Quintessential Digital Tools Many Businesses Have Yet to Embrace

small business technology

It’s easy to fall behind in today’s business world. Technology is rapidly taking us to a new level of efficiency with a multitude of tools and services for business growth, and navigating the options for what’s useful for you can be difficult. We’re here to help. What follows are the quintessential tools modern businesses are using to drive a successful business growth strategy.


Customer Support

The digital age is all about speed so businesses no longer have the luxury of responding to customer concerns days after they are received. The Internet has given businesses the opportunity to attract more customers, but with this availability comes more opportunities for questions and, unfortunately, mistakes. You may find it even more challenging to respond in a timely and adequate manner to each request when they stream in via phone, social media or email.

Customer support tools help mitigate the influx of incoming requests to ensure all customers get the attention they need. In addition, many allow you to develop and strengthen relationships with customers, implement live chats and build help desks. This proactive approach empowers you to have a system in place before a request even comes in.

What are your options? For small businesses just starting out, there are free options with more limited functionality. A few examples include UserVoice and osTicket, which both offer some useful features. UserVoice can be integrated with Facebook, while osTicket lets users set up auto-responders and filter tickets to organize workflow. If you have a small budget and are looking for a more comprehensive option, take advantage of Zendesk to create customizable help desks, knowledge bases, and online support communities.


Content Marketing

If you haven’t been living peacefully under a rock for the past several years, you’ve likely heard about the necessity of a strong content marketing strategy. As brands move away from pushy advertising and toward the cultivation of brand loyalty, solid content is the best way to communicate with your audience. Luckily, many of today’s tools are already multifaceted, so users may have a content marketing, social-media management and analytics tool all in one. If you’re still in the market or looking to upgrade to a new tool, you’ll want to keep a few key things in mind.

Content marketing is a multi-step process, with tools that can help you each step of the way, from ideation to writing, content curation and promotion. You’ll want to focus on your weak spots to select the most effective tool for your business growth strategy.

If social media is your primary concern, you there’s a lot to choose from including all-encompassing tools like Hootsuite, and specialized tools like Schedugram (just for Instagram). Finding that delicate balance between overly automated/impersonal and sparse/unprofessional is a challenge, but it isn’t an insurmountable one.


Data Analytics

Data analytics platforms represent another type of quintessential tool that has soared in popularity during the past decade. The emergence of big data has transformed the once-rudimentary concept of “business intelligence,” and as a modern business owner, you now have answers to questions that past generations didn’t even know were important. Business growth strategies are now directed by facts and trends rather than assumptions and gut feelings.

The complex aspect of data analytics is that there are tools for each type of data source — and each type is important to know. Google Analytics covers the basics for website information, while Moz helps you monitor SEO and link building. Nuvi is a great visual platform for social media monitoring and analytics.

Studies have shown that our brains absorb visual data faster and easier; investing in a tool that spells it out can help you get a better grasp of your customers’ behaviors and preferences — especially if data interpreting isn’t your forte.


Email Management

At what point do businesses benefit from the inclusion of email management software? The simple answer is: when your inbox volume surpasses your ability to manually organize it. Reliable email management software prevents disastrous situations, such as employees misplacing important documents or failing to respond to important messages.

Email management systems provide a safety net of organization and accountability in case tasks become confusing. For example, Front is an app that lets several employees access the same email address inbox from their own personal inbox, while simultaneously ensuring duplicate email responses are not sent by different people. Email tools can help you set reminders to respond to timely messages, share comments with team members and automatically assign certain types of emails to the correct employee.

Email management tools can not only keep your team members informed and organized, but they can also help you monitor personal productivity from the place you spend the most time — your inbox. Email can be tricky because sometimes it’s unclear whether you’re using your email account or it’s using you. This confusion is why a lot of experts now warn professionals not to check their email first thing in the morning. With a tool that helps you turn off alerts, set blacklists and create rules for automatic sorting, hiding from your tumultuous inbox can be a thing of the past.


HR/Employee Management

Research has shown a concerning gap between the opinions of HR managers and those of employees. In one report, most HR professionals said their employees could easily receive answers to their questions about benefits. Meanwhile, just 56 percent of employee agreed, proving that a disparity in communication tends to exist between HR and staff in many companies. The key to correcting this discrepancy lies in stronger HR practices and, in most cases, better tools.

