Recently, I had the following question sent to me:
What are several e-business applications that you might recommend to a small company to help it survive and succeed in challenging economic times? Why?
It was great timing because recently I started keeping track of the programs I depend on to do business. As a small business with a small staff, we depend heavily on keeping projects organized and accessible by the entire team. Here is my list and reasons for the best tools an online company should be using:
1) A good email marketing program — Email marketing helps you to sell to your clients in their inbox, instead of hoping they see your social media post or visit your website. You can control the opportunities for your business to receive more traffic and higher sales conversions by regular, curated content for your list. MailChimp, AWeber, and Constant Contact all offer free or low-cost basic plans, meaning you can create personalized, branded emails without breaking the bank.
2) A social media automation program — HootSuite and Buffer both allow you to take time back in your day, which is important when you are trying to resuscitate a business. Having consistent social presence helps you to maintain trust with your current customers, and build trust in new markets. You can easily tailor your content for multiple social media platforms and schedule them to post ahead of time. BONUS: Canva is a great free program for creating branded graphics, which allow you to promote your business better, for less.
3) A blog — Companies always hear that they need a blog, but many are inconsistent or irrelevant to their audience. Using LinkedIn, Medium, AND your hosted website’s blog regularly allows you to build credibility and clout within your industry. You can share your expertise and build trust — plus blogging allows you to craft a message and call-to-action for your reader, making it more likely for them to make a sale. I have received clients not only from my blog but from guest blogging. Even small contributions to other blogs have lead to clients. (HARO — Help a Reporter Out — is my favorite way to find writing opportunities!)
4) A few web tools — Google is King of the web as far as search goes, so it makes sense that the tools you need to be successful are offered by them. Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Tags, Apps for Work, Voice, Calendar, Adwords, and Ask are all necessary to operate an e-business.
Analytics helps you to monitor your web traffic and find out what works for your audience, and what doesn’t. Webmaster Tools allows you to be indexed by Google, so whenever your website has a change or addition, it’s seen in search results. Tags help you to differentiate your website based on its content, industry, and expertise. Apps for Work keeps your organized, by offering domain-specific email addresses, email management tools, CRMs, Accounting, and other applications, allowing you to keep your business in one place, managing and following up with leads and customers. Voice is a phone program that allows you to have a phone number other than your personal cell. Calls come through the Voice number, your calls are announced, and your voicemails are emailed and transcribed. Voice means you won’t miss another opportunity to follow up, and if you get a call that someone else can answer, they can check the messages on the designated email. Calendar is great for individuals and teams — I color coordinate different tasks and activities within my calendar to keep everything straight. I book meetings and can see my staff’s availability as well. Adwords is another website traffic tool, but this one is not free. Adwords can cost as little or as much as you want, and it’s used for creating advertising campaigns that show up in search results. This is important when you want to rank higher in searches, and want to be on the top or side “featured” ads. Lastly, Ask is a great web and mobile capable tool. You just say “Okay, Google…” and give it a command. I use this to send emails, text messages, or to open applications. It’s not perfect but sometimes works when you’re time crunched and don’t want to swipe your text, or if you’re attempting to multitask.
5) A good contractor — when times are hard, staffing can dwindle. The need is still there, so hiring a temporary contractor or freelancer can help when work needs to be done. Finding work that can be delegated can be a challenge, but anything that is not your main focus (working with clients) can and should be delegated when it makes sense. A great freelancer makes sure that tasks are completed in alignment to your goals, and communicates openly with you to get the work done.
Imagine this: you are an insurance agent that needs to grow their business. You specialize in insurance sales and can cite your offerings at the drop of the hat, but marketing and sales are a bit tricky. You have three choices: 1) you can try to balance growing your business and create the marketing yourself, knowing that it won't be as effective, 2) you can hire someone to help with your marketing who has the knowledge, experience, and time, or 3) you hope you can get by without marketing. In the short- and long-term, it makes more sense to pay a contractor or freelancer to complete the work for you - they are more efficient, knowledgeable, and can tailor their work for your needs and budget. Your ROI will be worth it!
6) Cloud document management — Google Drive is a great program for managing paperwork in the cloud, but personally, I prefer using Dropbox and Evernote. Dropbox allows me to create, store, and share documents easily with clients and customers, and allows me to access the documents anywhere. Evernote allows me to organize projects and coordinate with staff within different notebooks, meaning that we can all be working together, no matter where we are.
7) A good notebook — You can’t always do work on a computer, so Rocketbook is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Rocketbook allows you to designate each of 7 icons to email addresses or files in the cloud using your cell phone. You write in the Rocketbook, snap a picture of your page (with the corresponding icon marked), and the app puts your files where they need to go. When the notebook is full, you toss it in the microwave to make the ink disappear. It’s a bit pricier than the other options, but due to its portability and ability for reuse, it’s worth the cost.
These tools are important for a business at any stage, but due to their low cost (many are free) and high capabilities, they are crucial for struggling businesses. Almost all of the programs are mobile-compatible, allowing you and your team to work from anywhere. They have streamlined a bunch of processes and kept our business as close to paper-free as possible.