New year, new you. A more efficient, more effective you. Technology is there to assist and there to help you and it need not cost you the earth either. Here are six free business tools that every small business should have in its armoury that you may not yet be putting to use:
Business insights can cost a fortune. They are a valuable commodity however, which is why many big corporations spend a fortune buying lists and insights. The savvy entrepreneur however will tell you there is always a way to access similar information without the hassle and without the expense. Step forward social media and a free Gmail plug-in that links your contact details and social connections inside your inbox, giving you a social CRM. Rapportive appears as a sidebar and as you type an email address will pop-up relevant details of their social media links. Helpfully, it also shows a picture – usually pulled from one of those social media profiles – their location and even previous email conversation threads you may have had with them. It’s a great way of completing your contacts book with social media insight and stepping up that anonymous email contact to a better networked connection. Connections help you do business, so this is the sort of data that is invaluable. It works not only with your existing contacts but also of those you may want to interact with. You can try to confirm an email of a stranger address you may be guessing within a company using common email styles – if Rapportive finds a match with a name and picture you know you have that email correct.
The world is all about data and, competitor insight is a very valuable tool when building and planning your own business approach. Tregia is as simple a concept as they come, but very effective and extremely useful. Type in the URL of any website – the suggestion is one of a competitor – and Tregia will reveal what navigation, tracking and marketing tools they are using with their website. Not only can it give you potential ideas of tools you may want to consider integrating, but you can also keep a closer eye on how your competitors are thinking too. The types of tools covered include: Analytics & Tracking, Social Media, Personalized Experience, Marketing Automation, Web Technologies and Advertising.
Free tools usually have limited functionality but with Google, the functionality just keeps coming and coming. The main function of Google+ Hangouts is video calls, but add to that the ability to add up to ten people on that video call and you see the added benefits. Consider also that you can stream that video call straight into YouTube live and suddenly the sheer power of this free tool becomes apparent. With the majority of internet users already signed up to a Google account too, there are few of the registration issues that other tools sometimes present.
Whether you need organising or not, Trello is every business person’s friend. First and foremost it organises your projects into boards to keep threads and ideas together. Then you are ready to collaborate and invite others to join your board. As a collaboration tool Trello keeps you up to date with what’s being worked on, who’s working on it, and where something is in a process. Workflow has never been so organised. With various mobile and tablet apps, it’s easy to stay up to date too when you are on the move and whatever time of day you check.
2015 is all about collaboration. As the business world looks to become bigger and better but also more efficiently, there should be much more opportunity for small businesses to work in partnership with other SMEs and also larger clients, to maximise expertise levels and the quality of the final product. That’s great but it does take meetings, or at least regular update calls and the biggest frustration there is usually finding a time to suit all. Doodle aims to save you the frustration, allowing you to propose several times and dates so all participants are able to vote on their availability and you get a time that suits the majority. Great in business but also great in your personal life too for all those reunions you pledged to arrange this year!
The home of free learning from The Open University. If you want your business to be smarter, you need to play a smarter game yourself. If you want to be successful in business you need to accept the constant need to learn. Learn from experiences, learn from people you do business with but also learn in an old fashioned way too. Expanding your horizons will not only give you specific learning but will also help with your strategising in other situations too and help you think out of the box. With over 700 free courses on a range of subjects – including a must do introduction to Bookkeeping and Accounting – there’s much to education and entertain.
Of course there are more free online tools. That’s the beauty of online. Tools like Evernote, DropBox, Google Analytics etc and the 6 tools we recommended this time last year should also be every day choices for your small business. However, the commercial edge is always with the business doing things a little bit different or using that extra special tool nobody is using, so consider the six above when building your empire this year.