This Spring, Intuit will be granting fifteen $5,000 wishes to support entrepreneurs. Just submit your business wish here and it may be granted!
Intuit asked me to come up with my top 5 list of where I think the money would be most effective for entrepreneurs so here goes. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you leave a comment below!
1) Improve Your Online Marketing
One of the most cost effective ways to market your business is online. It’s never been cheaper or easier to acquire customers and with the right tools and strategies you can get a significant return on any investment you make.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
Boost your Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO traffic converts well because they are usually people who are looking for an answer to a problem. They have a pain and if you can help them solve it, they’ll sign up with you. Take a look at Hubspot’s Marketing Grader (free) for a quick list of suggestions on what you can do. If you want to go more in-depth, check out SEO Moz. They tell you specifically what’s wrong on your website, give you weekly rankings reports for your important keywords, and even teach you step by step about SEO if you’re interested in learning more. There is a free trial for 30 days then pricing starts at $99 per month.
Figure 1 – Sample screenshot from my SEO Moz backend.
Get / Use a Newsletter
A newsletter is one of the most powerful tools that you have in your online marketing arsenal. Not many people will come to your website and buy immediately. They’ll want to learn more about you and your business, browse around, and then make a decision. If you don’t capture their information when they visit you’re relying on them to remember to come back to your site – and most people won’t! Use a newsletter to turn a browser into a prospect and a prospect into a customer. Give them a reason to sign up (ie. Free bonus, whitepaper, download, discounts, etc) and then give them value-add content on a regular and consistent basis.
My tool of choice here is Aweber. I have over 65,000 subscribers and every week I send a value-add email to them that helps position me as an expert at what I do. My favourite feature is that they tell you the likelihood of your emails going to someone’s spam folder and they give you suggestions for what to do to score better. They have a $1 trial and affordable pricing depending on the size of your list.
Figure 2 – My Aweber stats – over 65,000 subscribers and growing!
Get Some Design Help
Having a professional image online can go a long way to making people trust you and want to work with you. Make sure your website looks respectable and your marketing materials don’t scream out “amateur!”
A great resource for entrepreneurs is 99designs. If you need any kind of design help (think logos, website, business cards, banners, mobile app, brochures, etc), I’d start here. You put in your project and your budget and people from around the world will start submitting designs. With most graphic designers you have to look at their previous work and hope that they’ll do a good job on your project. With 99designs you get to see the final product itself and only pay if you choose a winning design. Designs start at a couple of hundred of dollars and are typically very cost effective.
Video review – Biz Tool – 99designs Review
Figure 3 – Examples of recent logo design projects on 99designs.
2) Bring on Some Help
As entrepreneurs we wear too many hats and our list of to-dos never seems to end. To grow your business at some point you need to build beyond yourself. It also doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to get you going. The first person I hired was for one hour a day just to free up my time to focus on higher priority projects.
Here are two of my favourite resources to help you bring on some help without draining your bank account:
oDesk is the world’s largest and fastest growing place to outsource your work to online. Hundreds of thousands of talented people from around the world bid on your project which can range from a one off deal to a full time position. I’ve hired people on oDesk to do admin work, video editing, writing, transcription, graphic design, telemarketing, and be a personal assistant. The rates are extremely competitive and you can see how they have been rated by other employers from previous jobs. If you’re looking for part time or full time help and you don’t physically need someone in the office (ie. Almost every job!), oDesk should be your first stop!
Figure 4 – A sample from oDesk’s homepage.
Fiverr is a website where people list what they will do for you for $5. They are usually simple tasks that for them is easy but for you might cause a lot of frustrations. Need a video transcribed? Need to install a new WordPress blog? Need help with an Excel function? Need to translate some text? There’s someone on Fiverr who will do it for you for $5. Make sure to look out for people who have positive ratings and are experienced sellers. If you need something specific done that you can’t find anyone for you can also post a request and people will bid on the project as well. Be careful though, the Fun & Bizarre category can get addictive and kill your productive time as you explore the depths of things people will do for $5!
Figure 5 – Sample Fiverr screenshot of business tasks peopel will do for $5.
3) Improve Your Productivity
There are never enough hours in the day to get everything we need done. Fortunately there are a number of great tools that can help us do the things we need to do more efficiently.
Here are some of my favourites:
This might seem a little self-serving as it’s on Intuit’s blog but I don’t work for Intuit – I’m an entrepreneurs. If you don’t have accounting software like QuickBooks for your business yet, it’ll dramatically improve your productivity. Every quarter I download my Visa statements into my accounting software and in 20 minutes I’m done my bookkeeping. Invoicing, managing your cash flow, budgeting, etc is all so much easier to do with software like QuickBooks. As entrepreneurs we need to spend time focused on where we add the most value to our business. Unless you love sitting down every month with your shoebox of receipts and Excel spreadsheet, pick up a copy of QuickBooks and make better use of your time to grow your company.
Figure 6 – A screenshot showing some of the benefits of using QuickBooks.
