27+ Small Business Secret Weapons

As small business owners, we are all looking for ways to keep expenses at a minimum, while still maximizing productivity.  So last week I asked —

What is your favorite online business tool for streamlining your operation, that gives you a huge bang for your buck?

I am always looking for great new tools, and am excited that there are some on this list I haven’t had the pleasure of trying.  For me, it’s like Christmas morning when someone shares a new low to no-cost tool that makes doing business as a solopreneur even easier.  I hope you find a solution you didn’t even know you needed as you read through all the great suggestions below.

My sincere thanks to all our respondents this week! Openly sharing your expertise and experiences is a huge asset to this blog and the readership. I wish you all a wonderful week and hope to see you here again.

If you would like to contribute to this week’s question, be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of this post to find out how you can get involved.  We’d love to have you share your expertise!


1. Use SBI To Promote Your Business Online!

I used SBI to create a website for my local service business at http://www.Organizing-Toronto.com. Using this software, I was able to create a unique site structure based around winnable keywords that people are actually searching on. It helped me to drive my site to the top of Google on my site concept keyword “Organizing” and to monetize that traffic with multiple streams of income. Best of all, the price is under $400/year. Check it out at http://www.SiteBuildIt.com/WebmasterSales.html

Thanks to Andrew Neary of Organizing Toronto

2. As Small Business Owners, We Are All Looking For Ways To Keep Expenses At A Minimum, While Still Max

Constant Contact Email marketing, hands down, streamlines my small business. Plus, it gives me the best bang for the buck with the awesome tools available and LIVE customer service with reasonable pricing plans. It streamlines all my social networking sites with all the icons available for upload, including custom ones. It automatically tweets my newsletters, enables me to provide great SEO with one click of a link, upload YouTube videos with a simple click of a button, and they have amazing live tech support!

Thanks to Jennifer Chiongbian of Rutenberg Realty

3. Google Calendar As A Marketing Calendar

Manage all of your marketing activities in parallel with your personal calendar (while not cluttering your calendar with marketing stuff!)

I created a second email in my custom Google Apps installation. This email’s calendar controls all of my business’s marketing activities.

It’s sharable – my assistant and coaches can see it with one easy login.

Best of all, it’s only $50/year. I save that on a monthly (if not weekly) basis with the time it saves me in communication!

Thanks to Erin Ferree of BrandStyle Design

4. Marketing Tools

There are great Free, and almost next to nothing, cost-effective marketing and advertising tools and platforms online to make your product known to the world. The online platform is enormous, and contrary to some commentators, with a little effort you will find the Free Versions of most of the tools that you should purchase — from social media outlets such as, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, etc. And don’t forget, Free Classified websites, offering Free ads to Free web design packages.

Thanks to Victor Kwegyir of VIKE INVEST (UK) LTD

5. Voice To Word Doc Made Easy

I record my audio thoughts and have them transcribed for e-zine articles, blog posts or general copy writing. With http://www.idictate.com I get completed word doc transcriptions into my email inbox. I supply the audio to the service via my phone, v-recorder and/or, my favorite client conference call recordings. Upload the MP3 or .wav file to the website and receive the completed transcription back quite economically, like .0125 cents per word. No sign up fees or membership required.

Thanks to Susan Almon-Pesch of Market 4 Profit

6. Spend A Little; Earn A Lot

With the advent of ebooks, my tip costs nothing, when it used to cost a little. When I started my consultancy, I had a small book printed ($1.72 per copy for a run of 1000 books) filled with tips for streamlining managerial operations. When I was submitting proposals to clients, I would include a copy of the book with my bid. It branded me an expert and gave me a huge return on the investment. Nowadays, ebooks have eliminated printing costs. Yet, you can still derive the author benefits.

Thanks to Dr. Marlene Caroselli

7. Stretching Your Dollars

I have minimized expenses considerably by operating my PR firm as a virtual company: basing myself in a home office and hiring subcontractors instead of employees. The subcontractors work “at will” – when I need them.

