Free Trial. Free Forever. Free Basic Subscription. Freemium. Free to Try. With so many free options for business services, why would any business struggling with launch expenses pay for premium, enterprise services? We answer that question and help you decide when to make the leap from free to paid.
Launching a new opportunity in the Direct Selling space – or any new business venture, for that matter – can leave even the most fearless of entrepreneurs feeling overwhelmed and underfunded. Every new person joining the executive and creative team has their own preferred software or vendor from a previous workplace; every new product, channel, and vendor brings its own creative, logistic, and technical challenges. Expenses start piling up fast, and it may be months before that first post-launch payday.
There is an understandable temptation in the early days of a company’s launch to settle for “good enough.” Executives may decide to elect for entry level back office features, free communication tools, or delay investing in creative services and content. For some technology tools, this can be a valid and even intelligent way to cut costs during lean launches. Keep reading to find out how you can tell if that “Free” level of service will help or hurt your business in the long run.
Technology – Dirt Cheap or Top-of-the-Line?
Technology may be the biggest startup expense for new launches. For every premium, world-class software tool, there are numerous copycat startups that claim to offer “almost-but-not-quite” the same functionality for free. Which should you choose?
Back Office Software:
Never go cheap – or free – on back office software. This may be your company’s biggest investment outside of supply chain management, but it is worth the investment. Take the time to select a stable, feature-rich, and well-supported back office vendor from the start. A back office that is well-designed, intuitive, and well-supported will save your company time and money on support issues. Choosing a sufficiently robust subscription level, and a vendor that invests in ongoing development, will also save your company from experiencing the pain of transitioning to a new back office software when you would have outgrown free/basic tools.
There are two categories of mass communication your team will need to leverage in its early days – corporate-to-field, and corporate-to-public. For corporate-to-public promotion, such as recruiting events, product launches, and brand messaging/promotion, choose Facebook Live, YouTube, Hangouts, and other free social media platforms without regret. However, while your company’s internal structure and support framework are rapidly evolving, sensitive corporate-to-field communications may need to be secure. Conference calls and web meetings with upper-level distributors should reflect a professional feel and be secured against competitor espionage. Security and professionalism are worth the investment when dealing with supply chain issues, compensation plan changes, etc.
This is one area in which you can – and should – choose one of the many free tools on the market. Small, mobile teams can easily use free tools like Skype, Slack, or Hangouts to reduce inbox clutter and keep your phone lines free. When your team is small, your time is valuable. These tools can be run on desktop or mobile devices to keep your team connected and communicating during busy, travel-packed launches.
Like back office software, this is one area where it pays … to pay. Mobile apps that crash frequently or have poor user experience are highly frustrating and can tank a distributor’s enthusiasm for your brand. During and after launch, work with your back office vendor and support staff to determine what tools, like scripts and sales collateral, distributors use most frequently to promote products on-the-go. Invest in a well-supported app designed for the industry, like SmartMobile, when your team knows what feature set will best support their culture and selling habits.
An area where it can be easy for small tools to spend a lot of money is video recording and editing. We recommend choosing a free screen recorder, such as HYFY, to record training videos for your back office tools or for social media best practices. Web conferencing services, including our Smart Web Meeting tool, allow users to record collaborative demos and meetings. However, to create small, single-feature training videos, animated GIFs for emails, and video greeting cards, we recommended your team members also download a free or affordable video recorder. Every member of your team should feel comfortable creating bite-sized video content to help ease new distributors on the path to success.
While Microsoft is the industry leader, we have no qualms in recommending Google’s G-Suite for startups. Very small teams can use Google office apps like Sheets, Docs, and Drive for free, or invest just $5 per user, per month, for the more robust professional suite. Although there are some limitations compared to MS Office 365, the cloud-based nature and intuitive, simple collaboration available across Google make them perfect for startups.
Hire the Best or Circle the Wagons?
You’ve launched with a team of driven, enthusiastic, experienced professionals. Many of them are likely brilliant, flexible, and willing to take on multiple roles in the name of efficiency and affordability. What tasks are worth bringing in expert contractors and consultants, and which can be done in-house for no additional cost?
Most businesses don’t require ongoing creative services until their catalog of products and services expands beyond the initial launch package. Contract an expert to create your initial brand style guide – the fonts, logos, headers, image styles, and color palette that will help unify the look and feel of your brand across print and web. Once this is complete, smaller startups may be able to bridge the launch period using free marketing-creation tools like Canva and Crello to create flyers, posters, and social media images themselves.
Until your field reaches a few thousand distributors, the easiest way to save money on compliance monitoring is providing strong, compliant content. Distributors who do not have solid scripts and shareable content will, in their enthusiasm, fill in the gaps on their own. Your internal team can help at no additional cost. Make time to create scripts and rebuttals, images, videos, and case studies to arm your distributors so they’re less likely to improvise their way out of a hard conversation.
Don’t get this wrong. Don’t go it alone, even if you have helped to design compensation plans once or twice before. Contract with an expert who has created enduring compensation plans for other companies to ensure your plan rewards results generously, but contains no loopholes that will empty your coffers three months in.
Customer & Distributor Support:
If your launch team has enough members to share the load, a little preparation can save you a lot of money, here. Customer service and distributor tools and information will be rapidly evolving during the launch period. This makes it difficult to hire out to external call center services, which often require formatted scripts and onboarding, while you’re still in launch mode. Before you start forwarding support calls to your staff, determine what your internal “break points” will be. When your existing team is spending 2 hours per day on support instead of their primary task? Or 3 hours? Get quotes (Smart Office can help) to determine ahead of time how much an outsourced call centers will cost when you’re ready to make the investment.
This one is a real temptation. It is highly likely that the master distributors and experienced leaders your company recruited prior to launch have their own massive social media followings. They’re skilled, they’re compliant, and they’re fully invested in seeing the company succeed. This is one area where you can save money on launch by allowing your leaders to create dynamic content, and then sharing to corporate pages from your field team’s feeds.
Looking for affordable, flexible corporate phone plans? Smart Office PBX can help you get off the ground running! We have tools that let you easily balance departmental calls for sales, support, and distributor services among remote and in-office workers for minimal upfront costs. Our cloud-based phone systems feature auto-record, automated menus, full call center reporting and live monitoring, for a fraction of the cost of a corporate server system. Contact us to get a free, straightforward quote for your launch.
– Miranda K.