Essential WordPress Plugins every Small Business Should Have

For small business owners operating in today’s digital age, having a website is a must. A few of the most compelling reasons why include the fact that a website gives you the opportunity to sell your products online, makes your business more reputable, and it can help you to attract more customers.

Despite the many benefits that small business owners can enjoy from having a website, a shocking number of small businesses don’t have one. In fact, Pixolab discovered through its most recent study that less than two-thirds of small businesses reported having a website thus far in 2021.

small business

One possible explanation for this is that small business owners feel that they don’t have either the time, the knowledge, or a combination of the two, to get a website off the ground, get it noticed, and put in the maintenance to keep it running. While running a website does involve some work, it’s not as daunting of an undertaking as most people think.

How so, you may be wondering? Well, when you create a website through WordPress, you have the opportunity to choose from nearly 50,000 plugin options that can help make your website more functional, easy to maintain, and even easier to market.

Whether you’re a small business owner who has a website that could use a makeover, or who currently doesn’t have a website at all, keep reading to learn about 5 essential WordPress plugins you can leverage to give your platform a boost.

Related:- Why customer feedback is a big deal for businesses

Yoast SEO

One of the places where many small businesses go wrong is that they put in the effort to create a website, but then fail to put the time in on the back-end to make their website as findable on search engines as possible. Yoast is a free plugin with optional premium features that makes it easier for you to identify relevant keywords and optimize blog posts and specific website pages accordingly.

The plugin walks you through every step of the process, and provides you with specific steps and suggestions on what you should do or change to each page/post to make it more SEO-friendly.

Take this blog post of mine as an example. After I wrote the post, I was able to consult with Yoast to narrow down a relevant focus keyphrase (easy no-essay scholarships) and then edit my post accordingly to make it as “green” as possible.

Every time you go through and make changes, Yoast updates according to those changes to tell you if you’re looking good, and where you can use some improvement. The plugin walks you through every step of the process, and provides you with specific steps and suggestions on what you should do or change to each page/post to make it more SEO-friendly.

The best part is that you don’t need to have any previous knowledge or experience with SEO to be able to use it and take advantage of its features.

Smash Balloon Instagram Feed

Social media can be a great way for small businesses to get their name out there, interact with customers, and of course, get more business! For business owners who are already active on socials (or for those who plan to be), the Smash Balloon Instagram Feed plugin easily allows you to integrate your various feeds into your website for greater visibility and reach.

Despite its name, this plugin gives you the option to sync up with a few other social media platforms in addition to Instagram, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The setup process is straightforward, and the plugin gives you a variety of different options for the actual appearance of the feed. The outcome is a piece of shortcode which you can seamlessly embed into any page on your website, that, on the front-end.

Related:- 5 ways to improve your business during slow seasons

Gravity Forms (With Stripe Add On)

For small business owners who sell any type of product (physical or digital), the Gravity Forms plugin with the Stripe Add On is an essential and easy platform to help you sell your products and get paid for those sales. It allows you to collect one-time payments as well as recurring payments from your customers, say, for a subscription-based product.

In terms of getting it set up, I would be lying if I said that it was one of the easiest to work with. Because the process involves collecting secure and private credit card information, there are a few precursory steps that you will likely need to take before you can get this plugin up and running. Luckily, this page on the Gravity Forms website walks you through all of the pre-steps that you need to take in order to get things up and running.

Beaver Builder

Last, but certainly not least, we have Beaver Builder. Beaver Builder is a drag and drop tool that allows you to construct professional, clean, and compelling pages of all kinds for your website. This is super great for small business owners because it eliminates the need to learn or use HTML code to build a great looking website.

This plugin comes with a seemingly endless string of features (literally, dozens and dozens of them!) that you can play around with and test out with your content. In the event that you are not the most creative small business owner out there, Beaver Builder also has plenty of pre-built templates for you to “plug and chug” to come out with a great looking site.

This WordPress plugin has over 300,000 active installations, proving that it is not only a game changer for little old me, but for many other business owners as well.

Why customer feedback is a big deal for businesses

A man walks into his favorite coffee shop. Something’s changed: the barista serves him his regular order, but with new beans.

She sits down for a second to ask what he thinks: he isn’t thrilled, something about the bitterness. Next time, she’ll serve him a less bitter one, she tells him. And she knows he’ll be back.

feedback

As a freelancer or small business owner, you have the luxury of establishing direct relations and conversations with your customer base. And it pays off: 77% of consumers see brands more favorably if they seek out and apply customer feedback.

If your services are digital, or if you’re in e-commerce, you can’t just walk up to your customer’s table and sit down for a conversation. But what you can do is actively pursue customer feedback. Here’s how and why.

Feedback is a positive thing, even when it’s negative

Yes, you’re short on time, and you can’t expect your clients to take time to help you improve your business either. But you’re both constantly looking at ways to improve your business. When they receive your product or service, inevitably they’ll have ideas of how it all could have been better.

How will you find out though, if only one out of every 26 customers is likely to bring up complaints? The other 25 will likely switch to another brand or business. Instead of waiting for incidents to escalate and come to you in the shape of complaints and bad reviews, it’s time to get ahead.

Feedback forms help you do just that. The right place, time, and questions will help you drastically improve your goods and services. We’re here to give you the rundown on why and how to implement surveys in your customer service strategy.