Thanks to Jane Blume of Desert Sky Communications

8. Save Tons Of Time And $ And Get Your Message Out On Social Media–FREE!

Tired of letting social media suck up your time? Ping.fm is FREE and let’s you send out ONE message to many of the major social media sites in one fell swoop! (My big secret: I look really active on Facebook, Twitter Linked In, etc. and that’s all because of ping.fm. I rarely even visit those individual sites!) So stop going from site to site, tweeting or posting stuff, and start PING-ING! You’ll save yourself a mountain of minutes and money you could be spending on another form of marketing.

Thanks to Dr. Barnsley Brown of Spirited Solutions

9. Skype!

You want one tool that reduces expenses, while still maximizing productivity. Something that gives you a big bang for your buck? Install and start using Skype. I use Skype almost daily for chatting with clients, free phone calls with clients, free conference calls with clients and screen sharing for demos. Skype works on PC and Macs, as well as smart phones. I may not be at my desk, but with Skype on my iPhone I can chat and take calls anywhere; over wifi and 3G.

Thanks to Michael Brandvold of Michael Brandvold Marketing

10. Online Business Tool For Streamlining Operations

We couldn’t survive without Google and all its functions. A search for bios, images, background information, articles, design inspiration, translations, etc. — all are done in an instant. Without it, our productivity would shrink dramatically.

LinkedIn is the other tool we use. LinkedIn profiles tend to get updated more frequently than websites. Gathering information is the key to helping anyone or any company, and both help us take the ball and run with it.

Thanks to Gayle Naftaly of Access.office

11. Free Is The Best Tool

Free. Free is the best tool. I only pay for services when I absolutely cannot live with out it. I use Manymoon.com for task managing (free). I use soonr.com for cloud file storage and sharing (free). I use Tungle.me as my public calendar (free). The more free tools I have lets me invest in ones that help me — Scribe SEO, Quickbooks Online. Always evaluate a need vs. want. Creative solutions can help you manage many of your needs and give you the wiggle room you need which you can’t buy.

Thanks to Lauren MacEwen of SM Cubed Consulting

12. I Love Paper Tiger!

The average executive / business owner wastes 6 WEEKS a year just looking for things. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of time to waste. If I’m not working, I’m not making money! I use Paper Tiger (http://www.FindInFiveSeconds.com) to index all of my paper files, as well as, a number of other things like my DVDs, CDs, idea, passwords and more. I can quickly type in the search field (just like Google) and find what I’m looking for in seconds.

Thanks to Stephanie LH Calahan of Calahan Solutions, Inc.

13. MailChimp, Definitely No Monkey Business

We’re a start up eCommerce retailer, and with most internet applications adopting a “Freemium” (some features free, paid upgrade for all features) business structure, it allows us to access an audience like we never would have been able to in the past.

Our favorite, and most impressive online business tool, which helps us maximize customer retention rate, is Mail Chimp. It’s an e-mail marketing tool that allows for up to 12,000 blast e-mails to be sent out a month to up to 6,000 subscribers, and provides full analytics after the e-mail campaign is sent out, allowing for easy conversion tracking. We’ve been able to keep customers aware of new products, promotions, and blog posts through this on a bi-weekly basis, while our business incurs no cost.

Thanks to Joe Calderone of The Prep Room

14. Fighting Fees With FeeFighters

FeeFighters helps business owners save 40% on their credit card processing fees in minutes. Instead of being ripped off by a salesperson, users can comparison shop providers on an apples-to-apples basis and have bidders compete for their business.

Thanks to Stella Fayman of FeeFighters

15. Hire A Virtual Assistant

One of the most cost-efficient ways for a small business to minimize expenses while maximizing profits is to hire a virtual assistant to manage the day-to-day operations of the business (bookkeeping, handling routine correspondence, creating spreadsheets and/or presentations, researching potential new customers, etc.).

The beauty of hiring a VA is threefold – first, the business doesn’t have to provide office space and equipment/software for a virtual assistant because he/she works from a fully equipped home office; second, a VA doesn’t go onto the business payroll so the business doesn’t incur additional payroll taxes, health care premiums, or retirement fund obligations, etc.; and third, the business buys only as many hours as they need each month – no work = no pay – and no overtime. It’s the best of all worlds – the business owner gets the administrative help they need to keep the back office going and hiring the right VA can even help them improve their bottom line by generating new sources of revenue.

