For a small business in 2013 the ever growing landscape that is the internet has made trading and competing for customers one of the most exhilarating periods in history.
From the birth of Ebay to the progression of internet shopping through high scale selling platforms like Etsy and Groupon that we frequent today, the era of internet shopping has, quite simply, gone from strength to strength. As a consequence more personal mediums like the once buzzing door to door salesmen, who made their fortunes by plying Henry Hoovers on unsuspecting bored housewives, have become positively extinct.
Cramped shops are no longer needed on a local high street to target a limited market, and the need to scour a damp phone book looking for your name and number to ensure you were taken off a telesales call list has quickly demised, as the doors to the world were torn off and small businesses looked to the online world as means of getting your custom.
To fast forward through to today the early days of Ebay are now over 18 years old –can you believe it! During these 18 years the sudden explosion of selling platforms has expanded at an unprecedented rate. From sites like Twitter to an eCommerce store; finding the right tools to manage your business has grown as well and with every new tool comes an abundance of features, which makes running your business that little bit easier.
Choosing the right platform for your business can be a difficult choice though. With so many available it can seem like a childhood chore, or even a child in a sweet shop – which should you try? Finding the right social media tool with the right features to suit your business and help it prosper can be a difficult task. To aid you in this process take a look as we name our top 11 online tools for small businesses, and as always please do let us know if you have any you’d like featured!
Hootsuite – Social Media Management
Running a small business is more than a day job, it takes over your life and becomes a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week commitment. With this in mind, if you’re a big fan of Twitter and Facebook, then it’s time to consider using Hootsuite. Its simple scheduling tools mean you can line up information to be posted out in the morning and simply keep a close eye on your engagement at certain intervals. This tool can really save you a lot of time and with great analytic tools to monitor clicks you can really delve into the statistics and pull together information which can boost your social engagement.
As social media starts to become a bigger tool in small businesses marketing plans, the more we have to recognise the leverage good social media sites can have when finding customers to advocate and persuade people to buy from our businesses. With Veooz you can monitor engagement which is trending in your niche and target potential people who could advocate your products or services with an engaged following. It’s really simple to use, simply type in your product or service area, search the ‘buzz’ and find the top tweets. Unfortunately the tool is still in its beta mode, but hopefully in the future we will be able to segment tweets into location, making this tool even more useful to small local businesses.
2 GB Storage – Free
100 GB Storage – £99 per year
As we start to move into a more digitalised world, our USB’s slowly become more and more redundant. With our digital information becoming more vital it’s becoming more important to find safe and secure ways to store this information but at the same time, with easy and simple access. For small businesses we can’t think of a better tool for this than Dropbox. Simply drag and drop important information, images and video into your Dropbox tab and you have your information at your finger prints wherever you are in the world. With added apps on all mobile devices and simple sharing tools, you can assure clients, colleagues and customers can access the information they need in minutes.
0 – 2000 Subcribers, 12,000 Emails per month – Free
Price hereafter dependant on subscribers*
If you’re a small business, it’s important you know that email marketing is still one of the best performing sectors of online marketing and as a result, having an affordable email management system is critical when fulfilling your online marketing strategy.
With Mailchimp, you have one of the most innovative email marketing platforms available, they’re constantly making developments to make a more effective platform and with the ability to design your email with HTML or using one of their hundreds of design templates ranging from the professional and sleek to the quirky and fun you can always be sure you email marketing has the personality of your business.
It doesn’t stop there either, Mailchimp has some of the best reporting tools, which collect, analyse and the present your results in a visually impressive format, reporting everything from your click rates to clicks by location helping you analyse and improve your email marketing plan.
Free* (*Ad Supported)
As a small business, keeping track of your unpaid bills, client invoices and general transactions can be critical to bringing peace of mind during the busier days of delivering your service.
With Wave Accounting Apps, you simply import your small business transaction data into a highly secure and classified application in 10 minutes and you now have all your latest financial business and personal information at your fingertips. The ability to now make reports and put notes on different accounts mean you can always keep a close eye on highly important transactions and at the same time export the reports into Excel saving you time and effort.
