Successful business operators understand you can’t just go digital for one aspect of your business and stop there. To avoid creating a bottleneck that could slow down your whole operation, you should be using Web services to speed up all your processes. This is a resource page for a presentation given by ITBusiness.ca editor Brian Jackson.
Anthony Raso’s Toronto-based car maintenance garage isn’t a digital business – customers drive their cars into his shop, they get hoisted on a lift, and he fixes them – but that didn’t stop him from tapping Web services to help organize and promote his shop.
For Raso’s Executive Car Care, those business functions were served by Groupon. He ran deals on the daily deals portion of the site that Groupon is known for to introduce his new business to prospective customers in the area. But after making 200 sales on a rustproofing deal, Raso found himself under pressure just to make all of the bookings.
A one-man operation at the time, the mechanic and entrepreneur looked to Groupon Scheduler to bail him out. The Web service that Groupon acquired in 2010 allows customers to book their own appointments online. Raso can also use the service to make bookings for clients who call in. Because its all stored in the same online calendar, he never has to worry about forgetting about an appointment or double-booking a time.
Anthony gets it. You can’t go digital for just one aspect of your business and expect to keep up by using pen and paper techniques everywhere else. Tapping Web services or desktop software to automate your everyday business processes results in the ability to handle more customers and to get more done quickly. But if you’re getting bogged down in another area of your business, you won’t be able to keep up.
Here’s some resources to help you go digital for many different business functions. Many of them are free, or if there is a cost, it’s affordable.
Collaborate with colleagues
Formerly Google Docs, this is Google’s cloud storage and online productivity suite combination. You can store your files online to access from anywhere, and edit them using the Google Docs tools. Install the Drive desktop app to sync a local folder with your online documents and you can then edit them in Microsoft Office too, if you like.
Just sign in with your Microsoft Live ID to access a Web-based, free version of the Microsoft Office suite. This offers a richer interface than Google Docs and ties in to SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service, so you can save and open your files anywhere. You can choose between working on a document in the Web Apps version or opening it with the desktop software to edit.
Office Web Apps also offers Messenger, and an app store to do things like electronic fax and download templates.
If you don’t have software to do fancy collaboration like video conferencing and online document sharing, you might not have to spend a mint. This online service has all the bells and whistles for up to 10 concurrent users for free.
The same profile that customers find of your business when they search on Google Maps is now also your Google+ social profile. If you haven’t already claimed your page, it’s a good idea to do it now and start taking advantage of the social outreach capabilities.
With many Web users spending a lot of time on Facebook, it makes sense to connect with your customers there and try to engage them in a conversation. When updating your page, keep your tone fun and engaging but still professional. You can share lots of different content relevant to your business like blog posts, videos, and more.
Even if you don’t operate a content-creation business, e-mail marketing can be a great way to keep your customers up to date on the latest company news. By curating a weekly update of news and advice related to your market, you can promote your expertise and build credibility. With Mail Chimp, it’s dead simple to design an e-mail newsletter, create a form for people to register, and fill it with content. Plus its free for up to 2,000 recipients.
Accounting and payroll
This free accounting software can rescue you from shoebox accounting. If you’re manually entering your receipts into a spreadsheet, then this can save you a lot of time. It automatically ties in to your bank account and categorizes expenses as either business or personal.
If you are a Wave Accounting user, then you will want to consider this extension as a way to pay your employees. It costs $3 per employee per payroll, but will save you time in keeping information up to date by allowing employees to enter their own information.
Business licences and information
This is a one-stop shop for all your government-related business needs. Learn about licences and register for them, organize your taxes, and ask live support workers your questions.
A great page to bookmark. It links to countless government and private information services and databases. Just about anything you’d want to look up on the Internet, you’ll find out how here.