5 Free Tools for Your Small Business and Why You Should Use Them

Anybody can put up a website and start an online business. But as an entrepreneur, you must make the most of your time while giving your all to your business and your marketing. So, let’s look at these 5 free online business tools and how they can give your business huge benefits. Your time is your most valuable asset.  So having the right digital tools at your fingertips is essential to your success.

Along the way in building my website and marketing business, I’ve leaned hard on these 5 free tools to keep my costs low and streamline my operations.

As I’ve grown, I’ve moved on to subscribe to paid tools to streamline even more.

But I gained a LOT of value and experience getting started with these – and you can too.

5 Free Online Tools and WHY Your Small Business Should Use Them

1. Lastpass

Why Use This: Quickly organize, secure and access your passwords from anywhere.

Lastpass best free online tool for small business

Nothing is more important than fast, secure access to your passwords. You know how frustrating it is to set up a new account and then be unable to log in! If you are running services for other clients you will need a secure way to keep their passwords safe.

I chose LastPass because it’s secure and web-accessible. No matter where I’m working, I can look up any password I need using my phone, laptop or desktop. Internet access is required.

LastPass is probably the most important tool to me personally that I will recommend. My business could not function without a web-based password vault. As a webmaster, I keep track of thousands of pieces of information such as login credentials, account addresses, email addresses, and pin numbers. A secure password system is a vital tool for any business.

I recommend LastPass because it’s secure, easy to use, and you can access it anywhere. It’s a cloud-based system. That means you can log into your secure password vault from anywhere. You can use your phone with or without the LastPass app. You can log in from your home office. You can log in from any location you are working, wherever you have Internet access. And it offers a free level of service that meets my needs.

You can organize your passwords in folders. For me, I have folders for each client. Inside each folder is a record for their website password, their hosting company password, their social media accounts — anything I need to assist them with their marketing.

I love the secure password sharing feature to allow approved authorized users to see the latest password on file.

free secure password vault

With an email, you can securely send someone a password (or access to it). Now you won’t have to go back and forth asking for the login information you need.  Lastpass systems keeps password changes synched, so you both have access to the latest update.

Another favorite feature is the notes field where you can store anything you need. I like to track answers to secret questions. Keep track of any other helpful tips that you need to remember when you are logging into that account.

If you own a business of any size, I cannot stress enough the importance of using a password vault and keeping it updated. You know how frustrating and embarrassing it is when you are collaborating someone, and your password doesn’t work. Your webmaster and marketing assistant will love you if they get the right password the first time.

2) Hootsuite

Why Use This: Accomplish more social media marketing in less time (impacts your gross margin).

Hootsuite’s signup page as of September 25, 2017

You know that using social media is a great way to get yourself known. But who has time every day to log into Facebook, twitter, Google Plus, snapchat or Instagram to post updates one by one. This is the main reason why I love Hootsuite.   Write up a week’s worth or a month’s worth of updates. Then schedule them to go on your most important social media channels all in one sitting!

The free version of hootsuite allows you to connect three of your social media accounts. You can update LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for example, all from one screen.

If you’re running a lean mean marketing team, you need a way to streamline the posting process. That’s the beauty of Hootsuite. (I’m guessing the name is a cross between Hoot which is to make a noise, and tout suite which is French for “right now”)

 

3) Google Analytics

Why Use This: “What gets measured gets improved.” — Peter Drucker

You will need to measure the impact of your marketing. Otherwise, you can’t tell what’s worth your time to do. The best free tool I know of to learn from your web activity is Google Analytics.

If you have a website to promote your business, you need to know how it’s doing. You may not even have a marketing strategy yet. But collecting data on your traffic now gives you an excellent baseline for comparison. Even if you don’t know how to read the data yet, the time to gather it is now, if you’re not doing it already!

Google Analyics is a free service of Google. You will need a Google account. If you have a gmail account for your personal email, you already have a Google account.

However, for your business, I recommend setting up a separate gmail account in Google account dedicated to your business. There are so many services that you can activate once you have Gmail Account, in addition to Google Analytics. (Youtube, Google My Business – formerly Google Maps, and Google Hangouts are just a few.)

If you are using WordPress to publish your website, you can easily set up your Google Analytics on your site using a plugin. If you have some technical skills, you can write a function for your WordPress theme to apply your Google Analytics code without a plugin. One less plugin to maintain!

A plugin I recommend to apply your tracking code and see your data is the Google Analytics Dashboard for WordPress.

If you are tech savvy, here is the function I use to insert Google Analytics without a plugin. There are many slight variations on this function. This is simply one that I know works to put your Google analytics code in the head section of your HTML in WordPress:

See the Pen Insert Google Analytics Code in header as WordPress Function by Joanne (@joannemasterson) on CodePen.

