6 Apps That Can Help Small Businesses Compete Against the Big(ger) Guys
Guest post by Jim Belosic, CEO of ShortStackOne of the most awesome things about being a small business owner today is the number of apps that are available to help make running a business so much easier than it was just a few years ago. It used to be really difficult for many small businesses to compete, especially in the online space. Back in the day, circa 2008 or so, if you wanted a cool website, you’d have to shell out thousands of dollars to hire a designer/programmer. An e-commerce site could cost six figures! Then you’d need a bookkeeper, a point-of-sale provider, an attorney, and the list goes on.Not any more.Today you can build a website for free using WordPress, you can get an LLC set up for a couple hundred bucks with LegalZoom and you can use QuickBooks for bookkeeping. If you have a good idea, and use the right tools, your chances of success are so much greater.My philosophy is that if someone has built an app that is going to make it easier for me to run my business, I’m going to use theirs rather than build my own. I don’t host my own website because there are companies that can do it better than I can. Our programmers didn’t create an email newsletter app because there is a company that does only that, and they do it really well.ShortStack is a platform that my co-founder and I created to make it easy for businesses of any size to host Facebook contests (and, starting this month, embed contests and other apps directly onto their websites). There have always been companies that could fork over $20K or $50K to run a contest on Facebook or on a website, but that option was out of reach for most businesses.Anyway, the bottom line: why reinvent the wheel? There are so many great apps and platforms out there and chances are very good that some of them will make it easier for you to run your business so you can focus on whatever it is that you do best.Here are some of my favorites:1. ShortStack — for Facebook contests, promotions and custom formsWhy I like it: Well, I’m biased, but I believe that our platform is the best in this space because it allows businesses, agencies, and individuals to make the most of their Facebook presence and engage with fans in fun and unique ways. At my previous company we had clients who would pay us $20K to create an app for a single contest. But instead of searching for new clients with big budgets, and catering to 5 or 10 of them at a time, I realized that I’d be better off having thousands of clients paying between $15 and $300 dollars a month for as many apps as they want. (And when clients follow our recommendations, they have virtually no contest fraud, which is a huge problem for contest hosts.) We followed the WordPress model: Let’s create something that almost anyone can use. We have apps that allow businesses to collect data, put information behind “fan gates,” create forms, and so on. There is an amazing amount of customization ShortStack customers can implement without having mad programming skills or having to hire a programmer.2. MailChimp — for DIY email-newsletter marketingWhy I like it: It’s really easy to use and the app has great templates and features like auto-responders. The folks behind MailChimp are also forward thinking when it comes to responsive design and, most important these days: mobile viewing. People read more email on mobile devices than on their desktops or laptops so mobile functionality is essential. We use MailChimp to send out newsletters and to send “welcome” and “getting started” information automatically to every new subscriber. The interface is also really fun and makes you want to use it. Bonus: it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails (per month).3. Square— for accepting payment for goods and services — via credit or debit card — on your mobile deviceWhy I like it: In a word: convenience. When I used this app for the first time as a consumer, I was blown away by how easy it was. I was at a triathlon and I wanted to buy a wetsuit that a vendor had on display in a tent. He pulled out his phone, swiped my credit card, that was it. No complicated cash register to hook up. I didn’t have to write a check or pay with cash. The shop owner was able to do all this away from his store, without electricity. For people who own food trucks, or sell jewelry at craft fairs, or even for consultants who provide onsite business services, it allows a business to be truly mobile. The device that you attach to your phone or tablet is free and the company charges 2.75 percent per swipe. Payments are deposited into a checking or savings account that you link to the Square app.4. Wufoo — for building custom forms onlineWhy I like it: It allows you to create online forms that then organize the data you collect into one place. Creating and coding a customized form to drop into your blog or onto your website is complex. With each field you want users to complete, it gets even more complex. Wufoo is a tool that takes all the complexity out of it. You can either link to it from your own site, or keep it on your site. It reminds me of the ShortStack and WordPress solutions: “Let’s make it possible for everyone to do this, easily.” Wufoo has a free plan for people who only need to use a couple of simple forms a month.5. SurveyMonkey — for creating surveys and analyzing resultsWhy I like it: Hmmm. I just love primates! (See MailChimp, above.). This is my superfavorite app. It allows me to create surveys but more important, it allows me to to see who our users are, how they use our products, and to look at data in a way that I haven’t found elsewhere. It’s really useful for gauging user interest in new ShortStack features. Sometimes we get really excited about a new feature but when we use SurveyMonkey and ask our users what they think about the features, we see that we were wrong. Sometimes the data we see reminds us that it’s not always good to run a business on gut instinct alone. You can try it for free.6. EventBrite — for online event registrationWhy I like it: It makes it easy to register people to attend a live event or a webinar. It’s sort of like TicketMaster but for all sorts of events, even free ones. If you’re charging for your event, EventBrite handles all the payment issues. If the event is free, but you have a limited number of spots, the app closes registration when the limit is reached. The app also has all sorts of add-ons, like promotion tools, and check-in lists.I have a few more, but these are the ones that I use the most, or recently discovered but will definitely use in the future. Do you have any favorite apps that you think I should check out? Please let me know @ShortStackJim.Jim Belosic is the CEO and co-founder of ShortStack, a self-service web application design tool that allows individuals and businesses to create custom Facebook apps for their Facebook Pages that maximize their social media presence and potential.