When I looked at my e-mail and saw a message from MSNBC, I thought it was spam. MSNBC wanted to know if I would consider participating in a web series that paired entrepreneurs with small business mentors. I would be one of the mentors in addition to Tony Hawk and Daisy Fuentes. There was just one problem – MSNBC wanted to bring a camera crew to my offices along with a fledgling entrepreneur to see how my team and I produced Strategy Stew, DIYMarketers and our “get-chosen” strategies for clients! The producer was surprised to find out that my entire enterprise consisted of me and my staff of myself and I.
That didn’t make for a good web series – but it made me think about how your small business can look big with a budget that’s small. The answer is to stay on top of up-and-coming trends and to take advantage of fledgling tools and technologies while they are still early in their start-up phase. This way, you get to know the entrepreneurs behind the business and get to try the tools while they are still either free or offered at low introductory rates.
So rather than have you sift through the internet for these folks, I’m going to share my list of the companies that I’ve been watching and playing with as they’ve made in-roads into providing services for small business.
1. Bizmore: If you’ve got a question about your business, your career, your money or your people don’t spend thousands on a consultant – head over to www.Bizmore.com and put your question to the dozens the best brains in their field – for FREE. Bizmore is a subsidiary of Vistage – and that means their experts are qualified and have been where you are and survived.
2. Fanminder: If you’ve been thinking that mobile marketing is beyond your budget and your technical skill set – think again. Fanminder makes mobile marketing totally accessible for those of us who want to use the latest marketing tools – without all the complexities and costs.
3. Socialight: Location based applications are a must-do for any business-to-consumer enterprise. Your customers are walking around with phones looking for products and services – and you can’t afford not to be on their radar. Now any company or brand that wants to build content through their local community can do it easily with Socialight.
4. Re-Targeter: Nothing makes your brand look bigger than when it’s spotted on expensive digital real estate like CNN. Even more impressive is when your customer sees your ad on expensive ad space after they’ve visited your site – a coincidence? No. Re-Targeter! For a small monthly fee (really) your ad will “stick” to your web visitors and follow them across their web travels. Their latest release is Fan Re-Targeter. When a visitor comes to your site, they pick up a cookie code and if they are signed into Facebook, they see an ad for your fan page – and join! I don’t often advocate spending on ads – but this impression builder is priceless.
5. Tungle: Use Tungle and you will schedule your next meeting (with any number of people) with only one e-mail. No more toggling between calendars and going back and forth. Tungle connects with your calendar and lets everyone choose their available dates and times and then magically – voila! Meeting scheduled – painlessly! Tungle is still FREE and no registration is required. But I promise you, use Tungle once and you’ll be hooked.
6. QuestionPro: There are dozens of free and affordable online survey tools. QuestionPro offers dozens of cutting edge question-types, like Net Promoter Score which measures customer loyalty and profitability and Importance/Satisfaction questions to help you put your resources where they make the most impact. Also check out IdeaScale and start using the power of your customer feedback to improve your sites, products and services.
7. Extreme Member: If you’re an expert in a market niche, then a membership or subscription site is a great way to create a new revenue stream for yourself and an active community for your audience. Extreme Member is a hosted, WordPress based service that lets you focus on creating expert content while the Extreme Member team takes care of the shopping cart, affiliate marketing, list maintenance and all the other details that make a membership site tick.
8. Infusionsoft: Direct marketing is a terrific strategy. But managing multi-touch campaigns that contain autoresponders can get complicated; not to mention embarrassing if a prospect purchases something – then gets an e-mail or letter that continues to sell them. InfusionSoft is the answer – and now it’s even affordable enough for small business. Their new interactive design newsletter templates are WYSIWYG – even to the point of color-matching the template based on your uploaded picture!
Use these eight tools and don’t be surprised when your customers start to see you as being a big company with the personal touch.
What are some of the secret tools you use that make you bigger and better?
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Ivana Taylor is CEO of Third Force, a strategic firm that helps small businesses get and keep their ideal customer. She’s the co-author of the book “Excel for Marketing Managers” and proprietor of DIYMarketers a site for in-house marketers. Her blog is Strategy Stew.