By Kendall E. Matthews
Can you name the top challenges facing small business today? According to the Small Business Report 2016 (a survey of 1,100 small businesses conducted by Wasp Barcode), hiring new employees ranks first followed quickly by increasing profits.
[Learn how: Custom Apps Boost Small Business Productivity]
While you can't "tap an app" to fix the challenge of hiring new employees, you canuse apps to increase your profits. You need an innovative mindset, and you need to optimize certain aspects of your company for using those website applications and tools.
Online Applications that Drive Profitability
To grow faster, you need to attract either investors or private equity firms. How do you knock their Armani socks off? You can demonstrate improvement in these five areas of your business: strategic planning, email marketing, marketing automation, video content production, and business insights and data visualization.
Luckily, you don't have to do this alone. The following five Web applications will help you impress potential investors by assisting with business reporting, improving customer experiences, and increasing effective internal team communication. Read them all to see which ones might suit your needs. You click on the individual links below to go directly to a specific app.
The secret to increasing revenue is a clear sales strategy. As you develop your strategy, you can use WorkFlowy—the self-proclaimed "notebook for lists"—to record notes and make a detailed, collaborative list of all of the tasks you need to accomplish.
WorkFlowy makes list navigation easier by including features that let you, for example, drag-and-drop bullet points and use arrow keys to navigate up and down within a multi-line item. When I'm inspired to improve something, I don't write emails first; I draft outlines using WorkFlowy.
Email marketing ranks as the top small business marketing tools. Fifty-four percent of small businesses use email marketing, which makes email automation that much more important. AWeber's email automation lets you create and send engaging emails based on templates—secure in knowing that they reach their subscribers' inboxes.
This application supports campaign segmentation, so you can send each individual consumer the right email based on his or her actions at different points during the campaign. You can also see how your email marketing campaigns perform, and by using the mobile app, you don't need Wi-Fi to add new subscribers on the go.
Marketing automation can give you a competitive advantage over other small businesses in the area. It leads to a stronger business model by promoting efficiency, and it provides insights that improve the ability to reach and give a better service to customers.
HubSpot's marketing automation software uses inbound marketing to provide personalized marketing messages and calls-to-action. Buyer personas let you target your customers with the right marketing messages and, once you define and create these personas, HubSpot automatically generates lists to tell you the contacts, leads, and customers in that persona. HubSpot also provides a reporting dashboard for optimizing SEO and offers advice to SEO newbies and experts alike.
Cisco, the networking giant, predicts that by 2017, 69 percent of all consumer Internet traffic will be video content. Many companies see video as the future of content marketing, and the number of small businesses that use videeo in future strategies will only continue to grow.
Wistia lets you secure and personalize video, and it provides analytics about who's watching and how long they're watching, as well as which videos are the most effective. It can even get more specific to tell you what parts of your video are the most popular. And if you're embedding your video on a site, Wistia provides a variety of options to improve website-loading time and to maintain the look and feel of your website.
As organizations collect more data, they're implementing more data visualization solutions. If you want to be effective with big data, you'll have to follow the lead of the masters of big data analysis and have a data visualization strategy as well.
Tableau helps you see your data, understand it, and then share those analytics with others. With its improved application program interface, you can create beautiful reports. Sorry, intern: your Excel spreadsheet work is no longer needed. And this application isn't restricted to just desktop use—Tableau also optimized its dashboard to look great on mobile.
Getting Started With Web Applications
Once you decide to use one or more of these apps, track down the training and support documentation. You'll need to assess your team and decide if they have the capacity or aptitude to execute a successful implementation project.
After that assessment, begin with the end in mind. Answer these two questions: What strategic metric do you want to hit, and who will manage the platform to hit the targets?
Next, make sure your team leaders get certified or advanced expertise. Hubspot Marketing Automation, for example, offers free certifications for marketing, sales, and even designers. Once you have a clear picture of how to the integrate tools that help prospects make a "yes" or "no" decision, that will help increase lead velocity.
After Implementing Apps, Expect Big Results
With these applications in place, you'll start to see results even in the following quarter. You'll be able to view a single digital dashboard to understand the health of your business units, which means no more Excel spreadsheets and no more email updates from directors.
You'll have beautiful reports that address workforce efficiency, customer acquisition costs, customer lifetime value, and the cost of goods sold. You can impress your directors and your investors by illustrating how you created buyer personas based on average revenue per user and then segmented your database based upon North American Industry Classification Standards.
You'll also find, as I did, that you'll mentally process data faster, which lets you shift spends and resources with confidence. You'll have clearer visibility into key performance indicators, faster creative iterations, and a less-confused strategic vision. Before you ever spend a dime on paid media, you'll be able to create campaign storyboards, assign roles and responsibilities, and outline revenue forecasts.
The end result is empowerment. Rather than micromanaging your employees, you can let standard operation processes and API integrations handle that, while you focus on executing the vision and strategy. With these five applications in place, you'll make your business more profitable and produce an empowered, efficient workforce that can make faster decisions based on clean data insights.
Kendall E. Matthews is vice president of Global Marketing and Communication for AppointmentPlus, a scheduling software company that works with innovative organizations and new startups.
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