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Tim Peter

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August 2, 2013

Free and Easy: The Beginner's Small Business Toolkit by Susan Payton

August 2, 2013 | By | No Comments

Free and inexpensive business toolsWhen you start a business, it’s natural to hang on to every dollar you earn until you become profitable.

That being said, you still need tools to help you manage, market, and grow your business. Fortunately, plenty of free or low-cost options are available to small business owners.

Google

Google offers a variety of wonderful resources for the cash-strapped business owner, and quite a few are free. Rather than using a clunky desktop document program like Word, try creating and sharing documents in the cloud with Google Drive. I love being able to create word processing documents, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations, as well as accessing files from any computer or sharing them with my team members.

Google Mail can help you organize your email under your own web domain. (Tip: Using an email address ending with “@yourcompany.com” looks more professional than one ending with a free email domain like “@gmail.com”). I use the Multiple Inboxes feature to sort emails into categories based on sender and content.

And Google Calendar can help you stay on top of meetings and events. Accessible from any Internetenabled device (including your mobile phone), Calendar lets you update events from one place and send the updated information to all your devices. You can also invite others via email to attend meetings.

Basecamp

As your business grows, it may become more difficult to manage all the projects and tasks you’re working on simultaneously. That’s where project management software comes in handy. Basecamp allows you to assign tasks to team members, track milestones, and house important files and notes. The free option with limited features is a great place to start. If your business needs grow, Basecamp’s scaleable plans start at $30 a month.

Insightly

Tracking information about your customers can help you in several ways:

  • It provides data you can use to increase your sales.
  • It helps you understand each lead individually, allowing you to personalize the sales process.
  • It gives you the ability to create a lasting customer relationship.

Using web-based CRM like Insightly lets you keep notes on every customer interaction, as well as assign tasks to team members and track client emails (I know I hate digging for them in my email folders). Knowing where you are in the sales funnel—as well as what a particular lead is looking for—can increase the chance of closing on a sale.

Insightly also offers integrated project management, so once you make that sale, you can easily move right into the work. Not only that, this integration saves you money because you don’t have to buy separate project management software. You get two powerful tools, plus a lot of great features, for just one price.

Social Media

One of the best marketing tools a small business owner can benefit from is absolutely free. Set up profiles on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for free, and use a social media management tool like Hootsuite to juggle multiple accounts, schedule updates, and track what’s being said about your brand.

Even if you’re hesitant about using social, think twice: A full 77% of B2C companies have found customers through Facebook. It’s a resource that, if tapped properly, might increase your revenues significantly.

What’s Worth Spending Money On

While these tools are free, other areas are worth an investment. If a problem would take you longer to figure out yourself, or if the end result would be less than professional, set aside some cash to cover these areas:

  • Graphic and Web design
  • Technical updates or modifications to your site
  • Social media management (if you lack the time or ability to do it yourself)
  • E-commerce payment processing

More free or low-cost tools are popping up online every day. Find the ones that provide the best value for your brand, and use them to grow your business. Pocket what you would have otherwise spent on these tools and reinvest it into your company.

Interested in learning more about where digital marketing’s headed? Register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” It’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, though the lessons also apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

And you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of pricing and how to make it work for your business, including:

About the Author:
Susan Payton is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in marketing communications, copywriting and blog posts. She’s also the founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners. She’s written three books: DIY Press Releases: Your Guide to Becoming Your Own PR Consultant, 101 Entrepreneur Tips and Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs, and contributes to several sites, including ChamberofCommerce.com, The Marketing Eggspert Blog, CorpNet, Small Business Trends, and BizLaunch. Follow her on Twitter @eggmarketing.
Tim Peter

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July 8, 2013

The Benefits of Free by Susan Payton

July 8, 2013 | By | No Comments

Free business modelsIf you think giving away the farm won’t help you get more customers, think again. More and more businesses are offering free products or services while still increasing their bottom line.

Why Go Free

Most people are reluctant to pay for a product if they aren’t sure of the quality. That’s where a free sample or trial comes in handy; there’s no risk to the consumer to try something, and if they like it, they’ll end up becoming paying customers. It’s win-win for both customers and companies.

Free Business Models

Your company has several options when it comes to offering free products that attract new, paying customers.