Related:- 15 Web Tools to Help Small Business eCommerce

Why you’ll want to start collecting feedback from clients

It’s highly likely you’re already collecting all kinds of data: web analytics or social stats are pointing out some deviations in how your website is being used, or who’s interacting with you. But, what does that really mean? Actual customer feedback helps you take out the guesswork.

Make data come to life

Analytics can be abstract without the right context. To really get to know what your customers are trying to tell you through their behaviour, all you need to do is ask. If you match actual feedback with data, you will get the full picture of what your customers are experiencing, and how you can improve that.

As a freelancer or small business you are often versatile and flexible enough to quickly adapt. If you can identify gaps between what you deliver and what customers want, you can proactively make the necessary changes.

Testimonials from clients

There’s no better marketing campaign than one of your customers sharing positive feedback about you with others. When collecting customer feedback through surveys, you get a chance to collect testimonials you can use on your website or social media.

Customer feedback is a part of customer experience

Listening to your customers leads to customer loyalty. The number one reason customers switch brands is because they feel unappreciated. By giving them a chance to weigh in on what you are offering them, you create a better relationship.

Rather than telling them what you’ve been up to, ask them what they’d like to see and receive. This switch in approach pays: customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that don’t focus on customers.

Related:- 5 ways to improve your business during slow seasons

How to create a highly effective survey for your freelance business

Anyone can create a survey, but it takes some extra work to create a good one. One that doesn’t waste your customers’ time, nor yours when reviewing the answers. Here’s what to keep in mind.

Know who you’re asking

It can be awkward for both parties to sit down and start asking where you went wrong. But, collecting feedback still works better when it’s in a personal format. That’s why it’s unadvisable to send out one huge survey to everyone in your mailing list.

The issue with that is that first of all, it makes respondents feel insignificant. ‘’Hey, we’re collecting feedback from all of our clients’’. Their first thought? ‘’Okay, you could probably do without mine, what’s one less, right?’’ Whereas: ‘’Hey, you’ve recently bought product A, we’d like to know how you’re using it now?’’ makes you feel like a person, not a client number.

Second of all, as you can sense from the second question, not every customer is the same. They probably have used your service differently and chose you for different reasons. Long-term customers will have something different to say than first time buyers.

Create surveys for specific people and send them out at specific moments, or display them in a place on your webpage where the right people will inevitably find it. It’s not about getting as many responses as you can, but about quality ones.

Get real specific

You can’t work on a product or service as a whole. You’ll improve bits and pieces. So, match your questions to that. Your customers won’t be able to take your entire business to the next level, and you shouldn’t expect that from them. The point of feedback is to get insights on small, tangible things that you can actually improve.

Instead of generic questions, pick a few small factors. For instance, when you are analyzing your deliveries, ask: ‘’To what level did the delivery time match your expectations?’’ and: How satisfied are you with the number of updates on your delivery?’’. Instead of: ‘’How fast and reliable do you think we are?’’. You can be slow, but still very reliable.

Think backwards

There are some standard questions people are expecting to find in surveys. However, they can often be eliminated for everyone’s sake. When formulating questions, start with the end in mind: what can you really do with an answer to this question? This will help you keep your survey short and sweet.

Also ask yourself what type of responses will help you improve your business. Surveys full of scales and multiple choice questions restrict your customers to replying within your own assumptions. It might even leave you with even more hard-to-interpret data. Open-ended questions help you find the thoughts and feelings behind the numbers.

5 ways to improve your business during slow seasons

Whether your business is bustling year-round or experiences high- and low-sales seasons, there will be times during the year when you have a predictable drop in both your number of customers and revenue.

These slow periods can be discouraging, but on the other side, they can also be the perfect time for resourceful, creative, and efficient brainstorming, as well as planning for the future of your business.

business

These seasons of lull are hidden opportunities for growth if you maximize the time to assess and improve on your current business model or processes. Use the strategies below to head into the off-season with purpose and move into your busy sales season with a better and more profitable business.

Partner with established organizations in the community

If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, and want to increase the volume of foot traffic to your business, this is the perfect time to head outside and connect with the community. An estimated 82% of Americans take a brand’s social responsibility into account when choosing whether to make a purchase, according to the Forbes Human Resources Council.

During slow seasons, use this time to partner with a local organization that’s doing good in your local community. Not only does this give you marketing and social media fodder, but it helps you show potential customers that you’re here to do more than sell products. You care about the community you live in and you’re willing to give a helping hand where you can.

According to a 2017 survey from Cone Communications, 87% of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for a cause they cared about.

Use this opportunity to attract new clients and customers. Some options to look for include sponsoring an event, seminar, workshop or fundraiser or hosting your own community clean-up day. Better yet, create your own events or workshops that allow you to show your expertise while getting involved with the community.

Bowler Hat, a digital marketing agency, offers digital marketing workshops to local small businesses. Marcus Miller, SEO and digital marketing strategist for Bowler Hat tells Business News Daily:

“Sometimes this turns into business for us when there is someone we can help. Our entire focus is helping small businesses with their marketing, so we find if we do what we can to help, then the work we need comes to us.”

Related:- If Your Business Doesn’t Have a Mobile App, Read This

Revamp your marketing and experiment

Now’s the time to experiment with bold, innovative marketing tactics that spark renewed interest, attention, and excitement around your brand. First, start with your current marketing plan. Ask yourself: what is working and what isn’t? Use this as a jumping off point to decide what you’ll test out during your slow season.