Thanks to Phyllis Harber-Murphy of More Than 9 2 5 Virtual Assistance

16. Keep Your Head (or Business) In The Cloud

Cloud (online hosted) computing and software for service saves me time and money. I use Basecamp (basecamphq.com) to handle all my tasks, communicate with employees and keep track of projects for clients. Because this service is entirely online, I am able to travel and still be on top of my entire business. As a small business owner, I value working anywhere I want over being chained to a desk. With online project management from Basecamp, I can run my world from a beach or from bed.

Thanks to Adam Weitz of New Harbor Design

17. Manage Your Finances Online

One of the best resources I’ve found is Quickbooks online (http://quickbooksonline.intuit.com/). For $15 per month, you can maintain your business books, send invoices, accept payment, do banking, etc. No expensive piece of software to buy. I found it to be an excellent deal – a true big bang for the buck.

Thanks to Steve Wyrostek of No Cliche Copy

18. Social Media Automation with HootSuite

Within the past month, I have started using HootSuite. It allows me to monitor a variety of social networks and media, follow trends in my industry and set up keywords to stay on top of things. They have varying levels of services, depending on how much detail you need to follow. I use the free option because it includes everything I need.

This helps my business because (1) it is a free service, and (2) it is a time saver. Before I was loading up my browser with various tabs to follow all of the media pertinent to my industry. Now I just load up HootSuite and it’s all right there and very well-organized.

Thanks to Mike C. Podlesny of Mike The Gardener Enterprises, LLC

19. A To-Do List You’ll Actually DO (and It’s Free!)

As a Time Strategist for small business owners, I have test driven just about every Task Management software out there. Then several months ago, I found http://www.producteev.com and WOW. I never liked having to click in several different fields to assign a due date, a category, priority, etc, so I would end up with a LONG, undifferentiated list, which quickly became useless. But Producteev incorporates natural language coding so that I can assign those things right in the subject line of the task. (once it processes, those items disappear from the subject line).

It interacts with you in all the places you already work. It has apps for many smart phones, integrates with a cool tool in Gmail and Google Apps, and you can email tasks directly into it. And if you assign a due date or time, it will add it to your google calendar, which drastically increased the amount of things on my to do list I actually DO. And when it sends email reminders, I can reply back “done” or 4:00pm or tomorrow and it will update the item as complete or change the time its due. AND ITS FREE!

You can have an unlimited number of workspaces with up to two people collaborating on each one for no charge. If you need more people on a team, there is a nominal charge.

Thanks to Jodi Turner Hume, CPCC of The Business Of Life

20. Managing Three Restaurants With One iPhone And Bento

There used to be a lot of headaches, trying to track down information. Who booked the banquet? Where did they leave that piece of paper? But with the iPhone, we know exactly where everything is. And we can access it anywhere, anytime–instantly.

I outfitted my 15 managers with iPhones, which they use to access the company’s Bento database, iCal calendars, and enterprise software. They can instantly look up, enter, and revise information about menus, banquets, employee schedules, point-of-sale transactions, and daily reports — from anywhere.

You hear from every restaurateur that they have to run through the restaurant, the kitchen, maybe up a flight of stairs to their back-office computer, just to enter information or look up a report. We can do that wirelessly, from the bar. With Bento, we can replace an entire filing cabinet, making all of our company’s data accessible with just a few taps. In other words, we no longer have to worry about who has the paperwork. Our employees are no longer bogged down in the back office. Now they can focus on the customer.

Thanks to Patrick Albrecht of Great Food Group, Inc.

21. Cheap Help

I love using Google docs. It accessible online where you can keep your documents fresh and updated. Docs can be shared or just viewable to whomever you choose and the biggest plus is its FREE!

Thanks to Darlene Tenes of CasaQ

22. Due What You Have To Do

I set up a Due Now file in word and list all my media opportunities in order according to the date they are due. This one strategy helps me get more requests filled that leads to media exposure each week.

Thanks to Derrick Hayes of WOE Enterprises

23. Sending Hundreds And Thousands Of Emails For a Hand Full of Dollars Is Priceless!

I am the co-founder of an ecommerce site http://www.grandperfumes.com/ With a huge list of past clients that we have amassed in last few years, I surely love the tools provided by iContact.com through which we can stay in touch with all our clients. We send newsletters and offers, and every time we do, the visitors to the site and sales/orders shoot up. The facility to send offers to your email list for less than the price of a dinner is priceless!!