There are so many tools that I use to boost my productivity that I can’t go into details on each one but if you have any specific questions just let me know. Most of them are either free or very reasonably priced.
Here’s a quick list of some of what I use:
- Buy domain names – Godaddy
- Host your website – BounceWeb
- Sync, share, and backup your files – DropBox – Bonus: Video Review
- Co-ordinate with your Team, Run Surveys: Google Drive – Bonus: Video Review
- Automate Your Scheduling: TimeTrade – Bonus: Video Review
- Go Paperless: ScanSnap / Evernote – Bonus: Video Review
- Save Time by Creating a Homepage Dashboard – Bonus: Video Review
- Never Forget Any of Your Passwords Again: LastPass – Bonus: Video Review
- Quickly Learn About Your Contacts: Rapportive / Xobni – Bonus: Video Review
- Get Desktop Reminders for Google Calendar: Gminder – Bonus: Video Review
- Productively Stay on Top of the News: Google Reader / Instapaper / Zite
- Stay on Top of Client News: Google News Alerts
- Manage Your Social Media Accounts: HootSuite – Bonus: Video Review
- Create Google Sitemaps, Find Internal Broken Links: GSiteCrawler – Bonus: Video Review
- Schedule / Space Out Your Tweets: Buffer – Bonus: Video Review
- Analytics for Your Twitter Account: Crowdbooster – Bonus: Video Review
That’s a partial list of my favourite tools but it should hopefully give you a few ideas to dig deeper into. Again, if you have any questions about these tools or other tools, just leave a comment below and I’ll answer it for you.
4) Give Your Marketing a Boost
We’ve already talked about the importance of online marketing (see point #1). Don’t forget about traditional marketing too. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and for creative entrepreneurs it can be an easy way to get more attention for your company and drive more business.
Here are two quick low-cost ways that I market my business and how you can do the same:
Get In the Media
When you read a newspaper, are you paying attention to the ads or the story? Advertising can work but it’s expensive and takes time. Getting a story written about you, however, can have an immediate impact and the only cost is your time. When I first started out I built my own media list of reporters I wanted to reach out to and every week emailed them a new story idea. Every week at least one of them said yes and it helped get me a lot of media attention.
Now I use PR Leads as my tool of choice. Every day they send you stories that reporters are actually working on and are looking for expert help with. If your background matches up with the reporter’s story, you contact them and have the chance to be featured in their article. PR Leads has gotten me into the New York Times, Forbes, and countless other publications. The cost for the service is $99 / month.
Figure 7 – How the PR Leads process works to get you media attention.
Recognize Your Clients
Who doesn’t love it when companies recognize them? Even sending something as simple as a card to someone can help improve their loyalty and cause them to buy more and refer new clients to your business. It’s basic marketing but unfortunately not something people do enough of, especially in this digital age.
My favourite tool to help me here is Send Out Cards. They have a wide variety of cards to choose from and you just have to type a message, include the address, and they’ll print it, seal it, stamp it, and mail it for you. How simple is that? You can also attach gifts to the cards if you want to go the extra mile. Try sending out the brownies. We always get a great reaction when we send them to our clients. Here is what one customer wrote to us after we sent him a card. It really works – try it!
Figure 8 – A picture from a blog post a client of ours took after we sent him a card.
5) Invest in Yourself
If you stop learning your company will stop growing. Your business will always be limited by how much you know so the more you know, the better!
Here are two ideas to help you invest back into yourself without spending a lot of money:
I run two Mastermind Groups in Toronto for entrepreneurs and whether you are joining an existing group or creating your own, it’s an extremely valuable tool. The format we use, which you are free to adopt, is to meet once per month as a set time and place. Everyone that has 20 minutes to talk about the challenges that they have been facing and get input from the group. The goal isn’t to talk for 20 minutes but to introduce a problem and let the group help you out.
It works best when you have members in the group who are in different industries and have different skills from what you’re good at. You not only get ideas to help you solve your challenge, there’s also something about being around other entrepreneurs that can help keep you motivated and realize that you’re not alone. Again, this post is just an intro to a lot of topics so if you have any questions about Mastermind Groups feel free to leave it in the comments below and I’ll answer it for you!
Whatever you’re interested in learning, there is training out there for you. It might be online, it might be in person, it might be from a book. Set a goal to learn something new every quarter and go out and execute! The more you make improvements, the more your business will grow.
I’ve created my own line of Worksheets for Entrepreneurs that might help if you’re just getting started. I’d also recommend checking out Last Minute Training. They are Canada’s largest training marketplace and sell access to training classes at discounted rates across the country.
This is my first post on Intuit’s blog and I hope you enjoyed it. I love talking about ways entrepreneurs can effectively grow their businesses without having to spend a lot of money.
You can do a lot with $5,000 so don’t forget to enter for your chance to win by submitting your business wish here.
Good luck and if you have any questions on anything I’ve covered here please leave a comment below. I always read them and will do my best to respond personally!