Small businesses have to be the most strategic about which tools to employ to grow the company. When resources are scarce, taking advantage of free software is the best decision. Other times, your only options may cost a bit of money, but you can also get a lot of mileage out of them if you plan ahead.
Here are our suggestions for free and inexpensive business tools that any small business can utilize.
Whether you’re opening a cafe or building a mobile app, a website is one of the best ways to spread the news about what you can offer potential customers. A lot of providers will offer templates so you can get started very quickly even if you’ve previously never built a website. Most of them will also help you with purchasing and registering a domain so you don’t have to worry about that. If this seems like an unnecessary cost as you’re starting your business, you can also create a business page on Yelp for the time being so at least some basic information about your business can be found.
Paperwork should be a thing of the past at this point. Organizing and sorting through piles of paper no longer have to be a concern because everything can be done online. JotForm offers the ability to create all types of forms -- everything from job applications to website contact forms to order forms. Submissions are neatly stored in your dashboard. And you can connect your forms with hundreds of widgets that let you streamline many business processes, such as collecting signatures, scheduling, and getting referrals. JotForm users also have access to the helpful support forum with information and instructions from the last 10 years, like creating your first web form, so you’re never at a loss for where to get started.
SEM and SEO
If you’ve taken the steps to create a website for your business, your next task is to help your future customers find it. Search engine marketing (SEM) is a great way to get your feet wet with advertising for your business, and it’s completely up to you how big or small of a budget to set. Bid on a few keywords that you think are popular, and then based on the results, keep adjusting the keywords and phrases according to which ones are most successful. If you’re not quite ready to invest money into SEM, you can still make use of Google Adwords by using their Keyword Planner. You have access to Keyword Planner simply by creating a Google Adwords account. This is a great way to figure out the search volume for different phrases so that can you go back to your website and create content around the most relevant topics.
Google Adwords: Free - However much you want to spend
Business profiles on social media are one of the best ways to let people know about your company, and it’s free. If your target demographic is made up of people aged anywhere between 16 and 50, you can rest assured that they most likely log onto their social media profiles fairly often. Make the most of this opportunity by posting the most interesting and useful information on Facebook or Twitter. This allows your customer to get a quick snapshot of what you’re working on as they scroll through their feeds. In a perfect world, seeing one of your messages will lead to a purchase of your product, but more often than not, customers will not buy right away. So instead of aiming for more revenue, view social media as a channel that’s perfect for sharing good news, bad news, and everything in between. The goal is to make enough of an impression so that they come back when they’re needed. You can also use tools like HootSuite to monitor all of your social media profiles in one interface for faster management.
Sometimes hiring can be a big obstacle because you don’t necessarily have the funds to support additional full time salaries. This is where outsourcing comes in. Outsourcing a number of your smaller tasks is a convenient way to get the help you need without taking the steps to hire a full time employee. You can tap into this resource only when it’s needed or when you have the funds to do so. Outsourcing will also give you the flexibility to set the cost because you’ll be reaching a larger group of people who may be looking for additional work. However, you should also research average project costs to ensure you attract qualified people. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting unusable results, since you get what you pay for!
Fiverr: $5+ per job; Elance: Varies depending on the type of job
While email marketing tools aren’t typically free, it’s an area worth investing in because the benefits will grow over time. Whether you use email marketing to stay connected with your current customers via newsletters and updates or to attract new ones by offering discounts, the end result can make huge contributions towards growing your business. These products usually offer tiered pricing as well so you can increase your investment as your customer base grows.
As a small business owner, one of your most valuable guides will be others who have gone through similar experiences because they can share all of their successes and failures with you. Hearing about strategies that didn’t work out as expected is an effective way to avoid making the same mistakes yourself. But what if you don’t personally know anybody who has founded a company similar to yours? That’s where online forums come in. Places like Quora and Reddit are incredibly helpful because you can ask any question and solicit advice from people all around the world. While every piece of advice may not be relevant, the more feedback you get, the more data you’ll have when it’s time to make your own decisions. More often than not, you’ll find that people are happy to provide suggestions if they think they can help.
Are there other digital tools you’ve found to be essential to your business? Let us know in the comments!