Which online small business tools will your business use this year?
With 2017 now and truly upon us Blu Mint Digital enters into our 6th year of operations. Yet when we first began as a business back in 2011 we were using PCs and purchased software tools on CD installation discs. As the nature of our business changed, so did the online small business tools we needed to work as a business and to serve our clients. In this article I wanted to list the online small business tools we use as a company, as they could be relevant for your business or if you are an entrepreneur starting out.
I’ve separated these online small business tools to use in 2017 into several categories so you can determine which areas are more relevant for you and your business. For us digital marketers today, we have to be more than just marketers – we must be able to do some web design, web development, graphic design and be online real time analysts.
#1 Google Drive
Google Drive is an awesome small business tool for collaborating with your team members and clients. OK, it does not contain the extensive functionality that Microsoft Office’s array of tools has but as a free tool, it is great to begin with. Plus Google Drive’s collaboration tools ensures that you can share documents and spreadsheets with only those you want to – just add and remove email addresses at your leisure.
Google Drive saves your work in real time and should you be offline, will save too only to save it when online later, or add the Google Chrome extension to save work offline.
Created by some of the guys who founded and worked for Facebook, Asana is a collaboration/project management tool that users can set tasks, sections, projects and workspaces for your business. What’s cool about it, is that Asana can also integrate with various other online tools ensuring that when you create a task you can do it from different tools and not duplicate it.
Asana is free for up to 15 users and then you will need to pay per person – but for small teams it’s a useful free tool.
Slack is a neat messaging tool that can divide your work into channels and direct messages. Now what is the difference to using Skype I hear you ask? Well Slack can integrate with various other tools (Asana and Google Docs being a couple of examples) thus streamlining your workflows.
What the team particularly likes about Slack is that in group channels you can send messages and direct it to a person in particular – so that others do not keep getting notified and interrupting their workflow. Slack is free, so a worthy small business tool but you can pay for an upgrade and get more features.
I stumbled upon Snappa when browsing online for good social media image examples. Snappa empowers you to create graphics for social media, ads, blogs and more without Photoshop or graphic designers. They have some template designs which you can use or simply create your own – the image sizes are pre-populated and you can upload your own images.
Now Snappa enables you to create infographics – just add your own statistics to the image. Snappa is not a free tool (it does have a free trial!) but for the professionalism and time saved, the price of $15 per month is a bargain.
There is no question that Photoshop is the image creation and editing tool, but for Mac users there is a cheaper and just as effective option. Sketch is gaining a massive following amongst Mac users. The latest version includes great new features such as improved exporting, symbols, new grid tool and simplified vector modes.
Simply put for a one time fee of $99 you can have software that can create and edit art-boards and export them as images or web designs for you or your business.
Stock images, love them or loathe them we will at some time in our business ventures need to use them. There are numerous stock photos out there and you can either purchase per image or pay for one of the monthly subscriptions so access a certain amount. These can be very expensive subscriptions but I found BigStockPhoto by Shutterstock where the monthly subscriptions begin from €49 per month (5 photos a day), much more affordable!
Canva is another cool tool that the team used to create images. Canva can be a free online small business tool but at times the best images need to be paid for – should you do this regularly then it will work out cheaper and more valuable to pay for a monthly subscription from $12.95 per month. What Canva is cool for is that you can create much more than web images – book covers, banners, calendars, brochures and much, much more.
Toggl is a time tracking tool that is easy to use for keep track of your billable hours. Even if you are working offline, you can still track your billable time from your smartphone. Toggl also integrates with other tools (Asana is one of them) so you can measure time spent on each task.
Even better, if you forget to turn it on you can add your hours later and either send to clients if they request your time spend on tasks or keep track of your company internal hours. Pretty useful small business tool if you are a freelancer.
Sliptree is a super easy to use invoicing tool that allows you to create invoices in under a minute. All businesses need to invoice clients, wholesalers and suppliers – yet struggle at creating invoices and sending suitable invoices to their accountants. Well with Sliptree you can personalise your invoices with logos, correct VAT rates, your products or services and even send in multiple languages.
An awesome feature of Sliptree is that it allows you to track when your emails have been opened so you know whether you should resend the invoice or chase them for payment. Sliptree has both a free and paid version – free if your invoices total under €1000 per month and €19 a month for the unlimited version.
