Setting up a business these days is as easy as setting up your own website and rolling out the red carpet for visitors to your online address. The tricky part is making the business a success and sustaining your success once you achieve it.
With 16 million new websites launching every month, the competition out there is intense. The only ones who cut through the clutter and rise above the also-rans are the ones equipped with the right tools of the trade. And no, these tools don’t have to cost a fortune. They can be free or nearly free and yet do as great a job as you might expect from a paid software. Here’s a roundup of 12 essential FREE tools that will have you cutting your costs and ringing in the profits from day one.
1. Hello Sign
Signing off on documents and legal papers is often a time consuming process with snail mail coming into play. Thanks to Hello Sign, you can remove physical documents from the equation by electronically signing off on that important agreement or sealing that contract online in seconds. Hello Sign helps you secure your information with SSL encryption during file transfer. Files stored in Hello Sign are secured using a “state-of-the-art Tier III, SSAE-16 certified data center with ISO 27001 certification.”
The tool allows you to invite multiple team members to sign documents, integrates it with various apps like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, Evernote and a host of others. The best part? Your electronically signed documents through Hello Sign are legally binding as physically signed documents thanks to compliance to the ESIGN Act 2000, the UETA and the European Directive (EC/1999/93).
In this socially connected day and age, being active on social media is a necessity for any brand. The real problem is that just one social network will never cover all the demographics that your brand caters to. You are bound to end up with multiple social media accounts ranging from Facebook to LinkedIn to Pinterest, depending on the profile of your audience. You can now easily manage all your social networks from one place using the free version of Hootsuite.
Hootsuite lets you post on different social networks simultaneously, reply to posts by fans on any network all from one place, auto schedule posts, monitor activity and more. Hootsuite’s own URL shortening service Ow.ly lets you shorten your links and post them on limited character networks like Twitter. The free version of Hootsuite even offers analytics so you can stay on top of all your accounts and ensure maximum ROI from each.
Just as social media is a must do, so is email marketing a necessary staple of your marketing plan. With one of the most popular mailing services on the internet, your business will not be left behind in the race to the users’ inboxes. Mailchimp offers a generous free plan that lets you send out 12000 emails a month to a maximum of 2000 subscribers.
Design your own email using Mail Chimp’s many readymade templates or create your own design using its drag and drop design editor. Every email designed in Mail Chimp is automatically mobile friendly. Grow your email subscriber base by creating email collection forms in Mail Chimp and posting these forms on your site, blog or on your social networks. Get detailed email analytics, carry out A/B tests for your email design, CTA or even the subject line for maximizing conversions.
If knowledge is power, Manta is your key to unlimited power over your potential clients, suppliers or even competitors. Manta is a powerful research tool that pulls out data specific to small businesses from across the United States. All you need is the name of the company, industry or the city where it’s located to get detailed information about it. From contact information, to the name of the business owner, to user reviews, business hours, types of products and services offered to number of employees, Manta covers a wide range of information that can be immediately applied to your business intelligence process.
Not only does Manta offer detailed information on specific businesses; it also offers professional advice on how to run your own business. Get tips from experts on marketing, operations, latest business management practices social media and technology all in one place through Manta.
5. Google Drive
Most Google products need no introduction and Google Drive is no exception. With cloud storage and cloud computing becoming the ‘done’ thing in connected business today, having a Google Drive account not just saves you some precious dollars, it also serves as an easy conduit between all the various services that Google provides. With 15 GB of free data, you can store or backup important data in any format on Drive and retrieve it anytime, anywhere. The storage capacity on Drive can be expanded at any time based on your growing storage needs for a small fee.
Drive can be accessed from a web browser, from a downloadable desktop app or even a mobile app. Drive can also be used by other people from your team who can be invited to view all or specific files stored in your cloud folders. Users can view, edit and download files from Drive based on the permissions set by you – the owner of the folder.
Say ‘goodbye’ to huge travel bills or even gigantic telephone bills. Skype and its free teleconferencing facilities lower both your travel and communications bills. Use Skype as an instant messenger for quick communication between your teams. Client meetings need not take up all day with a quick video or even plain audio call made on Skype to any corner of the world. Connect your cellphone to Skype to make and receive calls directly from your handset through your data plan or WiFi connection.
