Free Online Business Tools to Jump Start Your Business, Processes, and Productivity
There are thousands of free online business tools available to help us succeed in business. There are tools that save us time, organize our thoughts, track our progress, track finances, analyze data, help us manage projects, connect and share with others, and SO. MUCH. MORE.
I have invested countless hours into finding the right tools that work for me and within my daily work flow. As the Director of Marketing for Little Wing Marketing, a weekly contributor of A Better User Experience blog, and administrator of a Port City Young Professionals networking group, I need a wide range of tools that help me to be more productive, organized, and most importantly effective.
Google For Business
If you have not jumped on the Google bandwagon, you are missing out on an assortment of FREE (yes, FREE!) online tools that will improve the way you do business. Although a Google Apps Account will provide a comprehensive dashboard and provide more storage (starts at $5/user/month), which I highly recommend, you can still access most of those tools without a Google Apps business account.
Benefits of Google Apps:
- Cloud storing & sharing across all your devices
- Sync across all your devices
- Host email with your domain. For example, instead of email@example.com, I can have firstname.lastname@example.org, which is more professional and gives you credibility as a business.
Allows you to create and collaborate on documents that you can access anywhere and from any device.
I use Google Calendar to share calendars or specific events with colleagues and to set up and accept appointments. It will sync across all my devices. It integrates nicely with ical and other calendar apps as well. You can also manage “permission” levels so that only certain people have access to view, manage or update events.
An example of how I send invitations within Gmail using Google Calendar.
I use email for selling our digital services, communicating with current and potential clients, setting up meetings, sending proposals, receiving files and photos, and more. Our company deals with half a dozen clients on any given day and that can mean a whole lot of emails to sort through. I also have 6+ email address I manage that are personal, professional, and some that I check on behalf of clients. Of the 6 emails I manage, 5 of them are hosted using Gmail.
Gmail is by far the most advanced email platform available with advanced search options, cloud storage, ability to manage multiple email address and with their new incorporation of tabs, it is much easier to get to the emails that matter most, in the order you want them. With different tabs for “Primary,” “Social,” “Updates,” and “Promotions” you no longer have to sort through the clutter.
But because I prefer a desktop email client, I use MailPlane for Gmail on my Mac desktop.
Add-Ons for Gmail
Now that we’ve established, Gmail is the best email platform, let’s look at some apps that enhance it even more. Google allows developers to use their API to build apps that complement their software. These are some of my favorite add-ons for Gmail.
Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts right inside your inbox.
You can immediately see what people look like, where they’re based, and what they do. You can establish rapport by mentioning shared interests. You can grow your network by connecting on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and more. And you can record thoughts for later by leaving notes.
This is an example of what shows up next to an email. Pretty handy, eh?
Yesware is email for sales people. It is a free add-on for Gmail that I use to find out who opens my emails and when, and from which device. I can also track who clicks on links within the email and if they forward the email. It’s great for creating, using and sharing templates for when I am sending multiple people the same or similar emails. Yesware also provides insights on which emails are performing best.
Article: How To Close More Sales Using Yesware Email Tracking
Other Awesome Google Products
Google Analytics strongest web traffic analysis package available on the planet, and it’s free. This is crucial to any business with a website as it allows you to measure and track how your customers interact with your website.
Google Analytics will help you understand not only who is coming to your website (and how often) but also where they’re going, how many sales you’re losing, how to improve your pages, and what keywords people are finding you with.
Here is a screen shot of visitors to A Better User Experience Blog from Jan 1-May 31, 2013.
Google Alerts is a powerful, free tool to cut down on your search time. I use Google Alerts to stay on top of our industry, competition, and general news.
Here is an example of a Google Alert I set up for “tech wilmington nc.” Once an alert is set up, Google emails you a list of new articles, blogs, and posts on the Internet about any subject or keywords chosen. You can set up alerts to monitor your business, your industry, your name or anything else. It’s reat way to find out if anyone is talking about you or your business. This is a must so you can respond to any criticisms, customer complaints or thank someone for a great write-up of your business.
I just recently learned about this add-on extension for chrome that lets you look up the definition of words by simply double clicking on the word. It can be especially useful when you are reading articles associated with persons, places or things outside your own expertise.
The ultimate collection of Google’s helpful tips and tricks, Webmaster Tools reviews your website and tells you what you need to improve to get better rankings. A must have online business tool that is absolutely FREE.
Wow, I use a lot of Google products…now let’s talk about some other free online business tools.