If you are thinking of running a global business or are a digital freelancer with clients across the globe then maybe you should think about where your business is located. LeapIn is a turn-key solution to set up a location independent company with a bank account. They even handle incorporation, accounting, taxes and compliance.
OK so not exactly a small business tool but LeapIn aid you in setting up your company using the Estonian e-residency platform so no matter if you live in another country, you can operate your business utilising the nation’s digital infrastructure.
Social Media Management
Whether you use all social media platforms or not, there is no escaping that social media is part of our culture, and as a business you should be using them. The team understand that it can be headache keep scheduling and rescheduling content so we use MeetEdgar to do it.
Yes it is not the cheapest small business tool at $79 a month but with MeetEdgar you can place your content into a queue and keep adding newer posts and articles to it, without the need to reschedule, thus saving you man hours constantly rescheduling. MeetEdgar can also categorise your content into whatever you want to post – blog articles, funny content, products and landing pages. If you use the platforms that MeetEdgar integrates with – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn; then this tool is for you.
When not using MeetEdgar or you simply cannot justify paying a monthly subscription then why not use Buffer? Buffer integrates with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ for free and has a paid version for both Pinterest and Instagram. Although you have to reschedule your posts and the free version is only 10 posts per week per platform (unless you pay for paid version) it is a great free online small business tool to get you started with social media posting.
If you are going to use Pinterest then BoardBooster is the tool you need to grow your Pinterest account. Pinterest pins are found by using keywords in a search engine – therefore the more pins you have on your boards – the more likely your pins will be found by others. Hence you need to automate a lot of pinning from other boards and your own content. BoardBooster allows you to do this. There is a free version but for $5 a month you can pin so much more – driving more followers to your account/boards and traffic to your website.
For those using Instagram, Later is a smart platform where you can add images, hashtags and time slots for your posts. Then when your post is due it will notify you on a smart device to open Instagram for posting (sadly Instagram does not allow third party tools to post directly). There is a free version for posting 30 times a month but for only $9 a month you can post 100 times making this an invaluable tool for those businesses who have visual products and services to sell.
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#15 Google Analytics
If you are serious about getting traffic to your company website, or what to know where it is coming from so you can focus on this channel – then using Google Analytics is a must. Using GA for the first time can be daunting, but once it is setup you can determine how many sessions your website is getting, and whether your traffic is coming from social media, organically or being referred from other sites.
For those looking for a bit more, you can set up goals and ecommerce tracking so you can find out which channel is producing your best results – either email signups, contact form completed or e-shop purchases.
#16 Google Search Console
Another free tool you can use to determine what types of search queries and backlinks are associated with your website is Google Search Console (formerly webmaster tools). Although not as extensive as paid SEO tools Search Console permits you to submit which country you wish to target – so if you want your website to rank in the USA then you can change from all countries to a specific one. Plus Search Console will help you find website and crawl errors so you can fix website crawler issues – vital if you want to rank in search engines.
Moz is great should you be looking to raise the profile of your website rankings in search engine results pages (SERPS). If you are pursuing a content marketing strategy for your website then Moz has a on page grader – permitting you to ensure that each article or landing page is SEOptimised. Like other search tools Moz allows you to check which website domains are linking to your website – advising on their domain strength and which pages are being linked.
Moz also allows you to check your website’s visibility within certain search engines by which keywords you wish to rank for – for example if you have a Spanish language website, you will naturally rank better and be more visible in Spanish search engines than English ones.
SEMRush has similar features to Moz regarding search keywords and domain links but unlike Moz, SEMRush is even better for those using paid ads. SEMRush is an awesome tool for crushing your competitors – you can list your competitors and view what types of ads and keywords they are trying to rank for, so you can outbid or copy their success.
Despite it’s criticism for over complexity WordPress still is a great CMS system to build your website or blog on. With it’s fiercely loyal community who are always willing to advise and help out, WordPress remains the #1 website to use. Furthermore with it’s plugins, you can easily change the functionality of your website to suit your business.
Should you be launching a business targeting multiple markets with multiple languages then Voog creates beautiful and easy multilingual websites. With a pricing model from €8 a month with built in analytics Voog is hard to ignore when considering your transnational business.
