For small business owners probably more than anyone else there is a never ending quest to find ways of working smarter and more efficiently. Often as the business owner you find yourself squeezed on time and spread too thinly. How do you manage to remember to do everything, to find the time to do it and to do it well with the time constraints and resources that you have? Fortunately there are a number of tools out there to help, and even better many of them are free. Often you can pay to upgrade your service to get additional features but all of these that I have listed below are tools that you can use the free version of to still add real value to your business.
These are my 10 favourites, in no particular order.
- Mailchimp.com is an email marketing platform that enables you to manage your mailing lists and then send beautifully designed HTML emails and track the results. There are a whole host of different templates to use, so even if you’re like me and not creative in the slightest it’s just a case of dragging and dropping images and text into the relevant boxes so it’s very easy to use. You can have up to 2,000 subscribers on your mailing list and send up to 12,000 completely for free. Once you exceed that level you will need to pay, based on the number of subscribers to your list, but it’s still pretty reasonable and starts from $10 per month.
- Canva.com is another marketing tool which makes it easy for non creatives to come up with unique professional standard designs to use in various forms of marketing. Use Canva to design email headers, postcards, invitations, social media banners and posts all sized correctly. Canva have a database of thousands of images that you can use as backgrounds for your posts, a large proportion of which are free to use, or insert your own unique photos or images, then drag and drop your text in your chosen font in. There are also images that you can pay for, which are typically a dollar a time. There are extra features if you upgrade, though to be honest the free version is so good I’ve never felt the need to use them.
- Google Analytics. Every business these days needs a website and if you’re not already using Google Analytics then you should be. Google Analytics essentially helps you to track the performance of your website. There is a whole raft of information available on there, which admittedly can be a little overwhelming the first time you look at it, but this can help you find out various useful pieces of information which can really help you assess what is working on your website and what is not. If you’ve never used Google Analytics before on the main dashboard one of the key facts to stand out is the number of sessions/users. This tells you how many times and by how many unique users your website has been viewed within a particular timeframe. You will see how engaged these users are on your website, for example, the number of pages they visited, how long they spent on the website and what the bounce rate is. (Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who click through to your site and then click away straight away without interacting at all with the page) Delve a little deeper and you can start to find out a bit more about these users, for example where they accessed your site from, this can be broken down by country and then by city, this is particularly interesting if you are trying to target a particular geographic area. Some of the most useful information I feel is under the Acquisition heading, this enables you to see how users ended up on your site, whether from a referral, an organic search, a paid search, direct, from an email or from social media. This is enables you to see which marketing methods are driving traffic to your website. Another thing you are able to track is User Flow, or in other words showing the way users navigate around your website. You can see the page at which visitors arrive on your site and where they go from there. This gives valuable insight into where visitors are looking on your website and crucially, where you are losing them, allowing you to consider making appropriate changes. There are many many more features, but if you’ve never used it before that should give you a good starting point.
- Toggl.com is a simple but very effective means of tracking the amount of time spent on particular projects. This is markedly useful for anyone who charges for their service by time, but is also useful for anyone who would like to improve their time management. (If time management is of interest you might also like to read my blog post on Time Management Tips For Small Business Owners here). Essentially there is a timer which you start and stop as and when you need. It allows you to track multiple projects and clients and produce daily, weekly and monthly reports of how much time has been spent on each.
- One Note. This one is a phone app not a website. It’s very basic but I use this one a lot. It’s simply a place to keep notes and lists. I find I live my life by lists. Running a small business you might have a lot of to do lists, some business, some personal. One Note enables me to write notes of ideas that I might have whilst I’m on the move. I keep lists of anything and everything from blog post ideas, projects I’m working on, people to call to Christmas present ideas and home DIY projects. Writing things down means I then don’t need to waste time thinking about these things again but I won’t forget anything. Evernote is pretty much the same, but I’ve always used One Note.
- Freedcamp.com is a free online project management tool which also allows you to collaborate with others. In it you can keep track of multiple projects, within each have task lists and due dates. Each task can either be assigned to yourself or to a collaborator. Freedcamp is entirely free, no upgrade to access additional features. It can be useful for keeping track of smaller projects as well as looking at longer term business goals and breaking them down into smaller milestones that need to be met along the way, therefore helping you keep moving towards future goals.
- Hootsuite. Social media may be a brilliant way to promote your business, but if you’re not careful it can take up huge amounts of time, both in terms of logging in to the different platforms and posting as well as getting sidetracked. Hootsuite gives you a dashboard where you can manage multiple social media accounts in one place. It enables you to schedule posts, so in other words you can go in once a week and schedule a week’s worth of content to go out. It will also tell you if you’re mentioned in any posts by others, saving you having to log in to your other platforms and check. You can also get some basic analytics to track your social media performance.
- Hubspot. A database is arguably a business’s most valuable asset, yet I’m always amazed by how what many small business owners refer to as a database can actually be simply an Excel spreadsheet, or sometimes even just a box of business cards. Your contacts can be worth a surprising amount with proper organisation and management. Hubspot.com offers a completely free CRM, for however many users you need and for up to a million contacts. Unlike other CRMs who charge for the CRM once you get above a certain level of contacts, Hubspot make their money from selling marketing software so the database will always be completely free.
- Whatsapp. Although this app may be more known for its social use it’s certainly useful in a business context as well. Download this app and benefit from free messaging and sharing photos and videos. Whatsapp can be useful to aid collaboration between individuals and groups and is a useful way of sharing on the move.
- Dropbox.com offers free cloud based storage and sharing. I use this every day to share files with colleagues and clients and to enable me to pick up my documents from wherever I am so long as I have an internet connection. You get 2GB of storage space with a basic free Dropbox account.
So what have I missed? These are my favourite free small business tools but what are yours? Please comment with any other tips that you may have, and please share this post if you know think anyone else might find this useful.