The life of a small business owner is hectic at best, as they seek to juggle multiple priorities on a daily basis, and attempt to fulfil various roles. They may act as a digital marketer one day, an accountant the next, and an operations manager the day after, trying to surpass roadblocks such as budget constraints, expiring deadlines, and limited manpower.
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It can be difficult to say the least, and yet, with proper and efficient planning, and the right tools at their disposal, small business owners can not only establish themselves and then survive, but endure and indeed, grow as well, as they maximize their marketing efforts, and subsequently rise to the top of their industry. So, what are the tools which can help them ensure both survival and growth?
We consulted several successful small business owners on digitizing small business, in addition to marketing experts with a proven pedigree, and without exception, they recommended focusing first on establishing a solid foundation. For without a reliable platform serving as your springboard, you will be hard-pressed indeed attempting to launch your business endeavor.
The following list of the top marketing tools for small business owners and entrepreneurs has been compiled based on their recommendations, and should serve to help develop a comprehensive roadmap for your business, and most particularly, your marketing efforts.
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1. Business Planning
The very first thing you need, even before your business, is an effective and efficient plan. In order to devise one, you need to map out your marketing strategy, budget, financial forecasts, and tactics, goals, and objectives – and all of this constitutes merely the first step towards the formation of a sustainable business.
Fortunately, there are several resources available online today which can help you create an all-inclusive business plan. Premier among them is LivePlan, which helps you create a professional blueprint for your company by offering built-in help including expert advice, forecast creation, idea sharing and collaboration, quick and easy documentation, and over 500 samples of complete business plans to guide you on your way.
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If you feel the need for a business planning software which is more advanced, you should look to BizPlan Builder. While it offers all the standard features available with such software, including customizable, pre-made templates of business plans, tracking tools, and financial projections among others, where it really sets itself apart from the competition is by offering a business model creation tool as well. You will discover all manner of business documents included with the software, such as financial statements, articles of incorporation, press releases, and partnership agreements.
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2. Customer Relationship Management [CRM]
If small business owners had access to the genie’s lamp, we are certain the first wish all of them would make would be for absolute understanding of their customers’ every current need, want, desire, and preference. Yet, devoid of magic, they must rely upon other resources, and anything which comes even close to fulfilling their wishes requires, above all, three things in abundance: careful and thorough planning, consistency in execution, and thoughtful, relevant technology.
Marketed as the ‘The Simple CRM for Small Business’, AddressTwo is the online CRM software you need to manage your customer relationships. It allows you to create an unlimited number of user logins, so you can benefit from multiple user accounts, without any additional cost, and each account with its own login credentials. You can then assign your customers to particular account managers, using the different usernames you have created. Furthermore, you receive real time, up-to-date reports of all the activity your users generate, in addition to a host of other beneficial features.
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“The Simply Smarter Way to Turn Relationships into Revenue”, Nimble helps bring together all your social media contacts, conversations, and calendars – from Facebook and Google+ to Twitter and LinkedIn. As a small business owner, you can thus considerable time and energy, as well as build significantly deeper relationships with your clients and customers by engaging with your audience across all of the most popular social platforms from a single screen.
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3. Email Marketing
Email marketing is one of the most fundamental tools at the disposal of a small business owner, and yet it remains so considerably powerful that it outperforms basically every other tool at cost effective lead conversion, especially if used properly and effectively.
Vertical Response helps you grow your business by encouraging your customers to keep coming back through emails which you can draft in mere minutes. Various email creation options are available to you, and you will be hard-pressed not find suitable styles for you from among 700 pre-designed, professional email templates. Even if you are a complete novice to the concept of email marketing, there are tools which will guide you in the process, step by step, until you become a seasoned pro at email creation.
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Wish to send awesome emails, the kind which engender profitable customer relationships for your business? AWeber offers a host of brilliant email marketing tools, each designed to help you establish and grow your small business, including autoresponder services and signup forms which facilitate the building of your email list, and seemless, efficient integrations with services like WordPress, PayPal, Shopify, and SalesForce.
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4. Video Tools
They say people retain more of what they see and hear in a video than from any other medium, and the rise and popularity of videos as essential marketing tools would seem to support that theory. Small business owners in particular can use video marketing to great advantage, using videos to tell their story, engage with their audience by showing the human side of their company, and get their message across.
Interactive is the buzzword, social media the order of the day, and Viewbix allows you to use both to your benefit. A revolutionary, one of a kind video tool, it enables visitors to your website to transform traditional videos into entirely interactive, social media friendly experiences. You can enhance user engagement, increase conversions, and provide a significantly better user experience through Viewbix by allowing your audience to embed links and add social apps.
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If you wish to create animated videos as part of your marketing campaigns, Wideo is the ideal solution for you. An online video app, it offers you a variety of options, including a choice between starting from scratch and using one from the many templates available through the app. Furthermore, you can add your own logo, images, and music to customize your video according to your preferences.
