I know I am not alone with trying to do everything I can to improve what my business does, and even better do it on the cheap. Now just because something is cheap doesn’t mean its good. There are all kind of sites out there that offer “free” services but are still a HUGE timesink. Now I could do post about the tools I do pay for, but I would feel a need to explain the value a bit more than I do FREE tools.
Being picky about the tools you use is a good way to be, because spending more time on anything is money. Make sure what you choose to use is quick, useful, and never frustrating. Work can be frustrating enough, lets not add a second layer on with tools that are not easy to use. And with that being said, here are the free tools I use…. almost daily.
I am sure plenty of you have heard of mailchimp, a email marketing service where you can manage templates and email list. Did you know its free if you are under a certain number of subscribers? You can mail to up to 2,000 subscribers for free. For most small businesses 2,000 emails is way beyond what they need. Mailchimp continues to improve as time goes, I had used it years ago and was frustrated…. I came back 3 months ago, and I fell in love. To me a company that wants to be on your list of must haves is a company that listens, and they did. IF you have over 2,000 subscribers they are still very cheap to use, and with how safe they are about staying on a white list you can be sure your emails will make it to your customers.
A cartoonist friend turned me on to this, not cause of comic ideas… it was actually for saving receipts for taxes. He would take pictures of his receipts and sort them out with evernote. That is just one thing you can do with flexible app for your phone or desktop ( to me thats the nicest part syncing it all up ). Take notes, make tasks list, stay organized. You should always jot down a good idea, no matter where it hits. Put that cell phone plan to use, and use that phone to make a better you…. install evernote.
I ran across this the other day while I was reading a blog post, and I wanted to share it. Now buffer is nothing too crazy but if your looking to schedule post to linkedin / twitter / facebook. This will make it nice and easy, also it will let you know if anyone clicked it. I click a lot of links in a day, but I don’t always hit “like” or “comment”, so this will catch people like me so you can see if your wasting your time.
Now speaking of twitter, some of you may have no interest in twitter and thats fine scroll on. For those who do use twitter… just unfollow lets you see how many people follow you back, but more importantly it lets you see whos following your competitor. So if you head to justunfollow.com and put in your competitors twitter name you can scroll down a list making a first impression “The Taco Hut” is now following you on twitter. A lot of people will be like “oh whats this taco place about”, and now you have a new customer. IF I had a pizza place, I would do this. Not just to other pizza places but think about where your customers go, like Plymouth state college.
With all your new twitter followers you might be getting some extra traffic to your site. Thankfully Google has made one of the best stat tracking systems for websites. In the last year they have made huge improvements to their mobile app for looking at your stats, which is a huge help when you have a bit of downtime and just want to see if there is an increase of traffic from you mailchimp campaign, or tweets about your businesses “$.50 taco night” promo. If you are working on SEO and marketing in certain areas of your region, you can see the response on stats by location map. Google also gives more insight if you sign up to Google Webmaster tools which again is free.
Websites, yes I make them, and yes I will tell you a lot of times almost anyone can make a pretty website and manage it with one of the most developed CMS ( Content Management Systems ) WordPress. I recently had someone ask me “Really wordpress is free”. Yes its free, and its a great tool. If you want to improve that website of yours, its a quick and easy set up, and some places like themeforest.com will give you a nice theme for around $60. The reason people still need web developers for small sites that can be built with wordpress is time. I could change my oil, but its going to take me 3 hours, and its gonna be messy. I prefer to just go to a local shop and get my car back in 20 minutes. Most kind hearted developers will make sure your site has everything you need, and looks just how you wanted and then they will give you access to the WordPress. Easy to update, but also easy to make a mistake, so if you do run on WordPress Educate yourself. WordPress also has amazing plugins for free, mailchimp even has a plugin so you can get that mailing list growing. I would also suggest grabbing jetpack from wordpress which is also free, its a great resource to tracking stats and making your site sharable.
The first bit of editing for your wordpress might be some CSS ( Cascading Style Sheet ), this changes how elements ( text, links, tables ) look on your site. Don’t feel intimidated especially with sites like Codecademy in your arsenal. The site will walk you through step by step with visual examples so you can take a step closer to never having to call a web dev again. Just remember to back up your wordpress / website so that you can always roll back to where you were happiest.
Designing is not always just CSS, even though you can do a lot with it. This one is a must have tho, dafont.com is a great resource when putting together flyers, webpages or print graphics. Spicing up a bland flyer sometimes just takes the right font. If you grab a font just double check the usage rights. Now if you are strictly using fonts for web stuff and you know the basics on CSS, you might want to check out Google fonts. Again its free, and a great resource. I just used it on a recent project and am pretty happy with how fast it loaded, and how perfect it looked.
I hope you find as much use in these tools as I have found. If you took each of them away I would find myself still working on the same projects from a year ago, trying to catch up. Take advantage of them, and get that head start you need on your competition.