Squarespace may be the hippest DIY website builders around, packed with features and beautiful themes. It lets you build a modern responsive website for desktop and mobile and offers the potential (built in!) full scale commerce. It’s a product designed for those who do not want to tinker too much – pick a template, add some text and hit the publish button.
Conversion Rate Optimisation
Heard about neuromarketing? Or puzzled as to what it is? Well neuromarketing is more than just A/B testing – it uses cognitive biases to determine certain behaviours users and customers make. Scenario is just that – by adding a small snippet of code, you can add ‘experiments’ to your website. For example change button colours, copy on certain landing pages and your CTA’s – without the need to create further landing pages. This awesome tool allows you to test these behaviours for a length of time and change them permanently once you know which tactics work best. There is a free account as well.
We love Sumome here at Blu Mint. It is a powerful tool that gets our content shared through share buttons, contains a heat map for clicks on our website, header bars, sign up boxes and our favourite – welcome mats. Should you want to offer a discount or get a visitor’s email address the welcome mat pops up with a message asking for your email address in return for a discount or coupon. OK pop-ups can irritate people but in our experience this way of marketing does increase conversion on your website – especially if you have an ecommerce site. Sumome does have a free version as well.
ConvertKit is an email marketing platform for professional bloggers. You can easily create email sequences, tag subscribers, grow your list, and automate your email marketing. ConvertKit can handle it all from one app: forms, landing pages, drip emails, and newsletters. It can even host downloadable files so you can offer an incentive for readers to sign up.
Mailchimp is still a trusted and easy solution for sending out your newsletters and promotions codes. It is still one of the best solutions for e-shops when you need to automate your responses for email signups. Although we conduct our newsletter campaigns through ConvertKit we recommend to many who are beginning with email marketing to use Mailchimp for the ease to get started up – you can create HTML newsletters in minutes plus for the first 2,000 subscribers you have – Mailchimp is free.
If your business is pursuing a content marketing strategy then Buzzsumo is awesome to find trending content and influencers who will likely share your content, thus increasing its reach. Its simple data displays how well and where your content is being shared – Facebook, Twitter and so on. It does have a free trial and after that it is $99 per month. Again not a cheap small business tool but certainly worth it if you are into content marketing.
PromoRepublic is a nifty tool if you are looking to create a content calendar and are not sure what effective content to create. For example during the holiday seasons it will provide you with ideas and images of what posts are most popular – allowing you to easily replicate with your brand for the best impact. Start plans are from $12 per month.
Sniply is a content curation tool – we use it at Blu Mint for two reasons 1) because as a small business we cannot create enough content to compete with larger businesses and 2) to share topics of interest with our community of followers. But how does Sniply help? Well Sniply can take another sites article, and by converting it to a sniply link when a visitor reads the article there is small pop up box that informs the visitor to click on it, and sends them back to our website to read our blog. You can do the same if you sell products on your website – “like this product, we have more at our shop.” Furthermore sniply adds those who click on your links to your AdWords remarketing tag and Facebook pixel – so you can target them with those platforms in the future.
Many of our clients always tell us that AdWords is too expensive for them. Yes it can be, but this is because people are not using it right. You cannot just launch a campaign and then hope it will bring in the results. You must keep testing new keywords, new ads and ADD negative keywords so that your clicks are not being wasted. Plus if you are paying for Ads you will get full access to AdWords Keywords Planner – where you can use this tool to find keywords in which to not only bid on, but for use in writing SEO related articles – in other words what keywords do you want your content to rank for organically.
#30 Facebook Advertising
With ad spend on social media projected to reach $35.98 billion in 2017, a large proportion of that will be on Facebook. Why? Well having a Facebook account is now almost as common as an email address and as you are consistently logged in – you can be reached very easily by advertisers. Facebook therefore, is a great platform to promote your products and blog articles and reach new customers. By adding the Facebook pixel to your website you can then target visitors to your website later.
Furthermore unlike AdWords with Facebook you can segment your audience – target people in certain cities, specific hobbies and languages. This is the best way to ensure that your ads are reaching the right audience. Google is what people are searching for, Facebook knows who people are.
If there are some tools not listed here that you believe we should use please get in contact and let us know. Plus if you liked this then join our community to get more entrepreneur, startup and marketing tips and advice.
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Disclaimer: This blog post contains some affiliate links, should you make a purchase through the link Blu Mint Digital may receive a small commission. All these online small business tools are used by the company.