Whatever your goals are for 2013, it is difficult to ignore that the internet has become a large part of how any small business operates. The amount of web based business and marketing related tools out there can be dizzying so we have put together a list of applications that virtually any small business can use to make themselves more competitive in their respective markets. The tools mentioned revolve around strategy, creation, management, promotion and metrics.
Online Business and Marketing Strategy
When you talk about business or marketing strategy to most people, it is often hard for them to pull together a coherent thought. Strategy involves and organization of thoughts and ideas. This can be challenging when business owners are busy with other things; like running their business. Mind mapping (a visual method for organizing ideas and tasks around a centralized goal or keyword) is a great way to develop or sharpen your business strategy. There also happens to be a variety of applications designed to help you do it easily.
Mindomo: This is a free web based application developed by a software company out of Romania. Users can create visually appealing mind maps to help them with sales, business, marketing or other types of strategy. The app also has a few collaboration features so you can invite colleagues or associates to help plan with you. The software is also available on multiple platforms including Android, iPad, and Windows. The basic app is free however there is a premium service with more features for 6 dollars per month.
Wisemapping: Another good online application for mind mapping is Wisemapping. This platform is also collaborative allowing users to post maps or share them with others. The application has the added benefit of being able to import and/or export files.
Conceptdraw: The notable part about this mind mapping tool is its integration with the widely used Microsoft Office suite. The application is heavily business focused with dozens of sample diagrams featuring mind maps for engineering, business, marketing, sales and networking.
By using intuitive mind mapping software to develop your business strategy for 2013, you can easily visualize your plan of action. Having a visual representation of your business or marketing plan allows you to easily scope a project and stay on track with your plan.
Creation of Video as a Marketing and Teaching Tool
Advancements in technology have made things like video creation extremely easy to do with relatively little knowledge of video editing. Video is a powerful tool for marketing to your audience and is one of the primary activities people online spend time with. Decent video editing software is very expensive with mainstream programs like Camtasia and Adobe Premiere Pro going for 300 to well over 1,000 dollars. There are however a variety of online video editing tools that are either free or of marginal cost compared to popular software packages.
Youtube: You may not have realized it but you can actually do some lite editing to videos from within Youtube. Video files must first be uploaded before they can be edited. You can perform simple tasks like inserting text, adding transitions and audio. Naturally this free service is very limited but if you just have small tweaks to perform; this tool should suffice.
Magisto: Some business owners may have no idea where to begin with editing a video. Magisto understands this and offers a unique service where users can simply upload their video footage and the software does the rest. You will have to create an account at the website and the service is free however videos remain hosted on the website. To get the premium download feature you will have to pay around 3 dollars (per video). The application also has an iPhone version and you can use the service through Youtube Create.
Video Toolbox: If you are looking for a web app that provides all the basic editing tasks of premium software packages, Video Toolbox is a great option. The application is free and allows users to upload video, cut and edit clips, add audio and transitions and you can even convert files. As with the other services you will have to create a free account when you get to the site.
People love video for a variety of reasons. It helps get a message across without a lot of effort on the user’s part, it is more fun to watch something than to read about it and many times a message is far more compelling when put into video form.
Marketing Channel Management
Naturally there are hundreds of things that small business owners will need to “manage” and when it comes to marketing their business online, social media is one thing that can have them torn in many different directions. Countless new social media sites are popping up all the time and even if a company is only present on a handful of them, managing these accounts can be tedious. If your business is active on a variety of social media platforms, it would behoove you to get a social media management application so all of your activity can be managed with one interface.
Hootsuite: This social media management tool has been out there for a while and it remains one of the most intuitive, inexpensive and easy to use applications on the market. You can sign up for a free account and there is integration with Facebook, Google Plus (for business pages), Twitter, Linkedin (personal and business pages), Foursquare, WordPress, Mixi and MySpace. With the free account you can manage social networks (i.e. post updates, comment, etc), schedule status updates, and run analytics reports. With the paid version (varies but basic account is around 5 bucks per month), you can add more users if you have multiple people managing social networks. You also get additional reporting features.
Vertical Response: This management tool is targeted at small business owners and is designed in a way that helps them even if they aren’t well acquainted with social media marketing. The notable part about Vertical Response Social is the way it combines social media marketing and email marketing under the same category. Users can easily integrate their social campaigns into their email efforts for a more consistent engagement effort with prospects and clients. There is no free version of the web application and plans start at about 18 dollars per month.
