When I first began my Public Relations Consulting Business, now nearly six years ago, I had to find every possible low cost or no cost tool to grow my business with minimal overhead. Still to this day, I find myself continuing to use many of these same tools not just because they are cost-effective, but because they work. Take a look at the top 10 tools I recommend for every entrepreneur.
Gmail – I’ve been with Gmail from the inception of my business. Though my email is @bennisinc.com, I can login just as I would for an @gmail.com account. It’s familiar, it’s user-friendly and it’s free – or about $2 per month, depending upon your plan. Through some of my clients, I’ve had the experience of using Outlook and have found no added benefit that Gmail doesn’t match and then blow out of the water. Need I say more about Gmail’s awesomeness?
Mail Chimp – Mail Chimp has won my heart for several reasons. First, I appreciate that it keeps things simple and user friendly. If I want to send out a quick press release for a client, I can easily brand a template and have this sent within minutes. I have also seen unique and intricate templates created by my fellow designers that make a Mail Chimp email look just like some of those more “expensive guys’.”
Speaking of, I have experience using Constant Contact, Emma, MadMimi and more. I find these platforms to be far more fussy and expensive. If your contact list is less than 2,000 people and you send less than 12,000 emails per month, Mail Chimp is completely free!
Doodle – If you can relate to the scenario of countless “reply-all” emails with dates and times being thrown about trying to schedule a group conference call, then you need to get acquainted with Doodle. I have to schedule anywhere from 4 to 10 conference calls per month, often with ten or more people each. Doodle has been a huge time saver. I simply select a variety of dates and times that (foremost) suit my schedule, then all participants select the dates and times that also work for them. Doodle shows you what option works for the most people, so making a decision is easy!
Google Voice – I have never paid a dime for a dedicated business phone number and voicemail – it’s Google Voice makes this possible. My cell phone is an 814 area code, but I now operate in the 717 area code. In an effort to accurately portray my business as local, I selected a 717 business phone number via Google Voice and linked it directly to my cell phone. This means when someone calls my business line, I see “Google Voice” appear on my phone and know to answer it as a business call. My favorite feature is that I can record an alternate voice mail that people hear when they call this line, so they aren’t greeted with my personal voice mail. You can even record a specific voice mail for one specific person, if you really want to give a personal touch!
FreeConferenceCall.com – The name sounds a little shady, but this service has never done me wrong. You simply create a free account and they assign you a unique conference number to use again and again and again. If you want to pay a little more, you can add on any number of features, but for me, all I wanted was a dedicated, reliable conference line for free.
Intuit QuickBooks’ Invoicing Software – I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I managed my growing PR consulting business completely with invoices I created in Word for the first five years. Starting in 2017, I was finally introduced to Intuit QuickBooks thanks to a client. From my first use, I was hooked.
This year alone, I am currently managing 22 active client accounts, and growing. Without QuickBooks, invoicing would be a nightmare. I can see who owes what, what’s overdue and easily compile a report to see any imaginable metric of my business finances. I’m trying not to kick myself too hard for not implementing QuickBooks sooner, but really it’s a shame how unnecessarily painful I made compiling tax information for my business. Lesson learned.
Boomerang (for Gmail) – Boomerang is my spirit animal. It allows you to draft and schedule email messages to go out at a specific date and time in the future. This allows me to schedule meeting reminders, follow-up emails or send out a proposal several days from now when it would hit my client at a better time. I can take care of the task while it’s on my mind and not have it sit in my draft box. Boomerang is like my personal assistant that takes care of the rest! This service is free for up to 10 messages per month, which suits me just fine. For a little more money you can unlock their entire suite of features. If you feel like you’re always forgetting to send out or follow-up on emails, definitely check this one out!
Social Media Management
Hootsuite – I’ve explored several different types of social media management platforms and my loyalty remains with Hootsuite. I pay just about $10 per month and I’m able to accommodate the management of all of my clients’ social media accounts. The feature that sold me is the ability to schedule social media posts in advance. I still get real-time notifications if anyone likes, comments or shares a post so I can immediately react, but the day-to-day logging into each account and posting is eliminated. This gives me back at least an hour of my day, every day!
File Storage and Organization
DropBox – I might have one or two physical file folders with paperwork, everything else is in my DropBox – and that’s 6 years’ worth of storage! DropBox makes it easy for me to share entire folders with a client, graphic designer or anyone else who may need access to these items. I also gain peace of mind knowing I can access these same files from my phone or any other computer via DropBox.com. So should anything tragic happen to my laptop, I still have all of my client files at my fingertips.
G Suite – We started by talking about Google as a no cost or low cost resource to entrepreneurs, so let’s end by talking about it some more. G Suite, specifically Google Docs and Google Sheets, is a great tool for collaboration. Multiple people can edit a document in real-time, eliminating the back and forth with multiple versions of the same document and not knowing which is the most up to date. In short, G Suite is a simple and free collaboration tool that most everyone is comfortable using – a huge selling point especially when working with clients who aren’t tech-savvy.
What are some of your favorite low cost or no cost business tools? Share the technologies that have helped you to grow!