by Hannah Becker, Guest Contributor
Military families love—and I mean really LOVE—free stuff. If you’re anything like this military spouse, your inbox is filled with military discount alerts and your vacations are planned around “Armed Service Specials.” Our affinity for freebies doesn’t have to remain isolated to our personal expenditures; this “stretch a dollar” strategy also can be applied to our professional investments.
Growing a business can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Check out the following list of 10 free online products for small business owners to grow their business–everything from fancy e-mail marketing to podcast platforms to accounting help. Hope they rock your thrifty chic world as much as they have mine.
10 Free Must-Have Online Products for the Military Spouse Entrepreneur
Buffer offers a fabulous basic plan, allowing free users to schedule Twitter and Facebook posts for automated upload. Great timesaver. Plus, the url shortening app and article share extension provides enhanced presentation and sharing ease. Browsing the web and see a fab DIY tutorial your followers would swoon over? “Buffer” it, by clicking the cute little widget on your toolbar. Forget investing valuable time every day on your business’ social media. Upload engaging posts weeks in advance and let Buffer do the work for ya.
Graphic design not your forte? Yeah, mine neither. Take advantage of Canva‘s free preformatted graphics, such as: stellar social media posts, engaging flyers and banners and breathtaking business cards, collages and much, much more. Its super user-friendly platform (even for those of us that aren’t so “artsy”) can turn once boring Post-Its into professional looking, eye-catching imagery. Better pictures=better sales.
E-mail marketing is an extremely effective way to communicate with one’s customer base, but like any marketing method in today’s data-saturated world, mass e-mails must be flashy to score views. MadMimi allows you to create professional looking e-mails, complete with logos, pictures and themed text in just a few minutes. Your customized creations can then be delivered to your lengthy e-mail list with just one click and even allows scheduling for optimal times. Oh, and did I mentioned the analytics are fantastic? Find out who’s reading what when, how they are engaging and if your message is being shared with outside contacts.
PicMonkey–think super cute, super fun, and super FREE Photoshop. Need eye-catching ads to promote your new site or product, but don’t have the funds to hire a graphic designer? No problem. PicMonkey is a free image creator and editor that allow you to convert regular old snapshots into professional looking promo pics right from your laptop. Forget the photographer. Snap some sweet pics with your iPhone, add text and logo, top off with some special effects and voila—instant imagery!
All businesses need to be able to swipe customer’s credit cards in today’s world of high speed retail. Square allows you to convert your smartphone into a credit card reader that provides direct deposits into your business’s bank accounts. If you’re testing new products at local farmer’s market or providing on-site services around your community, Square can charge cards from right where you are. There are a lot of other mobile credit card readers available (PayPal, GoPayment, BluePay, etc.), but after 3 years of consistent service, I’m sold on Square.
Many website providers offer free site options to get your online presence started; however, none are as beginner-friendly as Weebly. Just “drag and drop” selected elements into prefab templates to create professional looking sites are magnificently mobile friendly. Still intimidated? Weebly offers fantastic library of tutorials and extremely helpful support staff to ensure your site is spectacular. Like what you see and decide to upgrade for more features? Purchase a customized domain name through Weebly and bundle hosting for greater discounts.
Want to know what your customers really think about your offerings? Well, now you can ask them. SurveyMonkey allows one to create an interactive, online survey and deliver it right to your customers’ inboxes. Survey responses are kept anonymous, so get ready to hear the “cold, hard facts.” It’s a great way to test the water before implementing new services or products or simply to identify ways to improve business strategy.
Tax season gives me hives. Help alleviate the April 15th stress by utilizing the free QuickBooks application to keep track of your business’ financials—revenue, expenses, margins, etc. This software may present somewhat of a learning curve to newbies, but thanks to the wealth of demo videos and helpful hint articles on this DIY Accounting program, it integrates well into any business. Additionally, QuickBooks is great about only displaying data categories your business needs, a consolidation display that helps prevent overload confusion. While free QuickBooks is only available for trial period, you don’t have to submit your credit card, providing you with ample time to see if its software is the right fit for your business.
Long gone are the days of the trusty desktop calendar or those cute wall ones boasting magnificent landscapes or rearing horses. Like many other “historic” office staples, Google has provided us with a more efficient tech-based alternative—enter: Google Calendar. Thanks to this free calendar cloud, you can save your schedule online and share it with team members (and spouses!), issue meeting invites and receive timely notification reminders. Never miss another engagement.
Want to expand your voice across the international Internet radio waves? Always dreamed of having your own show to spotlight fellow entrepreneurs or new services? Well, now you can. BlogTalkRadio is a FREE online radio platform that lets talk show personalities (like you!) broadcast their mission to the world. Invite guests, play music, conduct interviews and share your audio masterpiece with millions of listeners around the globe. Some entrepreneurs have found this radio medium to provide a great way to “connect” with their customers (and potential customers) by providing valuable content that can be consumed “on the go.”
Regardless of your business type, stage or location, a successful promotions strategy requires messaging from multiple platforms. Before breaking the bank on high-dollar marketing campaigns, test your potential customer base by employing a few of these free promotional resources and see what type of promo gets you the best response. By not shelling out the dough upfront, you can economically identify potential business boosters in an effective way.
Do you have any additional free resources to help military spouse entrepreneurs grow their businesses? Share your favorite freebies in the comments below.
Hannah Becker is a serial entrepreneur, MBA grad and proud military spouse. Author of The Motivated Millennial: An Entrepreneurial Guidebook for Generation Y, and Founder/Consultant at HCB Consulting, Hannah is committed to encouraging others to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Learn more about Hannah’s career and publications at www.themotivatedmillennial.com . Follow Hannah on Twitter, @MotivatedGenY or on Facebook.