5 Free Tools SMBs Can Use to Stay Ahead of Their Competition

If you are a small business trying to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive environment, there is a lot of pressure to keep up with the Joneses. Your competitors are trading in the paper, and pen method to a more digital presence and clients are more tech savvy than ever and want you to be, too. Investing in technology can be expensive, but there are more and better free tools available tools all the time.

Monitor buzz surrounding your brand: Google Alerts

Google Alerts is free to use for anyone with a Gmail account, and it’s also better than most paid monitoring tools that I have tried. If you have an alert set up for your brand name and key terms related to the industry, you’re going to pick up 90% what’s happening around in your area and space. It’s presented in a digested form that can be easily reviewed without eating up too much of your time. Who knows when mentioning a timely article about accounting best practices will when over a potential client that is on the fence.

Pro tip: You can also monitor your brand for local competitors to keep tabs on their marketing strategy. You’re welcome.


Collect organized feedback: Google Forms

Google Forms is another great free tool to add to your business. It is an easy way to send out a customer satisfaction survey to your existing clients. Seeking feedback about how you are meeting the needs of your customers is going way above and beyond what most CPAs are doing, so it is an excellent way to stand out.

Getting a new client is great, but retaining an existing client is golden. You might have a customer who is unhappy with how things are going, and it is a good idea to let them blow off some steam before they blow their top completely. You may not have the time to get to know each client well, but you can always know that they value their time, and they don’t want to feel like they are being exploited.

Pro tip: If you are sending a customer survey out, be sure to solicit information that you will need to calculate your Net Promoter Score.

Streamline your branding efforts: Buffer

I use Buffer to schedule regular social media posts. We still have the flexibility to engage individual users, but there is no need to do everything manually at the moment. The interface is pretty simple. I like that they focus on solving one problem and solving it well.

The lowest version doesn’t cost anything, but if you want to be able to go from scheduling your social media posts from once a week to once a year, it might be worth investing the $100/year.

Pro tip: Your potential clients are spending more and more online and putting yourself out there on social media is a great way to get name recognition. But just as important is finding the best times to post on your social media.

Create and manage a website: WordPress

The single best open source software project out there for small businesses isWordPress. It’s a great platform for building a website and it’s far enough along in its development to be very user-friendly. It also has a big enough community that more features are being added all the time.  Have you seen a website lately that you loved, and wished your website looked that good?  It’s probably a $35 WordPress theme–with a full back-end that allows for editing by anyone (not just programmers).

Pro tip: You’re going to be able to get WordPress up and running quickly–without a lot of technical know-how. Nonetheless, it’s better to have a guide that details all the steps from installing it from your hosting service and installing the right theme and plugins.

Collect payments with free online invoicing

ZipBooks is the best online (and free) invoicing software program for small businesses. You have the ability to integrate credit card processing right inside the invoice. The built-in form makes it easy for your customers to pay without any extra steps.

ZipBooks also has premium features that you would expect from a paid accounting software program like recurring billing, late payment reminders, and a built-in time tracker. If your customer prefers to pay by check and you need cash in the bank right away, ZipBooks offers invoice financing as well.

Pro tip: ZipBooks integrates with Stripe and supports the ability to automatically bill your customers after the first paid invoice complete with an invoice marked as paid and a receipt that gets sent to the customer. It’s all the benefits of Stripe with the added bonus of a paper trail. 

I’ve waded through a lot of free online tools in my day, and these are my top picks for any small business owner that is trying to get more bang for their buck from the technology that they use.

Mars Cureg

Web designer by profession, photography hobbyist, T-shirt lover, design blog founder, gamer. Socially and physically awkward, lack of social skills, struggles to communicate with anyone who doesn't have a keyboard. Willing to walk to get to the promised land. Photo and video freelancer, SEO. Check out more on my Google+

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