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5 Essential Business Tools for Today: Information for the Rest of Us

No this is not an Über-late Festivus post.  The intention of this post is to serve the individuals and small businesses who must compete with mega-corporations in delivering  products and services with no infrastructural support departments such as IT, Marketing, Development or HR.

I specialize in helping individuals, sole proprietors to CEOs, get the information they need to succeed.  I also help individuals at all levels of enterprise to deliver the information that clients need and expect.  Once libraries delivered  information with a broad brush, but with cuts to university and public, government-funded libraries co-occurring with the exponential rise of information generation and the segmentation of information and access into silos, it has become far more difficult for the average person to access specialized information. This article winnows out 5 types of essential overarching tools from the massive amounts of informational chaff  floating about the proprietary information silos each industry constructs.

sm business tools

Go Mobile

Make sure your website has a mobile responsive design.  Up to half of the people attempting to access your business information online are using phones or tablets.  If the design, framework or theme, is not one that automatically determines and adjusts to the devise being used to access the site, you have lost half of your potential clients and customers.  Check out how your site looks on phones, tablets and different computer browsers.  It if does not look good, then you or your IT vendors are many  years behind the industry’s standard, not to mention best, practices.  This flexibility is built-in at the theme level.  All major theme designers, such as those working with Studio Press, Theme Forest,  and Woo Themes, produce mobile responsive designs.

Develop Your Network of Colleagues and Collaborators

Humans are social creatures, and the new economy builds on this interactive nature by incorporating communication as an essential, significant element of all we do.  Networking events where mingling is artificial and everyone pitches each other madly handing out cards seems forced and somewhat antiquated.  Networking has evolved to be a continuous practice integrated within most business processes that occur both on and off-line. For offline gatherings, authenticity is the key.  I cannot stress enough how useful network platforms for physical world gatherings can be.  I use Meetup.com to connect with tech, information and business professionals by attending meetups that are of interest or hosted by knowledgable individuals.  I host a group for local women bloggers where I meet women business owners like myself who want to know about blogging so I can stay in touch with the current needs  for one of my key client demographics.

Get a Social Media Management Tool and Use It

Tweet Deck and Hoot Suite for social media management are both great, easy to use tools that allow you to manage multiple accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook, and schedule social media posts ahead of time.  New services expressly designed for  individuals and small businesses that allow for elegant campaign creation and tracking are now being developed where once only costly enterprise level solutions existed.  Rignite  stands out in this market by not imposing their branding even on pro-level  campaign content as do other providers.

A great and under-utilized way to use these scheduling and posting tools is to use a separate account from your business name account to follow trends that impact your business.  Competitive intelligence gathering  is beyond the time and budget limits of most sole proprietors and small businesses, but there is no reason to advertise to your competitors, that might be following you on social media, where or from whom you get your scoops, information, and trade info that keeps you ahead of the pack.

Have an Information Procurement Strategy Beyond Google

“Google it”  may be a good strategy for most day-to-day information needs, but every successful business has a specialized information tool that can either trim budgets, outmaneuver your competition, or simply hone your niche for efficacy and efficiency.  Perhaps it is a subscription to a key trade publication, an employee who is “really up on this stuff” but it might, easily could, and probably should be a library card/account.  If you have the ability to access a research library, such as a local community college or state university, do that.  Why?  Business databases, current newspaper databases, reference access to finding tools such as the Thomas Register services are some of the key reasons.    Get to know your business librarian.   Find out what services you have access to as a community member or state resident.  Schedule in an hour a week to get to know the resources available to you.  One week might be attending a free seminar,  the next it might be browsing the major journal or magazine for your industry.

Have an Information Security Strategy

If you are using a self-hosted WordPress installation, the most commonly used platform for hosting websites and blogs, I suggest also using something like one or preferably both of these security plugins:  Bulletproof Security and Brute Protect.

Doing backup, install an SSL, and sign up a security service provider, such as Sucuri for your website; these are practices of most secure sites.  Backup can be set up as a chron job through the cpanel provided by your hosting company, or there are backup plug-ins for WordPress.  If you gather information on your site, you should have an SSL – without that little lock reassuring people at the top of your site, no one will complete purchases on your site.  Please do not even think of having a self-hosted e-commerce site without setting up an SSL, which also goes by the name of having a security certificate.

No small business can do everything large competitors do, but what small businesses choose to deliver should be provided using contemporary best practices.  That now includes savvy online presence informed by the latest information.

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