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Helping Your Small Business Cast a Big Shadow: My top free resources for new businesses

28 May

I’m always thrilled to stumble upon a web site, phone app or piece of technology that is designed to help a small business give the image of a large corporation. Small businesses don’t have the disposable income or office structure to support the expense of big machines like faxes and scanners, to purchase multiple business phone lines or to pay for a full time accountant. Instead, we become the Jack-of-All-Trades. Sure we’re the CEO’s, but we’re also the billing department, human resources, administrative assistants and IT. I choose to work from home because I love minimizing my overhead costs (and working from a local park or in my pajamas from time to time). But one aspect I DON’T love about working from home is the reaction I sometimes get when I say I run my Public Relations Firm just a few doors down from the same place I sleep and eat. For some people, I feel like this discredits the professionalism of my business. So I’ve taken an active role in finding completely free resources that allow me to run Bennis Inc as I would a much larger scale firm, while still keeping the intimate communication with my clients and low rates to reflect my low overhead.

CamScan – This single phone app alone has saved me the large investment of purchasing a scanner and fax machine for my home office. Imagine this – any printed invoice, piece of mail or even a magazine article can be scanned by your phone and directly emailed to you or your client with a few clicks of a button. At times, this works even better than a copy machine. If I’m sitting in a meeting and want a copy of a document we’re discussing, I simply CamScan it and it’s there as a document in my phone to refer to as I please. Best yet, this app is completely free, scans crystal clear and takes mere seconds to install. To find it, simply search “CamScan” on your Android or iPhone Market Place app (Learn more here).

Google Voice – When I first started taking on more clients in the Harrisburg area, I was often questioned about my cell phone’s area code which is from a different part of the state. On my business card it was obvious this out of area number was a cell phone and I felt unprofessional because I didn’t have a dedicated business line – but I didn’t have the budget for this. I found my solution with Google Voice. This online feature let me pick a new phone number of my choice (so of course I chose one with a local area code) and connect it directly to my cell phone. Now my clients can call my “business line” and I answer it right on my phone. Google Voice also has a ton of other features like personalized voicemails you can assign to certain numbers who call you and the ability to set “do not call” hours where it won’t roll your business calls to your cell phone….say on the weekends or while you’re on vacation. Google is truly an invaluable resource small businesses (Learn more here).

Boomerang – This is one of the newest features I’ve added to my tool kit. Boomerang connects directly with my Gmail account and allows me to use all sorts of cool features like pre-scheduling emails to send at certain times and on certain dates. I use this to format meeting reminders weeks in advance while they’re on my mind. Boomerang also has a feature to “boomerang” a message back to your inbox if you don’t hear back from someone in a certain amount of time. This is much better than having to mark a follow-up reminder on your calendar – or forgetting to do it altogether. But the most useful feature of Boomerang for me has been the ability to pre-schedule my monthly invoices to clients. I can format them and set them to send on the exact date they’re due. Now, no matter how hectic my day becomes, I know my invoices are accurate and on time. This really helps Bennis Inc to function like a professional business even though, for better or for worse, I am my own accounting department (Learn more here).

WiseStamp – This feature is more “for show” than it is for business function, but it’s one of those areas where you can really help your business to leave a lasting impression. WiseStamp allows me to format my email signature to include my company logo and all my social media links in an organized template. I chose to use the feature that inserts my latest blog post into my signature as well. The week I started to do this, I saw a surprising increase in my amount of web traffic. If I can get my email contacts interested enough to visit my blog and starting reading, I increase my chances of them also clicking on my web site to learn more about me and my business. WiseStamp allows you to add in a privacy disclaimer, your business slogan or favorite quote as well. I’d recommend not using all of these features at once, but design an organized signature with the right touch of special features to create a professional first impression (Learn more here).

Here’s what my WiseStamp signature looks like

 

I could continue listing the various other free resources I utilize on a weekly basis to help Bennis Inc function like a big PR Firm. But instead, I’d like to ask you to share even just one of your favorite no-cost technologies that make you more efficient or make your business more professional. The millions of other entrepreneurs out there thank you!

