80/20 business solutions for cash-crunched startups

Small businesses have tough choices to make when it comes to software and subscription services that help them manage their operations. The natural tendency is sign-up with a market-leader, because you want something that works and don't have time to hunt around for lower-cost alternatives.

Having felt this pain in the past, following are some recommendations (most are based on personal experience) for services that are at least 80% as good as the market leading solutions at less than 20% of the price. Assuming a team of 5 people, I will suggest potential cost savings.

CRM, you can't go wrong with Salesforce, but IF you have a server available and the in-house resources to install it, then SugarCRM is a great deal. It's free. Sure, you will have to spend a few hours to install it and a few hours to upgrade it about once a year, but it works quite well and I have personally found it to be reliable. Savings $995/year to $3,000/year.

WebMeetings/Presentations. Webex is great and has tons of features. However, you can get 80% of that functionality (and a simpler interface) with gotomeeting at a fraction of the price. Savings $5,000/year

JobPostings. There are TONS of options to Monster.com, Careerbuilder and Hotjobs - each of which will help you find a lot of candidates. Ones that you absolutely ought to try include:

  • CraigsList (for free in most cities) - best for lower-level jobs - I still don't know why, but it works
  • The Ladders - free postings, geared towards $100K+ jobs.
  • LinkedIn- if you have a good network, for a $100, this is quite good.

Savings, N/A - think of these as other low-cost ways to find more good people.

Conference Call Service. Tons of options here, but have you heard of Free Conference Call? It really is free and it really works. You don't get toll free numbers, but most people don't need toll-free anyway. The service can be a bit finicky, so I would try it out for internal calls first.

Then again, for internal conference calls, you can always use Skype. See my other blog post on Skype. Also, if you have an IP phone system, it probably includes some of this capability - built in at no extra cost. Savings - $1,000/year or more.

There are a lot more of these kinds of options out there. Anyone have other suggestions?

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