Here are 5 free online tools I couldn't live without when it comes to running my business. These tools have helped me understand who my customers are and where to find them, brought me countless new business opportunities and have saved me many wasted hours of unnecessary admin.
Is your business missing a trick by not using the right tools? Find out what they are and how they can help you grow your independent business.
Online Tool #1 Trello
I really don’t know where I would be without Trello! I not only rely on it heavily for the organisation of my business but I also use it to manage my life in general. If you love a list then Trello is for you. It is a project management tool where projects are organised on boards and cards. Imagine a digital version of a wall covered in post its!
You can organise each board in whichever way works best for you and the cards allow attachments, checklists, due dates and much more to be added. The best part is that there’s no limit to the number of boards you can create. As someone who runs multiple consecutive projects it’s an absolute lifesaver.
It’s also a great way to collaborate and brainstorm with others on projects. I create a unique Trello board for each of my clients and we use this as a way to communicate and share ideas. I love it because it means all communications are kept in one place and information doesn’t get lost in emails. I use the app whilst on the go which syncs with the web app ensuring all of my projects are up to date no matter where I am.
If you’re just starting out there are loads of templates available to get you started and if you want to take your project management to the next level there’s a multitude of clever integrations and automations you can use.
Use it for:
Sign up for free here: https://trello.com/signup
Online Tool #2 Canva
Not everyone has the budget for a graphic designer to create beautiful brand communications on their behalf. If you are one of these people Canva is your saviour. It’s a simplified graphic-design tool, which uses a drag-and-drop format and provides access to photographs, vector images, graphics, and fonts. It also allows you to import your own images and logos in order to personalise your creations.
There are thousands of templates, which can be customised to fit your brand or if you want to design something from scratch simply enter the dimensions of your design and work from a blank canvas. All of your designs are saved and can be used as templates for future communications.
Use it for:
· Social media content creation
· Printed materials (e.g. brochures, flyers, price lists)
· Business stationary (e.g. business cards, letterheads, invoices)
· Web ads (e.g. display banners, skyscrapers, leaderboards)
Sign up for free here: https://www.canva.com/signup
Online Tool #3 Google Analytics
If you have a website for your business then Google Analytics should be an every day feature of your working routine. It allows you to see how much traffic you’re getting to your website and where it’s coming from (and a whole lot more).
This data allows you to shape your marketing strategy based on who your customers are and how they are actually behaving, not just on guess work.
Not only that, it can quickly help to identify website and marketing issues as it shows performance vs previous days, weeks and years. If traffic is considerably lower you can look to find the source and remedy it. Conversely if traffic is much higher you can find where it came from and replicate the success.
A great feature is being able to create custom reports and dashboards showing you the information most important for your business. This is done using a simple drag and drop tool. Another highly useful feature is the internal site search. This allows you to see what potential customers are searching for once they land on your site providing incredible insight into their preferences.
It’s super easy to implement, just set up a Google Analytics account and copy a simple piece of code onto your website. I find the app really useful as it allows me to instantly access an overview of web activity at a glance whilst out and about.
Use it for:
· Understanding your audience
· Informing marketing decisions
· Checking website performance
Sign up for free here: https://analytics.google.com/analytics/web/provision/#/provision/create
Online Tool #4 Mailchimp
Emails are a great way to keep in touch with clients and an even better way to nurture and introduce potential clients to your business and its services. I use emails to share my news, promotions and launches with my audience and I’ve found it an incredibly useful tool from which many of my business relationships have been formed.
The Mailchimp platform is really easy to use. Its drag and drop email builder makes creating smart email campaigns easy, and if you’re looking for some guidance there are plenty of pre-made templates which can be adapted to fit your message and brand.
The platform also offers excellent reporting meaning you can see how engaged your audience are with your content. You can see who has opened your email and how many times, the click through rate to your website, the areas of the email most engaged with and much, much more.
As emails have been proven to be the most cost effective way to convert potential customers this should be a key focus for your business. Mailchimp offer a “forever free” plan meaning you can send up to 10,000 emails a month to up to 2,000 subscribers without having to pay a thing.
Use it for:
· Email sign up forms
· Email marketing
· Bespoke landing pages
Sign up for free here: https://login.mailchimp.com/signup/
Online Tool #5 Hootsuite
When you’re busy running your business it can seem like an impossible task to consistently create and post exciting content to your social media channels. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete all of the tasks you have on your to do list, let alone time to create, edit, post and interact with your audience on your social media channels.
This is where Hootsuite comes in. It’s a social media scheduling tool that allows you to create and schedule posts in advance across all of your social media channels. You can set aside a few hours, one day per week to plan, prepare and schedule your posts for the coming week. This way your content is always fresh and you don’t need to worry or think about what to post each day.
The platform also allows you to follow up to 30 hashtags in “streams” giving you an overview of what’s going on in your business niche or geographical area. This is a really simple way to track your competitors activity too.
Social media is too big an opportunity to be missed and the key to success is quality and consistency. By delivering high quality, well thought through content to your audience day after day you will reap the rewards. The majority of my clients find me via Instagram or Facebook so I can vouch for these channels being worth the time and effort.
Use it for:
· Creating a content library of imagery / video
· Social media post scheduling
· Tracking hashtags
· Tracking mentions
Try if for free here: https://hootsuite.com/en-gb/plans/free-offerings