There’s the freemium model, where you offer a version of a product (usually software) with limited features. Customers who want the full range of capability will have to pay. One company, 37Signals, is a leader of the freemium movement. Their three productivity tools—Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire—all offer free versions with limited storage or number of users. The company doesn’t loudly announce its free versions, but if you look carefully on the pricing pages, you’ll see them.

Mailchimp is another example of a company using freemium. It offers a Forever Free account, which is ample for most small businesses, but it does a good job of showing you what you’re missing. You want to pay for your subscription so you can get all the cool features the email marketing software offers.

Then there’s the free-with-paid-shipping model. Vistaprint is a great example of this. While customers can get free business cards from the site, they do pay for shipping. It’s a great option for small budgets, in that there’s really no risk in getting free business cards, even if they do pay shipping. It’s also great for your business because it’s a way to build customer loyalty and a long-term relationship. When that customer is ready to go beyond the free product option and spend a bit more, chances are, they’ll come back to you.

Free trials are also popular with subscription services and software programs. Amazon offers a 30-day free trial of its Prime program, which offers free two-day shipping, access to free movies, and the ability to borrow books from the Kindle Lending Library.

And finally, free shipping is another marketing tool many businesses use to draw in customers. They may include the shipping cost in the price of the product, but customers still feel like they’re getting a deal and are more inclined to buy.

How to Go Free

If you’re considering offering your product or service for free, take a few things into consideration to make it work to your advantage:

  • What is the average lifetime value for your business’s customers? In other words, what does an average customer spend over the length of your business relationship?
  • What features could you cut out to offer a freemium version that would entice customers to pay for the full version?
  • What is the average conversion rate for customers moving from a free trial to the paid version of a product or service in your industry?
  • How can you benefit from offering free products?

Consider a trial run of offering a free trial or other free version of your product. Pay close attention to what your customers do with it. What percent turn into paid customers? Are you spending more time providing customer service to the free customers than makes fiscal sense? Reassess your efforts after six months to determine whether this is a viable long-term strategy. You may just find that offering something for free increases your bottom line.

Interested in learning more about where digital marketing’s headed? Register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” It’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, though the lessons also apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

And you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of pricing and how to make it work for your business, including:

Susan Payton is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in marketing communications, copywriting and blog posts. She’s also the founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners. She’s written three books: DIY Press Releases: Your Guide to Becoming Your Own PR Consultant, 101 Entrepreneur Tips and Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs, and contributes to several sites, including ChamberofCommerce.com, The Marketing Eggspert Blog, CorpNet, Small Business Trends, and BizLaunch. Follow her on Twitter @eggmarketing.
Tim Peter

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October 15, 2009

Does your information want to be free, too?

October 15, 2009 | By | No Comments

Rusty lock photo courtesy of subcircle on FlickrOne of the biggest stories bouncing around the web the last week or so were comments made by Rupert Murdoch and Tom Curley – the heads of News Corp. and The Associated Press, respectively – where they discussed how much they hate “content kleptomaniacs”. Given how digital distribution of content and content aggregation has impacted traditional media and publishing businesses, it’s tough to blame Murdoch and Curley for being upset.

But some critics are doing just that. Jeff Jarvis – serious new media thinker and author of “What Would Google Do?” – labels these media titans “fools.” Jarvis promotes the notion of “the link economy” and the value search engines create by helping customers discover your content – as opposed to simply stealing it as claimed by Murdoch and Curley.

Who’s right? And does this brouhaha matter to your business?

The answers to these two questions are:

  1. It depends; and…
  2. Hell, yes!

While I’ve never been a big fan of equivocation, there is no one true answer to “who’s right?” News Corp and the Associated Press own their content. They’re free to charge for it if they see fit. The real question is whether their customers (and by extension, yours):

  1. Care enough about what they’re (you’re) publishing to find it in the first place; and,
  2. Care enough about what they’re (you’re) publishing to pay for it.

Getting people to find your content – whether you’re a blogger in Boise or The Wall Street Journal – is no small task. As you can see in the second graph of this post by Rand Fishkin, distributing your content offers enormous value in growing both your traffic and your business. And Jarvis is absolutely right when he talks about the value links provide. But where I differ with Jarvis is in this: if the Wall Street Journal – or you, for that matter – can get distributors to pay you for that content, good for you. Amazingly, there is at least one newspaper besides the Wall Street Journal who has succeeded in charging consumers for their content.

