8 free must-have internet tools and applications for your business

So you run a business but the web is still a scary place, right? Well, here’s 8 free internet business tools you should be using right now.

On offer are web applications and internet tools specifically chosen for business people who’re on the move and need to make the most of their time, with the least expenditure of effort.

Google Local Business Center

Think of all those times you’ve gone onto Google and searched for: “car repairs Sheffield”, or: “plumbers Oxford”, and then you see the map to the left with a list of results to the right.

Here’s a chance for your business to get itself some free exposure, so the next time someone does a search for what you do in your area, you stand a great chance of being found. Pay a visit to the Google Local Business Center. If you don’t already have a Google Account, get one, sign up and add your company’s details for your free listing:

“Use the Local Business Center to create your free listing. When potential customers search Maps for local information, they’ll find your business: your address, hours of operation, even photos of your storefront or products. It’s easy, free, and you don’t need a website of your own.”

If you want your business to be found, a little search engine marketing can go a long way.

Facebook

Facebook might not seem like the obvious choice for a business tool, but there’s so much to Facebook, it’s difficult to ignore the potential.

Facebook even has its own advertising tools, which I’ve heard good things about. But it’s a must for you to know your target audience before spending a single penny, or every penny you spend might just be wasted.

Then there’s the Groups and Pages, which you can use to create a simple presence for your business, if you don’t have a website, or even if you have! The benefit here is that people can join and follow you, leaving messages and befriending you. Also, you can send group messages to all your followers, much like you would if you were making an announcement.

Facebook is also (as you might expect) a really good way to gather all of your family, friends, colleagues and clients into one place, keeping everyone up to date with what you’re doing, where you’ve been et cetera.

There’s no doubting the enormity to Facebook, but I really would recommend you persist and reap the rewards.

For those who’re new, TechRader offer an short introductory guide to Facebook. Also, if you’re totally new to social networking and social media, then I recommend you read my free ebook: The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media.

Google Docs

Yes, yet another Google tool. Trust me, this collection of office productivity tools are an excellent adjunct, or depending on your circumstances / needs, a replacement to Microsoft Office.

Google Docs consists of 3 applications; Documents, Presentations and Spreadsheets. As you can see, there’s an obvious correlation between Google Docs and Microsoft Office, which will no doubt ease the transition.

You can even open existing Word, Powerpoint and Excel files using Google Docs, as well as saving out / exporting as those formats, too.

The major benefit here is that you can access your documents from anywhere there’s a web connection. In addition, you can share your documents with colleagues, all editing the same documents at the same time.

Want to know more? Then have a look at the Google Docs guided tour.

Skype

If you’re serious about reducing your phone bill, then I highly recommend using Skype for voice calls and video conferences. If you know of anyone else using Skype, you can call them direct, either by voice or video for free. However, you do need a broadband connection to make the most of Skype.

You’ll need to install Skype onto your computer and register with them for a username. You can also get yourself a number, as well as buy credits to make calls to fixed land lines and mobile phones.

It’s worth mentioning that international calls are appreciably cheaper than with most mainstream providers, so it’s ideal for cross-continent conference calls, or for calling friends & family abroad.

Skype is also a great tool for text chats, as you might do on your mobile phone. In addition, you can send files to your recipients, which could be individuals or groups of people.

I use Skype myself all the time!

Google Gmail

OK, one more Google application. I think it’s fair to say that Google are producing some of the best productivity software right now, which is why you’re seeing 3 of their packages listed here right now.

Gmail is Google’s very own email client. To get you going, you get 7 gigabytes of storage, which is a handsome amount of space, easily enough for large email attachments. Imagine never having to delete an email again!

To help you sort all incoming mail based on a wide range of criteria, there’s Labels & Filters, so you can find all your emails quick and easy.

Related emails are grouped into “conversations”, so you can see an email conversation in its entirity, from the first to the last, even over weeks / months worth of emailing back and forth between friends, colleagues, family, clients et cetera.

You can collect email from any other email accounts (POP3 type accounts), so you can use Gmail as a central depositry for your emails, or even as a backup option for other email accounts.

You get a junk (or spam) filter, which grabs all of the crap you get sent, which are placed in a safe folder for later review. Additionally, the junk email filter is a good learner; able to figure our new kinds of junk, and sort them from genuine emails.

For power email users, Gmail can be set up as forwarder onto another account, or you can just set rules to forward specific emails to another email address, which is great for website / support contacts, checking for keywords / rules and sending copies to other people to ensure you never lose that customer because someone was out of the office or was away from their email.

Remember the Milk and Wipee List

Why the double listing? Based on the people I know, these two to-do list applications are highly prized as serious productivity tools.

