As a small business owner, executing your business ideas means making it more efficient and finding tools that can help replace the hundreds of staff members you don’t have and can’t afford to hire. Fortunately for the online business owner, there are a number of things that will help with everything from time management to invoicing to marketing. WHSR has saved you the time and effort of hunting down these tools; we’ve looked at some of the most popular tools out there and chosen the top 20 must-have tools.
In her Top 20 tools list on Forbes, Tanya Prive shared:
“Limited time, manpower, and budgets can all be a factor as the workload starts to pile up and the bills come rolling in. With a solid team and the right tools however, you’ll soon be on your way to reaching your business potential.”
20 Must-Have Tools for Your Business
1 – Demandbase
Inc’s blog post on 12 Cool Web Tools for Small Business takes a look at Demandbase as a truly valuable tool for website owners.
Demandbase takes a closer look at those who are visiting your site by taking their IP and comparing it across multiple information sources, such as Dun & Bradstreet and LexisNexis. Demandbase not only tells you which companies your site visitors likely work for, but will set you up with contact info for the head of the company so you can further sell your services. This is a great way to market to a demographic already interested in your product.
2 – Inky Bee
In a blog post on Blogging Wizard, Jerry Low suggests using Inky Bee to connect with other bloggers.
Networking with other bloggers is key to getting the word out about your own blog. Some things in blog marketing haven't changed since blogging began and networking with other bloggers is one of them. However, the way we network with one another has changed and Inky Bee is a great tool to help you easily connect, saving you time and matching you with bloggers with similar interests.
3 – Pivotal Tracker
This is one tool you may not have heard about before, but Pivotal Tracker will help you keep your busy schedule on track. In a look at 40 Small Businesses and the Online Tools They Can't Live Without, Michael P. Daugherty of Bespoke Row says that this is his favorite tool. One can easily see why. It is an easy to use project management tool that will get everyone on the team involved in a real-time online environment. Set up a schedule of when tasks should be completed, allow others to upload updates and leave notes and interact with customers all from the same dashboard.
4 – Dropbox
These easy online storage solution is perfect for keeping track of your most important documents. If the unthinkable happens and your computer crashes or a fire breaks out in your home office, you can recover all your data off Dropbox. The company offers several solutions, including a free option with 2 GB of storage space. You can also use Dropbox to share files with collaborators.
Dustin Sklavos of Notebook Review points out how simple Dropbox is to use:
“I can't stress how easy it is to actually use, because that's what won me over. Any one of us could alter the contents of our shared folder at any time and (internet bandwidth permitting) the files would automatically update between us. The service is a tremendous boon for creative types who need to share fairly substantial files between each other, let alone more basic consumers who just want to share family photos and videos. It's insanely easy to get working, and each folder has a tiny document file in it that explains exactly how to use it.”
5 – Appy Pie
Appy Pie is a platform that allows businesses to design their own app and upload to iTunes or Google Play. Customers can download the app and you can then send out daily push notifications. Appy Pie is in the process of adding the ability to sell products via the app as well.
6 – Hootsuite
Hootsuite has a two-fold purpose for the small business owner. First, on your Hootsuite dashboard, you can see what topics are trending in your business niche. What are people talking about? How can you use this in a blog post or in your product offerings? If people are talking about the death of a movie star, do you have any products related to that star that you could feature on your products page? You can also use Hootsuite to schedule social media posts for your own business.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) suggests this as a Top 6 Online Tools Small Business Owners Should Be Using and lists the following review:
“There are other services similar to Hootsuite, but we’ve found it outshines them all on just about every level.” —Kari DePhillips, The Content Factory, Pittsburgh
7 – Wave
Keeping up with invoices, accounts payable, payments received and even payroll for a small business can seem overwhelming at times. Wave is an all-in-one solution for the small business owner and the software lives in an online environment. Quickbooks Pro online is another option, but Wave is a bit more affordable for the little guy as it is free.
Small Business Doer blogger Greg Lam had some interesting insights into the pros and cons of this software. While he found it limiting for his business, for someone who is running their business as a sole proprietor without a lot of expenses each month, this software will likely work just fine. One of the best parts of his article, however, is at the very end, where he offers a list of various online accounting programs business owners can use.
8 – Schedulicity
If you run a business where you meet with clients either online or in person, then you'll want to check out Schedulicity for automated scheduling.
This software allows your client to visit a site and see what days and times you have available for appointments. For example, if you offer one-on-one coaching, you input the hours you are available and let your clients know they can go on the site to schedule an appointment. Schedulicity will e-mail you when you have an appointment, show that particular time slot as booked and even send automated reminders to your client before the appointment.
9 – MailChimp
If you run an online business, you'll want to start a newsletter to stay in touch with your site visitors. A newsletter serves many purposes, including allowing you to notify subscribers of special sales or new products. In the WHSR article 15 Pearls of Web Hosting Wisdom, Luana Spinetti points out:
“Install a newsletter software on your limited web hosting account and it will start eating up your disk and bandwidth. Unfortunately there is not much to do about it, and the smallest available newsletter script — OpenNewsletter — is still 640Kb and you’ll have to count in all the stored issues, too.”