For example, if your testimonial videos typically get plenty of likes on Facebook, it may be time to test Facebook Live or Instagram Live—put yourself and your brand front and center.

You could also use this time to test new print marketing strategies. Whether your business focuses on a local market or nationwide, direct mail marketing, for example, is ta great way to reach your audience directly without fighting through the clutter that comes with online marketing.

If you’ve never sent direct mail before, check out this guide from MyCreativeShop to get started. You’ll find design and strategy ideas that ensure your direct mail test is as effective as it can be.

Related:- 15 Web Tools to Help Small Business eCommerce

Optimize your website for SEO

Nearly 80% of consumers use search engines to find the products or services they need, according to the Local Search Association. If your digital footprint is non-existent, meaning your website can’t be found, you’re losing opportunities for revenue.

The best way to get your website in front of customers online is to use search engine optimization (SEO), which ensures that Google both sees and ranks your website for the terms that your customers are searching for.

Use your slow-season downtime to make some of the following updates:

  • Make sure your website is optimized for mobile devices. Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to see what changes you need to make.
  • Update your title tags and meta description for all the pages on your website and use the right keywords.
  • Update your business’ blog regularly with fresh content, images, and links to new blog posts.
  • Check that your business information (name, address, phone) are all consistent and correct on your own site, your Google My Business listing, and any other listing sites.

15 Web Tools to Help Small Business eCommerce

As the number of people using the internet grows steadily, as cell phones and tablets become more affordable, eCommerce has definitely become the norm. With 91% of adults in America owning mobile phones, physical stores are no longer needed as we can buy anything online with our mobile devices. Websites, once a novelty of the super niche, or the mega conglomerate international companies, are now essential for business.

eCommerce

There are many web based tools out there to help businesses run things smoothly online. It used to be that a business had to go to great expense; buying a server that could handle the flow of customers, hiring web designers to create a website that was user friendly, to promoting that website on TV and various other media. These days there are tools that handle everything, and if done right, social media can be a cheap way to make your site a household name. Here’s a list of a few important web tools that help you run your business:

Related:- If Your Business Doesn’t Have a Mobile App, Read This

Web Design and Hosting

It used to be that you needed to hire a team of professionals to build your website, and you needed a server in house to maintain the flow of customer traffic to your site. These days there are tools that can help you build a website yourself, with no coding experience needed. Good web design tools will enable you to tweak your site pretty much however you want it. If you want things to be super specific though, not to worry. There are plenty of ways to learn coding online for free.

The vast majority of webhosts have themes and tools that can help you build your site. For businesses looking to monetize their site, it is especially important to be able to have a powerful host that not only can handle customer flow into the site, but also be able to provide security site-wide.

A few webhost tools include:

  • WordPress  – 9% of all websites worldwide run on WordPress. Has a nearly endless supply of tweaks, themes and extensions so you can customize your site to your heart’s content.
  • Squarespace – has an easy to use interface that has a “drag and drop” approach to design. Squarespace is fully customizable just like WordPress, with various themes and add-ons that make your site function however you’d like.
  • YourMembership  – a one stop shop for businesses, Your Membership software helps you monitor and interact with your customers and provides analytics based on spending and other trends. They also provide web hosting as well as a web design tool focused on helping you attract customers.

Social Media Management

Social media has always been a game changer when it comes to doing business online. Recently social media activity has even been showing up in search results, giving businesses even greater incentive to cultivate a social media presence. Businesses are able to reach more people than ever with a properly managed social media profile. People often contact businesses through social media to voice concerns or ask questions. In fact, 42% of Americans expect a response within an hour to complaints. It is important to be on top of communications that might negatively affect your business.

Getting a social media following has the added benefit of encouraging return customers. People like deals, so those who follow you are most likely to jump on opportunities when you present them with deals. Here are a few tools to help get the most out of your social media accounts:

  • SocialClout – analyzes your social media presence and gives suggestions on how to improve. Analyzes keywords, demographics and data from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to let you know what people are talking about that’s relevant to you.
  • Edgar – you can create a posting schedule for your social media accounts that also can give you suggestions on what to post and where. You can always be on top of the latest buzz!
  • Mention – monitors web content in real-time that makes mentions of you and your brand. You can keep tabs on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. You can also connect it to Buffer. Use it to share and assign tasks to your team.
  • ly  a link shortener that tracks people that use the link, gathering data like where they’re accessing it, the demographic as well as social media shares.

Related:- Firewalls: Don’t Skimp on Your Business’s Security

In-house Communication

Communication is key to running a business smoothly. Keeping on top of deadlines and letting your team know of changes that need to be made, assigning tasks, all are a part of a business’s communication. There are quite a few apps out there that help people convey information, the best of which are loaded with features and enable syncing across multiple platforms.

Every business needs good communication, as being in the loop is essential. Keeping on top of client calls and updated meeting times, is essential to make a business run smoothly. Here’s a list of some communication apps that are available:

  • Slack – has many features including file sharing and Google Drive and Google Hangout integration. Slack also supports group conversations, and even has an app that can be downloaded for iOS and Android that will enable you to keep in touch 24/7.
  • Campfire – has lots of add-ons that can be used to customize your communications for specific needs. There are various security features such as password-protected group chats, and users can use it with other networks.
  • Redbooth – mainly a task tracking/productivity application, Redbooth also has a chat function. It enables you to assign tasks and organize meetings and deadlines; it even connects to a webcam.
  • OfficeChat – is a versatile communications app that is compatible on iOS, Android and Windows. It enables group conversations and file sharing. You can also buy plans that allow you to add more features.

Information Management & Security

Database and file management is important to keeping sensitive information secure and available to those who need it. There are many file management web tools to choose from that have a wide variety of functions, to keep your business running, you can really keep your sensitive files how you need.

Some file management web tools:

  • BackupAssist – a cloud based file backup and recovery service which provides encrypted security protocols. BackupAssist also has SQL server and Hyper-V protection and many other options to keep data safe.
  • Thinkfree – a file locker that emphasizes cloud based access to files, to enable work on any internet accessible device. Thinkfree also allows you to share documents with your team, where they can have various levels of access, from read only to edit permissions and the ability to post to blogs.
  • JustCloud – uses a program to automatically back up files to the cloud from your computer so you can access them anytime. There are also apps available to allow you to sync between devices.
  • Hightail – allows you to send files of up to 10 GB and features advanced security features so you can control who sees them. Share project folders with colleagues and customers alike and decide who can edit. Hightail offers unlimited storage space and has mobile syncing through an app.

These are just a few of the tools out there that can help your business run smoothly. There are thousands to choose from and one of them is sure to fit your needs.

If Your Business Doesn’t Have a Mobile App, Read This

Mobile app have become one of the best ways for companies to connect with their target audience and let them know about their services.

In 2018, global mobile app revenues amounted to over 365 billion U.S. dollars. In 2023, mobile apps are projected to generate more than 935 billion U.S. dollars in revenues via paid downloads and in-app advertising, says Statista.

Mobile app
Happy indian young woman using mobile apps holding smart phone

Mobile apps are one of the greatest inventions of technology today. They can keep you engaged the whole day. They are so significant and reliable that you cannot ignore them. They are pivotal for all businesses.

As of 2019, over 2 million apps are available for download on the Google Play store, while 1.83 million apps are available on the Apple App Store, says Statista.

Let’s review in more detail the major benefits of mobile development.

Related:- Firewalls: Don’t Skimp on Your Business’s Security

Improve Customer Engagement

Improving customer engagement is one of the biggest advantages of Mobile Apps. A mobile app is the face of your business. It allows you to stay connected with your users. Having a messaging feature within your mobile app lets your users communicate with you. Thus, by listening to customer queries and letting them know about your products/services, a mobile help improves customer engagement.

For example, 57% of customers won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed website on mobile. And if a website isn’t mobile-friendly, 50% of customers will stop visiting it, even if they like the business.

For instance OpenTable is an online restaurant reservation company based in California allows its users to book for a table online instead of calling. This is an advantage to your company because people these days prefer to communicate using an app rather than calling.

A well-designed app icon of your mobile app just can’t pass by without being noticed. It compels your users to tap on it as they come across it. Thus, by accessing your mobile app, people come to know about your business which increases your customer engagement. Clearly, rendering an improved customer experience is one of the greatest benefits of Mobile Development.

Create a Direct Marketing Channel

Mobile apps serve many functions: they provide general information, prices, queries, search features, user accounts, messengers, news feeds, and much more.

By rendering a platform for sales and marketing, mobile apps help your customers know about your brand. A mobile app is the online representation of your brand. You can promote your services, sell your products, run marketing campaigns, advertisements to increase awareness of your product.

With the advent of Push Notifications, the importance of mobile apps in business has now grown more than ever before. Through push notifications, businesses can directly interact with their targeted users and let them know about their products and services.

According to Adobe Digital Insights (ADI), more consumers visit retail sites on mobile than on desktop. By the end of 2022, more than half of retailers’ revenue will come from mobile. So instead of playing second fiddle to desktop, teams should shift their adequate resources and personalization efforts to mobile, says Adobe.

Related:- Tips to Help Your Business Use Slack More Productively

Build Brand and Recognition

A mobile app helps businesses in building your brand and provides recognition to it. It creates awareness about your brand. A combination of brand and recognition will surely make your mobile app a complete success. This is perhaps one of the most important benefits of mobile app development, and there are any number of mobile app ideas to help get you started.

Brand: A mobile app represents your brand in the market. So, before you launch your mobile app in the market, make sure it has a well- designed and alluring icon. You can make your mobile app stylish, functional, or informative as you desire. But whatever you do, remember, it should have alluring features that are able to attract users to your product/service.

Recognition: The more customers get allured to your apps, they are more inclined to buy your product. Apps help in giving recognition to your app.

The Bottom Line

By now, I am sure you have got a clear idea of the benefits of mobile app development for your business. There are numerous benefits that your business can achieve with the help of a mobile app. You can hire a mobile app developer that can help in building alluring mobile apps that suit your business requirements.

It’s important that your mobile app should be alluring enough to grab the attention of your users. An engaging user interface is what keeps your users attached to your users. It compels them in staying hooked to your services.

Firewalls: Don’t Skimp on Your Business’s Security

Security is quite possibly the most important concern for any business. You need to know that your critical data – both internal data and customer information – is secure. Security 

If that information is hacked or accessed by the wrong person, you may be opened up to a world of legal and financial trouble.

