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Affordable online services for startups

Tuesday, 1 April 2014 | By Nina Hendy

Australian start-ups are turning to cheap online services in growing numbers to run their business. Here are eight popular services that save time and money.

 

1. Fiverr.com

 

All the services listed on fiverr.com set you back just $5, and include everything from graphic design, online marketing, video and animation and business card design.

 

This site is hugely popular among Australian business owners, who are prepared to risk a few bucks to see what they can get done at such a low price.

 

Digital marketing and self-publishing speaker and author Pam Brossman has used the service for transcribing, editing, formatting, book covers, video editing, voice overs, video intros and more and has been happy with the outcome.

 

“Many entrepreneurs have acquired their full-time contractors from using fiverr.com services. They test their work, turnaround time and professionalism by giving them a $5 job, and then if they deliver exceptional service, they hire them,” Brossman says.

 

“I really like this service because it’s like a resume of experts out there showcasing their wares.”

 

2. Hiring a virtual assistant

 

Hiring a virtual assistant for jobs like updating Instagram eight times a day has been a really cheap and effective outsourcing technique for the founder of fashion and beauty brand Cherry Blooms, Jellaine Ross.

 

She’s used oDesk and Elance to track down virtual assistants for times when no one was in the office, enabling the business to virtually trade around the clock. There are also a range of virtual assistant websites to help you track down the best person for the job, including virtualcoworker or virtualassistants.com

 

“You can’t get rich doing minor tasks, and you need a lot of mental power and energy to have a successful business, so I recommend delegating as much as you can to virtual assistants or interns and to be very precious about your energy. Good enough is better than not done when it comes to small tasks,” Ross says.

 

3. Salmat MicroSourcing

 

Renovator Store founder and MD Scott Pendlebury talks constantly to his Manila-based web developer and customer service manager from his Victorian headquarters via Skype.

 

Outsourcing these jobs to people based overseas has saved Pendlebury about 70 per cent of the cost of employing the equivalent people in Australia, enabling him to commit more cash to sales and promotion. Salmat MicroSourcing helped him find the right talent for the job.

 

“I think there’s a perception that offshoring is about cutting Australian jobs, but really, it’s a great way for small business to start playing in the same space as the big end of town,” Pendlebury says.

 

Renovator Store is one of about 80 Australian SMEs using the offshore services of Philippines-based Salmat MicroSourcing.

 

4. Cloud technology

 

A cloud solution can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your business, and most cost next to nothing. In basic terms, the cloud refers to the ability to access your applications, information and data over the internet via a third-party provider, which means you don’t have the store this information yourself.

 

Business consultant and publisher of The Big Smoke, Alexandra Tselios, researched individual features, capability and simplicity before opting for DropBox.

 

“This service allows my team to remotely access our files and ensure that all employees work on the most current document at any one time. It also allows us to share resources without the traditional barriers of time zones or convoluted filing systems getting in the way of service delivery and operations,” Tselios says.

 

5. PicMonkey

 

The ability to customise images for social media or to use on your website can be a huge plus for business owners.

 

The founder of My Kitchen Garden, Alice Faeth, has turned to PicMonkey to create branded images for social media and website graphics, which is completely free. Some of these images have been widely shared on her Facebook page.

 

Creating these images herself saves a lot, particularly given a graphic designers costs around $120 an hour, which was beyond her budget for jobs like this.

 

“I still use professionals for material I want to get printed, but I really like being self-sufficient for social media images, especially when you want to capture an idea quickly.

 

“You can also play around with images and designs without wasting valuable time and money trying to get the right look,” Faeth says.

 

6. 15five.com

 

This cloud-based weekly team reporting app has revolutionised internal communications for online wine retailer Vinomofo.com, according to CEO and co-founder, Andre Eikmeier.

 

The app allows him to create questions for his team each week, which each staffer fills in, allowing him to read and respond.

 

Eikmeier goes through this process every Monday, which takes just 15 minutes.

 

“We use it partly to see how people are going in their roles, and partly to understand how they’re feeling generally and to see if there are any issues or obstacles.

 

“It means little things are getting bought to my attention every week, often before they escalate, and I can action them,” Eikmeier says.

 

7. Freelancer.com and elance.com

 

This is a staple site used by many small business owners, particularly to track down freelancers for website development, design jobs, content writing, research and lead generation and sales and marketing, with more than 600 job categories.

 

According to freelancer.com, Australians are awarding their projects to professionals in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the US, Vietnam, the Philippines, as well as to fellow Australians.

 

Another great way to track down appropriately experienced freelancers at reasonable rates is via elance, which Business in Heels CEO Jac Bowie relies on for design and programming.

 

It also appeals because the site also allows for feedback and escrow payments, she says.

It’s also worth checking out 99 Designs and DesignCrowd for logo design.

 

8. Odesk

 

Having access to a virtual team able to complete tasks in various time differences was a big bonus for Emilia Rossi, co-founder of fashion jewellery store emiliarossi.com.au and second hand wedding classifieds site, capriess.com.au.

 

Being able to work with a virtual team of graphic designers, web designers, social media experts has been a huge bonus, Rossi says.

 

“I’ve trialled and tested these services, and know it works,” she says.

 

A word of advice

 

While often very cost effective, avoid wasting money on these sorts of sites by following a few rules.

 

The founder of management advisory business, BRS, Nicole Williams minimises her risk when outsourcing in a number of ways. Firstly, avoid language issues by only giving jobs that require a good grasp of English to people whose first language is English.

“Also, I would never outsource anything of high value or importance. There’s always a risk when you outsource anything, and typically you get what you pay for, so your expectations need to be realistic,” she says.

 

Williams says some freelancers have been fabulous for the first few jobs, but then over time, become less reliable and take a long time to provide what she needs, or don’t respond.

 

She also admits that she finds long-term relationships much harder to find on these outsourcing websites.

 

“Make sure you keep track of what software and technology your freelancers have access to, so that if jobs go pear-shaped, you can easily change passwords, so that your content isn’t compromised.”