Put simply, Remember the Milk and Wipee List are to-do list web applications to help you keep your life and business in check. Both boast a slew of features, but Remember the Milk may just edge things by having a version for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch, plus a few more extra features for you to play around with.

And because these are web applications, you can access them from wherever you an internet connection — ideal for people who’re always on the move.

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox is a web browser that is growing in popularity. It’s an alternative to Microsoft Internet Explorer and sports some very interesting features.

To ease the transition, the first time you install Firefox, you’ll be walked through a import option, which grabs all of your stuff in Internet Explorer and imports them into Firefox.

If you’re using Internet Explorer 7, you should be very familiar with the feel, such as the tabs, for example. Tabs are different windows within each window, so you can have multiple websites open in the same window. Ideal for people who’re busy working on different websites, or who’re into social media & social networking, like I am.

Firefox is also generally much more secure than Internet Explorer, which is essential in these strange times of scams, hoax websites and “phishing” exploits.

Firefox is also faster at leading web pages and supports a wider range of web standards; shared rules that dictate the layout and functionality of web pages. So you’re less likely to see a web page look strange, or not load properly.

And finally, and arguably Firefox’s biggest feature, the Add-ons. You install Add-ons which then enable Firefox to do things not natively supported. There are literally thousands of Add-ons for Firefox that do all kinds of things, many of which are productivity tools in their own right. However, the quality can be variable, so be careful. Some can Firefox unstable.

To get you started, here are 10 Add-ons for Firefox, which should point you in the right direction.

Conclusion

A lot of business people still suffer from web allergies, so this article is my attempt at an internet analgesic, to help you surf more easily, without the sniffs, gasps and groans!


Hungry for success? Quality is a key ingredient

Quality is one of those things we sometimes take for granted, or simply neglect. Don’t. Quality has to be at the very heart of your business.

Quality control — food for thought?

On visiting a client of mine a couple of years ago, he asked if we’d like lunch. Since it was due to be a long meeting, discussing the future of their website (which was to be re-built as a Content Management System, so they could manage the website themselves), we said yes and he gave instructions to a senior secretary to get sandwiches. He also gave her explicit instructions to not use the local sandwich shop nearby. As she left, he then began to explain why.

You see, he once bought a sandwich that had, secreted within the folds of meat and salad, a long black hair. For most, that’s the moment you throw the sandwich into a bin. For the local sandwich shop, that was also the moment they lost a huge amount of repeat trade.

When poor service leaves a bitter after taste

In my mind at least, this incident was merely the fall out from something much more serious, and that’s a lack of customer care. The guys at the sandwich shop must have been aware that a local company was spending a lot of money with them, so why not sweeten the deal? When I say “local company”, I mean a head office for a multi-national business, employing hundreds of people.

My client was vocal in his protestations, and the moment the hair-in-sandwich story got around, well guess what? Most of the office staff followed suit and never bought another morsel of food from those guys again.

Customer care — eating humble pie?

If the guys at the sandwich shop had been more attentive, instead of my client simply stopping buying from them, he may have felt compelled to have called them to explain what he’d found in his sandwich. At which point, said sandwich shop should have ensured the next time they wanted food, it would either be steeply discounted, or even free.

And you know what would have helped precipitate this more positive outcome? Just saying “Hi!” to my client when he walked into their sandwich shop.

By all accounts, that never happened. Not once. Not what I’d call a recipe for success…


Ebook: The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media

The Beginners Guide to Social Media ebook cover graphicThe Beginners Guide to Social Media: an introduction to social media from a business perspective, is my new and free social media ebook, ready to download right now.

Lots of businesses around the world are struggling to understand what social media is, what it offers and what it means for their business. My new ebook will help demystify social media, helping you understand how to incorporate social media into your business:

“My eBook, The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media is your introduction to social media for businesses. This 35 page illustrated eBook is packed with advice and years of practical social media know-how and hard-earned business experience.”

Here’s just some of the many benefits of understanding social media for businesses:

  • Find out what Facebook can do for your business
  • Discover how blogging can benefit your business
  • Learn how to optimize your business website or blog for social media
  • Read what your customers are saying about your business
  • Track and monitor topics and trends in your industry
  • Maximize your business presence on the web
  • Get to know all of the top websites to promote your business

In addition to the ebook, there’s a blog, which I hope will become a good place to share all of the simple social media hints & tips I come across during my travels.

Right now, there’s three articles, discussing how to make the best of Google Alerts, Google Trends, and a discussion detailing the benefits of having a business blog.

Questions? I imagine so. That’s why I’ve written an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page, to help you along.

Download ebook

To download my new ebook, just follow the link, fill out the response form and then follow the download instructions.

