As SmallBizLady, my mission is to end small business failure. To that end, I love to share great free resources that can help small business owners save time and money. Here are my 11 favorites that I am sure you’ll find beneficial to your business operations. If you embrace these technology tools you’ll be amazed how much more efficient you will be each day in your small business.
Here’s my best small business finds:
Google provides a great free email solution which also integrates seamlessly with Google calendar. Some of the features of Gmail include: You don’t need to have MS Office to download attachments–you can download any file into as a Google document. Gmail comes with 5GB of storage and can be accessed from any computer. It also saves every email address you send messages to, and has one of the best spam filters around. Even if you have a branded email address you should have a Gmail address too.
LinkedIn is one of the world’s largest professional networks with over 100 million members. LinkedIn allows small business owners to connect with old and new contacts. This allows you exchange knowledge, ideas, and search for prospects across a broad network of professionals. In today’s professional world, people change jobs and locations constantly. By connecting on LinkedIn, your address book will never go out of date. Every small business owners needs a professional LinkedIn profile to make sure that potential business leads can search for you.
Think of a Facebook Fan Page as a secondary website for your small business. The tabs at the top of the page are like site navigation. You can have a tab for your newsletter sign-up, a tab for customer testimonials, and a tab for products & services. One of nicest thing about fan pages is it allows the business to communicate directly with a small group of people who like the fan page. In order to have a successful page you must provide regular content and interact with your fans. Showing up every few weeks won’t cut it. It’s best to post every day or even several times a day to make sure your fans know you care.
Twitter is a social media tool and microblogging website that demands that you only use 140 characters or less to communicate with your followers (think text messages). Twitter is a great way to monitor your clients and your competition. You can also get instant feedback on your latest offers in real-time. One of my favorite uses of Twitter is to get answers to questions or find resources and vendors. Twitter allows to follow the most compelling conversations. You can also create the conversation. Every Wednesday 8-9pm ET, I host #Smallbizchat on Twitter to answer questions for small business owners.
Once you have all of your social media accounts set up, the next thing you need is a way to stay on top of all of the status updates. Hootsuite is a web-based application containing an entire set of tools to manage, track, analyze, and schedule your social networking campaigns. Not only does this web application let the user post to multiple social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn at one time, it also allows you to schedule tweets and updates in advance. If fans and followers should be updated about a special sale for tomorrow, the message can be scheduled today.
Once you create your content you will want to keep your links short so they can be shared easily. Bit.ly shortens your long links so you can share your content on Twitter, Gmail, Email, or Facebook. It also allows you to develop custom links and get personalized stats on the open rates for your Bit.ly links. This is a really useful tool.
Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts. You can use this service to connect to your contacts across their entire social media footprint on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It works right inside your email inbox. It helps you know what the web knows instantly. If you use Gmail, it replaces all those Google ads with helpful information.
Dropbox is the easiest way to store, sync, and share files online. There’s no complicated interface to learn. It works seamlessly with your operating system. It’s a great way to make sure you have the right version of any document, which is really helpful when you are working on a team project. Dropbox allows you up to 2GB of storage free and you can sync your files of any size and across all your computers automatically.
Tungle.me is a scheduling application that syncs with your existing calendar. It eliminates double-bookings and time zone mishaps. The Tungle.me application supports Google, Outlook, Apple iCal, Entourage for Mac, Lotus Notes, Windows Live, Yahoo! and connects to major social networks including Facebook, Plancast, TripIt, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Skype is a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet. Calling other computers is free. Calling other phones is really cheap. You can accept calls with Skype or set up voicemail. You can also connect to more than one person at a time to do conference calls. It’s all very simple. Additionally, you can use Skype for instant messaging, sharing files, and video conferencing. One of the best features I like is that it records all conversations that take place using instant message.
Delicious is a social bookmarking service that allows users to tag, save, manage, and share web pages from a centralized source. It’s a great way to remove paper from your desk. When you find a great article on the internet that you want to save but don’t want to kill a tree to print it, now you just save it to your delicious file and you’ll always know where you can find it when you want to refer back to it. You can make what you save in delicious public or private.
You may not need all of these software options in your business, but if you find yourself in need of a resource refer back to this list of free options first.