Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Basement to Boardroom" March 6, 2012
Who doesn't like the word free? I know I sure do. The great thing about being an entrepreneur these days is the huge variety of free or low-cost online business tools out there to help keep everything organized and your company running smoothly. It seems like every day I hear or read about a shiny new app or service promising to save me time and money. It's hard to resist saying, "Sign me up!" … Especially if it's free.
Here are seven free (or next to free) business tools that I can't live without:
Animoto - We've all heard how video can increase engagement with customers and attract more eyeballs than just text and pictures alone. But getting a video produced can be pretty expensive. About a year ago, I needed to create a quick video for an employee get-together. I hopped onto Animoto, uploaded a bunch of employee photos, selected a music track from my library and voila! Everyone loved it, and I didn't need any fancy video editing software. Cost: Tiered pricing, beginning at free
UserVoice - With UserVoice, small businesses can quickly set up a feedback forum and/or helpdesk where customers can submit (and you can track) customer support tickets. This is especially useful if you aren't at a point in your business where you can have a customer support team or call center. You want your customers to air their concerns in a place you have complete access and control over, versus a third-party forum, as much as you can. Cost: Tiered pricing, beginning at free
Roost - Full disclosure: My company, VerticalResponse, recently acquired Roost … largely because it has a strong reputation for being a super easy social media marketing tool for small businesses. With Roost, you can view and schedule your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn posts in advance. It also provides suggested content, like news articles and quotes, based on your industry and interests – so you don't have to waste time searching. Cost: Free
Evernote - I admit, until January of this year I was one of those people who still jotted down notes and ideas on paper. One of my resolutions for 2012 was to organize all my thoughts via Evernote, and now I'm addicted. I have it open all the time on my computer, and the iPhone mobile app is a breeze to use whenever I'm on the road and see or think of something I want to follow up on later. Side benefit: I can clip recipes from the Web and have the ingredients list on my iPhone when I'm at the store. Cost: Free for basic version
Join.me - Virtual meeting providers like WebEx and GoToMeeting certainly offer lots of bells and whistles (with price points that show it), but there are others out there that offer similar features – for the cool price of free. With Join.me, viewers just have to type in your code onto the Join.me home page for instant access to your screen, no app for them to download required. Cost: Free for basic version
Instagram and Postagram - Think Instagram is just for hipsters? Think again. The ability for someone to follow, comment or share photos in your Instagram gallery is another way for people to engage with your content – especially if Instagram's artsy aesthetic reflects your brand. And with Postagram, you can send those cool photos in postcard form – a blend of old-school and new, and another great opportunity to get in front of customers in a pleasantly surprising way. Cost: Free for Instagram, 99 cents per Postagram postcard
Granted, there are countless tools that I've tried out and for various reasons, and they just keep comin'. Just like a good pair of jeans, you might need to do some shopping around to find the ones that truly are a great fit for you.
What business tools are in your everyday arsenal, and how have they improved your life?