Skype can also be used to share files and folders instantly through its built in messenger system. All you need for a transcontinental call is a decent internet connection, a webcam, a microphone and speakers; that’s it. Skype works great through its downloadable desktop, tablet or mobile apps.
Most new businesses struggle to manage their finances unless they have a proper accountant on board or on call. However, good accountants don’t come cheap, while the Wave accounting app comes for absolutely free! Wave offers a range of accounting and financial management tools, most of which are totally free to use. Among the free features are the ability to create invoices for each client instantly from within Wave.
It manages your cash flows and balances your books for you automatically. Keep track of your finances using Wave’s expense management feature. What’s more, you can manage your personal finances and investments through Wave’s free version as well.
Working on multi-team projects can be demanding in terms of the number of people to manage, the variety of different opinions from each member and the never-ending trail of emails that often miss out on key communications sent out. Avoid all this confusion with a simple, easy to use and free project management and collaboration tool – Asana. Asana allows you to collaborate on unlimited projects with unlimited number of tasks for absolutely no cost, as long as the number of members in each team do not exceed 15.
Asana helps in bringing all information regarding a project in a single place. It helps create schedules and timelines, assign responsibility for various functions, track progress of tasks, get automatic updates on various milestones, download data from a shared project and more.
Imagine if you knew exactly what your contact is planning to do this weekend or what university she graduated from or even what articles they are reading currently? These would undoubtedly be brilliant ice-breakers in any sales conversation. More than ice-breakers, such information would allow a savvy sales person to plan their pitch based on the user’s interests, background and future plans. Rapportive is a free email plugin that works great with Gmail and Google Apps and provides you exactly this sort of information.
How, you may wonder. What Rapportive does is, it integrates the information from a user’s social profiles into their email account; so when that user’s name and email address show up in your email contact list, you are shown a complete summary of the user – their email ID of course followed by other social details, education, work experience, status updates, network of common contacts and so on. As a free add-on to Firefox or Chrome, Rapportive is easy to use and endlessly useful.
Small businesses are often disorganized in the way they approach their most vital function – sales. Zoho is a free CRM tool that aims to alleviate this specific misery that most small businesses face. Zoho handholds a rookie sales team by identifying individual visitors to your site, qualifying them with profile information and historical data, nurturing them into viable leads and then following them through to the point where they turn into paying customers and beyond.
The rich profile information that Zoho gathers is unique and offers a 360 degree view of each user that can be tapped by the sales team to fine-tune their sales pitch based on their needs and profile data. The data obtained from Zoho need not be viewed in isolation. Integrate Zoho with other apps that your business uses like Gmail, Twitter, MS Office or even QuickBooks to get the most out of this multifaceted tool.
With the advent of the World Wide Web, every writer can fulfill their dream of reaching out to millions of readers with a simple blog. Current marketing wisdom also pegs blogging as one of the most important content marketing activities any business can hope to undertake. One of the forerunners in the blogging world, WordPress makes life simpler for all by allowing users to create and host blogs on its platform at absolutely no cost at all.
So post blogs about the latest goings-on in your company, interesting updates on industry happenings, analytical pieces on things that matter to your readers – you are only limited by your imagination for the types of content that you can post on your corporate blog. What’s more, WordPress blogs can even be turned in full-fledged e-commerce websites with a simple shopping cart plugin like ShopIntegrator. Talk about being a truly multi-dimensional tool that’s totally free!
Conversion of a website visitor into an actual customer is the endgame of nearly every website currently live on the internet today. All digital marketing efforts typically aim at this overreaching goal across all websites. There are many aspects of marketing that affect conversions, but the final mile that is the most crucial is the quality of your landing page. Populr is a free tool that allows businesses to create their own custom landing pages from scratch to maximize conversions.
These landing pages can point to various marketing vehicles – text ads, display banners, product reviews, email campaigns and so on. Populr allows you to use their drag and drop editor for quick designs. You can alternately pick from their library of landing page templates that suits your business. Share your work with your team, collaborate on editing and creating the most effective page, track all your changes along the way – just a few of the many benefits that Populr offers to the average website owner.
This is just a partial list of the hundreds of free or almost free apps out there for every imaginable business need. Just because someone recommended an expensive software to you does not mean it is right for your business. Take stock of your business needs, identify free apps that fulfill these needs. Venture out to pay out of pocket ONLY for cases that do not have an effective free solution available. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned!