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20 of the best free professional tools for your business

(TECHNOLOGY) Running a small business is a ton of work and you need all the help you can get. Here are 20 free tools that help make it a little easier.

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digital tools

When running your business, big or small, you’re only as good as what’s in your arsenal. This applies to your ability to be creative and think on your feet, as well as to having tangible tools at your disposal.

Below, we’ve outlined 20 of the top free tools that are designed to help grow your business – let us know in the comments what you love or what you’d add!

  1. Google Analytics – this is a definite need. With the world continuing to grow more and more digital, it’s necessary to know how your business is operating in the online realm. Google Analytics provides data about your small business, including traffic to your site and clicks on links. It gives you an idea of who is visiting and when, allows you to track your goals, and generate audience reports. Google also offers virtual classes that teach you how to master the platform.
  2. Hotjar – want to understand exactly how visitors are using your site without getting lost in the shuffle of numbers and data? Hotjar is where it’s at. You can see a user’s behavior and their exact process of perusing the site. There are also tools like feedback polls that allow your audience to interact with you when using your site.
  3. Canva – this is one of the best visual tools to create graphics for your company, both to print for physical display and to use on social media. The platform is easy-to-use and allows for a myriad of sizing options, backgrounds, and stock images.
  4. ProProfs Help Desk – this is a ticketing system that allows your visitors to contact customer service and start a thread of communication; all while keeping everything ticketed and organized. This also allows for shared inboxes, ticket resolution via chat, and ticket reduction up to 80 percent with knowledge base.
  5. JungleScout – this is your best friend when it comes to learning to sell on Amazon. Regardless of where you are in your seller journey, this tool will help you maximize your skillset.
  6. Kickstarter – crowd sourcing for your business without giving away the equity. This lets you recruit micro-investors and donors for your new business venture.
  7. MailChimp – This is an all-in-one tool that is necessary for all small business users. According to their website, “Bring your audience data, marketing channels, and insights together so you can reach your goals faster. With Mailchimp, you can promote your business across email, social, landing pages, shoppable landing pages, postcards, and more — all from a single platform.”
  8. Shopify – this platform has helped over one million businesses around the world and is continuing to help small businesses thrive. Shopify allows users to create and design an ecommerce website that is backed by helpful tools that help discover new customers, drive sales, and manage your business’s day-to-day operations.
  9. Buffer – provides simple social media tools that receive authentic engagement. Tell the story of your brand while growing your audience. The platform includes publishing, analytics, and engagement.
  10. Qualaroo – this is a customer and user feedback software that states its value as ten times higher than email surveys. It comes with what you need for useful feedback, including AI-powered analytics and reports.
  11. Zapier – a platform to connect your apps and automate workflow. Zapier moves information automatically between your web applications, allowing for more focus on the most important work.
  12. Doodle – a scheduling platform that allows meetings to be booked faster and smarter. No more need for an hour of back-and-forth emailing in order to nail down a meeting time.
  13. Docracy – a home for contracts and other legal documents, created by the community that uses them. The idea is to make these common documents easily available for everyone.
  14. Slack – the ideal way to communicate with your team and keep everyone on the same page at all times. This is a central communication hub where you and your team will stay in the loop, ask questions, and share updates.
  15. GoDaddy Website Builder – this is an extremely user-friendly tool that allows you to build websites that looks as though you paid someone hundreds to build it for you. There’s many options for customization, and they have the tools that help your site look great on both desktop and mobile.
  16. ToDoIst – For many, it’s impossible to stay organized without use of a to do list. With this tool, you (and your team!) can stay organized with the most important tasks and priorities.
  17. Grammarly – When writing copy for your business’s brand, it is important to have as many eyes read through it as possible for any errors. Grammarly is a tool where you can plug your copy in and it will automatically find and highlight any grammar errors or typos. You can never be too careful!
  18. AdobeSign – Formerly known as EchoSign, this tool allows for paperless signatures that help make signing contracts and agreements as easy as the swipe of a finger.
  19. Sumo – a platform filled with tools to help you grow your website. It’s a free email capturing tool that takes only seconds for sign up.
  20. Pixabay – We don’t always have the time or the money to take photos to go along with our website copy and social media posts. Pixabay helps alleviate that need with free stock images that will help your message pop.

Staff Writer, Taylor Leddin is a publicist and freelance writer for a number of national outlets. She was featured on Thrive Global as a successful woman in journalism, and is the editor-in-chief of The Tidbit. Taylor resides in Chicago and has a Bachelor in Communication Studies from Illinois State University.

Real Estate Technology

This asynchronous meeting tool centralizes your meeting notes

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Hugo integrates calendars and note taking with over 20 work apps to keep virtual teams organized during meetings.

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Hugo is a hub for meetings that allows users to collaborate on agendas, meeting notes, and tasks in real-time. It integrates with Slack, Salesforce, Asana and over 20 other work apps.

Started by native Australian co-founders, Josh Lowy (CEO) and Darren Chait (COO), Hugo is described as a way to become deeply aligned and more efficient through centralizing meeting notes, sharing them and integrating them into a tech stack.

