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Low Cost and No Cost Business Tools Every Entrepreneur Should Use

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.

keyboard.

Email Management

gmail

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?

Email Marketing

mail chimp

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!

Scheduling

doodle

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!

Business Phone

google voice

Google VoiceI 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!

Conference Calls

free conference call

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.

Invoicing

quickbooks

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.

Productivity

boomerang

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

hoot suite

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

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.

Collaboration

g suite

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!

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Posted by on June 12, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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

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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