Related:- Tips to Help Your Business Use Slack More Productively

Security

On the most basic level, Consumer Grade firewalls or routers have no intelligent scanning of incoming data. That means that they are only looking for very specific threats as they attack your network: they aren’t scanning everything as it comes through – which is standard on even entry-level Business Grade firewalls. If viruses or malware are disguised to any degree, they will be able to penetrate a Consumer Grade router/firewall into your network and begin to cause harm.

On a more technical level, hackers can easily break through a Consumer Grade, or home, firewall to access a business network and data, as detailed in this recent Security dark Reading article. (One of our engineers was once able to hack into his church’s firewall/router – all he had to do was google its default settings! Of course, they were right there watching him do it, but someone with more malicious intent could have done the exact same thing.)

Reporting

There are features available on most Business Grade firewalls that allow for deeper insight and reporting. For instance, WatchGuard offers a service called Application Control that allows monitoring and detailed information, in real time, on the apps being used on the network and which apps are using the most bandwidth. Administrators are then able to make adjustments on the fly to provide the more important apps more bandwidth, instead of those that aren’t business related (i.e. Facebook, Online Gaming, Pandora, etc.)

Related:- free and low cost tools to help run your small business

Service

Business Grade firewalls and security solutions come with business grade service and support. A business IT provider is not going to be much help if a Linksys router goes down, leaving your network wide open. With a Business Grade solution, though, there are certified professionals who can quickly diagnose the issue and provide a solution in a timely manner, either remotely or on-site. If you have ever had to call for help with your home router, you know how frustrating it can be to get support.

Business security is one thing that you definitely do not want to take lightly. A consumer level firewall simply does not offer the protection needed to keep your company’s online reputation clean. Everyday numerous email servers are placed on a blacklist because their user accounts are compromised by malicious code. Getting onto a blacklist means your outgoing emails will be rejected by clients and partners and it can take weeks to get off the list. Having a proper business firewall in place can make the difference between weeks of profitability or weeks of work trying to get back on track.

Tips to Help Your Business Use Slack More Productively

In a time where the Internet and technology have found ways to connect us seamlessly and instantly, business communication has become easier than ever before. From anywhere in the world, small businesses, startups, and large corporations alike have found ways to utilize the Internet for maximum productivity, using applications and platforms like Trello, Hive and Skype to get the job done quickly and easily. One popular app that has made its way to plenty of companies is Slack, which BetaNews reports has over 10 million daily active users along with 85,000 paid customers—and for good reason.

Business

Companies use it as a hub for notifications, calendar reminders, project development, and uploading files—all of which increases workplace productivity. But how do they do this? And how can you take advantage of Slack to boost your efficiency and productivity? You can get started with this as soon as now, as we’re going to outline 4 tips you can follow to make your Slack channel (and your business!) more productive.

Set up Slack channels for more organization

The best thing about Slack is that you can have as many channels as you want, and for any purpose. These channels serve as group chats, and can include (and exclude) anyone in your workspace. For instance, you can have a channel solely for file sharing, another one for discussions on a particular project, and even one for random conversations. You can also name these whatever you want so that employees can take one glance and know its purpose.

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Use Slack bots to automate tasks

Once you’ve settled into Slack, automate tasks with the range of bots Slack and other developers have to offer. An article by HP on ‘Great Slack Bots for Small Businesses’ recommends Attendance Bot, which is a great bot for shift management. It can keep track of sick days, vacation leaves, and even track time or shifts. Aside from this, there are bots for all purposes—IT support, scheduling meetings, and even team building, it’s all a matter of finding the best one for your business.

Leverage app integrations

If you’re using other apps outside of Slack to collaborate with your team, you can connect them to Slack. Apps such as Trello and Google Drive can be integrated within your channels, so that you don’t have to keep switching in and out of Slack. Simply click your team name in the left-hand corner, then choose “Apps & Integrations.” Make sure that you have the permission to do so, as only team owners and administrators can limit who can add apps to the team’s workspace.

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Silence notifications

A basic, yet sometimes necessary tip that digital consultant John Boitnott recommends is to silence notifications from channels, users, or everyone when you need it. Being the team owner can get a little hectic—especially if you’re part of all the channels. Not to mention, all the push notifications coming in can distract you from your work, which will definitely be counterproductive. That said, you can mute notifications from certain channels or users. You’ll still see how many new messages there are in your sidebar, but at least you won’t have to suffer from the classic Slack notification every few seconds anymore.

In a nutshell

At its core, Slack is a messaging app meant to improve workplace communication and reduce the emails sent, and while it still serves this purpose, Slack can do far more, according to SmallBiz Club’s article on ‘Top 5 Business Communication Tools in the Modern Workplace’. By using Slack strategically and taking advantage of all it has to offer in terms of bots, app integrations, and features, your business’ communication and productivity will improve in no time.

free and low cost tools to help run your small business

As a small business owner, you wear a lot of hats—and when running the business feels overwhelming, a tight cost can make things even more challenging.

cost

The good news is there are tons of capable tools designed (and priced!) specifically for small businesses. Whether you want to overhaul your project management process, streamline team communication, or take charge of your accounting, there’s a tool out there that can help.

Below, we outline 22 of them—all offering robust free or low cost options.

Project management tools

1. Trello

Cost: Free plan

Trello offers a project management solution based on the KANBAN methodology. You can create project boards and cards to represent each task, categorize those tasks, attach files, and assign cards to individual team members.

