“Just Google it!”
As soon as Google became a verb, the brand became synonymous with its search engine. But Google is about far more than just finding movie times quickly or reading the news online. In fact, Google’s suite of tools and applications can help stretch the meager budget of any small business.
Start by signing up with a free Gmail email account. Then explore these seven basic-but-powerful Google services. They give you the very most for the very least: they’re all free.
If you have ever written a document in Word, if you have ever kept a budget in Excel, if you have ever created PowerPoint slides for a presentation … you don’t need Microsoft Office. Google Docs is a free simple substitute for costly (read: more than free) office management software.
Not only do you get a basic word processing, spreadsheet and presentation platform, you can easily share the documents you create without having to send a separate email. Just give your recipient “view” or “edit” access rights. This is especially helpful if you have a small team or staff who need to reference standing policies or guidebooks or if you want someone to review a proposal before you send it to a client.
Generally, these tools aren’t for heavy-lifting projects, but they can help you organize the day-to-day of business.
“Better three hours too soon than a minute too late,” wrote William Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Keeping up with a calendar sounds simple, but when you have a busy business life things can quickly get out of control.
Use a free tool like Google Calendar to store all of your event information. First, it’s available from any computer with a browser and an Internet connection. Second, it syncs with major several third-party calendar systems, such as Microsoft Outlook, as well as mobile calendar apps. Third, you can create as many calendars as you like for as many reasons as you like. Fourth, you can keep them private, share them with a select few or make them public.
Remember to include things like industry events, cycles and scheduled announcements on your calendar, as well as major holidays for any country in which you’re doing business.
Combine these two free tools and you’ll get maximum understanding of your marketplace and free advice from experts that you can share with others.
First, set up Google Alerts for your fledgling company’s brand name and industry. You’ll get e-mail updates of the latest Google results for those terms at the frequency you choose. But you can also set up Google Alerts for existing and potential competitors. What are they doing to be newsworthy that you can duplicate—or not?
Next, use Google Reader to subscribe to RSS feeds of news and blog sites with information you want to stay on top of. At a glance, you can skim the day’s new headlines to find out what’s happening in your industry. If you subscribe to entrepreneur, business and marketing feeds, you’ll get free advice to help you keep going. Experienced content curator Scott Abel suggests combining Google Reader with free distribution tools to pass that news and advice along to your social networks.
Forums never went away online, but they’re regaining popularity in a big way. There are Google Groups for nearly any topic in dozens of languages. For example, at one recent count, there were more than 13,000 groups in the topics of “Entrepreneurs” and “Small Business” alone. Add in your specific industry or niche, and you could check out hundreds more.
The best part is, everyone is an equal in a forum setting. Not only can you learn from experts talking in the same forum as novices, you can stand out with thoughtful posts and insightful comments of your own. Whichever groups you join, don’t be a lurker. The people you’re talking to today could be investors, partners or customers down the road.
It’s easy to overlook the power of voice-to-voice communication in an age of email and text messages. But when a potential investor calls — and they’ll call when they mean business — you want to pick up. Immediately.
Phone calls to your Google Voice number can ring all of your phones. Prefer to leave your cell on vibrate in your work tote during supper? Set up important numbers to go through to your home phone and you won’t miss a critical business call.
Conference calls are simple: just ask everyone to call your Google number, and you can add them to the call. And even if you send a call to voicemail, you can listen and “pick up” during the middle of the voicemail just like old-style answering machines. Or you can play voicemails within Gmail.
Make it easy for people to remember your Google Voice number. Choose any area code and/or try out word-to-number combinations for branding (e.g., 555-555-BANK). If you’re making and receiving calls in the United States, it’s free, and international calls have cheap per-minute prices.
If you’re in business today, you must be prepared to represent your brand online. No matter what social media networking site you keep hearing about, a website is still the most basic, and best, method for attracting, informing and retaining customers.
Perhaps you paid someone to create your website. Perhaps you built it on your own. Regardless, make sure that you add the free Google Analytics to the code. Why? You’ll gain tremendous insight into who is visiting your website, from where and why. You’ll know what pages they read, and for how long, and what pages they ignore. When they leave your site, you’ll know which page caused them to leave.
You don’t have to pay big dollars or sign multi-year contracts to get access to this kind of information. Like all the rest of these basic Google applications, Google Analytics is free. The money you’ll save by using Google Analytics, you can spend on more advanced website management and Internet marketing. Because of its popularity, third-party programs often integrate Google Analytics with other data (such as backlink, email newsletter and social media analytics) to give you even more insight.
About the Author
Arienne Holland is the Communications Director for Raven Internet Marketing Tools. She answers to Ariel, Adrienne, Arianne and pretty much any other A name. She knows more than your average person about toothpicks, physics and shoes. Follow her on Twitter at @RavenArienne