If you know of any friends or family members who’re in business, but unsure about social media, please feel free to tell them about my ebook and send them the link!


How saying “No thanks!” can be expensive, but not the way you think

We can’t always say “Yes!” to every offer of work. I know this only too well. And sometimes, saying “No thanks!” can be costly to you, but an educational process to someone else.

While this situation doesn’t occur that often, it’s certainly happened often enough for me to consider how expensive saying “No thanks!” can be.

Back in September, I talked about the power of saying “No” to clients, and how it’s not always automatically a bad thing. The thing is, saying “No thanks!” is slightly different and not always as straight forward as it appears to be.

I had an offer of work, all of which came in the form of a Microsoft Word file. The problem was, the file was in a terrible state and would require an inordinate amount of effort to fix the layout before it could be turned into something usable.

The ROI (Return on Investment) of giving away business knowledge

For me, at the the quoting stage, I was presented with a clear problem; how do I communicate to the prospective client the amount of work required to knock the Word file into shape?

The prospective client would want to know why it was going to be at least a day of my time just re-working the layout. So their question to me would then require at least some kind of explanation of layout and the design process. For me to say “No thanks!” could easily turn into an expensive educational process with a question return on my investment.

For a prospective client that I’m trying to say “No thanks!” to, I could easily spend an hour of my time, which isn’t going to be paid for. Now, you could argue that having explained this to the prospective client, they could make the decision to go with my advice. However, at the time, they’d made it clear the layout wasn’t a priority. But for me to even use the content of the Word file, the layout most definitely was a priority!

This is just one example, but when you sit down and think of all the times that prospective clients catch you on the phone and the conversation drifts into an exploratory, partially educational process, for them to just say “No thanks!” to you, that’s yet another avenue for lost, non-billable time.

Business education as an investment?

Now, the situation is totally different when it comes to existing clients. I think educating clients is part & parcel of what I do, since my role is more a consultancy and partner than being a mere supplier. I’m happy to invest my knowledge into my clients because I’m confident that the effort will result in additional work over the long-term, as well as increasing their value in me.

An existing client clearly has some trust in you, so they’re going to value your knowledge. And they’ll value your knowledge all the more once you’re able provide demonstrable evidence, with results.

As a legitimate business activity, earning trust should play a major role.

Of course, you need to keep things simple and not give too much away. Revealing too much about what you do can be as harmful as not saying enough. Ideally, you’re trying to minimize the amount of thinking your client needs to do.

The take-away advice here is to be aware of the time you’re spending saying “No thanks!” and how you choose to walk away from project estimates. But also be aware that giving your knowledge to existing clients could be a valuable investment.


New social media ebook pre-announcement

In lieu of the launch of my new ebook, entitled: “The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media — An introduction to social media from a business perspective”, I’d like to just explain a little about why I decided to write such a book in the first place.

I’ve been writing about social media from a business point of view quite some time. Back in June, I posted an article explaining in brief what social media is, which came out of some ideas I was playing around with at the time.

When I look around the business community, I see a lot of people talking about social media, but having little idea what it entails, or how social media can properly benefit their business.

There’s a lot to know about social media — certainly from a business point of view — which is hard to capture and commit to memory, just from catching conversations and the odd blog article here & there.

Writing a book about social media for business

With that as a backdrop, I decided to write, what was at the time, a simple presentation. After giving it some more thought, I realized a presentation just wasn’t enough to do the subject the kind of justice it deserved, or to give business people a real taste for / of social media. So I decided to flesh the presentation out into a full-blown book.

The book is broken down into 4 main parts, which are:

  1. What is social media?
  2. What does social media do?
  3. How can social media impact on your business?
  4. Optimizing for social media

To some extent, I’ve been fortunate enough to have written about many of the key themes and elements of the book on the Blah, Blah! Technology blog, such as Social Media & Social Networking and SMO (Social Media Optimization) & SMM (Social Media Marketing), over the last couple of years.

I’m really, really pleased with the book so far. And the feedback I’ve had from those who’ve been kind enough to proof read my book has been fantastic. Over the next month or so, I’ll be building a social media marketing campaign of my own around my ebook, to promote it as far and as wide as possible.

I’m still not sure whether I want to sell the book, or offer it for free. However, most people seem to think I should charge something, so that seems to be the direction I’m leaning towards for the time being.

Rather than give an exact launch date, I’m just going to keep working on the book until I’m 100% happy with it, and then take it from there. But writing a book is a very different proposition to then launching and publicizing it, which is something I’ve never done before. So it’s going to be a lot learning!

So stay tuned and watch out for my brand new social media book, coming soon…