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What can software in the sky can do for small businesses?

Posted on 31 Aug 2012 in Inbound Marketing | 0 comments

Here’s 11 really useful SaaS tools (in ‘the cloud’) for managing yours…

Once upon a time, you’d run a small business with a few dusty ledgers for book-keeping. A flip-top box full of indexed contact cards, An accountant, a bank manager, a fair degree of gut feeling… and plenty of luck.

Then came computerisation, and changed everything. You kept accounts more comprehensively. You’d maintain a database of contacts (and, with luck, the two might even integrate). You’d buy horrendously expensive business software that probably required regular up-dating. But at least it could generate cool diagrams and charts that would help you identify business trends yourself. But you needed to be in your ofice to access all your information…

Then came laptops, which made your business management a bit more portable. But these were nothing compared with what we have today: ‘the cloud’. An astonishing resource of software and services that you can access 24/7 from just about anywhere in the world.

You don’t need to buy individual software packages, nor up-date them. The latest, most secure version of everything is waiting for you to use ‘up there’, somewhere in the ether. Meaning no more worries about losing data courtesy of a light-fingered employee or if your hard drive packs up. And when I say secure, it’s as secure as you could ever reasonably expect to be, whatever horror stories you might get from the media. Data on your own desktop computer is more at risk, however well you protect it!

It’s all way more sophisticated – yet simpler to do – than it ever was before. An internet connection, a username and password, a credit card and a tablet – or even your smartphone – is all you need to run the business. With your head in the cloud you can identify and contact leads. Manage your team’s activity. Plan your strategy. Analyse your results and control your finances. And it’s not just for the likes of Amazon, either. The cloud is just as relevant and useful to Bodgit & Scarper, ‘your friendly local builder’.

So what can you do in the cloud? When Jason (the brains and boundless energy behind Prime Digital) suggested I check it out ‘for my own benefit’, I did. And though I’ve barely scratched the surface, here’s a small selection of thumbnail reviews of 11 (don’t ask me why 11 and not 10 – ask Jason) really useful SaaS (‘software as a service’) tools for small businesses. You might be as surprised as I was…

HootSuite (social media manager)

is a web-based platform that lets you manage a team of multiple users, and publish to social media sites like You Tube, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress (blogs) and LinkedIn. With HootSuite you can monitor and schedule pretty much all of your social media marketing activity from one handy ‘dashboard’ that’s accessible from anywhere via internet connection – even on your smartphone. It comes in two flavours: free or ‘pro’ (a few more features for a small monthly fee).

SalesForce (customer relationship manager)

This award-winning programme is wonderfully flexible and user-configurable. While simple to set up and use, it also offers a comprehensive set of features. ‘Chatter’, for instance, lets you get real-time alerts about your own account activity and that of all your team – a bit like a status update on Facebook. Vital information that keeps you informed of what everyone’s doing and who they’re talking to, helping you avoid duplicating your efforts.

Shopify (hosted e-commerce platform)

If ever you want to create your own online shop, this is a fantastic, all-in-one solution. It lets you ‘set up and run your own online store. Pick a website template, list your products, accept credit cards and ship goods.And there’s no software to download or maintain.’ Its brilliantly customisable design themes help you make your store look just right, plus it’s clear, attractive and a breeze to use.

Bufferapp (free social media messaging manager)

Via a simple dashboard that connects all your social profiles this superb free programme helps you monitor, plan ahead and schedule your postings to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Which avoids the situation where you get inspired, make multiple postings and then don’t post for a few days! Being consistent with your posting and not cluttering people’s social feeds is really important, and Bufferapp enables this brilliantly.

WordPress (free blogging host)

WordPress.com is one of the world’s favorite blogging sites. A quick and easy registration process will get you blogging (thus raising your internet profile) within the hour. This one-stop-shop allows you to design a site from loads of free, user-configurable templates, create blog articles and host them on the WordPress.com web-hosting site. Occasional (reputable) ads appearing on your site are one of the very few downsides… but then it is all free!

GetPocket.com (free bookmark-and-read-later service)

Perfect for people who come across articles, videos and pictures in a day’s browsing that look interesting, but who don’t have time to read/view them immediately. It lets you save directly from your browser or from apps like Twitter, Flipboard, Pulse and Zite… so you can read, view or forward them, later. And it works with a wide range of apps and devices.

Mailchimp (free email marketing campaign manager)

MailChimp has all the features you’ll need to create an effective email marketing campaign, and it’s free if you send out less than 2000 a month! Design your own emails or adapt their free, professionally designed templates to suit your own branding. Integrate with the main social networking sites, get great support, and even all the data you need to analyse your results. Plus its ‘Delivery Doctor’ feature will dramatically reduce the likelihood of you ‘spamming’ your targets. It’s brilliant.

LinkedIn (free business-orientated social networking platform)

LinkedIn is a free website that many people use for keeping in touch with business associates, clients, and former colleagues. It’s a great way of keeping abreast of stories and trends in your market sector. And it’s a top tool for picking up jobs/projects, or recruiting new staff. The great benefit it offers is that being part of a LinkedIn network virtually confers the status ‘personally recommended’, which is amazingly influential in business. The ‘Pro’ version offers even more…

Basecamp (project management platform)

Basecamp is an online project collaboration system that helps you to manage projects, organise your documents in one place, and share across teams. Project team members access the same secure website to post files, comment on discussion boards and check timescales. It is particularly effective when people are working together from a distance and also enables ‘chat’ between team members. Usefully you can test drive all the functions of Basecamp on a 30-day free trial.

PRWeb (news release service)

PRWeb provides useful tools and tips to help you write and design your press release, then helps you get it onto all the major search engines and online news sites. It also gives you everything you need to analyse the effectiveness of your news releases amazingly quickly. The service is great for raising your company’s profile on the internet, and you can choose from four different ‘packages’, depending on how much you’re willing to spend.

Google Analytics (free web analytics service)

Google Analytics delivers a great deal for a free service. With it you can see how successful your website is at attracting visitors and converting visits into sales. And it can help you iron out any weaknesses you find. You can track page views, visitor information, and completed purchases. You can also interpret data by comparing several factors at once…. if it would help your business to know that! And Jason tells me that adding Google Analytics to your site is easy: you just place a short piece of java script on each page you want to monitor.

So there you are. As a not desperately ‘tecchie’ user I’ve tried most of these, and use some regularly

About Jason Groom

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