Sendible: For the more advanced social media savvy small business owner, there is Sendible. The platform provides for management of most major social media networks including Youtube, Digg and Instagram. You can also get powerful reporting features that measure things like engagement with content that you are sharing across networks or on a blog. The basic “Solo” plan starts at 9.99 per month and allows you to manage 8 services. The “Marketer” plan (which is probably what most small businesses that have an active presence on social media should start with) starts at 29.99 per month. The marketer plan allows you to manage 30 services and allows for access to reporting. Business and corporate plans are 69.99 and 99.99 per month respectively.
One of the most important aspects of engaging an audience through social media is being consistent and being available. Management tools like the ones listed above make those tasks easier to perform and reduce the chances that you will forget about one of your networks or construct a lopsided social media presence.
Promotion On and Off the Web
Social media, video and email are some of the methods already mentioned for promoting your business or website online. The internet has permeated our lives so much that you would be hard pressed to not find a way to promote a business online. PPC (Pay-per-Click), search advertising, SEO and affiliate marketing are other effective methods for promoting a business online. We would, however, like to share some methods for promoting your site on and offline apart from the ones just mentioned. I know, I know, this post is supposed to be about web applications so excuse me while I divert from the main topic a little.
Email signatures: Small business owners spend a lot of time emailing. For many businesses, this is their corporate communications strategy. Why not take advantage of it. If you don’t already, you should at the very least have your website URL in your email signature. You can also place a link to your social media presence or perhaps a landing page that you are trying to promote in your emails. Depending on your industry, click through rates for email signatures are probably not anywhere near the top of the list but this is an easy (and free) opportunity to promote your website or web presence.
Cross online/offline promotion: You can integrate online and offline promotions very easily. Some businesses will grow their online networks by placing links to social media accounts on offline promotions that require people to go online and like a page or follow an account in order to participate. Some businesses feature QR codes that link to in-store printable coupons. It doesn’t matter how you do it so long as whenever you do either an online or offline promotion, stop and think about how you can leverage that opportunity to enhance some other aspect of your marketing efforts.
Branding other touches: There are undoubtedly many other times when you are interacting with your customers that don’t relate to marketing. Things like sending invoices, confirmation emails, requests for quoting or pricing, customer service or support communication, company vehicles, and community involvement activities are all chances to promote your web presence or your business in general. Be careful, you don’t want to jam it down peoples’ throats but a subtle message such as having a marketing signature in support emails or having your URL on a company vehicle increases the amount of exposure you can get for your business.
Things like social media, email marketing, SEO, SEM, PPC and the like are all pretty standard (and powerful) ways of marketing a business online. It is also important to think of ways to increase the amount of exposure your business gets. Taking advantage of these opportunities for promotion and exposure could mean a few extra sales.
Metrics: Measuring Your Online Efforts
One of my favorite parts about web marketing is measuring the success (or failure) of the activities I take part in online. One of the best parts about this is, even if your campaign is a failure, you can get very detailed information on where you went right, or wrong. There are many advanced free and paid analytical platforms out there to help you gauge your success in the online world.
Google Analtyics: Yes this one is typically the first on anyone’s list of analytical tools. That is perhaps because it is one of the most powerful platforms that are also free. If you have been using Google to track your website for a while, you have noticed that the platform has come a long way. Those just getting into it will see that there is so much potential to measure every facet of performance from a website that it’s easy to paralyze yourself with information. Even with basic tracking setup, website owners and administrators can see how they are shaping up in search, which pages are the most popular on their site, whether or not their content is engaging, and more. With some more advanced configuration, it is easy to gauge the effectiveness of specific campaigns (whether online or offline). If you are good enough with programming code, the possibilities for tacking user behavior are almost limitless, like the ability to see whether visitors to your site are logged into one of the major social networks or not.
W3Counter: This analytical service touts itself as an intuitive and easy to use resource for website tracking. Currently there are both free and paid versions. The free account allows you to see a lot of the basic information you would expect and limits you to 5,000 page views across 10 different properties. It also has a pretty powerful real time tool that allows users to see a variety of information like browser, operating system, conversion rates, location and when visits began. If you are a WordPress user there is also a blog stats plugin that has some pretty cool features.
Clicky: There is the cutting edge and then there is the bleeding edge. Clicky offers all of the basic tracking users have come to expect but it also has some unique features that aren’t seen in other providers. My favorite is the heat map functionality. You can also look at pageviews by visitor which is a very powerful metric when doing highly targeted campaigns.
As with the start of many other new years, businesses have high minded ideas and goals for being successful. Hopefully you can check out some of the web applications outlined here and make some use of them in 2013. Components to being successful in almost any industry include having a well thought-out and defined strategy, managing your resources, having the right tools for creating and promoting as well as having access to data that helps you make decisions.
What web applications will your business rely on in 2013?