Q. There are many tools online that claim to be able to help my business one way or another. How do I go about selecting the best ones for my business?
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council. Founded by Scott Gerber, the Y.E.C. is a nonprofit organization that provides young entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, community and educational resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth. The Y.E.C promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment.
A.Measure the Money
Many tools are great in theory but don’t offer a legitimate financial return. Some intangible benefits lead to increased revenue, but many apps are more fun than functional. Before signing up, ask yourself, “How will this increase the bottom line?”
Lisa Nicole Bell, Inspired Life Media Group
A.What’s the purpose of this tool?
It’s important to figure out your needs and goals first. Without that, it’s impossible to figure out what kind of online tools you might need. Also, look at the testimonials for that tool. See what kind of businesses are using it. You can even go as far as calling the businesses. Since they’re already a customer, they’ll know if the tool can do what you’re hoping it can do.
A. Judge by the tools results
Dan Schawbel, PersonalBranding.com
A. Ask Your Network
After doing your own research, it’s always reassuring to ask your network what they think of a certain tool before signing up. Basing your decision off the feedback and recommendations you receive is a great way to be certain you’re not making a mistake.
Benjamin Lang, EpicLaunch
A. You deserve it! Or do you?
Does the business really need this tool or it’s just another shiny thing YOU are personally interested in? Can the business afford it? Lastly & most importantly, what would be the expected return on investment – will it save time, money, or both? Anyways, I typically give myself an objective around that tool/need then if & when I achieve it, I reward myself with that tool or app, or gadget.
Devesh Dwivedi, breakingthe9to5jail.com
A. Streamline and Don’t Force It
Realize that you’ll never need most tools out there, and that even the ones you could potentially benefit from may not provide enough benefit for the cost. Streamline and use as few tools as possible. Check out trial versions when available, and if something seems to work well with how you work, use it. Don’t try to force your square work habits into some app’s round hole.
Colin Wright, Ebookling
A. Figure out what you need
Approach it from the opposite angle, which is to first identify what your business actually needs. Once you’ve done this, you can then identify what gaps exist and only then should you go and research which tools are best for that job. That way you’ll avoid falling into the trap of using the latest and greatest new tool just because everyone else is.
Lea Woodward, Kinetiva
A.Tools matter less than process
If you’ve figured out work flow, sales funnel, and other appropriate processes for your business, than the tools will be a lot easier to select and implement. When you’re ready, reach out to your community and ask for reviews, and be sure to test a few of each type (most have free trials) to kick the tires. Remember, the best tool is the one you actually use, not the one that should work.
Derek Shanahan, Foodtree
A. Try them out!
You’re right, there’s a wealth of fantastic online tools to help with sales management, marketing, customer service, landing page optimization, project management and more. The first thing I would look is the companies customer list – if you recognize the names, that’s a good sign. Secondly, most software as a service vendors will offer you a free trial – take advantage of it.
Matt Mickiewicz, 99designs
A. Focus on goals, not tools.
The first thing to focus on are your business goals. What are you trying to achieve? From there you need to start building. When you run into technological problems, this is the opportunity to look for new tools. There is always something shiny that might add to your business, but if it takes focus away from achieving your goals, don’t bother. Bookmark it and come back to it when you need it.
Greg Rollett, Radically Ambitious
A. Focus on output, not tools
Many entrepreneurs, including myself, tend to get obsessed with auxiliary questions that distract them from the actual work of the company. This is a very unproductive and expensive habit. Especially when first starting out, it is crucial to focus on delivering for your customers. Focus, focus, focus on your product, not on tools that are supposed to “help” your product.
Zach Cutler, The Cutler Group
A. Think Usability
It will be important to consider which tools are most useful for your business, which ones can be adopted the easiest and are flexible enough for all your needs. You certainly don’t have time to waste using tools that take forever to operate or are just a mess to navigate, and you absolutely want to make sure that it can support your businesses needs especially as you grow.
Danny Wong, Blank Label Group, Inc.
A.Make Your Life Easy
I’m a big believer in using tools that are built to work together from the start, that grow with my business and generally are easy to use. I don’t have time to mess around with things and I’m sure you’re in the same position. I look first and foremost at what a tool will really do for me, before I look at the money. I can make the money work when a tool frees up time or fixes a problem.
Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting
A. Trial period = good
Many online tools and software packages for small businesses have free trial periods. Do not be intimidated when they ask for your credit card before starting the free trial…all you have to do is remember to cancel it before the trial period is over. But trying something is really the best way to see if it meshes with the way your brain works and the way your company operates.
Jesse Davis, Entrustet
A. Look at what the best companies out there are using
What does McDonalds, Facebook, Coca-Cola, Nike, or even Virgin do? Following, studying and gleaning ideas from the expert is the quickest and easiest way to identify and work with the best ideas in practice today. Ideally you want a e-newsletter mailing program, a customer resource management (CRM), a blog, and a dashboard program to oversee activity of the various business functions.
Nick Friedman, College Hunks Hauling Junk
A. Test the Customer Support in Advance
Even if you choose a fantastic tool for your business, you will inevitably need customer support. Before you invest, try to contact the customer support team a couple of times to ask questions. And if there is a trial period, definitely use it to also test customer service: Can you call, chat or e-mail support? How promptly do they respond? Can they solve your problem quickly and courteously?
Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E®
A. Have a Problem Before Looking for Tools
You should only begin to look for tools online after you realize you have a problem or find something is slowing you down. Testing and using tools for problems other people tell you that you have, usually result in more time wasted than saved. Once you know your problem then you can search for tools by simply entering your problem into a search engine and in the results you will find tools.
Nick Cronin, ExpertBids.com