Free Digital Business Tools To Help You Start Up & Grow Your Business
Small business expert Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, gives us a run down of the best free digital tools to help you start or grow your business
With so many free or low cost tools available, there’s never been a better time to start and grow your business, without having to break the bank.
Small business expert and author Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, gives us a run down of some of the free digital tools that will help you manage money, make sales and get known.
- Free small business finance and accounting software
- Free project management tools
- Free strategic planning tools
- Free web design and development tools
- Free SEO tools
- Free social media tools
- Free marketing tools
Offering a 30 day free trial, Xero is the beautiful accounting software taking the UK by storm.
The company is young and entrepreneurial, providing heaps of practical information for small business customers on their blog and in free guides. Xero also makes a point of buying from its own small business customers, so not only can this software help you manage money, you may make a little out of the relationship too!
Other software accounting options include FreeAgent, Kashflow and Intuit’s Quickbooks. They all offer a free trial before paying around £25 per month thereafter.
Manage the business and your to-do list with Evernote. The basic product is free or you can upgrade to Business version for £99 for the year. This tool enables you to take notes, track tasks, and save things you find online. Everything is synched between your phone and computer automatically.
Not so much project management but offering the ability to share messages and documents between teams is Slack, which is free for small teams and allows up to 10,000 messages to be shared at this level.
The project management tool we use and love at Enterprise Nation is Basecamp. With this tool you can track progress, share folders, invite in clients and stay on top of the workload. You get your first basecamp for free and then it’s $29 per month to upgrade.
When it comes to planning for success, researching your customers, keeping on top of trends, and staying on top of tasks is vital. Fortunately, all can be achieved for free.
Reach out to potential and existing customers and ask them what they think about your product or service using Surveymonkey or Wufoo.com. Both are free to use if you’re asking fewer than 10 questions of 100 respondents. When it comes to staying on top of what’s hot, check out Springwise which is an online collection of innovation and aids you, the small business owner, to see trends in your own industry and across other sectors.
Trello is a tool that enables you to keep on top of tasks. It’s like a Pinterest for tasks and ideas and can be shared with others.
Small businesses are turning in their droves to free template site makers to build a home on the web. Here’s a couple of my favourites:
- Moonfruit - pick your template and design, upload content and click to publish. Hey presto, you have a window to the world! It’s free for content only but you have to upgrade to sell products with packages starting at £3 per month.
- Weebly - as with Moonfruit, pick the theme you like and get a free web presence. You can then upgrade to a package costing £5 per month for added functionality, should you need it.
There are other quality template providers such as Squarespace and SupaDupa but these come with a price tag attached.
Rise up the search engine ranks by having a presence across the web, listing your site in relevant directories, and linking out to other sites.
In posts and listings, link out to other sites (costs nothing but your time) and ask for a link back. Aim for quality sites over quantity; for example, a link from a site such as the BBC or Mail Online could potentially bring you lots of traffic!
And if you run your business from a shop, don’t forget to make the most of Google’s My Business function so customers can find you.
Social media has been a great friend to the small business owner, enabling you to reach new audiences and connect with customers, without having to spend any money.
Experiment a little on all the platforms; Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube to test the platforms on which your customers best respond. You may get a stronger reaction on LinkedIn than Facebook if your target audience is made up of professionals and this will influence where time is best spent.
Speaking of time, manage it with a social media management tool such as HootSuite or Buffer which allows you to pre-schedule tweets and posts and keeps you on top of your key accounts, as well as what your customers and potential customers are saying about your business.
Marketing can be a bit daunting to smaller businesses, especially if you don’t have any existing professional experience of it. Fortunately there are a number of different ways that you can market your business, even if you have little or no previous experience.
You can make a start by blogging which will effectively build your profile as an expert in your field. Just make sure that your website is designed with a blog section in mind, and remember to post fresh content regularly to attract an audience and keep them coming back.
Don’t be afraid to ask existing and potential customers for their email data and stay in touch with email marketing. With applications like Mailchimp.com you can have up to 2,000 subscribers and send up to 12,000 emails for free.
Promote yourself and your expertise and invite people to hear you speak and present with tools include Skype for Broadcast, Google Hangout and GoToWebinar. All are free to use or have free trials. You can even use your social media channels to promote any events that you might be attending.
Finally, measure the marketing that’s working with Google Analytics which tells you the origin of site traffic and site performance over time. With this evidence in hand, keep on repeating the marketing that delivers the best results!
With these tools at your disposal, there’s simply no reason not to embrace the web to help take your business to the next level.
Emma Jones is founder of Enterprise Nation, the UK's most active small business network.