4) A Business Page on Facebook or LinkedIn

Why Use This: Start conversations, grow your reach, then lead traffic to your website.

I recommend making regular updates to at least one social media profile.  To start, I suggest a business page on LinkedIn or Facebook — wherever you find yourself spending the most time with potential customers.

If you use Facebook, but are not convinced you need a Facebook page for your business, I’d like to convince you that you do. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share business news on your personal Facebook page. By all means, do it! But I recommend using a dedicated business page for building your business’s social media life in Facebook.

Here’s why the place to send your Facebook friends and followers is your Facebook business page.

  1. There is a lot that goes on in your personal life that you will want to share. And you should. And there is a lot going on in your business life that you will want others to know. Start that conversation on your personal page, by all means. But then steer people away from the distractions of their personal stream of updates. Your business page is the next step in focusing your prospect’s attention on you.
  2. The newsfeed on a personal profile is very distracting! It is very hard to send clear marketing messages there. Go ahead and share your excitement about something work related on your personal page – then add a link to send friends to your Facebook business page!
  3. A business page has analyitcs features your personal page does not have. Plus, you can assign administrators (aka helpers) as you grow, to help manage your page. You will not have to share your personal Facebook login with administrators! This is a big security bonus of using a Facebook business page.
  4. Another advantage of a Facebook business page: You will learn more about your potential clients because a business page has analytics tools you can use to find out what interests them.
  5. Finally, you have design elements and options on your Business page, that you don’t have on a personal page. One option is the call to action button. With this highly visible button, you can prompt visitors to subscribe, donate, learn more, call you! Customize it with your own most desired action. Ultimately, getting visitors off Facebook and onto your own subscriber list is the best thing to do with your Facebook traffic.

The focus you can give visitors, plus the insights you can learn, are worth the extra work of creating a business specific page, in my experience.

LinkedIn is similar to Facebook, except the content is strictly business. LinkedIn also offers personal profiles and business pages. However, LinkedIn is where you focus on sharing your work life. Your personal profile is all about your job experience, business knowledge, professional area, and career.

Many marketers recommend having a LinkedIn page for your business, no matter the size, as well as a personal profile. Among the added benefits of having a LInkedIn company page are thes:

  • Branding. Your company page is laid out to feature your logo, provide more detailed insights about audience engagement, and focus attention exclusively on your business.
  • Distraction control: You can get some of these insights on your personal page. But message control with limited distractions is a bonus of getting people to your business page.
  • Insights: You can see who is following your page and what countries they are from, and a timeline of when people signed on to follow you. This shows you the impact of your activities at that time.

Reveal real people who liked your post.  If you want to see who liked something you posted, click the “Like” counter under your post.  This shows the list of LinkedIn users who clicked “Like”.

See who liked in LinkedIn

 

Just as in Facebook, it will take deliberate effort to call people to visit your LinkedIn company page. And just as I recommend for your Facebook traffic, the best next step is to turn your social media visitor into an email subscriber.

 

5) MailChimp

Why Use This — I cannot stress enough the importance of building a list of people who want to learn more about you. That’s your potential customer list.

Unfortunately, many small businesses believe anyone who comes to the website is a potential customer.

Your random website visitor is not your potential customer. That’s because a visit alone does not tell you enough.

You need some system to cull out the potential customers from your traffic. That’s the job of your email list.

Trying to get a first time visitor to buy from you is like trying to boil the ocean. Getting people on your email list to buy from you is like warming up a cup of tea. It’s much more within the reach of your resources, and a much more desirable experience for everybody.

I think it is a mistake that someone who happens upon your site with their wallet out is likely to buy from you, unless you are Amazon. Otherwise, people need to learn, know and trust you before they buy. That is what your email activity can do for you. Your email newsletter messages work best when they are friendly and helpful. Occasional promotions are fine.

Reach out to keep your subscribers informed, to offer help, to learn what they care about from their clicks and open activity, and to extend your offers.

Ask people to opt in to your mailing list where you post the form on your website. MailChimp makes this easy. You can copy and paste the code you need to create a signup form. If you are using WordPress, I like the Easy Forms for MailChimp by Yikes. Once you set it up, you can paste a one-line shortcode instead of a block of code to create forms to grow your list.

plain and beautiful mailchimp signup form example

MailChimp is free for your first 2000 subscribers. You may find a few other email list services also start with a free tier. MailChimp is the most widely known that you can start using at no cost to you.

What Will You Use?

Whether you’re starting out, running lean, or aiming to widen your gross margin, the free cost of these tools can give your business huge benefits.

Taking advantage of the free factor is just one part of a smart business strategy. You still need to use them wisely. Even the best free tools are not going to help you until you know how to use them to your best advantage.

Let me know with a ‘like’ if this helps you see how to benefit from these tools!

Do you use any of the tools in this list? Are they helping? Not so much? Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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