options above, right now, I would go with the Unbounce PRO package – you get more control over the look and feel of your pages and they are the only landing page provider to support SSL encryption (more on this later).
Creating A Blog
Are you going to set up a blog to promote your startup?
My advice here is simple: use WordPress. WordPress works, does everything you will ever need to do, comes with tons of plugins and there are literally 10000s of affordable, skilled freelancers available to help you maintain and grow your blog.
Hosting Your WordPress Blog
Rather than host WordPress yourself, go with a managed WordPress hosting platform. It’s slightly more expensive than the cheap web hosting available today but you will save tons of time and hassle – it’s more than worth the extra cost (and you’re still only looking at $29 pcm or so – if you’re not able to make that investment in your business you are likely to struggle!)
Pro Tip: Host your blog on a subdomain, like blog.yourdomain.com.
I’ve literally just spent 3 hours researching WordPress hosting on the internet. The good news is that I’ve wasted all that time on your behalf. You won’t have to go through the same ordeal. In the end, I ended up asking a few trusted WordPress developers and they clearly answered that WPEngine would be their choice for managed hosting at an affordable price point. If you have the budget, upgrade to the plan one up from the most basic offering – it should get you better customer support.
To cut a long story short, if I had to launch a startup this weekend, I would choose WPEngine as the WordPress hosting provider.
Ok, if you baulk at WPEngine’s prices even after my talk about investing into your business, Siteground is a cheaper alternative.
Choosing a blog theme
A blog alone isn’t worth much – you also need to make it look fairly decent. There is no need to hire a designer at this stage – armed with your DIY logo and a free WordPress theme you’re good to go:
Best Personal Blog Themes
To optimise your sales pages you will need to track conversions of visitors into paying customers. This is where ‘conversion tracking’ software comes in.
There is really only one choice at the early stage: Google Analytics. Sign up for a free account and add the tracking code to your blog, your landing pages and your online app. You’ll probably forget you’ve got it and will only start using it a few weeks or months down the line – but tracking data from the beginning can be helpful.
Analytics for Lean Startups
A quick note: If you’re building a Lean Startup, you could go with MixPanel or KissMetrics from the start. I’d suggest only going down this route if you’ve used either of these tools before. And, arguably, you will still need Google Analytics for customer acquisition metrics. Advanced behaviour analytics only become useful when you know the right questionst to ask, which is unlikely to be the case when you’re just getting started.
There is nothing to stop you starting your business from a personal email address. In the first month or so you could probably get by. If you want to get serious from the get-go or are already a little further down the line, there are only two real contenders as far as I’m concerned:
SSL for your blog
Provided you host your blog with WPEngine, you can get a free SSL certificate. Other hosting providers will have different ways of setting up SSL – contact their support for details.
SSL for your landing pages
SSL for landing pages is more difficult:
LeadPages is implementing SSL for custom domains – until this is ready, you will need to host your own LeadPages pages to use SSL.
Unbounce provides SSL certificates for their more expensive PRO plan.
ClickFunnels supports SSL but only if you set up CloudFlare. This setup is likely to work with LeadPages and Unbounce as well.
As you can see, this is getting complicated! The suggestion at the moment is therefore to use the Unbounce PRO package for your landing pages.
How much will all this cost?
Now you have all the tools and services at your disposal, how much will all this cost?
Logo from Smashing Logo: £44.99 one-off cost
Domain Name: £19.02 (namecheap, per year for .com, .net, .co.uk)
Total up-front cost: £64.01 ($79.83)
Email responder: $0 (MailChimp)
Landing Page: $99 pcm (Unbounce)
Blog: $29 (WPEngine)
Conversion Tracking: free (Google Analytics)
Email: £21 (3 users, Office 365 so you get Word as well)
Project Management: Free (Trello)
Total monthly cost: £123.44 ($154.30)
So, there you have it. A complete blueprint for launching your own startup over the weekend.
If you’re coding your own application as well, continue with Part 2 – Hosting Your Online Application.
Good luck and please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.