Although this tool has some great features, and the modification of your accounts is endless it is recommended for a business with no more than 5 staff and it could make a great money management tool for the busy, on the go person.
When you’re a small business and you’ve just started up, getting people to talk about your products can be hard work. You’ll be looking around at all the different blogs in your niche and you’ll grow slightly envious as you see blogs covering your competitor’s new service. Now you may be surprised to learn most of these posts are either paid for, or a social/link exchange will have taken place. So, if you’re looking for bloggers who will dedicate their time to talking about your products at minimum price then the Blogger Link Up site is great for finding the right blogger for you. Simply sign up for their email blast with your request and you’ll find your inbox flooded with blog offers. It’s also got a whole bunch of other features for creating great blog posts yourself, like the source/interview tool where you can find industry leaders who have the knowledge you need to create a factual and interesting blog piece.
Free Sign Up
When you’re a small business owner you may have the skills to go out and build your service or product but you may not have the skills to design great graphics, or develop content for a site that is optimised for search engines. With this obviously comes the huge price of hiring someone who can deliver on these services and you’ll more than likely only need to hire on different occasions. With Elance you can hire freelancers in a matter of seconds, with the ability to dictate how much you pay and let people bid on your project. You can get almost any project done for you with a cost that matches the quality you desire and you can assure that you pay your freelancers in a secure way, when you’re satisfied with the job.
Have you ever wondered who’s talking about your business across the web? Or alternatively do you want to find who’s talking exclusively about your competitors? As a small business with limited funds to spend on marketing, using Icerocket could be the tool which gives you an extra edge. Simply type in your brand into its search functionality (wait 5 minutes) and work your way through every mention of your brand on the internet. Working in the same way as Veooz, Icerocket puts your most recent mentions at the top or alternatively the website with the most authority. This can be used for a number of marketing activities, but one example we’ve seen used regularly is the monitoring of customers complaining about your service.
If you’re a small local business who is looking to develop your appearance online, we can’t think of anything simpler than building a website or blog through WordPress.
Why spend possibly thousands of pounds on outsourcing a website build, when you can design a professional website or blog in minutes with WordPress. With hundreds of stylish themes for you work through, and YouTube being constantly updated with How Tos and general tips and advice, what seems complicated at first will become clearer with time. Its free to use, has a massive user base who are constantly developing WordPress’ functionality and a buzzing forum which can answer any of your questions.
WordPress has also released its Mobile support Apps meaning you can update your website on the go, delivering the information your customers need, when they need it, with nothing more than a mobile phone.
If you hadn’t realised by now, photos are by far and away the number 1 resource when trying to capture people’s attention online. We photos or images in almost every area of our business to customer interaction whether it be social media, email marketing and our websites. Yet, when it comes to finding high quality images legally, it can be a struggle. So while trying to avoid paying a lot of money for a blog post we found Imgembed is the ultimate photo resource where images can be tracked, monetised and most importantly used in an ethical manner. With simple embed functions you don’t need to worry about ‘cease and desist’ notices or potentially being sued because each image is tracked and owned by the user who allow fair use. The photos don’t lack in quality either, and with thousands of photos being uploaded directly by the owner you can source high quality photos and only pay when you don’t want to credit the creator.
Starts from £1 per agreement
As a small business you need the confidence that when a contract is signed, it’s legally binding, and one problem for small businesses is that it can take weeks for you to confirm and have your contracts in place. This all slows down the process of your business and quite often will cause a loss in sales and effort. With Our Deal you can use many of their templates to build your contracts (although it’s still advised you seek legal advice) , simply send and receive agreements in seconds. As they say ‘Create, send, and sign agreements in seconds’.
For a small business the evolution of the internet over time has made online business more competitive than ever. As with any business, having an edge over your competitors is going to be critical for success and with these tools affording you extra time, saving money and keeping a close eye on competitors you can be sure to have the tools you need to succeed.
Found a tool that’s right for your business? Tell us below, or tell us your experiences with any of the online tools mentioned above.