Who it’s great for:

  • Task-oriented business owners
  • Employers with multiple employees
  • KANBAN users

2. Asana

Cost: Free plan

Asana follows the traditional to-do list format and builds on it to make collaboration and prioritization easier. Users gain the ability to categorize and organize tasks, create sub-tasks, assign to individual team members, set due dates, and more.

Who it’s great for:

  • To-do list lovers
  • Business owners looking for flexibility
  • Collaborators

3. Airtable

Cost: Free plan

Airtable promises a supercharged version of spreadsheet project management. Users can add team members to tasks, organize and prioritize tasks via drag-and-drop, and easily scale the complexity of their project management as needs change and grow.

Who it’s great for:

  • Spreadsheet fans
  • Business owners with advanced technological needs
  • Anyone looking for advanced project management

Scheduling tools

4. Calendly

Cost: Free plan

Calendly allows users to customize their availability, then share a link to their calendar to make scheduling easy and quick. The tool also integrates with most major calendar apps and video conferencing tools.

Who it’s great for:

  • Business owners who schedule lots of meetings
  • Someone looking for a straightforward solution
  • Anyone looking to save time

5. Doodle

Cost: Starts at $4.49 per user per month

Doodle makes scheduling easier by enabling users to send a curated snapshot of their available times—in email, Slack, and more. For larger groups, users can also send out a poll for team members to vote on the best times for them.

Who it’s great for:

  • Business owners booking large meetings
  • Anyone with a complicated schedule

Email marketing tools

6. Mailchimp

Cost: Free plan

With Mailchimp’s email marketing tool, you can collect email subscribers and design and schedule professional email campaigns. Mailchimp also includes email templates to get you started, plus features for A/B testing campaigns and send times.

Who it’s great for:

  • Business owners who are new to email marketing
  • Budget-conscious marketers

7. HubSpot

Cost: Free

HubSpot’s email marketing software includes many of the key features of a more expensive tool—including email personalization, A/B testing, and robust analytics to help measure and optimize email campaigns.

Who it’s great for:

  • Business owners with email marketing experience
  • Employers looking for more advanced email capabilities
  • Business owners in need of a solution that integrates multiple marketing channels

Related:- 4 small business tax mistakes (and how to solve them)

8. Sender

Cost: Free plan

Integrating with popular ecommerce platforms, Sender is simplified email marketing designed for ecommerce. Users can create automated email series and even import their entire product catalog, so it’s quick and easy to add full product information into emails.

Who it’s great for:

  • Ecommerce-focused businesses
  • Detailing product information
  • Price-sensitive marketers

    Design tools

    9. Canva

    Cost: Free plan

    Canva offers a simple way for anyone to create professional designs, from logos and branding to social media posts, presentations, and print materials. Users can choose from pre-designed templates and elements, customize, or build designs from scratch.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Business owners without design expertise
    • Social media-driven businesses
    • Businesses looking for a way to stand out visually

    10. Crello

    Cost: Free plan

    Focused on the digital sphere, Crello offers over 30,000 templates for everything from social media posts to ads. Crello also enables users to design video content, and even animation.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Digital-driven small businesses
    • Business owners interested in utilizing video and animation

    Social media tools

    11. Buffer

    Cost: Free plan

    Buffer is a simplified tool that allows users to connect multiple social media accounts and schedule posts across all of them from one place. As needs grow, paid Buffer plans also provide social analytics and reports.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Businesses active on multiple social platforms
    • Time-crunched business owners who want to schedule their posts

    12. Hootsuite

    Cost: Free plan

    Hootsuite enables users to connect social media accounts and schedule posts and ads. While they offer a limited free plan, Hootsuite is one of the most scalable options for a growing social media presence.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Business owners focused on growth
    • Anyone with social media as a core part of their marketing strategy

    Communication tools

    13. Slack

    Cost: Free plan

    Slack is the go-to tool for instant internal business communication. Add users, create channels by topic or team, or send private direct messages. If you’ve used messaging platforms on your phone, you’ll have a good understanding of how easy Slack is to use.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Business owners with multiple employees
    • Anyone who sends a high volume of messages

    14. Zoom

    Cost: Free plan

    Zoom video conferencing software is free for up to 100 participants and unlimited one-on-one meetings. It’s become extremely popular during the pandemic, and is consistently counted on for critical video calls.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Anyone looking for high quality and dependable video conferencing
    • Entrepreneurs with large companies as clients

    Accounting and bookkeeping tools

    15. Wave Accounting

    Cost: Free forever

    With Wave Accounting, users can connect bank accounts, sync and categorize expenses, balance books and transactions, access financial reports, and get ready for tax season. Wave Accounting also syncs with other Wave services like Invoicing and Money to let you do more in one place, save time, and keep accurate records.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Service-based small business owners and freelancers
    • Anyone looking for a free solution that doesn’t compromise on features

    16. Sunrise

    Cost: Free plan

    Sunrise’s self-service plan lets users connect their bank, perform double entry accounting, and accept payments. As needs grow, Sunrise’s paid plans include a dedicated professional bookkeeper.