Better Email Marketing
In order to comply with SPAM laws, you must use an email marketing survice provider (EMSP) if you are sending out emails to a large group of recipients. I spent some time awhile back checking out different email EMSP’sand determined that MailChimp was my favorite and best suited for my business needs. I’ve found their dashboard to be very user friendly and they offer hundreds of templates, custom HTML, unlimited image hosting, google analytics integration, social media integration and more.
You can use MailChimp for free for your first 2,000 subscribers to your email list.
When done correctly, email marketing is a powerful and cost-effective tool that businesses can utilize to:
- Provide a means for direct communication with your customers and for contacting prospects
- Facilitate dialogue with and feed-back from your customers
- Strengthen the relationship with your customers
- Increase lead generation and cross-selling
- Allow for immediate tracking and measuring of your marketing efforts
Hootsuite is a must-have free online business tool for small business who are working on growing and managing their presence on social media sites.
I use Hootsuite to manage, track and post to multiple social media accounts: Twitter (multiple user names, multiple search streams), Facebook (profile and multiple pages), LinkedIn (profile, business profiles, multiple groups) and I can see all themes “streams” from a single dashboard. I can search within each stream and also comment, DM, post and share content from the same dashboard, which really save time so you don’t have to sign in to all your different counts and we all know that time is $$$!
There is a free and a pro plan available.
I love using BufferApp when I’m looking for content to share with my followers on our social networks. I often use it instead of Hootsuite for this purpose, since it automatically schedules your posts for you so you don’t bombard your networks at once.
BufferApp in an extension you add to your browser that makes it easy to share content while you are on the web across your social networks. From the app, you can schedule which days and times you want posts to be published- this means you can set up all your posts a week out. It’s also a very popular integration with other online tools across the web.
Bottlenose is a free service (although still in Beta) that provides live social intelligence of any topic, name or keyword by analyzing activity across all of the major social networks in real time. You can find out what people are saying about your business, organization or brand on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+ and more as well bring up articles associated with your search. It can be incredibly helpful when evaluating public opinion and perception in real time, so that you can react.
It allows you to spot real-time trends in your market so you can start producing content and engaging with influencers around those trends. The articles you discover through these links can serve as inspiration for topic ideas for your own blog content or what you share on your social networks.
You can also use Bottlenose as a dashboard (similar to Hootsuite) to share content you find on your social networks.
Tip: The sonar view will absolutely blow your mind.
Related Article: Improve Your Content Marketing Strategy With Bottlenose
Feedly is an RSS feeder and news aggregator that works seamlessly on all devices. I use it to connect all of my favorite blogs, RSS feeds and websites to the feedly interface for a consistent and easy to use content browser.
I subscribe to UX, social media, tech and business blogs, news outlets and fun sites like Reddit and TMZ. I can get all the news I need right to my Feedly. Best of all, it syncs with all my devices so I can pick up where I can consume content from my Ipad, Phone, Imac and AirMac. Yeah, I love macs :).
You can also share the content across your social networks.
I have hundreds of passwords for all the accounts I manage and LastPass saves me so much time and frustration. “The Last Password You’ll Ever Have to Remember!” LastPass is a secure password manager that allows you to login into any site with one click. And it’s free!
Evernote makes it easy to remember things big and small from your everyday life using your computer, phone, tablet and the web.
I use Evernote to capture ideas, images, or audio clips from all my devices and then sync them to the cloud for easy retrieval and organization. I especially like using it for when I am researching blog articles (like this one). It even works with handwritten notes, turning chicken scratch into searchable text. Use it if you want a better way of saving all the information you come across.
File Storage and File Sharing
DropBox allows you to set up a folder that you can drag and drop files to, which will then be automatically stored on your Dropbox. The cool part? You can access your dropbox from anywhere and files stored in your dropbox become available from any medium that you’ve connected to your account. It also saves you from having to store files on your hard drive and taking up all that valuable space.
It’s easy to share files in Dropbox with co-workers and clients. For example, I can share a DropBox folder with a client and each of us will have access to adding, editing and removing files without having to upload or download the file.
Tracking Your Finances
I absolutely love Mint for tracking my finances. This fantastic money manager automatically syncs with your bank accounts, tracks your spending, and gives you detailed graphical reports that show you where your money comes from, where it’s going, and how you can save more. I also have it on my Ipad and Iphone so I can track spending no matter where I am.
There are so many tools to help us manage our businesses. The trick is finding the ones that work for you. Do you have a favorite free online business tool? Please share it in the comments!