There is an abundance of small business tools on the market today. Small business owners face a tough challenge–how to maintain their marketing and administrative tasks while still delivering and engaging with customers. Hiring specific staff members for each of these areas doesn’t always make financial sense when you’re just getting started.
How does a small business owner who is not an accountant or a marketer get some of the critical tasks done? Here are some tools to help:
Content management system for your website
Updating your website is one of those necessary evils that almost always resides on the back burner. Thankfully, there is a host of tools that allows you to make text and image updates to your website with a minimal amount of training and knowledge. These software systems, called content management systems (CMS), power your website and allow you to login to an administrative interface without any special software or tools.
Content management systems like WordPress, Concrete5, and Expression Engine have entire communities of website developers able to build you the right website. Budgets will depend on the functionality you need but plan on setting aside several thousand dollars. Make sure training is included in your agreement.
A couple useful links:
- Understanding the four costs of a website
- Ten things you must know before developing a website
- A helpful website development worksheet to get you started (PDF)
Social media dashboard
Every small business owner hears, “social media will bring you more business!” Almost every small business owner sees the time needed to do social media right and replies, “No way!” Don’t worry, there are tools available that make managing small business social media a world easier. Social media dashboards are apps or programs that display multiple social media channels in a single display. You are able to see your Facebook business page, Twitter account, LinkedIn feed, and others from a single interface. Instead of jumping between platforms, you’ll be able to helicopter in and get quick pulse on your channels. Even more importantly, you’ll be able to schedule future posts and respond to questions directly from the interface.
Some social media dashboards like HootSuite and Cyfe have both free and paid options. For a small business, these are powerful enough to manage your accounts. If you need something more feature-rich, I’d recommend a platform such as Sprout Social.
Keep in mind, just because you have a platform doesn’t mean you have a plan. Be sure to research, plan, and prepare your content before posting. Remember, good content fuels great marketing.
A couple helpful links
Email marketing platform with automation tools
If there is one category of marketing that is greatly misunderstood, it is email marketing. Many small business owners have left email marketing to die, but the right strategy, the right tools, and the right content can be the ingredients to an incredibly powerful sales tool. The software that runs these distribution platforms have evolved beyond the compose and blast from ten years ago.
- Online signup widgets that can drop right into your CMS website
- Double opt-in confirmation to keep your email list compliant with the latest regulations (CAN SPAM and CASL)
- Interest segmented lists that know what each recipient is interested in
- Automated replies that follow up with individual segments based on your choice of triggering events
Costs vary between the different platforms, but finding the right email platform is key. I recommend checking out Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, and Mail Chimp. If you’re looking for a more powerful tool suite, look at Emma, Robly, or InfusionSoft. Plan on paying either a monthly fee or a pay-per-blast plan. In either case, it encourages you to keep your customers connected.
Online invoicing and payment system
While I’ve written mostly about marketing tools, the need to get paid often trumps everything. Tools for getting paid faster, easier, and with less frustration makes for a happy business owner. While there are a lot of tools for this, I’ve had a lot of success with Intuit’s QuickBooks Online.
The online invoicing and record keeping with QuickBooks Online (QBO) is easy to set up and easy to maintain. Best of all, my accountant can log in for reconciliations, adjustments, run payroll, or even manage tax payments. Invoicing through QBO is easy for an accounting-adverse person such as myself. One-time invoices are easy, but it is the recurring invoicing tool that makes it worth the monthly fee. You can easily setup invoices or bills to be automatically entered monthly, quarterly, or even annually.
The online invoicing tools allow you to send out invoices via email and collect payment via ACH or credit cards. If you haven’t worked with ACH (Automated Clearing House) as a form of payment, think of it as a direct deposit from a client to your bank account–the ease of a credit card but without the fees. For my business, it has been a great help in getting paid faster. It takes little more time to setup, but delivers a huge return by avoiding the merchant services fees.
Website traffic reporting
All the activity I’ve mentioned doesn’t mean much unless you can measure the results. Since your website is the “home base” of your sales and marketing efforts, the right tools to measure who is coming to your website, where they’re coming from, and how long they stay can measure the effectiveness of your efforts.
Google has the definitive (but not the only) free traffic monitoring tool suite for your website. Google Analytics can easily be setup on your website during the website development process. Setup your own account and then share it with your developer. Keeping administrative control is always a good idea. Once setup, you will be presented with a mind-blowing amount of raw data about the website traffic. There are a lot of data points called metrics to keep track of, but I recommend learning as much as you can about them. Analytics will tell you where site visitors are coming from geographically (city and state) and where they’re coming in from the web.
Monitoring your website’s data may sound like “just one more thing” to manage, but it can be done without being overwhelming. I recommend taking one hour towards the end of each month to review your data. By manipulating the date ranges, you can review ongoing trends, see which marketing efforts are effective, and even get an idea of lead generation.
Here are some questions you should ask:
- How many leads or orders have come in through the website?
- Which websites produce most of your traffic?
- How much traffic comes from social media?
- Where (geographically) does most of your website traffic originate?
By using these tools, your life as a business owner can be a lot easier. Automated marketing tools, easy-to-use website managers, social media monitors, online invoicing, and platforms to measure your success all combine to allow you to spend more time doing business than running your business. Share with us how you have combined these tools for success!