Tags: small business blog

Best Online Portals for Lead Sourcing

Best Online Portals for Lead Sourcing

Beyond • June 9, 2011

Clients are important to every business owner, and to the small business owner most of all. These owners realize and value the importance of getting the right client to subscribe to their services or products. So exactly how does a small dog chase after a big dog when it comes to securing the next contract? If you’ve got your eyes set on getting a certain company’s attention and pitching to them, then you’ll probably want to know everything there is to know about that company. Unfortunately a Google search alone doesn’t cut it; you’re going to need the real scoop on the company and that information isn’t always available on a company’s website or through an internet search. Cream of the crop companies often don’t even list their physical addresses, executive info or contact information. Gathering this data is time extensive, which also means cost intensive when you consider that time is money. What you need is a corporate information directory that lets you search addresses, phone numbers, business profiles, earnings, top executives and email addresses. There are a ton of corporate information sites, but Hoovers is hands down one of the best around. Having developed their services considerably over the last few years when I first discovered and began using the portal, Hoovers now also offers products crafted for small businesses. With their Hoover’s Essentials (through subscription) and Lead Builder (on demand) packages, Hoovers drives to “deliver value to small business” by giving you the data you need to build successful marketing and sales campaigns. Hoover’s Essentials, a $89/month subscription based service, allows small business owners to have preliminary industry research done for them; this is tremendously useful for sales calls, market research and proposals. Clients can also be privy to company or industry specific news alerts sourced from 2000 outlets. Aside from news and alerts, Hoover’s Essentials allows you to track your personal selection of contacts, interact with this list in real time through annotation and tagging abilities and display a leads list of over 5000 records. Their Lead Builder service, on the other hand, allows you to go in and either hand pick or have Hoovers generate a direct mail marketing list, telemarketing list or email marketing list based on your given parameters. You can even request reports to help understand relevant companies, “fine-tune your business strategy and product position with Competitive Landscape Reports” and get a better understanding of a targeted industry through Industry Reports. With their reporting tool, small business owners can conduct market research and develop a marketing campaign, understand and analyze their competition, prepare for sales calls, help with product and strategy planning. Hoovers offers valuable business solutions and industry information that can be used by small business or direct information sourcing, researching and marketing. Hoovers’ well-organized directory can be filtered for a search alphabetically, by geography or by industry. The site also lets you create lead lists that you pay for by any filtered category or an extremely affordable a la carte per business list based on your needs. You can even purchase a complete company profile for just one business at a rate of just over one dollar – making Hoovers the most affordable and relevant business directory for any budget. You could spend the time and effort to gather this data yourself. As someone who’s been there and done that, I can’t stress the amount of time, energy and resources you can waste – not to mention that you have to account for outdated information yielded throughout your own personal search. Be smart and connect yourself with an affordable directory; it’s worth its weight in gold. The alternative can be found at NetProspex, a free crowd-sourced directory that allows you to find and trade contacts. The NetProspex benefit is that it’s far more integrated into social media, but the drawback lies in the relevance and accuracy of crowd-sourced information. Small business owners wanting to connect with directories will likely lead with NetProspex but tap into Hoovers from time to time. More strategic business owners with no time to waste will likely go directly with Hoovers and have their assistants play with NetProspex.


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Online Tools for Small Business: Free Online PDF Applications

Beyond • June 6, 2011

Small business owners usually start up their business because they’re great at what they do and passionate about it. Unfortunately there’s that lingering statistic about how most small businesses fail during their first year. Did you ever stop and wonder where this statistic comes from? It comes from the fact that small business owners often lack the means to bridge the investment between establishing the start up and getting it off the ground and making it successful and profitable. Interns and free labor aren’t going to pop out of thin air (and there’s only so much your family will do for you for free and even that’s not worth the hassle most of the time). Small business owners need to invest time into understanding and connecting with the channels that can make their work better and faster. They also need to be aware of free online software that shaves off the cost of expensive store-bought programs. Finding Free Ways of Converting to PDF One software application that I was and continue to constantly be in need of is PDF. I don’t have, can’t afford, don’t want to spend the money on, and don’t want to spend the time learning…(all of the above really)…new software. But I still need to be able to create PDF files quickly in order to communicate invoices and other documents that I would rather not send in as word in order to prevent tampering. My personal solution is PrimoPDF. After wasting a good year on useless online PDF converters – most of which took forever to process files and send them back to you, or were scams trying to get you to purchase the software – I finally found the Holy Grail of free online PDF software. The first thing that gave it away was PrimoPDF’s clean website design that didn’t try to jar my senses with flashy offers. It was clean and simple, just like the application itself. The free version of the software lets you create PDF files on your desktop through either dragging and dropping the file or creating it when you go to print, just like with Adobe. PrimoPDF allows you to convert any file that you would normally print, including Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It works with Windows XP and Vista. In addition to just the basics, the software also allows you to secure your documents with passwords and to add document information during the creation process. Small business owners can also scan documents into PDF files, which incorporates well into any “going green” mantra and saves on space. If you need your PDF software to do more, you can test out their Nitro PDF 14 day free trial offer. Nitro PDF offers the same great basics as PrimoPDF, but goes on to also offer: Reverse Conversions: Convert your PDF files back for re-purposing in Microsoft Word. Post Conversion Edits: Fix mistakes and make last minutes changes to your PDF. Create a For-Community-Use Document: Annotate, review and share feedback on PDF documents with easy-to-use drawing tools, text highlighters, stamps and sticky notes. You can also view comments from all participants through the comments module. Form-Filling Made Easy: Fill out PDF Forms, save, print or send back – or use forms for data gathering purposes such as surveys and feedback. Increased Security: Protect your information with passwords and digital certificates. Maintain content integrity with digital signature and document certification. For those of you who want to eye the competition, you can check out PDF XChange Viewer, a free PDF editor/reader that lets you review and edit files similar to PrimoPDF. Per reader reviews, PDF XChange Viewer excels in offering editing options but lacks in customer service.


