Its fair to say that running a business has never been quite so challenging, yet at the same it is also one of the most personally satisfying things you can do with your time.
In this current economic climate where consumers are looking for value-for-money and a large amount of competition vying to provide for “your” customers, it is vital that your business operation remains the best it can be but for the lowest possible cost.
Luckily, the Internet has developed into an outstanding source of opportunity for businesses, providing both a way to attract new customers and a way to lower overheads. It is now possible to do business from a virtual office, have your own personal virtual assistant taking your calls via a virtual business telephone number, and so on. The possibilities are endless.
In this short post we wanted to let you know about our 10 favorite websites that provide ‘must-have’ tools for a modern business. And the real beauty of this list is that each of the sites is either free-of-charge or fairly low-cost to use, with pricing plans to suit every size and type of business. We know that as a small business owner you are not likely to want to use every one of these 10 suggestions, but instead we want you to think about what each of them can bring to the table for your specific needs, and utilize them as required.
A Business Blog
Blogging has been around for a while now but many small business owners fail to realize the importance of keeping a blog, nor do they understand how to do it. A simple Google search will uncover some great articles on how to keep a blog. The important thing to think about first is how to set one up.
The most commonly used platform for keeping a blog is WordPress. If you already have your own website and hosting then it is relatively simple to incorporate a WordPress blog with your existing site, but you can also set up a free blog on the WordPress community platform.
Blogging allows you to personally manage your Online Reputation first hand, helps massively with your corporate Search Engine Optimisation, and allows you to build a following of dedicated affiliates for your brand.
This is a great option to use alongside your Blog. Set up Feedburner as your RSS Feed and not only will it be seen by visitors to your website RSS Feed, but also to people using the Feedburner network. It’s a great source of additional traffic to your site, and its quick, easy and free to set-up.
Initially you can use this service for free to build and grow mailing lists via your website, but as your lists grow and your communications increase you can upgrade to premium accounts that will give you additional usage allowances that will grow in-line with your actual business growth.
Mail Chimp allows you to create and send professional email marketing communications that comply with International Spam Laws and has an in-built analytics tool that allows you to monitor individual campaigns and find out important nuggets of information such as how many people actually opened your email rather than simple move it straight to trash, how many links were clicked, etc.
It’s a very powerful tool with little or no cost depending how you choose to use it. Well worth a look.
There are lots of different Social Media platforms out there, but for most businesses Twitter is a quick, easy and free platform to spread your message far and wide. In mass-marketing terms we are talking about “reach”. If you have 100 followers and just one of those followers retweets your message it then reaches people who may not have been following you already, and if one of their followers retweets the message you can see what will happen. A single message to 100 people has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people.
Set up a Twitter profile for your brand and ensure you add a profile picture (perhaps your logo) and a short Bio (make sure you include your web address). You don’t need to be glued to twitter for it to work for your business, but you do need to be fairly social. Spend 10 minutes morning; noon and night personally interacting with other tweeters, especially those who you would be interested in doing business with and whom you think are potential new customers.
Don’t use it as a direct sales channel, but instead approach it in the sense of building your brand and creating a “future” sales channel.
When we use Twitter we use it as a business, but when we use Facebook it tends to be from a more personal perspective.
Make sure you set-up your business a dedicated page, but then use your personal connections to help you promote that page. There are inbuilt options for advertising your page (at a cost), but getting your friends and family behind it can go much further.
A recommendation from your personal network can go a long way compared to a direct advertisement showing up on someone’s profile.
This is a great way to connect all of your social media profiles in the one place using a simple dashboard feature. Hootsuite is free to use, but as you want to increase functionality you can purchase it as required. It’s got an in-built analytics function that also allows you to customize reports so that you get the details you actually need.
You can also interact with your social media feeds directly from the dashboard such as tweet, retweet and favorite, like, reply and share, and you can even auto-schedule messages. The auto-schedule feature is great because it means that you don’t actually need to be glued to your feeds to interact and drive traffic to your site.
This is an underestimated tool that is extremely powerful. You can make calls for free Skype-to-Skype, purchase credit to allow you to call landlines and mobiles, and you can even get your own landline number with a local dialing code.
Skype also offers the option to do video calls, hook up to a business dashboard that allows you to give colleagues their own numbers and act as a switchboard, and hold conference calls.
You can see who is online, unavailable and so on, and you can instant message contacts too. It’s a simple and powerful tool that takes just a few minutes to set up.
Huddle.net is a collaboration tool that allows each member of a team to set up a profile about themselves. You can invite Facebook friends to work with you on projects, which opens up all sorts of digital communication possibilities.
With WebEx there’s no need to even leave the office. It allows you to do online presentations and sales calls directly via web conferencing software.
WebEx offers solutions for just about every size of business.
You’ve probably heard of PayPal many times, with it being most popular for taking personal payments when you sell on EBay.
Many people don’t realize that PayPal has a wide range of free and low-cost business solutions too. You can turn your website into a fully-functioning ecommerce site, accept invoice payments, turn your payment pages into customized and branded pages complete with SSL and much more.
PayPal is fast becoming the preferred method of online payment and now has an outstanding reputation. It is extremely safe and secure to use, and also offers you seller protection facilities which makes doing business via PayPal a stress and worry-free activity.