When 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 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.
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.
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.
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:
- The Transparent Web and Pricing
- The Race You Can’t Win
- Is E-commerce Destined to Win?
- When More is More: Upselling as a Sales & Marketing Tactic (Travel Tuesday)
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.