Does this mean you should charge for your content? Again, that depends. No one deposits links. We deposit profits. But there’s more than one way to get those profits. For example, Fred Wilson once listed a couple dozen business models for web media used by successful companies. So, if charging Google for distribution or consumers for reading works for The Journal, bully for them. It proves that you shouldn’t rule it out. But also, even if it works for the Journal, don’t assume it’s the only way to go.

Want more? Read our review of Jeff Jarvis’ “What Would Google Do?” Also, see our review of Chris Anderson’s “Free”, which looks at many other ways to make money on “free” content.



Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Image credit: subcircle via Flickr using Attribution 2.0 Generic.

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Tim Peter

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September 17, 2009

Chris Anderson's "Free: The Future of a Radical Price" (Book Review of the Week-ish)

September 17, 2009 | By | No Comments

There’s an old joke about a physicist and an engineer who spot a pretty girl walking towards them. The physicist notes that if he continually halves the distance between himself and the girl, he’ll never reach her, since dividing by half never can result in zero. “Sure,” says the engineer. “But for all practical purposes, you can get close enough.”

And it’s with this in mind that we look at Chris Anderson’s new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Anderson thinks seriously big thoughts. First he came up with The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, one of the 12 most important business books of the last 10 years. And for many writers, a book like that would make a career.

But not Anderson. He’s continually looking for what’s next. And he thinks he’s found it with Free. In “Free,” Anderson argues that we’re entering – or have entered – a new age, one in which marginal costs race towards zero, creating untapped possibilities for those businesses able to “free” their mind from yesterday’s business models and embrace the power of Free.

When Anderson is at his best, he offers compelling evidence of companies using this “power of free” to drive, counter-intuitively, even greater revenues and greater profits. His favorite example is Google, a company that assumes they’ll never charge consumers for their products, though he also offers plenty of others like open source software companies like Red Hat and predicts the same for pharmaceutical makers and others. And it’s there where he’s not at his best, opens himself up to criticism of his core premise – and that criticism comes across as too logical to ignore.

The fly in Anderson’s free ointment is in the distinction between physical and intellectual goods. Free works best – indeed, its whole premise is predicated on – the advancement of Moore’s Law. As computer technology moves forward, the price for older technology falls, roughly at a rate of 50% annually. Eventually, Moore and Anderson argue, the price falls far enough to effectively round down to zero. Or, in the words of our engineer friend above, “for all practical purposes, close enough.” Hence, “free.”

For people in the information business – and, to some degree, we’re all in the information business these days – “free-dom” opens up worlds of possibilities for businesses to explore the economics of abundance, as opposed to “20th-century economics of scarcity.” Anderson extrapolates from this view to look at all the potential areas “free” might touch. And it’s when he moves away from information that he’s most vulnerable. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a strong criticism of Anderson’s notion in the New Yorker, largely skewering this far-reaching view. And, it seems clear to me, too, that if your business involves physical stuff, the effects of “free” likely won’t be as large or impact as many areas as Anderson suggests.

Still, this criticism – and others like it – largely miss the point. Even if you restrict Anderson’s premise to information alone, this “economy of abundance” worldview makes tremendous sense. A quick look, for instance, at how businesses that thought they had physical products, like the music business (records), travel agencies (tickets) and newspapers (um… newspapers) have been impacted by iTunes, Expedia and Craigslist shows how industries that rely on information can either benefit from – or be shoved aside by – those who understand how to put “free” to work.

All criticisms aside, Anderson has a winner here. He’s right far more than he’s wrong. And even when he goes wrong, he’s thought-provoking in a way few writers can match.

Buy the book. Or, if you prefer, don’t buy it. (You can get an audio edition, for free, from iTunes). But read it. Will Free change everything as much as Anderson says? Probably not. But, “for all practical purposes,” it’s likely to change enough to be worth the investing your time. And your money.

Don’t forget! Just one day left to enter the thinks/ProStores E-commerce Makeover contest. Don’t miss your shot to win a free e-commerce makeover and six free months of ProStores service. Enter today!


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

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