8 free or cheap online resources for small business owners
As a small business owner, you have your eyes on the bottom line while still trying to grow. Especially in the climate we find ourselves in now with the Coronavirus pandemic, every dollar counts. We don't know what tomorrow will bring, so watching our spending is part of just trying to survive.
At the same time, we can't just hunker down and wait for it to pass, hoping we will just pick up where we left off. This season of uncertainty takes creativity, grit and, sure, some penny pinching. It means we need to pivot and do things differently than before. A lot of businesses are digging into online platforms to help them reach their customers.
I've collected a list of some of my favorite free or cheap online resources for small businesses, in the hopes it will help you thrive during this crazy time.
Note: This list includes referral links, which means by using the link, if you make a purchase, you get a discount and so do I. I only refer people to services I use and love.
Cost: Free single users
Asana is a project management tool that allows you to stay organized while overseeing multiple projects. You can add members of your team to projects and assign tasks to each person. Each project has a comment section so your conversations around each project stay in one place. It integrates easily with email.
What I love about Asana is the clean, simple interface that makes it user friendly for even the least tech savvy user.
Cost: $15 a month for bloggers or single users
Pinterest can be a huge source of traffic to your website, if you use it right. However, using it right can be time consuming. Tailwind makes pinning quick and easy and allows you to set up a schedule for your pins. It helps you find content to re-pin, so you can keep the pins flowing. It also has a networking feature called Tribes, which can be helpful for finding like-minded business owners you can exchange content with.
Tailwind also has an instagram scheduler, but I prefer Planoly (below). However, if you would like to keep your tools in one place, it might be a good option as well.
Cost: Free for one user and one account
Planoly is a scheduling tool for Instagram. But its usefulness goes beyond that.
Social media can be time consuming, and most of us don't have a lot of extra time to feed the various tools constantly. With Planoly, you can batch your Instagram posting by mapping out your content ahead of time. Planoly notifies you of when you have a post scheduled, and then you just follow the prompt to your Instagram page, where you copy in the caption. You can build sets of hashtags for that are relevant to your niche to add to each posts.
Anyone who loves Instagram knows the importance of a well-curated feed. By laying out your posts in advance, you can make sure your feed stays on brand. It also has a feature for story planning.
Cost: Free for under 1,000 subscribers; plans go up by $10-$15 for every 10,000 subscribers each month
Building a mailing list is an important part of online marketing. It is the only thing that you own. If Instagram changed its rules or reach tomorrow, your followers could mean less and less. But you will always have your email list.
I've heard great things about Convertkit, but the prices for that tool are higher. For those of you who are just getting started and need a free plan, I would recommend trying Mailer Lite. I find it much more user friendly that Mailchimp. It's templates and forms have nicer designs with more options.
You can send out automated sequences of emails to your followers based on various triggers.
Mailing list management can take some time and learning, but Mailer Lite is probably one of the more simple tools out there.
Creative Market is an online marketplace for digital goods such as fonts, patterns, photos, graphics and other goods you can use in your online marketing. Sometimes, you need something that looks professional and beautiful. They have a huge inventory of items at reasonable prices so you are sure to find something that matches your branding. The goods sold on Creative Market are sold by real graphic designers, artists, illustrators and photographers. By purchasing goods there, you will be supporting other small businesses. But Creative Market brings them all to one place so you don't have to go searching all over the web for something.
Cost: Free for a basic account
Canva is a simple online design platform that allows you to create graphics for social media, print items and wide variety of other things. Not everyone needs a subscription to Adobe Creative Suite. They have a variety of templates ready made so you can customize them to your brand. A basic account has some limitations, but if you upgrade to premium, you can store your brand colors and fonts in Canva and save templates to reuse.
One of my favorite things about Canva is it that it has all of the photo sizes preset for each social media platform, so you don't have to research what size to make your Facebook cover photo or Instagram feed photo.
If you are like me, inspiration strikes at inconvenient times. Evernote provides a place to collect ideas, take notes and keep links for later reading. You can label folders by category so you can easily find things you saved. Evernote has a browser extension that allows you to save something you are reading online right from your browser without opening the app.
Cost: Free for a basic email or $4 a month for a premium plan
Having a professional email address is important in business. It adds to your credibility when you address contains your website domain instead of gmail or another provider. But platforms that offer emails that connect to your domain can be expensive.
Zoho has a free and inexpensive plan that allows you to create an email account and connect it to your domain. The set up process can be a little tricky. But Zoho has tutorials that walk you through how to connect it depending on your domain host.
Hopefully even one or two of these is useful for you. I'm rooting for all of you small business owners as you navigate this uncertain time.
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