Let These Web Tools (Mostly Free) Work For You To Grow Your Business

Of the infinite resources available on the Internet, there is still nothing better than FREE. Below are 12 (mostly) free tools that can help build your business:

  1. 1M/1M offers access to the extensive startup network and collective knowledge in Silicon Valley to entrepreneurs everywhere. This is a truly interesting source for “starter uppers” to talk about branding, positioning, financing or anything else entrepreneurial.
  2. Want to merge your brand into the social networks within your industry? Instead of searching the hundreds of thousands of Twitter hashtags,newswhip.com does that for you. This site aggregates the overwhelming volume of topical discussions and delivers the most popular ones to you so that you know who to start a conversation with. You can also type in your name or Twitter handle and see how influential you are — or not.
  3. Looking for another revenue stream? Skimlinks will measure and implement affiliate-marketing links not only on your website but also on your RSS, Twitter and Facebook feeds. This handy tool turns links and keywords on your site into their equivalent affiliate links, thus allowing you to focus on more pertinent content: your business.
  4. For those startups who collaborate over graphics, try Lucidchart, a sort of Google Docs for visual projects. You can build collective mind maps, flow charts or anything else your graphics-based heart desires.
  5. Graphic designers have a broad range of services, fees and (sometimes) attitudes, which is why finding the right one for you is as much a cost to your wallet as it is to your emotions. Cool Text generates free graphics for web pages or logos without overburdening you with the design work. Simply choose what kind of image you like, fill out a form, and your custom-made image will be created right then and there.
  6. Needtagger allows you to find a target audience on Twitter based on your product or service. You can set filters for like-minded people in your industry and build a followership of potential customers based on your business.
  7. Bright Journey offers a collection of startup knowledge from extremely successful entrepreneurs around the globe with the intent of sharing their expertise with others. Users post questions and the best answers are voted to the top.
  8. Want to know where your website stands along a grade scale? Go to Hubspot’s marketing grader and see where you rank in terms of effectiveness. It will measure your blogging, SEO, lead generation and more.
  9. While Fiverr may not be free, it’s pretty darn close. You can buy and/or sell anything for $5. From writing a blog headline, generating an “About Us” page on your website, to drawing a cartoon character, fiverr.com is a one-stop-shop for anything under $5.
  10. Looking for an elegant digital or print layout for a magazine or company newsletter? LucidPress is an easy-to-use resource that offers drag-and-drop capability, making video, text or photo layout much easier.
  11. CreativeLive hosts video classes spanning five different categories: photo and video, art and design, music and audio, craft and maker and money and life. Videos are free and there’s even a calendar to peruse for upcoming content.
  12. Of course, no list of websites is complete without the resident Google tool.Google for Entrepreneurs is another pool of insider knowledge with free videos of instruction, such as learning how to brand yourself from Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, and more.
Advertisements

Work Smart: These Business Productivity Apps Will Help You To Do That

You’re busy–you have a business to run, payroll to make, products to refine, innovations to … well, innovate.

Marketing is what happens between all that–which is why it makes sense to get help from mobile applications that can simplify and organize your efforts. Here’s a dozen of supersmart business productivity and marketing apps for the real-world entrepreneur.

