Running a small business isn't easy. I know. I run one. As a freelance writer, I've learned that you need to run your writing career as if you were running a business.
Writing takes up about 10% of my time in a good week. The rest is spent on invoicing, accounting and sales. I spend more time on client relations, managing contractors, website optimisation, social media promotions, product development, security monitoring and on and on and on than I ever do on writing.
Running a small business can be extremely stressful. But here are 25 must-have technologies that will help you make your SMB a success.
First, let's start with one of the biggest challenges for SMBs: staying organised. For years, my accounting system was a big envelope. Recently, I noticed late-night commercials for the 1) Neat Scanner. I was embarrassed to admit that it looked like a good idea, and when I was invited to meet with the company at CES and demo a scanner, I bit.
I came back from CES with my typical jumble of paperwork and business cards. Instead of stuffing them into a manila folder, I fed them into the scanner, which captured each receipt or card, categorised it and stashed it into an appropriate folder, such as "travel receipts" or "2012 taxes."
But what really made life easier was the mobile client. Now, instead of filling your pockets with receipts, you just snap a photo of your receipt and load it into the cloud-based filing system.
Neat also allows you to create and file PDFs from whatever paperwork lands on your desk. Then, you can use 2) Canvas to turn paper-based forms into mobile apps. Many Canvas apps already exists for such industry sectors as healthcare, education and construction, but you can also send your form to Canvas, and they will turn it into a mobile app for $50.
Sales, Marketing and Support
The marketing tool that was recommended to me most often by small business owners is 3) Vocus. Michael Yack, president of Toronto-based FS Local, said, "[Vocus] lets me work 12 hours a day on growing my small business while not falling off the face of the social media planet. I have one social media 'inbox' where I can read and reply to my Tweets and Facebook posts, thank bloggers for their posts, and then log out and get on with the day. When we get a new customer, I can log back into that same system and send out a press release, which notifies all my fans and followers for me and it reminds me when someone has mentioned me, so I can thank every fan."
Vocus recently rolled out a new feature, Buying Signals, which scours social media to find people who are seeking particular products or services. Then, it puts you in touch with the leads most relevant to your business. For instance, if you're an optometrist and someone in your city Tweets "I just broke my glasses," you'll be alerted. Pricing starts at $250 per month.
The trouble with leads, though, is that most prospects do not buy immediately. Instead, they'll want to do research, kick the tires and may even have objections you must overcome. This is where many small businesses fail: they dont follow up.
According to Robert Clay of Marketing Wisdom, 63% of people requesting information on your company today will not purchase for at least three months, and 20% will take more than 12 months to buy.
Many small businesses can't afford the expensive CRM suites that would help guide them through the process of nurturing leads and overcoming objections, so they lose out on potential sales. In fact, according to Clay, 92% of salespeople have already given up before the prospect is ready to buy. If you want to be in the 8% still standing consider 4) Followup.cc , which lets you schedule a follow up to an email the minute you respond.
In the Bcc area, simply put firstname.lastname@example.org or March30@followup.cc and Followup.cc will automate the follow-up process for you, sending you email reminders, allowing you to snooze those reminders if you're busy, integrating with your calendar, and automatically importing the contact info of those you follow-up with most frequently. A browser plug-in even lets you schedule follow-ups for websites, rather than keeping a million and one tabs open like I do.
Pricing ranges from free (for a plan with 20 reminders/month) to $99/year for a plan with added functionality and unlimited reminders. 5) viClone helps SMBs tackle customer support challenges. Providing consistent, high-quality customer service is a major undertaking for SMBs. Online customer service is the easy choice for SMBs since phone support is prohibitively expensive. However, even online customer service and support (Email, Live Chat, Ticketing Solutions) can carry big price tags, especially in labor costs.
Moreover, most automated systems are targeted at the enterprise and are too expensive for SMBs.
ViClone's virtual agents are designed for SMBs. The agents have self-learning capabilities and can support more than 35 languages.According to Alexander Malov, viClone's COO, users are typically able to configure the virtual agents to answer their customers' top 15 to 25 most frequently asked questions, which will reduce the number of support requests by as much as 80%.