From free phone calls and word-processing, to affordable stock photography, professional accounting, and PAYG online dialer telephony systems, the internet has revolutionised the way small businesses function. Instead of gambling on the right tools for the job, services can be trialled on a short-term basis, and paid for only when they’re needed.
We take a look here at some of the services that can give your business ahead of the game.
Voice over internet protocol – not “voice over” as in celebrities talking on adverts, but voice sent over the internet, using a microphone attached to your computer. This technology is generally discussed as if it’s free, but a data connection is necessary, and minutes are only free if the call is being made to another computer. Credit is usually needed if the call is being made to a landline or mobile. Don’t pay for VoIP credit while you still have free minutes to use up on your mobile monthly allowance. Skype is probably the most famous of VOIP providers.
Customer service website chat
Many companies now offer the option to chat with a customer service or sales representative via their website. The customer or potential client visits the site and can initiate a chat session if they have questions. Some packages allow reps to initiate the conversation in the first place, although this function should be used carefully as it can be seen as intrusive. Conversation transcripts are saved for analysis and can also be emailed to the customer, so they have a record of the useful information given.
Predictive analytics uses a variety of statistical techniques such as predictive modelling, machine learning, and data mining to analyze current and historical facts to make predictions about future or otherwise unknown events.
Modern developments mean that predictive analytics is no longer just the realm of big business, but has begun to feature in the toolboxes of many smaller companies. In particular, small businesses are increasingly finding more ways to use predictive esanalytics to their advantage such as in the areas of customer retention and target marketing.
Mailing list management and email marketing
Online systems that integrate mailing list sign-up with email marketing design are an absolute blessing for small businesses, with payment plans ranging from rolling monthly subscriptions to pay-per-mail-out. Customers sign up via a website or other link, choose their interests (if necessary), and can unsubscribe via the same system. Most services let business owners design their own newsletters within the system or upload custom HTML, and check that email clients will interpret the design correctly. The best services also offer intelligent analytics to see who opens which emails, and when, to help pinpoint the most effective communications. Dysfunctional email addresses are generally unsubscribed automatically to ensure that the mailing list stays clean and useful.
Online software – word processing and spreadsheets
Gone are the days of expensive software licenses just to write a letter; online word processing is now available for free from Google and Microsoft, and the documents can easily be shared with colleagues and collaborators. Although these tools are missing the more hard-core functions like MailMerge and macros, they’re certainly enough for writing letters and proposals, creating financial projections and keeping track of uncomplicated finances like petty cash.
Accounts aren’t normally the most entertaining part of running a business, but doing them properly can save a large chunk of tax. High street accountancy firms can be intimidatingly expensive, especially for small businesses with a relatively low turnover, so online accounting systems are an ideal compromise. Use them to generate invoices, run payroll, calculate and pay taxes, and run projections, but pay a fraction of what a high street or in-house accounting department would cost each year.