  1. 30/30 (Free)
    If you’re struggling to accomplish a difficult task, give it your full attention for 30 minutes, then take a 30-minute break to recover and refocus. The 30/30 app uses that rule to increase productivity by helping you organize and manage your tasks and timing so you stay on track.
    Great for: writing content or copy, responding to e-mails or doing anything you tend to put off.
  2. Cal (Free)
    Cal offers an aesthetically pleasing interface with integrated functions that tie in your contacts and social media accounts.
    Great for: keeping a packed schedule organized, without feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Pocket (Free)
    Content overload isn’t just a clich?; it’s a real problem. Use Pocket to save interesting articles, videos and more from the web to read or watch later. Once saved to the app, the list of content is visible on any device, at any time–even when you’re offline.
    Great for: staying up to speed on news and industry issues. It also allows you to share an article you’re reading on Pocket directly to Twitter, with no need to go back to the original link or to the Twitter app.
  4. Buffer (Free)
    Buffer allows you to easily manage your social media accounts from one interface. Share news and links to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ in real time, or use it to schedule tweets and retweets. It offers a nice analytic back-end, as well.
    Great for: easily managing social profiles with an all-in-one interface (though I’m not really a fan of scheduled tweets).
  5. Mention (Free for one alert, $9.99 per month for two)
    An alternative to Google Alerts, Mention ensures that you don’t miss a thing on the web or social media. It tracks keywords and delivers instant updates to help you quickly react, collaborate and analyze your online presence in real time.
    Great for: a robust view of who’s talking about you or the things you care about.
  6. Evernote (Free)
    This popular app is a way to capture and organize ideas, links and notes–like a virtual Moleskin. But unlike its paper brethren, Evernote syncs across your desktop and mobile devices to give you ready access to your stuff.
    Great for: collecting things. A caveat: It’s so easy to use that you might find yourself becoming a digital pack rat, with too much stuff. I’ve learned to resist the urge to save everything to Evernote.
  7. Dropbox (Free or subscription)
    The ubiquitous collaboration and file-sharing tool, for both mobile and desktop.
    Great for: moving large files around and sharing them within your own devices or with others on your team. Also great for keeping track of and accessing files.
  8. CardMunch (Free)
    Snap a photo of a business card, and CardMunch will turn it into a contact. Owned by LinkedIn, the service even adds the person’s full profile, when possible.
    Great for: networking, and it’s especially handy for trade shows, when you’re dealing with a large volume of business cards.
  9. GoDocs ($4.99)
    If you frequently find yourself needing to update Google Docs when you’re away from your computer, give this app a go. GoDocs lets you sort, edit and upload new docs to your Google Drive from your phone.
    Great for: convenience. This isn’t a Google product, but it feels like one, because it allows for easy access and updating to any document, including spreadsheets.
  10. Statigram (Free)
    This app offers back-end data, aggregating Likes and Comments, as well as advanced analytic, to help guide your Instagram strategy.
    Great for: performance insights into your Instagram accounts (it’s the secret weapon for visual-content creators).
  11. Analytics Pro 2 ($7.99)
    The best mobile Google Analytic experience, Analytics Pro 2 has what you need to view data on the move, dividing reports into eight sections: summary, visitors, traffic sources, social, content, goals, e-commerce and app tracking.
    Great for: optimizing your site’s performance. It may sound like a lot of information to absorb, but you’ll revel in the richness.
  12. GoToMeeting (Free)
    GoToMeeting has allowed for virtual collaboration via desktop since forever. The app lets you do the same thing when you’re on the go.
    Great for: calling in to a meeting or webinar from an inconvenient location. I’ve even used it from the car.
  13. Waze (Free)
    Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. Other drivers share real-time traffic and road info, crowdsourcing your commute.
    Great for: road warriors. If you spend a lot of time on the road in unfamiliar cities, it’s a lifesaver. And it’s got you covered even on those days when your challenge is just finding the fastest route to the office.

Let The World Feel Your Presence

Growing online presence is no easy job — especially for small and midsize business that are often lacking the brand awareness and resources of their much larger counterparts. Fortunately, now, more than ever there are a plethora of tools to help newly-minted entrepreneurs build their brand quickly and cheaply.

Here are Five to help jump start your online-community presence.

  1. Buffer to post content. Content sharing is one of the easiest way to grow and nurture community. Yet, with more and more social platforms popping up online, content sharing can be time consuming, as each has its own style and messaging. This tool is a great way to streamline posting and schedule on multiple platforms, making sure you’re talking to everyone where it counts. Plus, it’s a great way to keep communications going on the weekend, a time when many users are interested in sharing online content.
  2. LaunchCrew to launch campaigns. When launch day comes, startups need to get the word out to as many people to have the most impact and increase the probability of being heard in crowded industries. Often this entails getting current followers to share with their friends, family and connections. LaunchCrew will help you do just that. It lets you cast a much wider net, practically doubling or tripling your impact. But how? By asking your audience for their credentials to be able to post on their behalf on the day of your launch. Or for any major campaign. You’ll get that initial boost you’ve always dreamed of — the one you really need these days to break out of the pack from the very start.
  3. Unbounce to create landing pages. Landing pages are now a must-have design choice to boost your online special operations. By customizing these towards a targeted audience, along with specific and relatable calls to action, it makes them way more efficient at achieving higher click-through rates. Unbounce allows you to create landing pages incredibly fast, with no technical skills required, making it easy not only to build but also to A/B test and implement the best results.
  4. Click to Tweet to foster sharing. It’s ok to ask people to share. But the simpler it is, the more people you’ll get to do so. By giving out a simple, pre-composed click-to-tweet URL for your audience to tweet in seconds, you’ll find that your potential for virality is drastically increased.
  5. Mention to monitor and react. Once people start talking about you, the best way to continue growing is to detect these mentions and to reply to every one of them. By doing so, it fosters a lot of motivation for them to talk and mention even more about you, creating a network of trusted brand advocates. By having alerts based on keywords — like the name of your company, your products or your competitors — mention allows you to stay in the know and react in seconds by connecting your social accounts directly to the app.

