Tools for Taking Your Small Business to the Next Level in 2019
Just as many individuals set personal resolutions for the new year, entrepreneurs often have their own goals for what they want to accomplish with their business. These might include specific operational areas they want to improve in, sales targets they aim to reach, or other adjustments they can make to help their business grow. In any case, the first step in making these goals reality is to come up with a detailed plan, including what tools you might need along the way.
Whether your small business goals for 2019 involve finance, marketing, management or all of the above, here’s a look at a few different tools and services that can help you achieve them.
Before setting growth goals in motion and investing in new tools, it’s imperative that you have a good grasp on your business’s finances. For some this may mean bringing a professional accountant on board to help you manage your bookkeeping. However there are some do-it-yourself options that may be worth exploring first.
Perhaps the most popular business bookkeeping service is Quickbooks. Offering a number of plans to meet your bookkeeping and even payroll needs, Quickbooks packages start at $20 a month for their online offering or you can download the software to your computer now for only $179.95 (note: $299.95 regular price). Many Quickbooks plans also allow you to add one of two payroll support options starting as low as $12 per month plus $2 per employee per month.
If you are a solo entrepreneur then I’d also highly recommend using Quickbooks Self-Employed. It has a number of features that will make your taxes more manageable and help you run your day to day business while also coming in a bit cheaper than the regular Quickbooks online plans. In fact it’s what Dyer contributor Kyle Burbank uses. You can read his full review here.
Outside of the Intuit ecosystem, Xero has gained small business fans as a Quickbooks alternative. With plans starting at $9 a month, Xero may also be a more affordable choice for entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business. Ultimately the decision between the two (and others) will depend on what your business’s needs are — although keep in mind that you may need to upgrade your plan as your company continues to grow.
For a long time, one of the hardest parts of starting a retail business was gaining the ability to accept credit cards. Thankfully, in recent years, that’s been made much easier thanks to two companies in particular: Square and Stripe. Let’s take a look at what each has to offer:
Square’s claim to fame is their ubiquitous mobile card readers that have allowed small business owners to sell their goods from just about anywhere. However the company has expanded in recent years, offering several small business services from inventory software to loans. Still, payments remain at the heart of Square’s offerings.
When it comes to processing credit card transaction, Square’s fees will depend on which of their services you utilize. For example, those using Square point of sale will pay 2.5% plus 10¢ for most transactions. Meanwhile those using the Square Terminal will pay the slightly higher 2.6% plus 10¢ fee. If you prefer a pay-as-you-go structure, the fee is 2.75% per swipe, dip, or tap — although keyed-in transactions are pricier at 3.5% plus 15¢.
As I mentioned, Square also has several other small business tools available these days, so it may be worth checking out their site to see what ways they can help your business.
Another big name in small business payments is Stripe. In fact plenty of major sites utilize Stripe to process credit card transactions. Like with Square, Stripe offers a pay-as-you-go fee structure coming in at 2.9% plus 30¢ per transaction. However, once your business reaches a certain level, you may be able to negotiate a custom rate.
Your choice between Square and Stripe will hinge on your needs. For example Square may offer a solution for accepting credit cards while also offering inventory support and more. On the other hand, while Stripe has integrations with various POS and inventory services, they don’t have an “all-in-one” option.
As the world of social media continues to evolve, 2019 is the time to up your game and reach new customers through those platforms. This likely starts with finding and sharing great content. Of course this can all be time-consuming, which is why there are several tools that aim to make managing all of your social profiles simpler.
When it comes to scheduling content, one easy-to-use solution is Viraltag. Something that’s unique about this service is that it allows you to create social posts on the fly by using a Chome browser extension to share articles, images, and more across your various accounts. Speaking of different types of accounts, one common mistake entrepreneurs make on social media is not realizing what types of content works best on each platform. Luckily Viraltag helps you tailor each of your posts by editing images to the proper size, allowing you to edit the text elements of posts, and more.
Although you have the option to post Viraltag-created content immediately, the platform’s queue feature can also be extremely helpful. You can set customized posting schedules for each of your accounts, enabling you to simply create all your content when it’s convenient for you and have it be posted throughout the day. Similarly, if you have some favorite resources you want to quickly share content from, you can add RSS feeds to your Viraltag dashboard and schedule posts that way.
Plans for Viraltag start at $29 a month or $24 a month if you pay for an entire year. For more on Viraltag including some of the pros and cons of the platform, you can check out Kyle’s full review.
