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When you’re running a small business, particularly when you’re just starting out, money can be tight, so here are my top 12 best small business tools that won’t break the bank but will help increase your productivity.
(SOME OF THE LINKS ARE AFFILIATE LINKS)
Trello helps you to plan and organise projects, and share them with your team. You can plan out marketing campaigns, product launches, website creation – whatever you are working on. Then, you can assign these tasks to others with dates for completion and notes alongside task, which they can then mark off once they’re complete. You can create checklists, add content from the web, add comments, schedule times and add labels. Trello is free to use and even if you don’t have a team, I find it helpful for planning blog posts, particularly if I am running a particular campaign to promote specific eproducts or training that I’m delivering.
Evernote is a workspace that can also be used to organise your projects and campaigns. Use it to store, organise and share content with your team. When I was writing my ebook for non-profits, I used it to clip articles and research from the web and store it all in a notebook that I’d created in Evernote. All of my research sources were then in one place, which helped the writing process flow more easily AND made it easy to find and credit my sources too. The basic package is free and the most expensive is £34.99 pa.
Skype is the low cost/free (depending on what you’re using it for) way to make calls. For a small cost, you can get your own dedicated number with your a local dial code, which anyone dialling will only be charged local rates for regardless of where they are. It’s also a great way for liaising with clients or working with remote teams, as you can use the video call setting to feel as though you’re in the room with people. I particularly like the record feature which means that, if I am doing a Skype consult with a client, I can record it and then send it onto them to keep for future reference.
FreeAgent is the accounting software that I use for sending out my invoices, keeping track of my payments and helping me to fill out my tax returns. This is for UK based businesses only – as it sets out your tax for HMRC purposes rather than the IRS. My favourite feature is the payment reminder scheduler. No matter how good your clients are – even some of my very best clients have been terrible at paying on time – there will be times when you need to chase invoices. By setting up a reminder email series when you create your invoice, you don’t have to keep remembering to go back and chase them – the system will do it for you as often as you like. At £180 pa for sole traders it’s not cheap – but then again, when you compare it to the cost of an accountant, it’s an absolute bargain!
MailChimp is email marketing software that allows you to manage all of your subscribers in one place, send out email campaigns, run split tests. It will help you to optimise your emails by advising when you should send, and giving you detailed analytics on open and click rates. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t have first hand experience of MailChimp but I will be using it for Apricot Ginger in the near future. Free for up to 2,000 subscribers, this is perfect for small business startups. You can send out professional looking emails in a range of different formats and templates, without having any design experience. And the best part? You can figure out what your customers are interested in (or not).
Prezi is presentation software – think PowerPoint on caffeine. It allows you to create and share presentations that look as though a professional designer had created them. I’ve used it for training sessions, web presentations – and even to create video footage for my YouTube video series (I added the voiceovers using GarageBand on my iMac). In my personal opinion, Prezi is a cut above PowerPoint in terms of usability, as well as giving a professional edge to the overall look and feel of your presentations. Prices start from $0 for the basic package to $159 pa – well worth the investment.
Canva is the place I go to when I need to create graphics for my blog (like the one above). You can use their free images and text (there are lots to choose from), upload your own or pay a small amount (usually around $1) for graphics on their site. As well as making your blog images look a cut above the rest, you can also use it to create images for Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook or headers for your emails. It doesn’t stop there though, as you can also use it for offline purpose, such as tickets or posters, as Canva gives you the option to download the image in various versions – some that are good enough to print, others that you can use online. Personally, I love Canva!
ejunkie is the platform I use to sell my ebooks. At an affordable $5 per month, all you need to do is upload your product to ejunkie, set the price (you can also run discounts or offer codes), add in details such as for the sales process, then add the html script that ejunkie generates to the webpage you are selling your product from. Then you can start promoting your product. ejunkie carries out all of the fulfillment (ie it sends on the product to your customer), processes the payment and applies any discounts that you have set up. You can also add your products to their affiliates scheme – or join other sellers affiliates schemes and start earning money that way too.
PayHip is my new selling platform love. Similar to ejunkie – although without the monthly charge – you can use it to sell your ebooks only, but I’ve been really happy with it. Again, you just set up your prices and discount codes, get your html script (in the form of a payment button that you add to your site) and PayHip then deals with all of the payment processing/order fulfilment. The charge is 5% per transaction.
Hootsuite is my one stop shop when it comes to scheduling my social media. There’s a free version (which I use) or a business version which comes in at £6.99 per month. As I said in my post about improving your online presence, you shouldn’t rely on this for all of your social media communications, but for a small business short on time and resources, scheduling in some of your updates is a fantastic way of making sure your brand is promoted consistently. They also have analytics so you can track which of your content is being shared. I particularly like the fact that you can use it to set up your messages in advance for Twitter, Google +, Linked In – whatever.
Facebook Scheduler – you can use Hootsuite to schedule in your Facebook messages too, but apparently, Facebook doesn’t like that, which I suspect means it either doesn’t promote these messages in other people’s feeds or they don’t show up properly. I’m not entirely sure but either way, I tend to schedule in my Facebook updates direct through Facebook itself (which is of course, all part of their plan). It’s easy to use and, if Facebook is your main social media platform then it’s worth doing.
Tailwind is a social media scheduler that I’ve just discovered for Pinterest and, while I am still learning how to use it, I’m finding it really useful. Tailwind helps you to plan out and schedule the pins that you share on Pinterest in advance, allowing you to drip feed them over the course of a week or more. You can either set them up in the queue or schedule them to go out on specific days/times depending on what you need. There’s a free or paid version – I am currently getting to grips with the free version. It also provides insights and analytics so you can figure out where you’re getting the most engagement and what you’re doing right.
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So those are my favourite small business tools – any that you use that you think I’ve missed or that you’d like to add to the list? Or are there any here that you really don’t like?
Let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear what you think.