A closer look at this study reveals how HR tools can begin to close the communication gap. More than half of employees said they viewed employee portals as “an important informational resource,” while just one-third of HR professionals agree. Giving employees access to digital tools can empower them to manage their own benefits, review pay stubs, update personal information and more.

BambooHR and Bloomfire are two examples of tools that make life easier for both HR professionals and employees. Let’s face it, paperwork is outdated, and everyone thinks it’s a nuisance. Maintaining important data digitally is more practical — let the tools do the job of storing and remembering critical employee information.


Accounting and Finance

Running a business without key financial insights can lead you down a dangerous path. Overspending or under-budgeting in certain areas is a classic mistake, even for the most seasoned business owners. Instead of getting discouraged, you should take control and become knowledgeable about your finances.

For small businesses, there are a few basic platforms of importance. QuickBooks offers all the standard features you’ll need, while Wave is a free, mobile-friendly tool providing comparable features. There are plenty of other options like FreshBooks, perfect for mobile accounting, and Xero, one of the few quality options for Mac users. Depending on your type of business (brick and mortar, e-commerce, restaurant, etc.), certain tools may serve more of your needs that others.


Team Collaboration

Particularly relevant to office environments, team collaboration tools can assist with project completion while streamlining employee communication. For companies that have separate departments working on tasks together, a tool like Asana or Quip will keep projects from stagnating and becoming unclear.

These tools will also help you streamline work in another way. Jason Fried, the co-founder of Basecamp, argues that the death of work productivity lies in meetings. He believes in the art of getting things done, and that productivity can only happen from the solitude of a desk. To cut back on lengthy team meetings that accomplish little, remember that a digital tool that connects everyone involved instantly can speed up this process.

Instead of holding a meeting that interrupts each team member’s personal work, you can log on to your collaborate tool to set deadlines, add comments and designate tasks. Other users can log on and do the same, instantly communicating project details without having to move from their seats.


Competition Analysis

How can you be sure you’re keeping up with expectations in your industry? How might you gauge whether your competitors are pulling away in social media marketing or offering a better deal to their customers?

There are now tools for analyzing competitors and monitoring their success. Compete is a simple tool that does this task quite well. You can uncover stronger SEO keywords, learn which domains are performing well and even see where the most clicks originate. SimilarWeb is another commonly used tool that gives direct insight and comparisons between your marketing practices and your competitor’s. Competition analysis tools allow you to delve into data that shows what marketing techniques work best in your industry. See what apps and websites are performing better or worse than yours.

Ultimately, this tool can save you a ton of time and money spent on testing various techniques. Instead, view the data and know which decisions are more likely to work for you based on your industry.


Lead Generation

Lead generation is arguably the most crucial process businesses must optimize. Without strong leads you wouldn’t have business, and you certainly wouldn’t need many of the tools mentioned above. Determining the quality of a lead is the toughest part of lead generation; a strategic approach to this task is absolutely necessary — especially considering the vagueness and anonymity of online leads.

As with all of the categories listed above, there are dozens of options that offer help generating leads. PR Hunters, for example, delivers potential PR leads from Twitter straight to your inbox. SumoMe offers an array of tools for increasing website traffic and email subscribers. Pipetop is a slightly pricier option that offers lead generation ideal for sales professionals.

Getting lead generation out of the way quickly can free up more time to focus directly on sales. Ideally, your social accounts, website, and even your email signature can be arranged to capture leads. A quality lead-generation tool will help you not only capture leads but also monitor where the best leads originate (email marketing, SEO, PPC ads, etc). You can then put more time and energy into the channels that offer the highest ROI for your growth strategy while ditching the ones that offer nothing.


Overwhelmed? Don’t Be.

With a set of tools this robust and multi-faceted, anyone can become overwhelmed, and the list above just scratches the surface of all the options available to choose from. Trying to vet and implement these tools all at once is certain to prompt a headache and an anxiety attack — just take a step back and consider your needs. Ultimately, you must assess what is essential now and what can wait, which will largely be determined by your budget, current problems and the rate at which you are scaling.

While you may not introduce all of these systems to help with immediate business growth, you’ll want to be aware of the direction in which modern business is headed. Take your time and do your research, and eventually, each additional tool you need will become clear.


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