Lean, Green, and Mean: 4 Technologies Every Startup Should Have to Accelerate and Achieve Growth

"Lean, Green, and Mean" header image

What do startups want? Growth! 


When do they want it? Right now! 


It’s true—every startup needs growth because, well, they’re just getting started. New users, revenue, and completed projects are the lifeblood of startups. 


But this type of growth doesn’t magically appear the way it does on television after salespeople and developers spend 80 hours a week chugging RedBull and hacking together one-time solutions. In reality, startup growth is fueled through smart decisions, diligent processes, and technology that enables both. 


If you want to stay lean and in the green, investing in the right technology can help you shave time (read: money) off of repetitive processes, ensure important goals are met, and generally help you get more done with less. 


Startups can get the most bang for their buck if they focus on implementing the right technology in four key areas of their business: 

  1. Project management
  2. Customer relationship management
  3. Finance and booking
  4. Contract management


Why these four areas? Again, if you want (or need) to stay lean, technological systems in these areas are going to help you empower the staff you already have to scale up their productivity, provide accountability, and work more efficiently with outside vendors, partners, and clients. 


Let’s break down each of these four areas to find out how to eliminate manual processes, loosen bottlenecks, and banish busy work to go lean, green, and mean.


1. Project Management Software

The so-called “daily grind” has no place in prosperous startups. Instead, success should be measured by how much you can get done. It’s all about planning, executing, and completing projects as quickly as possible—and with excellence. 


Development teams have projects, sales teams have projects, and, of course, management has projects that need to get done. Many of these projects have dependencies, nuances, and external factors that can affect their completion. Disorganization equals death. You cannot afford to lose the week because something got missed, delayed all the subsequent actions, and pushed your target completion out even further. What you can afford is project management software. 


The project management software space is incredibly saturated—there are solutions for every conceivable niche. We won’t presume to tell you which application is best for you, but instead offer a few general tips: 

  1. Make a list of any necessary integrations. Make sure the systems are absolutely essential, as it’s unlikely there’s a project management technology that integrates seamlessly with everything else you use. 
  2. Ask your team for input. Have they used anything they liked in the past? What was their experience?
  3. Map out your processes on a whiteboard first. Most project management tools are designed to work around existing workflows, not box you into new ones. Find your ideal workflows first before building them out inside any application. 
  4. Elect a project management champion responsible for sourcing and implementation. This person should not be the CEO—they should be allowed to focus on higher-level issues. 


Evaluate a few options—like Asana’s work management tool pictured below—and make a decision. Progress is better than perfect in this scenario. 

GIF of Asana's Kanban workflow. One task moving between columns.
Image source: https://asana.com 

2. Customer Relationship Management Software

When it comes to sales for startup companies, there are four crucial steps: 

  1. Finding and engaging leads
  2. Closing those leads
  3. Upselling customers
  4. Retaining customers


Luckily, a CRM can enable your sales team to reduce the time spent on each of these steps while adding accountability and measurement into the whole process. Also luckily, there are dozens of CRM vendors—such as Agile CRM, pictured below—to choose from. 

Image of Agile CRM, showing multiple columns, each with a number of sales deals
Image source: https://www.agilecrm.com


Whichever CRM you choose to go with, there are three key areas in which you can expect to see gains.

Efficiency

Are your sales reps typing out the same emails over and over again? A CRM allows you to create email templates that come together with one click. Simply fill out the blank spots with the right contact info and hit send. Advanced CRMs might even have additional email power-ups like merge tags and personalization tokens to make your life even easier. 


Accountability

Never rely on an individual’s memory when it comes to following up with a lead. Use a CRM to make sure it gets done. In addition to reminders and tasks, CRMs assign contacts to individuals on your sales team, meaning nobody can accidentally steal a commission. This is especially helpful if you have a lead generation system filling up with inbound leads. Using a round-robin lead distribution method will keep your sales staff flush with new leads. 


Measurement

Revenue is obviously the key measurement in sales, but it can be helpful to look at the softer metrics underneath to shed more light on what’s working and what's not. A CRM records performance, can track actions that result in sales, and gives management visibility into how many deals (and how much potential revenue) are currently in the pipeline. 


Want more sales? Enable your sales team with the technology to work faster and measure their efforts. 


3. Financial and Bookkeeping Software

If you think bookkeeping is a necessary evil that only slows you down by counting the money you’ve already made, you have the wrong idea about finance. Bookkeeping can not only be used to look backward, but also to look forward—planning for and making more money.


To obtain the ability to break down your finances into usable information, however, you’ll need two things—a bookkeeping system, such as the classic QuickBooks, and some math chops. 

Image of Quickbooks Online's interface. Showing total outstanding invoice amounts at the top, and breaking down to a list of all invoices below that.
Image source: https://quickbooks.intuit.com/online


There are dozens of accounting technologies for you to choose from. Each has its own set of capabilities, specialties, and costs. But, however capable they are, bookkeeping software still requires some level of time, energy, and expertise.


Even for startups that need to stay lean, it often makes sense to outsource the headaches that come with accounting. Consider finding a bookkeeper and letting them guide you through the ins and outs of what you’ll need to take control of the finances at your startup. They’ll be able to set you up with the necessary software (often at a discount!) and teach you how to use the areas you’ll need to run your business. 


Don’t forget, a good bookkeeping system is essential for startups at any stage. 


4. Contract Management Software

Most of us don’t think about contract management all that often. However, in most countries, you need a “paper trail” of contracts in order to get paid, start work, transfer ownership, etc. Of course, today, that “paper trail” doesn’t actually mean physical paper. If you’re still using hard-copy contracts, then this section is really for you. 


Paperless contracts are not only good for the environment, but they’re also good for your sanity, too. Believe it or not, there’s actually a ton of opportunity for a tech-enabled contract management system to streamline and optimize several different areas of your business. 

GIF showing the flow of a document, from your signature, all the way to management.


For example, your sales team just put in a lot of hard work to close the sale and your account managers will no doubt deliver outstanding service and support. Why not reward all that hard work by making the process as seamless as possible? With HelloSign, pictured above, you can utilize an API to have a digital signature kick off a slew of automated actions necessary for onboarding. 


Many startups have already started using electronic invoices, so why not combine your payment and contract systems? This is exactly what AdvicePay, a financial planning service, chose to do. 


By using the HelloSign API, they were able to combine their invoicing and contractual system, allowing users to manage their contacts 50% faster. Read the full case study here.

Quote from Joe Timmer, Lead Developer at AdvicePay: "When a user creates an invoice in AdvicePay, our application automatically creates a contract in HelloSign and pulls the invoice amount and other key data fields into the contract so the documents are 100% synced. Now, users don't touch the contract because it's 100% controlled via the HelloSign API from data in our system.

Startups have very little margin for error when it comes to wasted time and money. To get lean and move faster than your competitors, it’s time to invest in tech-enabled workflows that will streamline processes and reduce waste. Choose your tools wisely.

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