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15 responses to “Helping Your Small Business Cast a Big Shadow: My top free resources for new businesses

  1. Mark Mathia

    May 28, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Hi Stephanie thanks for the great ideas. I’m always searching for ways to use technology at work and as a “writer – speaker” type. Your recommendations were all new to me. Nice! I use Evernote quite a bit to organize my life. I have written a few posts on how I get this done. For me, the most useful was figuring out how to organize all my traveling. Hope this adds value.

    http://markmathia.com/traveling-with-evernote/

     
    • Stephanie Bennis

      May 28, 2012 at 10:22 am

      Hey Mark – thanks for the comments. I’ll need to look into Evernote! Some other resources I love are Doodle (www.doodle.com) for trying to find a good meeting time for a bunch of people, which we know how big a pain that can be. Also Speek (www.speek.com) let’s you do free conference calls with a personal link instead a conference call number/pin which looks very professional and tech-savvy. I may need to do a Part II for this post with all the ideas I missed mentioning 🙂

       
  2. Cheval John

    May 28, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Stephanie, this was a great post. I just install Google Voice into my cell phone and now I feel more legitimate because I now have a “business phone number.”

    Also, I know that you have kept your business small and that is great.

    Here is a book that you must check out called “Rework.” It is a book that challenges the status quo of running a business.

    I have read the book eight times and I’m learning valuable things.

    Also, a product that you should look into is Basecamp by 37 signals. It is an organizer similar to evernote.

     
  3. GMailTricks (@GMailTricks)

    May 28, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    For signature i use Brandmymail ( http://www.brandmymail.com ), which has full control over email signature and overall template 🙂

    Nice examples http://pinterest.com/brandmymailcom/brandmymail-user-templates/

     
  4. ScottShirley

    May 29, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Two tools that we like are freeconferencecall.com (tons of features, too) and the Smartr Inbox app by Xobni to build our database from email signatures!

     
    • Paul T. Shafer

      May 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm

      Thanks Scott, I’ll definitely check this one out. I’d love to have a free conference service with muting capabilities. Can I assume this will only be found via a charge service?

       
  5. lifecoachmarie

    June 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. Congratulations and thank you for your remarkable contributions! Here’s the link for the image and more info for accepting the award. http://mariewetmore.com/2012/06/02/its-awards-season-whats-your-favorite-blog-why/

     
  6. keerthikasingaravel

    June 13, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Reblogged this on Wealthymatters and commented:
    Great List Of Free Resources For Bootstrapped Start-ups.

     
  7. Independent Association of Businesses

    June 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Thank you Stephanie for really great ideas!
    IAB

     
  8. Joseph DuLaney

    July 2, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Here is one I love. TripIt

    For those who have folks traveling and need to keep up with schedules, Confirmation #’s etc, Trip It (App for iPhone and Droid plus web site) is wonderful. Easy to share travel with others by following. Plus, it automatically picks up your hotel, air and rental car reservations off your email and places them on your phone so you do not have to travel with paper.

     
  9. thewazo

    July 17, 2012 at 2:31 am

    These are awesome resources. Boomerang and wisestamp are new to me and incredibly useful. When it comes to technology I use with my team I have to recommend dropbox. Its great for sharing large files and keeping track of them no matter where you are thru the app. I would also heavily suggest using google docs.

     
  10. suzykedz

    September 20, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Great post and professional-looking website, Stephanie. I also never heard of many of these apps and will look forward to trying some of them out.

     
    • Stephanie (Bennis) Shirley

      September 25, 2012 at 5:22 pm

      Thank you! I hope you do try out some of the apps/tools I listed. I truly believe that they help to give me that little edge. And as a small business owner, you can’t beat free!

       
  11. Ian Brophy

    November 22, 2012 at 6:14 am

    Excellent advice. I cannot wait to try CamScan. It could revolutionise the way I do things.

     

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