This is a new column focused on helping small business owners run their businesses more efficiently.
There are too many tools out there. Let’s face it. Many small business owners don’t have time to waste on tools that don’t work. This series will help you save money and improve productivity by providing results-proven tools that other business owners had success with.
This week we explore tools small business owners are using to organize internal data. We’ll also look at marketing tools that actually provide results for these small business owners. We'll look at the must-have tools of one small business success coach, a baked goods company and a winery.
THE Small Business Lady
New York Times small business columnist, author and coach, Melinda Emerson, known to her 178K followers as @SmallBizLady, told me via phone the number one mistake she sees small businesses make is impulse buying shiny new tech tools.
She said many small business owners buy more technology than they need. She recommends people wait six months to buy an app to ensure it’s user friendly and allow the small business owner to take a course in using the app if it’s needed.
Emerson believes that “while social media is dominating, email is still king.”
She recommends small business owners get an email marketing tool that doubles as a CRM. She encourages small business owners to check out Constant Contact, Infusion Soft or free email tool Mail Chimp.
Emerson wrote in a blog post How Twitter Changed My Life, “I joke with people all of the time that I work Twitter as if it were a job. But that is what is required to build an influential social media brand.”
As someone who uses social media frequently for marketing, she and her team use the pro version of HootSuite. She likes that people can respond easily and share information. This is important when she manages the popular Wednesday 8pm ET twitter chat she started #SmallBizChat.
Since Emerson’s team is geographically spread out, she knows the importance of a good collaboration tool and swears by Dropbox. She calls Dropbox “the best thing that ever happened to me.” She likes how easily she can store files and control and collaborate on iterations of her documents.
Lastly, for small businesses engaging in thought leadership Emerson recommends webinar tools. She has had good experiences conducting teleseminars on WebEx, GoToMeeting and Instant Teleseminar.
Kari Mansfield of Kari’s Desserts creates a popular south African dessert called “malva pudding” in addition to south African tea cakes. While Kari is the founder of her company, she still values face to face marketing with her customers. You can find her at Whole Foods on a given day providing samples of her delicacies. But driving all over the Bay Area can be taxing on Kari who is generally a one woman operation.
Kari lives in surf town Santa Cruz, California far from many of her resellers. She depends on marketing tools like Salesforce to maintain her accounts, and ensure she’s up to date on the current buyer for the store.
She said, “The buyers at Whole Foods are constantly changing, and I would die without Salesforce to keep track of them all.” She said, “It keeps everything so organized. I can continually update it.”
With the rotation in people responsible for orders, her ability to maintain and organize her contacts ensures sales success.
She said, “There’s a lot of stuff that gets missing with a small company before it gets on that shelf.” She doesn’t leave this to chance.
While Salesforce helps her track and nurture business relationships, she admits that the ordering process is not as tech savvy. She said most of her personal orders still come in via phone, email or even one customer who uses fax.
St. Supéry, under Russell’s marketing direction, has created a large following on social media channels. Russell says her favorite social media apps are Tweetdeck that she uses for Twitter and Facebook. She monitors the channels using a free social media tool for wineries, VinTank.
She uses Foursquare to support her trade accounts that include restaurants, retailers and fellow wineries that she supports. Russell knows the visual aspect of making wine and its appeal for St. Supéry fans. She leverages the visual component with Instagram to edit her photos.
With these tools it only takes a few people to make a big splash. She has only two people managing the social channels in addition to the St. Supéry CEO Emma Swain (@emmaswain) who tweets from her own profile.
All of these businesses are using technology as a way to simplify their data and processes and as a way to market their businesses.
Do you have a story to tell? Or do you know of a business that you think has something compelling to share around their technology? Drop me a line, you might just get featured in this column.