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If you have discussed social media with small-business owners, you almost always get two questions:
- How do I manage all these social networks without going nuts?
- Are any tools out there that can help me be more productive and save time?
The first answer that any good social media thinker would offer a small-business owner would be to pick two or three networks where you can reach the majority of your customers or potential customers and concentrate on those, thus eliminating some of your stress. Fortunately, the second answer is “Yes”: tools are out there to help you manage your time and workflow if you plan to spend some time and energy on the social Web.
I polled a few folks who know a thing or two about social media, especially for small businesses, and collected a list of 10 tools, technologies and platforms that can help your small business succeed in social media and Internet marketing. These experts in the field include John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, Becky McCray of Small Biz Survival, Mack Coller of The Viral Garden, Drew McLellan of Drew’s Marketing Minute and Kyle Lacy, author of the upcoming book “Twitter Marketing for Dummies.”
Based on their favorites (and some of my own), here are 10 killer tools for small-business success.
Have you ever called yourself and left a voice mail so that you wouldn’t forget something? Jott takes that idea a step further, transcribing the voice mail and sending it to your inbox. Instead of sending a quick memo to yourself to remember to email your vendor, you can dictate the email and save time. Upgrade to Jott Assistant and you can dictate to-do lists, automatic Web postings to your social networks, calendar items and more. Jott is a subscription-based service, and it starts at only $3.95 per month for a small Assistant account. For small-business owners on the go, it can be a life-saver.
Grasshopper not only gives your business its very own toll-free 800 number, but it allows your customers to reach you even when you’re on the go. Voice mails are delivered to your inbox, as are faxes (in PDF), so you can stay connected everywhere. You can have multiple extensions and extend the service to your employees as well. The service starts at $9.95 per month (plus a $25 activation fee) for 100 minutes. Other plans are $49 and $199 per month.
If your small business is on Twitter, keeping an eye on the conversations related to your product or service there makes sense. But if you’re geographically focused like most small businesses, you probably hate having to weed through similarly named companies and mentions of your industry from folks 1,000 miles away. Monitter lets you search Twitter for keywords, but filters them by specified distances from a zip code. You get tweets about your category, industry and company from within your home territory, where it matters. Monitter is free to use.
For anyone who runs a Twitter account for business, a tool like HootSuite can be a productivity boon. Not only can you manage multiple people contributing to the same Twitter account (so that one person isn’t solely responsible for tweeting), but you can manage multiple accounts with ease. The software has a bookmarklet for quick link-sharing and offers some cursory stats on your Twitter account as well. It’s free to use.
5. Survey Monkey
Perhaps the one luxury that many small businesses can’t afford is market research. Survey Monkey enables you to conduct your own online surveys to gain insight into your customer base for free. The tool is easy to use, looks professional and produces a bevy of charts and graphs to help you understand your results. If you have trouble with online tools, Survey Monkey has several video tutorials that make it a snap to tap into customer insights.
6. Simple Online Accounting Solutions
McCray told me about a number of good online tools for bookkeeping and accounting, two really stand out for her. She recommends Outright.com for single-person businesses and WorkingPoint.com for more complex companies. The reason? Simplicity. Speaking as a business owner who is math-averse myself, I’ll just say, “Amen!” The simpler, the better. Both of these are outstanding in that category. Outright is free to use. WorkingPoint is free for one user, $10 per month for two and only $80 per month for 10 users.
Never before has a smart phone app been so incredibly useful! ReQall is a memory aide that enables you to record voice memos via a smartphone or regular phone, have those messages transcribed and then sent to you via email (a la Jott). But wait! There’s more. The software uses natural-language processing and some additional analysis to determine whether you’re dictating a calendar item or to-do list entry. It then adds those items to your calendar or to-do list. If you say, “Pick up milk at Circle K on Belmont Avenue by 4 pm,” you’ll get a calendar entry, probably with a Google map link, and a reminder beforehand. For the small-business owner on the go, this app is a must-have.
8. Milog (iPhone App)
While I hate to recommend an application that is limited to iPhone users, this one is worth mentioning. Milog, from SymplySoft, allows you to track your mileage simply, then email yourself neatly organized reports to print or send to your accountant for tax papers. When my CPA told me, “No one tracks their mileage well,” I decided to prove her wrong. Milog helps me do that in literally a few seconds per day. The app stores locations for easy trip entry and allows you to add fields for parking, tolls and more. The full version is just $2.99 at the iPhone app store.
This tool is new (the beta was released two weeks ago) but is very promising. A browser sidebar plugin, Minggl allows you to post status updates across six major social networks (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Digg and Delicious) but, unlike other broadcast services, also allows you to check your inboxes, notifications and public updates from friends on those networks. Add a Google Sidewiki-style annotation service and you’ve got a pretty useful tool that you won’t have to change your habits much to use.
Whether you’re dabbling in social media for your business, conducting full-scale sales calls via Twitter or Facebook or running everything you do through project management software like Google Docs, Zoho or Basecamp, you’d probably get mighty frustrated if one of those services went down and lost your data. Backupify.com serves as a daily or weekly (you decide) backup service for a variety of social media and Web 2.0 services that many small businesses depend on. The service is available at a low cost (accounts start at $4.95 per month) and backs up your important company data (Gmail, Google Docs, Basecamp, Zoho), plus your entire database for services like Flickr, Twitter and even WordPress. (Disclosure: Backupify is a ReadWriteWeb sponsor and a client of mine.)
These applications, programs and platforms only skim the surface. I’m sure you have favorites of your own. Please share them in the comments for your fellow readers and help make this post a one-stop shop for killer small-business tools.