Thanks to Sonny Ahuja of Grand Perfumes

24. Keeping Costs Low So My Company Can Grow

I use several online tools to help streamline my operation as I run a virtual business. Currently my ace in the hole is Freebinar. Freebinar is a free alternative to Gotomeeting and similar paid resources. I’m able to provide free webinars to my sales reps, business partners etc., without the high cost of using a resource like Gotomeeting. There are ads that are shown at the side during my webinars, but they are fairly non-obtrusive and I’m allowed to conduct business as usual with the same quality a paid resource may provide.

Thanks to Duane Anderson of Anderson Franchise Group

25. Simplify, Automate, Grow Your Business

My favourite online business tool for streamlining operations is the online team collaboration program we currently use: TeamWorkLive. This has allowed me to grow my team, simplify processes, automate the tracking of our projects and grow our business, since we can access the information from anywhere.

Thanks to Tracey Fieber of New Face Of Retirement Inc

26. Secret Weapon — The Internet?

We are an online business called GovernmentAuctions.org. We collect and compile government auction information from all over the country and put it into one easy-to-use database for members. Along with that, we do a lot of promotional activities and social networking for our own company.

Our secret weapon is basically the power of online marketing. We use sites like OnlyWire (where we can plug an in-house blog or article to a multitude of different social media websites). This a great tool for us because it generates a ton of clicks and membership sales. Along with Onlywire, we use Facebook and Twitter to promote our site, blogs, articles, and customer support. We can answer any and every question via social media websites.

Thanks to Ian Aronovich of Government Auctions

27. Cookin’ In The Cloud!

My company, Parties That Cook, stages hands-on cooking parties and corporate team building events in the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Chicago for fortune 500 companies like Apple, Google, PayPal, Wells Fargo and Facebook.

We use a few tools in the cloud to help us maximize efficiency. A few examples include:
* STAFFMATE ($875/annually) helps us easily staff all of our events, reaching 80 contractors in 3 cities
* PAYCYCLE ($750/annually) is our payroll software and automatically schedules tax payment and integrates with QuickBooks
* SALESFORCE ($3300 annually for 5 licenses) is our CRM software and allows us to track all leads and sales and generate extensive reports
* VERTICAL RESPONSE (price varies depending on names mailed) is our newsletter software program that integrates with Salesforce and tracks click-through rates on our monthly newsletters.

Thanks to Bibby Gignilliat of Parties That Cook

There are several new tools I am going to try for streamlining my business. 🙂  Thanks so much again to all our wonderful contributors for your valuable suggestions this week!  We hope to hear from you again.

This week’s question is –

More and more businesses are implementing social media into their marketing repertoire to try to maintain the competitive cutting edge. But does the investment really pay off? If you regularly use social media for your business, where do you get your biggest ROI, and why?

Why should I join the discussion?

Because this online forum is a great place for us to exchange ideas, learn from each other and network. My goal is to unite successful women entrepreneurs to share our insights and solutions to the challenges we most commonly face in our businesses.

How do I get involved?

Every Monday I will post a new Question of the Week. This is a great opportunity for you to bring your expertise to the table. Using the link below, please submit a one paragraph response before the deadline, and the following week I will share our community responses on my blog.


I look forward to your response to this week’s question! If you have any questions you know where to find me. Have a great week!


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  1. Posted November 4, 2011 at 12:15 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hire a Virtual Assistant is something that many have not explored yet. Some advantage you can get for hiring a VA are:

    * You don’t need additional office space and equipment
    * You don’t have to pay payroll as they are not an employee
    * You don’t have to worry about employee morale or coming in sick
    * You don’t have to pay benefits like Vacation, Sick Pay or Health Insurance

    • Posted November 4, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for sharing your comment. V.A.’s are a great way to outsource when you begin to get in over your head as a solo entrepreneur, and can indeed become your small business secret weapon. 🙂

  2. jodie_microsoft_smb
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink | Reply

    If you’re considering the Cloud for your business, you can find additional offerings here: http://smb.ms/Outreach92XFuX

    Jodi E.
    Microsoft SMB Outreach Team

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