Free tools for marketing and managing your biz in tough economic times

Tools and Apps

marcshoretcom 1225709871507Yesterday I was privileged to give a presentation at the first Marcshoret conference in Jerusalem for marketing professionals. I wasn’t able to attend the whole event, but from what I could see Paula Stern and her crew at Writepoint did an excellent job putting a high-level, professional event together. You can see the program here if you’re interested.

In my presentation, we discussed how to market and manage your business in tough economic times by using the many excellent, free tools that are available on the web. Many entrepreneurs who have survived previous market crashes are talking about how those that get through these difficult times are those that tighten their belts. We’re lucky to live in a time when we have access to applications that in the past were the domain of Fortune 500 companies, like shared email, calendars, CRM systems, etc, but are now accessible and affordable.

We discussed what cloud computing is, since most of the tools I discussed are hosted on the web, meaning you don’t have to download them onto your computer. I also pointed out that now is a time when you should actually invest in marketing, so that you are in a stronger position when the good times arrive again. But when I say invest, I’m talking about time, not money, and most of the tools we spoke about demand time investments, which is something we may find we have a lot of if business slows down. I also mentioned how some of the biggest blogs today, like TechCrunch, started during the last bubble burst.

Some of the advantages of working in the cloud are:

  1. Collaboration – you can easily share documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more when using online services.
  2. Accessibility – working from home? Your computer crashed? You can still access your information since it’s not dependent on one machine – it’s sitting on the web.
  3. Cost – these services are much lower in cost than software that you have to license and install on your own hard drive or server. These services also take care of upgrades and glitches, removing the need for you to hire IT people.

Disadvantages of cloud computing:

  1. Dependence on Internet connections – you can only access your online information if you are near an Internet connection. However, this problem is mostly disappearing thanks to the proliferation of Wifi hotspots. In addition, Google has tried to solve this problem with Google Gears, which allows you to download and sync your online info. WordPress and Zoho have integrated Google Gears, for example.
  2. Dependence on their servers – when your information sits online, you are dependent on the integrity of the service provider’s servers. If their servers go down, you are stuck. This recently happened when Amazon’s S3 servers crashed, taking down with them all the services hosted there by other companies.
  3. Security (or lack thereof) – when your information is sitting on servers that can be accessed from any computer, it becomes much more vulnerable to hackers or glitches that inadvertently expose your data to others.

Despite the drawbacks, my own business is heavily dependent on the cloud, and I believe it’s made us more efficient and productive. Here are our favorite services:

  • Google apps – that’s gmail where you can use your own domain name. It includes all the Google goodies, including chat, which we use a lot internally for short messages.
  • Google calendar – so we’re all on the same page in terms of meetings, events, vacation, etc.
  • Zoho CRM – the lowest cost, best CRM service out there. Someone who knows about these things took a look at it and said “It’s just like Salesforce, but cheaper!” Manage leads, contacts, opportunities, quotes, sales orders, and invoices, all in here. Fantastic!
  • Zoho Writer – the only online word processor that offers styles. To me, that is essential.
  • Zoho Projects – great project management app
  • Zoho Wiki – the best free wiki I could find that offers password protection. This is where we share all internal documentation.

I briefly mentioned twitter, but I didn’t give any tips on how to use it. Since twitter is such a great tool for marketing and networking, I recommend that  you read a recent post that I wrote on the amuta 2.0 blog about getting started with twitter. In that article, I discuss using twitter for non-profits, but the principles are pretty much the same for businesses.

And finally…the presentation is embedded below, and every screenshot and title in it is a link that will take you straight to the app or service displayed.