With these five tools, you’ll find yourself developing and maintaining a clear brand voice in no time. And it’s then that you’ll start to see your online presence heating up.

STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS PLANNING

As the old saying goes, you need to know where you‘re going before you can know how to get there. Likewise,
…before you can plan out your strategy…
…before you even start to think about your media products or event…
…you need to nail down your objectives.

WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO?
In the very place you need to lay out what you‘re trying to achieve with a communications plan. For example:

  • Do you want to educate your customers?
  • Do you want to build support or create demand?
  • Do you want to get people to do something differently?
  • Do you want to defuse a situation?
  • Do you want to improve the search results for your company/product/executives?
  • Do you want to improve your organization‘s reputation?
  • Do you want to generate more online or offline news coverage?

Whatever you want to do, this is where you define it.
DEFINING YOUR OBJECTIVES
To fall back on an old mantra from business school, your objectives need to be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-focused

Make sure your objectives are measurable and time-focused. The specific, achievable and realistic characteristics will emerge from there. Vague objectives are a common pitfall. Ensure you can measure them and you will be forced to be ―specific. As for ―achievable and ―realistic, if your objectives don‘t meet those two criteria you don‘t deserve to be writing plans for anything.

One of the hardest parts of this to get your head around is the difference between business objectives and communications objectives. It’s important not to confuse the two. Remember — you can‘t take responsibility for the entire success or failure of the program. It helps to include the business objectives for the initiative in communications plan in addition to the communications objectives. Doing this helps to make sure your plan supports the overall business goals rather than working on its own.

Scrum Appendix: Terminology

  • Burn Down: The trend of work remaining across time in a Sprint, a Release, or a Product. The source of the raw data is the Sprint Backlog and the Product Backlog, with work remaining tracked on the vertical axis and the time periods (days of a Sprint, or Sprints) tracked on the horizontal axis.

  • Chicken: Someone who is interested in the project but does not have formal Scrum responsibilities and accountability (Team, Product Owner, ScrumMaster).
  • Daily Scrum: A short meeting held daily by each Team during which the Team members inspect their work, synchronize their work and progress and report and impediments to the ScrumMaster for removal. Follow-on meetings to adapt upcoming work to optimize the Sprint may occur after the Daily Scrum meetings.
  • Done: Complete as mutually agreed to by all parties and that conforms to an organization’s standards, conventions, and guidelines. When something is reported as “done” at the Sprint Review meeting, it must conform to this agreed definition.
  • Estimated Work Remaining (Sprint Backlog items): The number of hours that a Team member estimates remain to be worked on any task. This estimate is updated at the end of every day when the Sprint Backlog task is worked on. The estimate is the total estimated hours remaining, regardless of the number of people that perform the work.
  • Increment: Product functionality that is developed by the Team during each Sprint that is potentially shippable or of use to the Product Owner’s stakeholders.
  • Increment of Potentially Shippable Product Functionality: A complete slice of the overall product or system that could be used by the Product Owner or stakeholders if they chose to implement it.
  • Sprint: An iteration, or one repeating cycle of similar work, that produces increment of product or system. No longer than one month and usually more than one week. The duration is fixed throughout the overall work and all teams working on the same system or product use the same length cycle.
  • Pig: Someone exercising one of the three Scrum roles (Team, Product Owner, ScrumMaster) who has made a commitment and has the authority to fulfill it.
  • Product Backlog: A prioritized list of requirements with estimated times to turn them into completed product functionality. Estimates are more precise the higher an item is in the Product Backlog priority.. The list emerges, changing as business conditions or technology changes.
  • Product Backlog Item: Functional requirements, non-functional requirements, and issues, prioritized in order of importance to the business and dependencies and estimated. The precision of the estimate depends on the priority and granularity of the Product Backlog item, with the highest priority items that may be selected in the next Sprint being very granular and precise.
  • Product Owner: The person responsible for managing the Product Backlog so as to maximize the value of the project. The Product Owner is responsible for representing the interests of everyone with a stake in the project and its resulting product.
  • Scrum: Not an acronym, but mechanisms in the game of rugby for getting an out-of-play ball back into play
  • ScrumMaster: The person responsible for the Scrum process, its correct implementation, and the maximization of its benefits.
  • Sprint Backlog: A list of tasks that defines a Team’s work for a Sprint. The list emerges during the Sprint. Each task identifies those responsible for doing the work and the estimated amount of work remaining on the task on any given day during the Sprint.
  • Sprint Backlog Task: One of the tasks that the Team or a Team member defines as required to turn committed Product Backlog items into system functionality.
  • Sprint Planning meeting: A one-day meeting time boxed to eight hours (for a four week Sprint) that initiates every Sprint. The meeting is divided into two four-hour segments, each also time boxed.. During the first four hours the Product Owner presents the highest priority Product Backlog to the team. The Team and Product Owner collaborate to help the Team determine how much Product Backlog it can turn into functionality during the upcoming Sprint. The Team commits to this at the end of the first four hours. During the second four hours of the meeting, the Team plans how it will meet this commitment by designing and then detailing its work as a plan in the Sprint Backlog.
  • Sprint Retrospective meeting: A time boxed three-hour meeting facilitated by the ScrumMaster at which the complete Team discusses the just-concluded Sprint and determines what could be changed that might make the next Sprint more enjoyable or productive.
  • Sprint Review meeting: A time-boxed four hour meeting at the end of every Sprint where the Team collaborates with the Product Owner and stakeholders on what just happened in the Sprint. This usually starts with a demonstration of completed Product Backlog items, a discussion of opportunities, constraints and findings, and a discussion of what might be the best things to do next (potentially resulting in Product Backlog changes). Only completed product functionality can be demonstrated.
  • Stakeholder: Someone with an interest in the outcome of a project, either because they have funded it, will use it, or will be affected by it.
  • Team: A cross-functional group of people that is responsible for managing themselves to develop an increment of product every Sprint.
  • Time box: A period of time that cannot be exceeded and within which an event or meeting occurs. For example, a Daily Scrum meeting is time boxed at fifteen minutes and terminates at the end of fifteen minutes, regardless. For meetings, it might last shorter. For Sprints, it lasts exactly that length