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Do More in Less Time: Top Time Tracking Programs

Beyond • June 2, 2011

When I first started my own small business, one of the biggest challenges was getting things done within a certain timeframe, followed by tracking how much time I was spending on each project. Since I had just started out, I had to also keep track of how much time was going into marketing, responding to emails, prepping and sending out proposals, following leads and doing other administrative duties. If I hoped to grow as a small business owner and attract new clients, it was pretty clear that I first had to get a grip on what was before me. Whether you’re a small business owner with a pool of employees or a freelancer running a small home-based business, the fact remains you have a lot on your plate and a lot of different plates to manage. As small business professionals, our time is one of our most valuable assets. Creating a to-do list or looking at the clock in hopes of “getting it all done” within a reasonable time period or by a deadline just doesn’t cut it. We need something a lot more sophisticated. A colleague of mine, also a fellow small business owner, recommended checking out some time management software. I couldn’t have received any better advice, and I just wished I’d received it sooner. Getting on schedule with a time tracking software that works for you is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a rising entrepreneur. Check out some of the following time management programs to see which one best meets your needs. ClockingIt – A free application, ClockingIt makes it easy to project manage, collaborate and keep track of your time. The time management software also includes a project schedule feature that lets you know if you’re falling behind on any one task…and why. It’s essentially a smart virtual secretary that features time tracking and reporting, as well as multiple communication modes, interactive charts and schedules. The smart software also offers file storage, private forums, group chats, transcripts, instant messaging and email alerts. It’s the ideal hybrid between time management software, note taking software and forum software that caters to a business environment Achieve Planner – Created by Effexis software, Achieve Planner allows you to centralize and prioritize your projects while distinguishing them from simple tasks. It also has a Google calendar inspired scheduling feature that exceeds Google since you can finally color coordinate your meetings and events. Unique in this service capability, users can also import existing data from Outlook 2003/2007/2010 and sync their data with Achieve Planner. The Windows compatible software is available online for purchase but users have the option of a 30-day free trial. For tech shy business owners, Achieve Planner offers the design and layout familiarity of a standard date book, with organized tables for projects, tasks and schedules. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s an extremely relevant one since a lot of busy professionals don’t have the time to figure out a new system; the more complicated the system, the less likely you are to stick with it let alone use it. RescueTime – Both PC and Mac friendly, RescueTime boasts the ability to recover an average of 3 hours and 54 minutes\' worth of productive time per week per person. Used by both individual business owners and Fortune 500 companies, RescueTime goes beyond managing your own time to also helping you manage and track the time of your work force. The time management software helps you identify gaps in employee productivity as well as source relevant training and development related data to help you target problem areas. Far from a Big Brother scenario, software transparency makes productivity and efficiency public knowledge so employees and team members can see where they are compared to their peers – which many top executives and successful small business owners readily realize will increase internal competition. For the individual user, RescueTime helps you track your time without any data entry and offers you time tracking reports/graphs. Interestingly, it also gives you the option of voluntarily blocking distracting sites that otherwise easily eat up valuable business hours. If word of mouth is anything to go by, RescueTime speaks for itself through a client portfolio including Twitter, Dropbox, StumbleUpon, eBay and SEOMoz. The time tracking software also received PR buzz in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, BBC, Harvard Business Review and NPR. Other lesser known applications that might pique your interest include MyLifeOrganized, ManicTime and TrueTimeTracker. The best pick is the one that meets your individual daily business needs and appeals to your own personal style of doing business.