    Who it’s great for:

    Invoicing tools

    17. Wave Invoicing

    Cost: Free forever

    With Wave Invoicing, business owners can easily create branded, customized invoices with drag-and-drop templates. Wave makes it a breeze to add customers, services, and products, send invoices to customers, and accept bank and credit card payments.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Small business owners who want to offer customers the convenience of paying directly from an invoice
    • Entrepreneurs looking to manage their day-to-day finances in one place

    18. Invoice Simple Invoice Generator

    Cost: Free

    Invoice Simple offers a simplified invoice generator. Users input company, customer, and billing information, choose a main theme color, and the tool generates a simple, professional-looking invoice.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Small business owners looking for the most straightforward invoice experience
    • Time-strapped entrepreneurs

    Payment processing tools

    19. Wave Payments

    Cost: Per transaction processing fees of 1% for bank payments and 2.9% + $0.30 for most credit card payments.

    Wave Payments makes payment easy for businesses and their customers alike. Customers can pay directly from the Wave invoices they receive, while business owners can customize each invoice to accept bank payments, credit card payments, or both.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Businesses with customers who want to pay digitally
    • Anyone looking to avoid long-term subscriptions and sign-up fees

    20. PayPal

    Cost: Varies by product

    PayPal enables businesses to accept and process payments in myriad ways, including through invoices, ecommerce checkout, and in-person via point-of-sale. They offer a wide variety of services, and are well-known around the world.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Small business owners with clients in numerous countries
    • Businesses that sell goods and services digitally

    Payroll tools

    21. Wave Payroll

    Cost: $20-$35 per month plus $6 per employee/independent contractor per month

    Wave Payroll makes it easy for business owners to pay both employees and independent contractors. The tool lets you direct deposit payments, generate W-2 and 1099 tax forms, and automatically create payroll journal entries.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Small businesses with under 10 employees
    • Small business owners with both employees and independent contractors

    22. Gusto

    Cost: Starts at $19 per month plus $6 per person per month

    Gusto offers payroll as part of a broader HR and benefits platform. The Basic plan offers most payroll features—including 4-day direct deposit, paid time off (PTO), and workers’ comp for any single state.

    Who it’s great for:

    • Small business owners looking for a solution with additional HR capabilities
    • Businesses with larger amounts of employees

    Tools to make small business better

    A lot goes into running a small business, but you don’t have to do it alone. The tools above are designed to make every aspect of small business easier, simpler, and faster. And with most offering robust free plans, there’s no budget too small to benefit.

 

3 Ways to Protect Your Digital-Age Business

The digital age has meant many different things to many different groups of people, and the same is no less true for businesses. Modern companies can, and therefore must, augment their business models with state of the art tech in order to stay competitive or to gain a competitive edge.

digital age

However, this also introduces new problems in the form of potential cyber attacks. In order to protect your company from cyber attacks, you’ll need to know these tips.

IT

The IT department has been around for awhile now, and it has been associated for almost as long with ineffectual advice played for laughs on sitcoms. However, IT workers have been instrumental in creating the data and tech focused business landscape of today, because the machines on which modern companies rely are prone to a variety of malfunctions, both major and minor, that can impact the bottom line of the business in question.

This trend isn’t changing. In fact, IT workers have an even more important role as technology becomes more deeply entrenched in modern commerce and as the tech in question becomes even more advanced and esoteric. In order to keep things running smoothly, you’ll need to invest in IT via a managed service provider.

While you can hire IT workers for your staff directly, it’s a temporary solution, because you’ll eventually have to find and train replacements for these staff members when they were hired in the first place because they have a valuable and relatively rare skill set. Outsourcing your IT needs is far and away the best option in today’s world.

Related:- 5 practical tips for paying off your business debt

Cybersecurity

While the IT crowd can help you keep things operational at the mechanical level, you’ll still need solutions to the plethora of problems that can be caused by errant hackers. Hackers love to target businesses, because companies of all kinds have varying amounts of data on hand that is often more valuable than you might think.

Things like customers’ private information and even some trade secrets are readily available in many cases. At least they’re relatively easy for hackers to get their hands on. That’s why your business needs to invest in cybersecurity, because there are a variety of tools available to help you thwart hackers and all of their known methods, if you know where to look and have the budget at your disposal.

First and foremost, you’re going to want to hire a cybersecurity consultant for at the least the duration of the setup period. It takes an encyclopedic knowledge of all the various forms of cybersecurity software, as well as an eye for network monitoring, if you want to create a comprehensive security infrastructure.

Related:- 4 small business tax mistakes (and how to solve them)

Best Practices

Despite being able to protect your company due in large part to technological solutions, this isn’t always the case. Software can only do so much, and the majority of all security breaches are the result of simple mistakes on the part of users, and those users can be your staff. You’ll need to train your staff on the basics of online etiquette in order to ensure that they’re not putting your business at any more risk than is absolutely necessary.

You’ll want to make sure that your staff is using a password that isn’t easy for hackers to guess, and that means that they should use passwords that need to be written, because they’ll also be difficult to remember. In addition to this, you’ll also need to implement additional login security, and the frontrunner in that particular race is multi factor authentication.

Modern businesses have more advantages at their disposal than ever before. However, modern tech leaves a lot of room for error and a number of back doors that hackers can exploit in order to attack businesses. These problems can be overcome fairly easily, provided that you have an idea of the basic steps you’ll need to take in order to prevent hackers from infiltrating your network. These tips will help you do just that.