Lowy stated, “The inspiration for Hugo struck while building another app. Like so many teams, we were massively distributed. Our team was partly remote, and my co-founder and I were out of the office all the time.” He described the challenge of building a transparent team while working asynchronously across time zones and how Hugo addresses the obstacles remote teams face. Lowy said that with the software’s prompts to set meeting agendas, take notes, and share through Slack, “the team was in sync and already full of ideas. We were on to something. Plus, by linking meeting notes to the calendar, we didn’t have to organize anything anymore.”

The way it works is to start by clicking on a template appropriate for a user’s meeting type. During a meeting, users can collaborate directly with internal and external teams, allowing everyone to be on the same page. Tasks and notes can be synced with integrated tools directly from Hugo. After the meeting, notes are automatically indexed based on participants, company name, meeting name, tags, and note content. Notes can be shared publicly or with a private log-in.

The key features of this product are: Notes are automatically categorized by meetings and attendees, integrations to create tasks/tickets in project management apps directly from user notes, auto-sync notes to CRM records that match the meeting, post notes to Slack channels and DMs, collaborative agendas and notes for the whole team, free agenda template library for best practices, and @ mentions to notify teammates. Hugo claims that Nike, Dropbox, iHeartMedia, Twitter, and Shopify are among their current clients.

There is a free version for up to 40 users, Pro version for a flat $399 a month for up to 100 users, and custom pricing for 101 users or more. A video intro to Hugo is available here.

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Real Estate Technology

Zillow may be on its way to becoming a patent troll

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Zillow was granted yet ANOTHER pretty vague new utility patent last month, which leaves us wondering: what are they planning?

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We’ve got our eyes on you, Zillow.

The real estate listing website has been nabbing utility patents left and right. Their most recent one, awarded last month, is for the “automated control of image acquisition via use of acquisition device sensors.”

Basically, they claim to have invented a technique for automatically mapping a space in 3D using imaging sensors in real time, all controlled by an app on a phone or another device. This technology might even have applications like quickly building virtual reality environments using real life references. While Zillow filed for this patent in late 2018, it could prove to be a useful tool for them to have in their back pocket during the COVID age.

But looking at the whole picture, Zillow must be gearing up for something major. They’ve had 17 successful patents in the last ten years, all for inventions that seem a bit extraneous for the humble real estate listing page. Either they’re planning to start punching above their weight very soon, or they’re just well on their way to patent trolling with the best of them.

Quick refresh: A patent troll is a company that secures patents they do not need or use with the primary goal of suing “competitors” that unknowingly reproduce their copyrighted works. This behavior effectively creates a minefield for small businesses that are engaging in good faith product development.

As an aside, Zillow is currently involved in a drawn out drama where accusations of trolling have abounded in both directions. IBM recently filed a lawsuit in response to seven of Zillow’s patents, claiming that they are the original inventors and that Zillow has cost them billions of dollars in losses (note that this is small potatoes for IBM. They have over 110,000 patents, and the US Patent and Trademark Office has given them more patents than they’ve given to any other company in the world). Clearly, they see Zillow as an important rival to keep in check.

However you look at it, the takeaway here is clear: Don’t underestimate Zillow. Even though they’re not an IBM-sized giant right now, they’re still making serious moves with serious implications.

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Real Estate Technology

Rate your meetings and create more efficient work teams

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) SurveySparrow has a plugin that allows you to rate meetings. It could help you and your team evaluate and improve future meetings.

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We love data. We are in a data driven world. We like giving our feedback via customer reviews, social media comments, surveys, and Twitter (yes, Bob, everyone knows your flight was delayed). Tell us what the data says. Well, it might be a great time to finally get some data on all those meetings you’ve been having.

Many people are sick of meetings; we sit in a lot of them that then need follow ups because either we didn’t have an agenda, or we didn’t get through the agenda. There also may be additional meetings because no one really knows what is going on, or people are unable to have a solid plan in place (thanks to the global pandemic) and require more frequent check-ins/status updates.

Perhaps we’d all dread meetings less if they could be improved and justified as a much better use of time. G suite just made available a free plugin, by SurveySparrow, that could possibly help your company improve your meetings:

RateTheMeeting helps you improve meetings by collecting feedback to understand what works and what doesn’t for your teams, divisions, or company. With this data (feedback), it might be possible to stick to agendas and the purpose of the meeting, prevent topics that require a separate discussion, and make sure that everyone’s time is well spent. It syncs to your calendar and automatically follows up with attendees to collect feedback after each meeting. You can see how it works on YouTube here.

While this seems like a helpful tool, the biggest hurdle may come from management first. They may not want feedback on meetings if they feel that meetings are necessary and the most valuable way to communicate for their teams. It also might be one more data set that they have to sort and mine.

Next, employees may not want to rate each meeting on top of their already busy schedules. They likely would only want to do this if it would make real change within the meeting culture of the organization. Either way, it might be nice to just offer a thumbs up or thumbs down for each meeting (for funsies?).

It’s always hard to please everyone, so you’ll just have to decide if adding this function is more trouble than it’s worth.

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