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Best Note Taking Software: Evernote vs. SOHO Notes

Beyond • June 1, 2011

In a data driven world, the hardest thing for anyone to keep track of is, of course, the data. This becomes even more challenging for small business owners who are often confounded by their multiple business roles. From a small business owner working out of a home office to a well established mid-size business, many owners within this range often tend to take on several management and administrative roles. Success (and sanity) for these burdened entrepreneurs hinges on organization. After all, how unprofessional is it to have your desk cluttered with sticky notes, “to-do” lists and towering stacks of files? To a client, and to your own subconscious, this poor office environment instantly communicates amateur and over-worked. 
The solution is implementing the use of Note taking software, which makes it exponentially easier to manage/file notes and also organizes the flood of information executives deal with on a daily basis. In a business environment where an endless supply of information is traded across networks, note taking and archiving effectively becomes a critical factor in the successful small business equation. Furthermore, the ability to collect, sort and retrieve data quickly and easily is what sets apart business jugglers from business doers. So what is the top-ranked note taking software out there? Hands down the best two are Evernote and SOHO Notes. User-Friendly, Software Compatible Evernote Takes the Lead in Project Management Evernote prides itself on its primary slogan encompassing the program’s key feature, “Remember Everything”. With such a sellable tagline and a zero price tag, who wouldn’t want to check out software that takes you from fumbling deliverables to an enviable super tasker? The downloadable program boasts the ability to “capture anything and access anywhere”. So what exactly can you do? Going beyond just note taking and archiving, Evernote allows you to save things you like, hear and see. It also offers easy access by allowing users to connect with just about any computer, phone or mobile device; and it allows you to search quickly through keywords, tags and printed/handwritten text within images. Evernote also recently updated to version 4, which notably features a cleaner, crisper design and layout as well as a more interactive note taking system. What makes Evernote so prominent though is its ability to connect users via mobile phones through its mobile app; you can also email your Evernote account notes, images and other documents, which allows you to sync info and saves you valuable time. And best of all, the free software is compatible with systems across the board, including Windows, Macs, Blackberry, iPhones and iPads. All entered information is then synced across every device you use Evernote on. This smart cloud-based data organization is what makes Evernote my own go-to software for project management. SOHO Notes Ideal for Networked Mac Environments SOHO Notes – Arguably the Mac-only equivalent to Evernote, SOHO Notes allows for much of the same note taking and archiving abilities that are offered to Evernote users. Whether you’re capturing, storing or looking to sync – SOHO lets you do it quickly and easily. Like Evernote, SOHO notes also allows you to store and synchronize data between multiple Apple gadgets as well as Palm handhelds. What distinguishes SOHO Notes from Evernote is that it’ll likely appeal to a Mac centric business that’s looking to network its computer system to create a data cloud source for its employees. Offering a commercial database engine, SOHO Notes (while also catering to individual needs) is ideal for collaborative working environments where meeting notes, documents, handbooks, artwork/images, plans and campaigns all need to be stored and readily accessible to team members. SOHO Notes also allows you to record voice, photo and video notes, which definitely takes note taking up a notch. Note taking itself has evolved far beyond just pad and paper. Today’s executive and small business owner needs to meet the personal and business demands of a far more demanding and fast-paced environment. The right note taking software can help you do just that.


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Best Free Online Forum Services

