It’s a fundamental paradox for small business owners: How do you expand your revenues, grow market share and maintain optimum production and service levels without disrupting cash flow or sending operations into a tailspin? Thankfully, even for the most time-, money- or manpower-deprived entrepreneur, a wealth of apps, gadgets and online solutions exists that can help you broaden your reach without biting off more than you can chew. Looking to give your business a sudden boost of upward momentum? Try the following five high-tech tools and services, all of which could potentially prove vital resources in your ongoing fight to score more customers and send profits soaring.
1. Build an Online Presence – Need a professional-looking website, but don’t have the time, cash or technical know-how to get started? Try Onepager, which makes it possible for beginners to establish an attractive online presence in no time flat. Using the site, business owners simply type their company name, tagline and body text into a number of preexisting templates, to which photos and visual styling can be added. A point-and-click interface further makes it easy to introduce newsletter signups, service rundowns, social media links and contact information. Once complete, the site helps you register a domain name, monitor customer behavior and otherwise enjoy the benefits of marketing to the online world. Providers like Intuit and 1&1 also offer easy off-the-shelf solutions.
2. Secure Venture Capital – Have the perfect idea for a new electronic gadget or restaurant chain, but lack the funds to quit your day job, let alone mass-produce consumer products? Do what today’s smartest entrepreneurs do: Beg strangers for spare change. Crowdsourced funding sites such as Kickstarter, RocketHub and IndieGogo let you post details of your dream projects, complete with colorful descriptions, photos and videos, then source pledges from the general public. Rather than equity, investors typically receive personalized or product-based incentives for their kindness (e.g., a $5 donation nets a copy of the movie you helped fund’s DVD, while $500 scores a personal thank you call from the director). Group seed capital programs such as Grow VC and fundraising platforms like Crowdrise may also prove a handy alternative to romancing fickle angel investors or handing over 30% of your company for minimal return.
3. Start Taking Credit Card Payments – From everyday consumers to major corporations, many customers prefer to pay via credit card. Letting them do so on-demand using a solution like Square, which lets you connect a plastic card reader accessory to your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Android mobile device isn’t just simple and convenient. It also makes good business sense, allowing you to instantly swipe their American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover and secure down payments, project milestones and up-front advances on the spot. Charging a single 2.75% flat fee on each transaction, and letting you setup custom inventories of items with personalized photos, names and prices, it can streamline and simplify billing for businesses of all sizes.
4. Land Free Publicity – Every entrepreneur dreams of making headlines or enjoying time in the spotlight. Help a Reporter Out (HARO) offers the opportunity to do so in seconds – and without spending a single dime on marketing or advertisement. A matchmaking service that pairs journalists with subject matter experts, simply submit your name and email to receive a daily newsletter from members of the media who need commenting sources. Think you’re the perfect fit to field calls for a professional organizer or whiz in the field of cloud computing? Just respond to the queries that show up in your Inbox, and you could find yourself quoted everywhere from CNN to The New York Times.
5. Create a Custom Virtual Store – The most direct way to put e-commerce to work: Add an attractive online storefront capable of effortlessly handling myriad payment solutions that’s chock-full of must-have goods. Multiple options from Goodsie to Shopify, Volusion and BigCommerce can help, making it possible to set up both basic solutions that require minimal to no programming, and more complex and sophisticated virtual bazaars. Note that while it’s tempting to go big on features and selection here, the first-time builder is advised to keep things simple. Start by staying focused on practicality, convenience and popular high-margin goods, then expand organically, rather than risking overcomplicating your user interface or overwhelming shoppers with frivolous alternatives.