Set Meaningful Goals with These Five Principles

Sometimes the only thing you need to get motivated is a clear goal with challenging aspects. Mind Tools explains how to set these types of goals with five basic principles.

These five principles, developed from Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham’s theory of task motivation and incentives, make your goals feel drawing and worthwhile:

  1. Clarity: Your goals need to be explicitly clear so you know exactly what you’re trying to achieve, and know how to measure your progress.
  2. Challenge: Make sure your goal is challenging enough to keep you interested, but not so challenging you lose confidence.
  3. Commitment: Your goal should feel achievable so you know you won’t give up, and find ways to remind yourself why you should work hard to keep moving forward.
  4. Feedback: Find ways to receive feedback on what you’ve done, and analyze your progress and accomplishments so you can adjust the difficulty, if need be.
  5. Task Complexity: If your goal is stressing you out because it’s too complex, break your big goal down into smaller sub-goals.

With these simple principles you’ll keep yourself in check while you move forward. It’s easier to overwhelm yourself than you think, but you also need to strike a balance and make sure your goals are challenging enough to keep you hooked.

Yes, Email Is Exciting. Get Excited!

Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet.

“E-mail is dead, or at least that’s what Silicon Valley is banking on,” wrote Businessweek tech reporter Ashlee Vance.

There’s the co-founder of Asana, the work software startup. Email has “become a counter-productivity tool,” Justin Rosenstein likes to say.

Slack, the superhot work chat tool, likes to brag that they’ve “saved the world from over 70,000,000 emails” (if you assume that every five Slack messages prevent one email from getting its wings).

And it’s not just entrepreneurs with cloud software to sell. There are the young people, too, especially whatever we call the younger-than-Millennials.

Getting an email address was once a nerdy right of passage for Gen-Xers arriving on college campuses. Now, the kids are waging a war of indifference on poor old email, culling the weak and infirm old-people technology. One American professor maintained that, to his students, “e-mail was as antiquated as the spellings ‘chuse’ and ‘musick’ in the works by Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards.” The vice-chancellor of Exeter University claimed, “There is no point in emailing students any more.” The youth appear to think there are better, faster, more exciting ways to communicate than stupid email.

Yet, despite all the prognosticators predicting it will—choose the violence level of your metaphor—go out of style, be put out to pasture, or taken out back and shot,email grinds on.

You can’t kill email! It’s the cockroach of the Internet, and I mean that as a compliment. This resilience is a good thing.

“There isn’t much to sending or receiving email and that’s sort of the point,”observed Aaron Straup Cope, the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum’s Senior Engineer in Digital and Emerging Media. “The next time someone tells you email is ‘dead,’ try to imagine the cost of investing in their solution or the cost of giving up all the flexibility that email affords.”

Email is actually a tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built. In that way, email represents a different model from the closed ecosystems we see proliferating across our computers and devices.

Email is a refugee from the open, interoperable, less-controlled “web we lost.” It’s an exciting landscape of freedom amidst the walled gardens of social networking and messaging services.