Beyond • May 25, 2011

Online forums are one of the most overlooked aspects of online marketing. When small business owners consider their online presence, they unfortunately overlook ways to directly interact with their customers beyond just social media. In addition to web chat software, which still requires a “live” person, online forums allow you to gauge questions and have a set list of answers ready to go. It’s hands down one of the best kept secrets for small businesses looking to cater to their customers while still being time- and cost-efficient. Small business owners also need to think outside the box. Forums aren’t just about answering your customers\' questions but about allowing your website to be a valuable space for discussion. This idea worked great for boat blueprint company Glen-L Marine Designs, which saw itself save countless hours in customer Q&A by hosting a forum where boat enthusiasts could engage with one another. An industry veteran, owner Gayle Brantuk also noted she’d sometimes be surprised by how knowledgeable forum members were; she’s been in the business for over 30 yeas and she still manages to learn something new through the forum. Creating and fostering a successful forum ensures website traffic, promotes you as the authority on a subject and often also allows forum users to answer each other’s questions (which again saves you the hassle of answering it yourself). So what are the best online forum services out there? Consider Bravenet, which offers free interactive message forums that you can embed into your website within minutes. Bravenet also allows for multiple forums and categories, supports HTML coding within forum messages/posts, quoted replies and allows users to create their own avatars. This easy-to-use system goes beyond expectations offering customized design and page layouts, as well as statistics to help track usage. It also grants the moderator the editorship to edit/delete posts and to control who has access to your forum through IP banning. One of the most popular online forum services, InvisionFree has earned its stellar reputation through millions of users that have turned to the software to create forum communities. What you get is a customizable forum (if you’re CSS savvy), free support for custom domains, calendar events, spam prevention (and a promise by InvisionFree not to populate your forum with advertising or pop ups). You also get access to a forum that you can index by birthdays, active users, events, messages and statistics. InvisionFree set the bar high by keeping user needs as their foremost priority; they extend users a personal messenger system, complete user control from a simple control panel and updated forum activity that allows you to keep up-to-speed with the conversation. Most InvisionFree users also appreciate the generous tech support and user feedback available on the internet due to the high volume of users and shared information available as a result. A strong competitor with InvisonFree, Zetaboards offers many of the same perks but allows for greater creative/design control. Those who don’t have a site but need a forum as a priority can turn to this forum software that also allows you to use a website maker to craft your forum around. Zetaboards also offers completely free internet tech support. And finally there’s Forumotion, which also allows you to create a free blog alongside a free forum. Forumotion is not quite as popular as these other free forums, but it does allow for unlimited forum use – meaning there’s no cap on messages or users. What makes Forumotion a forum contender is in its ability to host a chat box and a role playing game in addition to the other features that it does offer and share with its competitors. The major downside with this forum is that their custom skin menu is a bit on the amateur side (even though there are over 7,000 skins to choose from). Aesthetically, it doesn’t offer the professionalism you’d expect with business – although some businesses can and do get away with this for a number of reasons. If you’re still not sure if Forumotion is right for you, I recommend checking out their forum directory, which lists all the users who have forums with them; a quick browse through lets you take a peek at your forum\'s peers, after which you can decide if the audience that’s attracted to this forum style is your target audience.


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How Live Chat Software Is Instrumental to Small Business Success

Beyond • May 11, 2011

You don’t need to be a big business to have big business sales. Often, many small to mid-sized businesses will compete as aggressively as a big business would. One way to spearhead the competition and convert visitors into customers is by offering a live chat feature on your website. Live chat works by letting customers connect instantly with a customer service representative through a “chat box” much like AOL or MSN instant messaging. Customers visit your website to do business with you. If they’ve clicked on your page but haven’t converted into a sale, it’s because something about the way you do businesses has disinterested them. Live chat allows for a virtual representative to assist customers immediately, without the hassle of picking up a phone or opening up an email box (then waiting hours or maybe even days for an email). But live chat software isn’t just about business to customer interaction; it’s equally as relevant between business and vendors. Check out some of these top live chat software options to see how it can be applied to your small business needs. Karichat Online Chat Software Gives Your Small Business Crucial Customer Data Ever wanted to know the 411 on your customers and get crucial data that can help you better adapt your products and services to their interests? Karichat lets you do just that. While like Velaro it lets you monitor customer activity, Karichat is a persistent online assistant that accompanies them page by page and offers assistance whenever they seem stuck. Businesses also gain valuable info such as a visitor’s source country, the referring page (where your visitor came from) and the search engine and keywords your visitor used to get to your site. Karichat gives you the info you need to better adapt your business to your audience’s interests. It lets you use science to sell and craft your services/products more efficiently. Cross-Catering between Customers and Business with Velaro Award-winning Velaro boasts about its easy touch point system to connect you with your customers. Velaro offers real time visitor monitoring, shared premade messages, complete customizations, advanced routing and workflow, integrated surveys, co-browsing and joint form fill, as well as total administrative control. But what makes Velaro that much better is that it also allows for web conferencing – a tool that can be used to harness customer attention and connect instantly with vendors and other businesses for crucial meetings. Instant meetings allow for increased efficiency and quick decision-making and information sharing that lets you get back to the task at hand. Mioot Services Business-to-Customer and Business-to-Business Needs Much like Velaro, Mioot keeps the small business in mind on the front end while also catering business-to-business needs on the back end. With rates as low as $9.00 a month, Mioot would even be affordable to a couple of young lemonade stand entrepreneurs. It allows for monitoring multiple websites – a smart move considering today’s entrepreneur always has his fingers in several different projects. I’ve never known any successful e-commerce businessman to have JUST one site; they usually have about three and this is why Mioot would be perfect for this type of small businesses. Mioot also offers video conference for executives with complete operate chat setup, forwarding services and secured chats. If you’re a small business working with other businesses, a Mioot-like set up is critical if you want to portray field advancement, forethought and capability. If you’re in the market for chat video software, also take a moment to look up eTalkup, Boldchat, and HelponClick. If you’re still unsure, then take advantage of the free trial offers; Mioot’s trial offer gives you a full featured trial without even having to put a credit card on file.


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