MailChimp is the perfect solution. you can start with a free account and as your subscriber base grows, move up easily to a paid account. MailChimp offers ready-made news templates or you can create a custom look for your business.
10 – Google Drive
Google Drive offers a convenient way to keep track of your documents. You can share with collaborators. One of the better features of Drive is that you can set the file for read only or allow others to edit the file. The environment supports word processing documents as well as database-driven ones. In addition, you can download templates others have created that already have formulas in place. Let's say you want a database to help track your contract employees' hours worked. They can log in to the template, add their hours and save. A simple solution for many different sharing tasks.
11 – SlideShare
SlideShare allows you to upload a presentation and reach new customers via a PowerPoint type format. In Using SlideShare to Reach New Customers, I talked about this growing market that already gets around 120 million views per month. One of the biggest advantages to adding this online tool to your business marketing model is that you will automatically improve your website's rank in search engines.
12 – Google Webmaster Tools
If you want to improve your site's placement in search engines and enhance your site's usability, the single best thing you can do is to use Google's Webmaster Tools. In addition to seeing how your site ranks on Google, you will also learn some important information about the demographics of your website visitors. For example, if you discover that most of your visitors are coming to your site between the hours of noon and three p.m. every Friday, then you can offer sales during that time or other incentives to help increase your conversion rate. On the other hand, if visitors are leaving the second they land on a particular page, that page likely needs to be revamped and made sticky.
13 – Infographics
In Creating and Using Simple Infographics to Increase Your Site Traffic, I wrote:
According to the Social Science Research Network, about 65% of humans are visual learners. With statistics like that, you can see why infographics are growing in popularity.
Adding infographics can do two things for your small business. First, it can make what you're offering much clearer to the viewer. Second, if that infographic is valuable, visitors will pin it on Pinterest, share it on Facebook and Tweet about it. This means your potential reach increases exponentially by the number of friends each person has in his social media circle.
14 – Toggl
Your time is precious and Toggl helps you keep track of how long you're spending on each task. Toggl offers both free and paid options. Simply pull the tool up online, login and track your time by client, project or task completed. If you have clients who pay you by the hour, using Toggl to track the time spent on each task can make billing easier as well.
15 – Shoeboxed
Do you ever grab a ream of paper while at the store and immediately lose the receipt? It's pretty hard to track that expense, albeit a minor one, when you can't find the receipt for it. This is where Shoeboxed comes into play for keeping the small business owner accountable. This is an app that you download to your smart phone. You can then take a picture of your receipt and Shoeboxed does the rest, keeping a copy of the receipt and tracking the expense for you. Used diligently, the program will ensure you never miss another business expense deduction on your taxes.
16 – Free Conference Calling
As the owner of an online business, you likely do a lot of your communication over the phone or via e-mail. There are occasions where it would be helpful to have all the people working on a project in on a telephone call. That is where Free Conference Calling comes into play. Get everyone together on the telephone and the system will even record the call for future reference. You can also use this system for an informational-type call for your customers. The “rooms” will hold up to 1,000 callers at a time. As the moderator, you can allow questions from specific users or keep them on silent while you speak on a particular topic.
17 – When Is Good
If you've ever tried to organize a meeting time for more than three people, you know what a nightmare it can be to figure out a day and time that works for everyone. When Is Good is a great tool to figure out when everyone can meet online or over the phone. Each person puts in their available times and the system chooses one that works for everyone.
18 – Keyword Spy
One of the best ways to learn from your competition is by spying on them – well, their keywords anyway. This analysis tool takes a look at which keywords are working best for your competitors, so you can learn from what they are doing. On the blog Traffic Salad, Ryan Cruz says about using Keyword Spy:
“My general rule is that if people are advertising(spending pay per click advertising) for that particular keyword or phrase, then it’s a good keyword to target because there is commercial intent.”
19 – Mojo Helpdesk
The online business marketplace is highly competitive. Even if you're the only game in this world wide town today, you can be sure that someone will notice your success and copy what you're doing. Once you've covered everything else (SEO, good landing pages, solid conversion, etc.), customer service is the only way to get ahead of the competition. Mojo Helpdesk is one way to stay in touch with your customers and make sure any issues they might have are quickly and successfully solved. Although there are many helpdesk platforms available, this one consistently gets high reviews. The GetApp community reviewed this software and gave it five out of five stars.
20 – CrashPlan
CrashPlan is a cloud backup solution. The program runs in the background of your computer, continuously backing up important files in the case of a computer crash. If the unthinkable happens, you won't lose important projects or customer contact info. Instead, you simply reinstall this data from your backed-up files on CrashPlan's cloud.
The Tip of the Iceberg
These are just a few favorite tools for online small businesses. When it comes to making small businesses more efficient, there are limitless possibilities for tools that can be used.