Perhaps the most well known social media scheduling tool is Buffer. Offering a variety of service packages to meet your business’s needs, Buffer plans start with a free option and go all the way up to $399 a month. Among the features this platform offers are link shorteners, account analytics, and of course comprehensive scheduling.
As I mentioned, Buffer does have a free option, although the number of accounts you can manage, team members you can have, and posts you have queued at one time will all be limited. Additionally, the free plan does not support Pinterest scheduling. So, if you’re looking for Pinterest support, the lowest paid Buffer plan comes in at $15 a month.
Another popular social management platform is Hootsuite. Similar to Buffer and Viraltag, Hootsuite allows you to easily schedule content across several accounts. However the service also offers a number of integrations, such as the ability to boost posts via paid ads directly from the platform. Additionally Hootsuite integrates with Adobe Stock, Nuzzel News, and more than 150+ other free and paid apps.
Like with Buffer, Hootsuite also offers a free plan with some limitations on the number of accounts, users, and more. Meanwhile paid plans start at $29 a month.
While sharing other people’s relevant content with your audience is one aspect of social media, chances are you’ll also have your own blog post and other content you’ll want to share as well. This is where MissingLettr comes in, enabling you to share your previous blog entries in new engaging ways. MissingLettr makes it simple to set-up what’s know as a drip content schedule where you’ll turn your top blog posts into a recurring content campaign, sharing snippets or images from the post to make what once was “old” new again. One thing to note here is that, since Twitter has cracked down on duplicate content, MissingLettr’s platform can be even more helpful as it will offer suggestions about how to change up your posts so you that you don’t run afoul of these recent restrictions.
One way to help your business stand out on social media is to pay attention to the images you’re using on each platform. This is especially key on Instagram and Pinterest where text is certainly secondary to the visual components of posts. The following tools can help you add some extra flair to your social media images and grab some scrolling eyeballs.
One image creation service I’ve personally used a lot is called Stencil. This platform offers access to several free-to-use stock photos, editing tools such as filters and icons, and templates that will ensure your images are the ideal size for the social media site you’ll be posting them on. Another super helpful feature for business owners is the ability to upload transparent image files of your company logo that you can easily brand your posts.
To get started with Stencil, you can select a free plan and create up to 10 images a month, utilizing limited photos. If you’re looking to upgrade from there, monthly plans are $15 or $20 while those respective plans paid annually come in at $9 and $12 a month.
Of all the image creation tools on the web, Canva is one I hear come up again and again. Although it can be used for many printed materials, it also caters to social media users by boasting numerous templates and customization options. But what makes Canva different from other such sites is its pricing model.
Canva offers many free-to-use stock photos, icons, and more. However it also has numerous a la carte images that go for $1 a piece. Luckily these items only need to be purchased if you end up using them in your finished product, so there’s little risk in seeing how these paid options work in your image. Ultimately, this pay-as-you-go option may be more attractive to some business owners while others might prefer a flat monthly fee that Stencil or our next service offer.
Finally, another option for image creation is Adobe Spark. Unlike other Adobe products such as Photoshop, Spark is a web-based platform that can be used to make flyers, social media images, and more. While the tool does have a few quirks and downsides, some of my favorite features include text style suggestions and the ability to easily emphasize certain words using different colors and fonts — something that’s extremely popular on Pinterest images.
Adobe Spark also has a free option while paid plans are $9.99 a month (or $99 a year) for individuals or $19.99 a month ($239.88 if paid for a year) for team access. Alternatively, Spark service is included with many Adobe Creative Cloud plans, which will also give you access to Adobe programs such as Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects, Audition, and much more.
In terms of video, you might consider experimenting with live video platforms like Periscope, Facebook Live, and Instagram Live to interact with your followers. Beyond that, it may be worth investing more in video content and producing clips to post natively on social media or on your business’s YouTube channel.
Facebook Live/Instagram Live/Periscope
Over the past year, live video streaming has blown up. As a result, several of the top social media services have introduced their own live video offerings. For Twitter, there’s Periscope; Facebook has Facebook Live; and Instagram has, you guessed it, Instagram Live. So which is best? The answer is, it depends on which segment of your audience you want to reach.
Maximizing the benefits will likely take some experimentation on your part. This could include determining what types of live content performs well on each platform or perhaps limiting your live efforts to a single site. Ultimately it may be worth giving each of these options a shot and seeing which you end up preferring.
