Having the right tools is vital to making the most of your business. It seems today that everyone has a new gadget or toy that can save you time and make you money. The real trick is figuring out which ones are right for your business. Here is a short list of recent innovations that really do make sense for many small and medium sized businesses.
Twitter - We'll start with what has probably become the most hyped new tool out there today. On paper, Twitter makes no sense. Mini-blogs of 140 characters seem silly. In practice, however, Twitter has become a potent builder of communities. Dell has announced that they've moved $1 million in merchandise through their Twitter groups. Domino's Pizza turned to Twitter when they needed to reassure customers after a disastrous YouTube video showed employees engaging in very unhygienic hijinks in the kitchen.
Twitter is easy to use, though it's suggested you get a helper application like TweetDeck to keep track of communications sent and received. The most obvious use of Twitter is alerting your fans and customers of new promotions and initiatives. Twitter communication can, however, work both ways. If you find a trendsetter your customers respect, following this person's tweets can keep you in the know about what your customers are interested in and what they think of you. It’s even better if you can become that trendsetter.
LinkedIn - This one hasn't gotten quite the buzz that Twitter has, but it may be even more useful from a business perspective. Keeping track of those old friends from college, contacts from previous ventures and jobs, and clients is a lot easier with this utility. Sometimes the difference between a big contract and the one that got away is who you know. With LinkedIn, it's a lot easier to find those old contacts who might be in a good position to help you today.
Google - According to a global Nielson Consumer Report published this past November, over 85% of the world's web surfers are shopping online. This was a precipitous increase from 40% in 2006. There's every reason to expect these numbers to grow. This means your customers are almost certainly using Google to find products and services just like the ones you sell. Actively engaging Google, either through the purchase of ads or the techniques of search engine optimization (SEO), only makes sense.
Hosted PBX - Your phones are the lifeline of your business. Your customers and clients need to reach you no matter where you are. A hosted PBX with a web interface to manage hunt groups makes it very easy for you to adjust who those calls reach inside your organization and adjust it as needed, without having to wait for a specialist to make time for it. In addition, a hosted PBX can help you track your calls, so you know just who is calling and why. Finally, a hosted PBX gives your small or medium-sized business the look of a big company, increasing customer confidence and willingness to buy.
Online CRM – Customer Relationship Management software helps you stay on top of everything you're doing with your clients, from prospecting to customer service. By organizing and standardizing your interactions with your clients, no matter who they speak with or what they want, they interface with every part of your organization as if it were a seamless whole. The most popular currently is salesforce.com. Because it's online, it travels with you everywhere you go. Even when you're in Boston, your office is in Chicago, and your client is in San Francisco, you have everything you need at your fingertips to complete whatever transaction comes up.
All of these technologies and tools are available for you today via the Internet. At the pace of change today, it can be difficult to keep up with all the new options available, but the health of your business requires you to make the most of every edge you can get. That means taking the time to learn the full range of your options, and which best fit your business model, is well spent.