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5. Social Media Management
No business, small or large, can hope to survive today without creating and maintaining a credible and attractive social media presence. Customers rely increasingly on peer reviews, often in the form of Facebook ‘likes’, retweets on Twitter, and ‘pins’ on Pinterest. You, as a small business owner, need to learn how to best take advantage of social media for the sustained survival and growth of your business.
In order to stay in touch both with your customers and your prospects, and to keep up to date with everything that’s trending, and your audience’s capricious likes and dislikes, you need TweetDeck – a personal browser which allows you to bring together all your contacts from across multiple online social platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace.
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SproutSocial is a social media management tool, tailor-made to help small business owners find and engage with new customers, keep in touch with old ones, and to generally grow and enhance their social media presence through a single platform. The true brilliance of SproutSocial lies in the analytics tools it offers, allowing you to assess your marketing efforts across all social networks from one screen, saving a considerable amount of time, money, and effort.
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6. Web Hosting
Establishing and running a small business is no mean feat, and as an owner, you can ill-afford any delays, distractions, or unnecessary, entirely avoidable hassles and obstacles. One area where you may be most susceptible to such problems is web hosting, and thus, it is crucial you opt for a reliable service, and avoid using a cheap host. The money you save initially is simply not worth the subsequent problems.
Amazon is probably one of the most trustworthy brand names in the world, and now they have launched Amazon Web Services [AWS] – web hosting which offers a range of affordable services that are both reliable and scalable through a cloud-based computing platform.
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If you have opted for WordPress to build your website, you could not choose a better web hosting service than Synthesis. It offers remarkable security from hackers, in addition to ensuring your website experiences no downtime at all, even under viral traffic loads. Further benefits include enhanced page load speed and superior uptime, and plenty more.
7. Customer Service
Marketing, as all else, has evolved over the years, and the game today consists of systematically, effectively moving your prospects along the circular path of trust, try, then buy, and refer – and then repeat. The players and the toys may differ with every industry and company, but the endgame remains the same, and victory ultimately depends on what tactics you bring to the table.
Customer relationships can come to define a company, its growth and success, and indeed its very survival. Research suggests up to 80% or more of a business’ revenue is generated by repeated customers, and Zendesk can help you cash in on all that potential profitability by helping you build better, more enduring relationships with your customers through their web-based customer support software.
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Get Satisfaction offers to you, in their own words, ‘the Shortest Distance between You and Your Customer’ – through a beautifully designed customer engagement platform which can help you build better and longer lasting relationships with your customers, both potential and existing.
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A marketing campaign is only as effective and successful as you are efficient at tracking the impact, effects, and results of all your posts, shares, tweets, pins, blog posts, and so on. Tracking data drives smart, relevant content, which in turn helps you capture and hold your target audience’s attention.
Google Analytics allows you to measure your advertising ROI, in addition to helping you track your social networking sites, applications, and videos.
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For a clear understanding of your business, so you can ensure its profitability, use Spring Metrics. This resource offers to you a variety of incredibly helpful analytical tools, including conversion tracking, website analytics for eCommerce, optimization, and more.
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9. Virtual Assistance
As a small business owner, particularly at the very beginning, you cannot do it all by your lonesome. Yet, delegation can be hard – letting go is often difficult – and you may not always trust the people around you with specific tasks. In such situations, Virtual Assistants [VA] can prove to be a technological blessing which provide help with creative, technical, and administrative chores.
Putting the internet to work for you is ifttt – a new service which makes it remarkably easy to automate your life on the web. You can link together your favorite apps, integrating your Gmail with your Facebook, Dropbox, Twitter, Instagram, and so much more.
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Time is perhaps the most crucial commodity available to a small business owner – it is at once in short supply and abundant, and you need to manage it effectively. Fancy Hands helps you do just that through a team of your very own, personal Virtual Assistants who sit ready and willing to work for you from a remote office, allowing you to focus on the most important aspects of your business.
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10. Project Management
In an increasingly cut-throat global business environment, the company which can most effectively cut its overhead costs and work most efficiently at the same time will rule all. Virtual workforces, outsourcing, and collaboration are therefore trends which have become progressively more popular, and will continue to do so.
Basecamp organizes chaos – it brings together all the variables in a given project, human or technological, and helps them function seamlessly in collaboration until the project is successfully finished.
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The ideal way to connect you, your employees, customers, and content, all together, in the cloud is Central Desktop – a Software as a Service [SaaS] platform which facilitates communication between business teams.
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So, there you have it – 20 of the most popular, efficient, and beneficial tools for small business owners. Employ them all as you begin to implement your idea and transform it into a company living and breathing, or take your pick from among them according to your needs and preferences – either way, they will help you considerably in making certain your business launches off a solid platform with a reliable, secure foundation, and well-equipped to not only survive, but grow and be both successful and profitable.
Whether you choose to use just one, or all, of these tools, do share your experiences with us, and please feel free to suggest and recommend additions to this list based on your experiences with small business ownership and marketing.