Take advantage of innovation to keep your business nimble and responsive
No profession faces greater pressure to be cutting-edge than entrepreneurs. The rules of the game are continually changing, and the available tools get better every day. Here are a few recent innovations to keep your costs low, find new customers and new talent, and focus on the enjoyable, creative elements of running your own business.
Especially if you’re in the early stages of entrepreneurship, fixed costs can be a killer; and the ability to work efficiently from a virtual office can make all the difference. With a decent video conferencing service, you can eliminate the cost of internal calls, as well as keeping you better connected to remote workers. It can also make a huge difference in the quality of talent your business is able to attract—if you aren’t limited by your workers’ commute, you can find the best person for the job anywhere in the country.
Mailing list management
While it’s not the newest tool to get the word out, email newsletters with concise, valuable content can be a workhorse to bring in repeat visitors and encourage brand loyalty. MailChimp makes it easier for customers to sign up for your newsletter, and provides several pre-made templates to give your newsletters a professional vibe without too much headache. Once you’ve got your newsletter and mailing list, you can also get simple analytics to help you track the impact of your newsletters. For a solid paid option, check out AWeber; they’ve got better analytical tools, and, like any paid service, you’ll get more responsive customer service.
Smartphone payment processing
Particularly if your small business involves face-to-face service, either with customers or clients, this is a must-have. Accepting credit cards via services like Square, Intuit, or PayPal projects professionalism in a way that cash-only businesses can’t match, and make it much easier to close a deal. The ability to strike while the iron is hot and accept payment immediately following a strong pitch can make all your leads more valuable. It’s also simpler for customers, who won’t have to dig up a checkbook or run to an ATM.
Online marketing analytics
No small business can afford to ignore SEO anymore. With 81% of Americans shopping online, and 69% of Americans weighting customer reviews and rankings as highly as word-of-mouth, you have to do more than play defense with your online image. Check out Google Analytics to get in-depth information about where your site visitors come from, which pages they visit, and how many real leads are generated per click on your ads. If deep analysis is a little intimidating at first, try a service like Ego, which provides a valuable, basic cross-section of key indicators for online marketing.
Online signature capture
Starting entrepreneurs have to sign a lot of forms, and often that means printing them off, signing, re-scanning, and then sending it back. With a signature capture app on your smartphone, you can add a recognizable, secure signature directly to a document using your phone’s touchscreen. It also comes in handy when you need clients and customers to sign on the dotted line. There are several cheap apps to get this done; we like Formotus and SIGNificant. Before using a free app, take a careful look at their privacy and security policies, and make sure they aren’t making illegal use of your information.
Cloud storage and project management
This is another essential for virtual offices—having a shared cloud file structure can save your business a lot of duplicated effort and miscommunication early on. If you need a simple, intuitive interface for sharing small files like Word documents and spreadsheets, Dropbox is a worthy pick—but if you plan on using more than their free 2 GB per person (if you do video or photo editing, for example), you might want to look elsewhere. Google Drive has competitive paid plans, and while their interface isn’t quite as smooth to operate as Dropbox, the ability to co-edit files in real time is a huge advantage.