If the segmentation that exists in the live video space seems frustrating to you, then you may want to try an app called Mobcam instead. Mobcam allows you to go live on Periscope, YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook all at the same time. Better yet, it’s free to use.
As a general disclaimer, it’s important to remember that the audience you have on each social media platform may not be as similar as you think. Thus sharing the same content might not be as effective as creating specialized live video for each channel. That said, if you’re looking for a simple solution and/or continue to experiment with live video, this app could be quite a lifesaver.
There’s little doubt that you’ve heard of YouTube and likely consumed some of its content. At the same time you might not have seriously considered using the site to promote your small business. If that’s the case, you may be missing a huge opportunity.
From potential SEO boosts to monetization possibilities, there are many reasons why investing in video may be worth your time. Furthermore, while YouTube may be a good home for your complete videos, you can also share clips natively on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to further drive traffic (either to your site or your YouTube account). If nothing else, YouTube is a great place to host everything from your ad spots to evergreen video content for free and easily share it with your audience.
Building a website
There are several reasons why having a small business website of your own is a must. For one it’s a great way for potential customers to find your business when they’re Googling. Additionally having a “real” site (as opposed to a Facebook Page or other third-party site listing) gives you the opportunity to host additional content and even engage in e-commerce. For those reasons and more, if you don’t already have a site for your small business, 2019 is the time to change that.
Admittedly there’s a lot to think about when it comes to building a business site. First you’ll want to decide if you want to utilize a hosted platform — like Squarespace, Wix, or Shopify — or go the self-hosted route with WordPress.org, Drupal, Joomla, or other such options. Depending on your decision you may also need to purchase a domain separately, which can be accomplished through sites like GoDaddy, Moniker, NameCheap, and more.
One aspect of your site that is becoming increasingly important in today’s world is mobile-friendliness. Therefore you’ll want to ensure that whatever platform you’re considering offers responsive design and that your site specifically looks good on devices of all sizes. Moreover, with load speed being a major factor on mobile, you may even consider building your site around Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project using AMPWPTools themes and plugins.
Since there is so much that goes into building an effective small business site, be sure to check out my full guide for more information on the process and your options.
Along with the desire to answer customer questions, offer blog content, and perhaps even gain e-commerce sales, one goal you should also have for your site is to grow an e-mail list. Despite the impression some business owners may have that social media has all but replaced e-mail, the truth is that an e-mail list is still a powerful tool for generating sales. Of course spamming your customers with subpar messaging is never the way to go, which is why you may consider signing up for a rich media e-mail service.
Some popular options for maintaining an e-mail list and crafting messages include MailChimp, GetResponse, and AWeber. While each of these services offer different features to meet the demands of your business, you can get started with MailChimp for free (with paid services available), GetResponse for $15 a month, and AWeber for $19 a month. Additionally each of these options offers integrations for WordPress and other top hosting platforms, making them easy to use on your site.
Growing your business will likely mean growing your team. Unfortunately finding the right people for the jobs isn’t always an easy task. Furthermore, while sites like Craigslist can be effective for gathering candidates, they also attract a lot of spam that will waste your time.
If you’re looking to increase the quality of your applications and find the best candidates available, you may want to try ZipRecruiter or another platform built for the job. Alternatively, if you’re looking for someone to help with one-off jobs, you might try Upwork, Outsourcely, or other freelancer services. Either way, these services will hopefully make it easier to find the help you need to build your business.
Once you’ve expanded your team, you may find that you need a better way to keep everyone on the same page — especially if you have some employees or contractors working remotely. One popular solution to this problem is Slack. This program allows your team to easily collaborate on ideas and offers integration for Google Docs, various social media accounts, and much more. Depending on the size of your team and its needs, you may be able to simply use the free version of Slack, although upgraded plans start at $6.67 per user.
Among those aforementioned Slack integrations is another helpful collaboration service: Trello. With Trello you can create what can best be described as a digital version of notecards on a corkboard, making it easy to brainstorm, assign tasks, and see them through to completion. Whether you decide to use Trello on its own or in addition to Slack, it’s definitely worth trying the free version of this program to start.
Can 2019 be the year that your small business breaks out? It’s certainly possible. If you have your eyes set on bigger things, these tools to help with your finances, marketing, and management can certainly come in handy and enable you to reach your business goals. Have a phenomenal new year!
Also published on Medium.