It’s hard to run a small business. As a small business, we know that well! As a provider of marketing services to office technology dealerships, many of them also considered small business, we also see it secondhand. Many employees do double duty and we’re always looking for any edge we can find to help us be more productive and improve how we do business.
There are many, many technology tools and applications that can help. I’ve selected a few to cover in this article that your office technology dealership can use to improve your productivity. All of these products are free to use, although some do have paid tiers for additional functionality.
Most folks think of a website when we mention WordPress. While you can certainly build your website using WordPress (there is a large pool of providers there), I’m talking specifically about WordPress as a blogging platform.
And you should be blogging. If you aren’t, start. Companies that blog grow web traffic more rapidly than those that don’t. More importantly, they gather more leads, faster, than companies that don’t blog. Briefly, here’s why.
Your blog should be an answer machine. Your service techs and sales reps get asked questions on a daily basis. Answer those questions as blog posts. Why? Today’s prospects are about 57 percent of the way through their buying cycle by the time they engage with you. Google is their source of answers, and Google is an answer machine. Use your WordPress blog to answer those questions (and use good basic SEO, like keywords) and you’ll begin to establish your dealership as an authority. More questions answered equals more authority equals a greater likelihood of becoming an online and trusted advisor to your prospects.
Sounds good, right? You can create a free WordPress blog in seconds.
Go to https://wordpress.com/ and select the center option, “Start a Blog.” From there, WordPress will walk you through a setup wizard.
Everyone takes notes in meetings. And then they remain in the individual’s notebook or as a Word document in their laptop. Wouldn’t it make sense to be able to collaborate and share each other’s notes after a meeting? We thought so too, so we all connected to each other in the Evernote platform. What’s Evernote? It’s a collaborative application for note taking.
Sign up for a free account and have your coworkers do the same. Then you can share “notes” and “notebooks” with entire teams. So if your internal accounting department typically has a weekly meeting with a scribe taking notes, instead of taking those notes in Word and sending around an email for everyone to save in a random folder on their personal drive, you can have a notebook shared by the accounting team with different “notes” for each weekly team meeting. These can all be accessed in the cloud by anyone, anywhere. Evernote is cloud-based so users can access it from their computers or an app (both Apple and Android). Access at any time without taking up company server space with duplicate content.
As far as email tools go, this one takes the cake. MailChimp is an email marketing tool that allows small business owners to easily upload their customer and prospect email list, lay out a professional email using pre-designed templates, and send an email communication to their databases.
Quick note: We recommend that you segment your email database based upon buyer persona and customize your message so that it is relevant to your target. Blanket emails with the same message to your entire database will likely result in high opt-out rates and will be ineffective in generating conversions.
The best part about this tool is that for dealerships with smaller lists, the tool is completely free. As your database grows, costs kick in, but it’s a great way to scale your email marketing as your business grows. If you’re sending under 12,000 emails and have an imported subscriber base of 2,000 or less, the tool is free.
Social media gets tossed around the copier dealer marketing world a lot, usually without really understanding how effective social can be as a piece of your marketing strategy. At the core, using social media is a way to show a more human face to your customers and potential customers while establishing you as a trusted resource.
Use social channels (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) to talk with your customers and share useful information – tips on growing their business (tying in your product/ service as appropriate), local happenings that may impact your audience, and educational articles that (again) focus on how your product or service might make their lives better.
Hootsuite makes this easy. Using Hootsuite, you can share to Twitter, LinkedIn (you can even publish to groups you’re a member of), and Facebook from a single dashboard (and the phone app is also easy to use). You can monitor, publish, schedule, and interact with your local customers and even global experts. Not having to log in to each social platform individually to manage your social publishing is a critical time saver.
The monitoring feature is a great way to keep track of Twitter lists and core keywords important to your business. You can create tabs for as many streams as you want to monitor. Want to share an informative blog article about how to spot toner pirates on your LinkedIn and Twitter accounts? Do it from Hootsuite. Hootsuite is a social media one-stop shop!
When posting a blog or sharing a tweet, images can make a huge impact in how people interact with your message. Research from Xerox reveals that colorful visuals will increase a person’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80 percent. Canva allows you to quickly and easily create beautiful images to accompany your blogs and social posts.
It has preformatted templates for all the different social media channels – no need to guess at the size to make the header of your LinkedIn long format post. Find or upload an image (if you fall in love with a Canva image, most are only $1), add it to the template, add any text you’d like, and then download. The basic functionality of Canva is VERY simple to learn and use. You can also use the tool to design posters, infographics, presentations, custom headers for email templates (that you can upload to use in your MailChimp emails), flyers — basically, if you need an image or design, you can use Canva.
Canva is awesome, but if you need an image fast (my record is about 45 seconds), Pablo is perfect. We like to add words to images – a teaser for a blog post, a quote, etc. – and Pablo is the easiest tool we’ve found to do this. Log in, load your image (or use one of theirs or a blank background), add a quote, and download. It really is that easy.
Slack is our team’s favorite tool. You may have even seen the TV commercial for it now. It’s a team communication solution with a ton of functionality (it’s similar to Yammer, which you Microsoft users may have heard of). At its core, it is a chat collaboration tool that you can segment into different channels by team, topic, client, or whatever you choose (we have an internal channel designed for random conversations).
For instance, if you’re working on a project to integrate your CRM with a marketing automation platform, you can have a channel created inside of Slack to have discussions, share documents and then easily go back and find conversations. We have a channel for each of our clients. That way, as we’re building out lead generation campaigns for clients, we can chat about those campaigns in the appropriate channel, keeping it neat and organized.
Channels can be public or private. Direct messaging others keeps one-to-one questions that other team members don’t need to see out of the main conversations. Slack can be downloaded and used as an application on your computer or you can log into it through a browser. As team members send chats, notifications can pop up and alert you that a team member has asked a question or posed a comment. It’s easy to share files on Slack. Drag and drop into the appropriate channel to instantly share with the folks subscribed to that channel. What sets Slack apart from other instant chat tools is its ability to integrate with other systems. For example, if your marketing team wants to know when a new subscriber signs up via MailChimp, a simple integration between Slack and MailChimp can create a popup alert notifying the team. Google Drive is another useful integration.
Slack also has a handy video chat tool. Type the command into a channel and you’re having a video conversation with a co-worker five seconds later. It’s fantastic for regular meetings and quick check-ins.
For sharing documents, Google Drive is hard to beat. It’s free to store up to 15 GB and ties easily into Google Docs, so you can collaborate by writing and editing online. We use it as an online archive to ensure that everyone on our team has access to all client documents from wherever they are. If you have an Internet connection, you can access Google Drive. For a small business, it can even be an alternative to using Microsoft Office (though we don’t actually recommend that).
While Skype can be used for group collaboration and one-to-one messaging, we prefer Slack. However, to communicate with customers with a quick ad-hoc call (video or just voice), especially when you want to do screen sharing, it’s a lot easier than having to set up a GoToMeeting event.
There you have it; nine free tools that you can use to give your marketing efforts a boost. No tool – free or paid – is a substitute for a plan. The best tool in the world won’t save an incoherent marketing plan. However, if you do have a great marketing plan in place, but lack budget, the nine tools on this list can help you successfully execute that plan. Good luck!
Contributor: Lindsay Kelley, Prospect Builder, www.prospectbuilder.net
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of The Imaging Channel.