One of the biggest challenges for small business owners is knowing which tools or platforms to use that can help them be more effective, more efficient and more profitable. I’ve owned a small business for 19 years now and am kind of a tool freak (shocker), so my team and I thought that sharing some of our favorites with you might be not only fun, but helpful as well. Here are some of our favorites:
1. Google Apps for Business
We’ve run our corporate email through the Google Apps for Business platform for years now and I cannot say enough great things about it. Not only is my email not tied to the same server that hosts my website (muy importante), I can access it from anywhere and love the UX of the gmail interface. Even when it changes.
Beyond that, the tools and integration of the Google Apps platform is spectacular. Google’s suite of apps works seamlessly together and is a collaboration lover’s dream come true. Get a meeting invite on Gmail and in one click, it’s on Calendar. Put work files in Google Drive and share and collaborate in real time with team members or clients.
Google Apps for Business comes with shared cloud storage of 30Gb and an option to buy more if you need it. And one of the very best things? Because Google apps have become so ubiquitous, there’s practically no learning curve. Employees are able to pick it up easily and your team is good to go.
Freshbooks is another tool we’ve been using forever and it literally changed everything about invoicing and time tracking for us. I’m an unabashed fangirl, but of all the invoice and expense tracking software out there, I really believe that Freshbooks is the easiest to navigate. You can create invoices, record expenses, and track your time all in one place. You can bill your clients and get paid directly from the interface as well. It’s a money management godsend. Another nifty thing—Freshbooks has a partnership with PayPal so you can invoice through Freshbooks and opt for payment through PayPal with only a .50 cent service fee. Seriously, this is all kinds of awesome.
3. Google Analytics
Shocked that we included Google Analytics here? Well, you’d be amazed at how many business owners either don’t have Google Analytic enabled on their websites and/or who don’t look at their GA data, either of which makes me want to stab my eyes out with rusty forks. Your data is your business roadmap, so if looking at it, you’re literally operating in the dark. Google Analytics data will you how your website is performing, how much traffic your website has, where visitors to your site are coming from, what pages of your site they visit, how long they stay on site … and a host of other things. it and aren’t looking at it (preferably weekly, at a minimum), I beg you to start. Immediately.
WordPress is another platform we love and it’s the most popular blogging platform out there for a reason. WordPress is a game-changer for business owners and makes the days of being reliant on a web developer or an agency for even the smallest changes to your corporate website obsolete. Thank goodness. WordPress is truly “idiot proof” (which is what I need!) and easily customizable, with a host of plug-ins for every need, not to mention a ton of readily available support. We recommend business owners use the paid WordPress interface, which is available at http://wordpress.org, which allows for customization, custom themes, e-commerce and all other kinds of sophisticated tools and applications that will make your business and your online image rock. There’s also a free version of WordPress which you can find at http://wordpress.com, but there’s really great value in owning your site and domain and paying to host it somewhere. Free comes with a downside that’s not for everyone.
It’s not just because the founders are from my city of Kansas City, Mo. that we’re fans of DivvyHQ. It’s because it’s a really great solution to a problem that a lot of business owners have—management of an editorial calendar for their corporate blogging efforts. We use DivvyHQ to manage content and production workflow for not only our own corporate blogs, but for the blogs of all our clients, whose content we are responsible for ideating, developing and publishing.
Divvy HQ has a clean, intuitive interface with features that really shows how well the creators understand what goes into this kind of work. It keeps everything organized and allows the team to see what’s going on with their assignments at a glance. If it’s time to move your content marketing efforts from just playing around to serious, and if you’d like to move away from Excel spreadsheets (or worse, no tracking system), check out DivvyHQ. It’s easy-to-use, ridiculously effective and affordable.
Ready to start integrating rich media into your online marketing efforts? Great! You should be! YouTube makes it easy for just about anyone to create a channel and start uploading videos and sharing content with the millions of YouTube users on a regular basis. But there are a few things to keep in mind before you get started. First, integrate YouTube with your corporate Google + page (and if you don’t have one, you’ll need to create one. Trust us on this one, you need one!). Secondly, be sure to optimize your videos (and video titles), don’t just upload them and leave them there. Include written content that describes the videos and make sure that content is SEO optimized. Lastly, don’t forget to use your video content as part of your overall integrated marketing efforts. Include video in your email newsletters, in your corporate blog posts and also share it on your social media channels where applicable. Google+ in particular is a social media channel where rich media content is very effective, so don’t just shoot video, use that video as part of your content marketing efforts.
7. Free Conference Call
We’ve been using Free Conference Call for so long and I still think it’s one of the greatest tools ever. Free Conference Call gives you free teleconferencing for up to 96 callers, which you can access via phone or through your computer. If you’re handling a large team that’s in various locations or hold a lot of webinars, this one is perfect for you.
After evaluating lots and lots of project management tools, and getting feedback from a myriad of fellow business owners, our team selected Asana earlier this year. And we love it. Asana is one of the best project management tools out there and our experience has been fantastic. Asana allows us to set up projects, assign team members, keep track of every single thing that’s going on via a visual timeline. It keeps everything in its place too for easy access— discussions, schedules, to-do lists, even files. We’ve all used Basecamp before, and it’s fine, but Asana is the project management platform that we really fell in love with. If your business requires a lot of collaboration or project management work for clients, Asana is definitely a tool that should be on your short list..
Skype is great for small teams that need to meet often and on the fly. You can chat, make voice calls and send large-ish files, screenshare and video conference. But beyond those basics, Skype can play a role in your content marketing efforts (do you like how I can always toss that in, to just about any conversation?). I love using Skype and the Call Recorder app to do interviews and record them. You can then fairly easily edit your interviews as needed and upload your files to YouTube. Sweet, isn’t it? After that, it’s a no-brainer to take those interviews and use them in your email marketing campaigns, your corporate blog and/or for sharing in the social media space. You’ll need a pro account to do some of this, but it’s a great value for an investment of something like $25 a month.
There are a lot of social media dashboard tools out there and they pretty much come in all shapes and sizes and with all kinds of price tags. For the small business owner, Hootsuite is a no-brainer. You can think of Hootsuite like a kind of like a command center for your online presence. It’s a dashboard that’s super easy to use and allows you to manage all your social networks in one place. If you have a team working on social media, it also allows for super easy collaboration, communication, scheduling and sharing, as well as permission management as needed. But beyond the interface itself, one of the reasons we like Hootsuite so much is the data that the platform provides. If you’re not measuring the impact of your social media efforts, you’re missing out on the most important part of the equation, and Hootsuite’s reporting capabilities are awesome.
There you have it. Some of our very favorite tools, most of which we use every single day, in some fashion or another. What about you? What are your favorite tools? We’d love to hear about them.