4 small business tax mistakes (and how to solve them)

With 2018’s tax season in the rearview mirror, and 2019’s tax season just around the corner, we’re revisiting the mistakes our new tax customers encountered and how we helped them get back on track.

tax

Here are the four most common problems we saw.

1. Surprise tax bill

Ever open a credit card bill and get shocked over the amount owed? We saw many tax customers in that situation except it wasn’t a bill but a large sum due with their tax returns.

In 2019, the highest federal tax rate for individuals is 35%. State income taxes can vary from 0% to as high as 13.3%. Self-employed business owners are also subject to self-employment taxes on their business profits, which can add an additional 15.3% of tax (before self-employment tax deduction).

Tax debt can really add up quickly, sometimes as much as tens of thousands of dollars.

Solution: Set aside money and make quarterly estimates

It’s quite easy to avoid this pitfall if you implement a sustainable bookkeeping routine.. An amazing colleague of mine wrote this article to assist small business owners with their cash flow including setting up an account for taxes. For those who aren’t behind on their taxes, setting aside funds for your taxes as soon as you are profitable means you’ve covered your tracks when tax season comes around, and can focus on managing your business instead.

For most self-employed individuals, taxes must be paid quarterly: by April 15, June 15, September 15 of the current tax year, and January 15 of the following year.

If you have fallen behind and do not have the funds to pay your taxes when your returns are due, speak to your tax advisor about setting up a payment plan with the IRS. If you do not have a tax advisor or can’t afford one, you can contact the IRS online for payment options. Tax deadlines are serious, but the government does support small businesses with flexible plans.

Related:- Business Benefits of Doing a Management Programme

2. Accidental payroll

Most small business owners are considered to be self-employed by the IRS. This means unless the business is incorporated, you can’t be both owner and an employee of your business.

Sole proprietors, general partners in a partnership, and member-managers (any member involved in the management) of an LLC are all considered to be self-employed by the IRS. If you fall into one of these categories, you do not need to be on the business’s payroll. The only exception is if your business is considered a corporation for tax purposes, such as a C-Corporation or an S-Corporation.

We see too many business owners pay themselves as employees, even though their tax structure prohibits it. The IRS states that paying yourself as an employee when you are self-employed is prohibited, so following the rules can be very useful in saving time and headaches.

Solution: Stop payroll and amend payroll returns, pay quarterly estimates instead

If your business is not a corporation and you have paid yourself as an employee through payroll, and have remitted payroll withholdings, you should stop immediately! Contact your tax advisor as soon as possible to see how this can be remedied. You may be able to amend the payroll returns and get a refund for the withholding submitted. Instead, you would submit taxes through quarterly estimated tax payments as we discussed above.

3. Reasonable compensation

If your business is a C-Corporation or an S-Corporation, and you provide services to your incorporated business, the IRS considers you to be an employee and you must be compensated through payroll for those services.

The IRS states that you must pay yourself reasonable compensation for your services. Generally speaking, reasonable compensation is what you would pay someone else to do the same job you are doing in the open market.

Reasonable compensation is mandatory. We see too many corporations not paying any salary, while others paying too much or too little. All of these are problems.

Solution: Research for support or pay back amounts drawn

The IRS uses professional valuators, databases, surveys and salary studies to determine reasonable compensation for any service provided. That being said, you don’t necessarily have to pay for a salary report from a valuator, and can use other resources to support a reasonable salary. If the IRS challenges the compensation you’ve paid yourself, you can present your research and findings to validate the amount you pay yourself is reasonable and industry-standard.

You can use job posting salaries for employment in your area that are similar to the service you’re offering. If you were previously employed at a different company, and then started a business on your own in a similar role, the salary you were paid from your previous employment could be support for the amount you pay yourself now.

Figuring out reasonable compensation can be difficult, so we always recommend you speak with your tax advisor as a starting point.

Related:- 5 practical tips for paying off your business debt

4. Paying for personal items with your business account

The line between business and personal can get blurry, but the IRS requires clear records when it comes to your tax filings. Personal expenses should be kept separate from any business costs. If you are putting personal expenses through the business, you very likely owe additional taxes: you might owe income and payroll tax liabilities on top of those unaccounted expenses.

In a corporation’s case, these expenses can be deemed as salary. This could mean that you owe additional amounts for income and payroll taxes.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you used your business to pay for $1,000 of personal expenses instead of paying yourself a wage through your corporation. If you did not pay yourself reasonable compensation, the IRS may treat this as if you issued yourself a paycheck of $1,000 of net pay after tax and payroll withholding. In this example, you would have needed to pay yourself gross wages of $1,500 to get a net paycheck of $1,000. On paper, you’ve created a $500 income and payroll tax liability by using your business to pay for personal expenses. In short, you owe the IRS $500.

Not remitting or paying an employee’s share of payroll taxes can land business owners in serious trouble with the IRS. The penalty can be 100% of the tax due for all directors and owners of the corporation, and even possible jail time as it is considered a criminal offence!

Solution: Shareholder loans with interest, or set up payroll to cover tax remittances

If you take out money on behalf of your business and plan to put it back shortly afterwards, the amount used to pay for personal expenses could be documented as a shareholder loan. A shareholder loan must be documented properly: the IRS usually wants to see a note payable, or shareholder’s loan agreement, with interest being charged by the corporation and regular payments being made by the shareholder. Failure to do so could result in the IRS deeming the amount as taxable income to the shareholder, which means additional income taxes and costs to your business.