For most small business owners, limited resources are the biggest challenge. It takes a lot of juggling and stretching in daily operations to keep the costs down and stick to a strict budget. But when you are faced with limited resources, that’s when it pays to be resourceful.
If a part or all of your business is operated online, there are many free or inexpensive online services that will keep your operating costs low. Here is our selection of the top 10 innovative tools for online business. Check them out and see if they can be of use to you.
One of the most essential tools for growing your online business is email marketing. We all know that a happy customer will most likely be a returning customer. With this in mind, make sure you capitalize on your client base and keep in touch with your customers.
iContact is the ultimate email marketing management tool. It is an inexpensive solution that offers effective creation and management of email marketing campaigns. Regardless of your campaigns’ size or customer list, whether it is aimed for blogs, newsletters, email campaigns or RSS feeds, the products and services of iContact can be modified to suit your particular needs.
Using iContact is simple and easy. You can you manage your list of subscribers and your email response with a single account. You can build recipient lists by location, interest categories, or other criteria so you can target your programs to specific contacts. You can choose from a selection of professionally designed templates to keep your customers engaged, or create your own designs. iContact is friendly with the email service providers and its reputation allows you to send big numbers of emails without your email being blacklisted.
Speaking of email as a marketing medium and main business communication tool, you have to consider that on average, more than 20 percent of all email sent by Web applications either goes missing or ends up in a spam filter — never to be seen by your customers.
The solution to this is SendGrid. It’s a cloud-based email service that delivers emails on behalf of companies to increase their email deliverability. Sendgrid isn’t a utility for everyone. You will know exactly when you need to use it – when your emails keeps falling or you start receiving spam messages from your own domain.
Setup is simple, once you change the SMTP all your emails will be sent through SendGrid. One great feature is the detailed stats that show you the number of people who actually opened your emails. This is a really powerful tool which can help you optimize your emails to increase conversions.
You can sign up for a FREE ACCOUNT that gives you limited features, but still lets you see if you find it useful or not.
Another essential tool for online business is HootSuite, the premium management platform for social network marketing. It lets you consolidate all your accounts from different social networks so you can simultaneously view all the live streams and post a message to all of them with just one click. Staying on top of your social streams requires a lot of repetitious work and can be time consuming, and HootSuite is not just a time-saver, but a very useful tool that lets you use the social web to launch marketing campaigns, identify and grow audience, and distribute targeted messages across multiple channels.
HootSuite free account lets you link to your networks and build a screen that displays up to five of your primary social streams, choosing from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Ping.fm, WordPress, MySpace, Foursquare, and mixi. Upgrading to HootSuite Pro at the very reasonable price of $5.99/month gives you much more flexibility, including unlimited social network feeds and RSS/Atom auto-updating; the ability to bring in a collaborative partner; one free (limited) report; and many more reporting tools.
Huddle is a secure online collaboration tool that lets users work together on projects in real time, despite distance. Designed with the modern workplace in mind, it helps users easily exchange information with its many different features. It is a business tool ideally suited for those who are often on the go and need an easy to use online working environment, that can be accessed remotely. There are no downloads involved, so it can be used from any Internet-connected computer.
Huddle offers a free, ad-supported account for those who only need its basic functionality, which includes: 100 megabytes of free online storage. Superb file management. Simple interface. Video tutorials. Options to integrate Web, audio, and video conferencing. With the ability to manage projects, store files, schedule and hold meetings, and facilitate communication through wikis and forums, Huddle’s free online service provides small businesses many useful organizational tools. Different packs with advanced features are offered and they go from $8 per month to $200 per month.
More and more people are using mobile devices to access the Web, and most of us have experienced the frustration of trying to view a website that was built for a computer on our mobile device.
OctoMobi is a great tool for building mobile websites, and the best of all – it requires no technical expertise. Literally anyone can use it to create ‘web apps’, quickly and effectively.
Octomobi uses the latest in mobile web technology, such as HTML5, QR Codes and the Jquery Mobile framework. The company aims to empower personal and business users to develop a professional mobile web presence quickly and cost-effectively. It is available in both free and paid versions.
Shopify offers integrated website and comes with 11 different free design templates, each of which is mobile responsive, and has a variety of different colouring options. Other than that, there isn’t much freedom with design customization. However they do offer many premium themes that can be fully personalized and built on. You may want to check out ThemeForest for a larger selection of Shopify themes:
When it comes to website loading, Shopify is fast. Because it’s a hosted platform that’s built on huge infrastructure, Shopify offers each of its webmasters rapid loading pages (80 milliseconds, to be exact). As a result, shops stand a better chance of ranking well and a better chance of leading customers to conversions.
Shopify allows integration of apps to:
– Create discount codes
– Offer gift cards (on Professional and Unlimited)
– Install cart recovery systems (on Professional and Unlimited)
– Include individual product reviews
– Amend shipping options
– Sell on Facebook
– Import products using CSV files
– List different product variations
– Print orders
Listed above are free, basic options, and there are hundreds of different features that can be installed from the Shopify App Store. Some are free, but some come at a monthly fee. Speaking of which, if you wish to offer the website in multi-language, we will need to use Langify app. This plugin costs $17.50 / month.
There’s also the not insubstantial issue of technical support. Shopify is renowned for the high quality of its customer care. Each client can enjoy 24/7 access to a customer adviser in case they have any issues or queries.
– Lite ($9)
– Basic ($29)
– Pro ($79)
– Unlimited ($179)
This way, when the business grows it’s easy to upgrade the package. Please note: Lite package does not give you an online shop, just a point of sale for your Facebook Page, so you need to start with the Basic package.
At $29 per month, it isn’t really that expensive considering that Shopify is a hosted solution, which means that all security for online payments and hosting issues are taken care of. The issue of credit card SSL certificates is always complex and expensive and with any other option, there would be additional monthly fees for hosting. So you’d have to pay at least $200 a year for secure hosting, depending on the size and ambition of your website. What’s more, you’ll have shell out decent amounts of cash in order to enjoy the same rapid response times that Shopify sites enjoy.
With the Langify app, your Shopify subscription will rise to $46.50 / per month in total. The good news is that once Shopify is setup, you won’t have any other recurring website expenses.
LegalZoom is a highly affordable legal consultation plan specifically tailored to small businesses. It provides attorney reviews of contracts and other legal documents, for a fraction of the price. Members can schedule consultations on their time without hourly fees.
Online storage has become increasingly popular in recent years. It is effectively replacing external peripherals as the primary choice for backing up important files and documents.
Elephant Drive is a great online backup and storage solution. What sets it apart from other similar services is that it is ultra secure and reliable. This is due to to the fact that Elephant Drive is powered by Amazon Web Services. That is also what helps to make ElephantDrive so affordable. The free account will give you 2GB free online data storage. And if you need more storage space there are many different account options available. (You can get 100 GB space for less than $10 per month).
Although Elephant Drive is used primarily as an online backup tool, it has also found a purpose as a remote access service/collaboration tool. The service runs on both Windows and Mac platforms, and allows users to create simple automated rules for protecting data by moving it into an ElephantDrive account.
Mural.ly is a visual collaboration whiteboard app. When your whole team can’t be together and you need a brainstorming session you can use Mural.ly for that. You can drag and drop images, links, and documents to organize your ideas. It includes private murals, autosave and backup, comments, activity feed, and chat.
SeeksAdmin is a US based service that offers high quality outsourcing of customer support. They will handle your server administration, and outsource help desk, live chat, and email customer service.
If you need dedicated staff, SeeksAdmin lets you hire your own expert in a particular field. Their outsourced customer support is provided 24/7 and is fully branded under your company’s name.