Over the past year, I’ve been trying to run my business lean by hand picking the best free technology tools out there. I’ve gathered all my favorite ones, for your use and pleasure. Let me know if you need any help with them, or if you are looking for other tools. I would be happy to help.

* For advanced use of these tools, tweaking the HTML, CSS or PHP is super simple and could require the most basic skills.

 1.   MailChimpMailChimp

All businesses send emails to their customers – newsletters, promotions and marketing materials. From my experience, MailChimp does it the best way, with a very intuitive platform. It helps you build your mailing list with the option for segmentation based on your needs. You can create your own designed email campaigns or use one of their templates by dragging and dropping components.

But that’s not all…

MailChimp also tracks who opened your emails, when, where and how. It tracks all URL links to external websites, measures click through rate, and shows you a whole dashboard full of useful statistics to improve your next email blast. Your customers will be impressed

2.   WordPress

WP

You started building a business and now you need a website. Awesome first step, but you probably don’t know how to code. You may want to use Wix.com if you only need a few simple static pages, or perhaps use WordPress – an open source publishing platform which allows to create any website, small or sophisticated, in a simple way. You would need to get a hosting plan first (www.dreamhost.com has promotions all the time ~$70/year), and one click later you have WordPress (aka WP) installed. Once you are all set, you can write your web pages, posts and allow guests to comment. It’s really incredible how easy it is to use.

The best thing about WP is that it’s extendable. On this one platform, you can set up your own theme (page structure, colors etc.) and install plug-ins (see next item) which add features and functionality to your website. I think of WP as a blank canvas on which you can install puzzle pieces to make up a whole website that actually does something.

 3.   WordPress Plugins

WP Plug

Plugins add functionality to your WP website without any coding. All you need to do is find the plugin that provides the functionality you need and a few clicks later, it’s installed. How easy is that?

Some plugins I like:From eCommerce shopping carts to image galleries to customer reviews, you can find basically any functionality in the world (besides making coffee and changing diapers).

WordPress SEO by Yoast

Possibly one of the only plugins that holistically aggregates all elements of search engine optimization. It’s not like you install it and you become #1 in Google searches, but it tells you what you need, where you need it, and how to do it. Especially if you aren’t too familiar with any SEO tactics, this plugin makes it dead simple to understand the most important ones.

The plugin automatically generates Meta tags, optimizes your post titles for search engines and helps you to detect and avoid duplicate content. Even if you have very little SEO knowledge, this plugin will be of great help for you.

Akismet

Every website that’s open to comments, feedback or any other free user entry is prone to spam. If you think you have tons of spam in your email, wait till you see the comments “web robots” post on your website. Akismet takes care of 99% of all spam messages on your website. It filters out content, and tracks back spam for you, so you can focus on the more important things.

WP Customer Reviews

I think reviews are the best marketing tool for your business. Personal reviews are even better. WP Customer Reviews allows you to setup a specific page/product/post on your website to receive customer testimonials and feedback.

I’ve been using this plugin for general reviews by customers of my business, but you can customize it however you’d like – whatever fits your model.

Facebook Like Box

Allows you to connect between your Facebook business page and your website, by displaying a small vertical box. It’s great to keep your visitors engaged socially as well. I’ve noticed it helps with the “Likes”.

MailChimp widget

Adds a small web form with which your clients can add themselves to one of your mailing lists on MailChimp.

WP – Mobile Detector

Today, every website needs to be adjusted to mobile browsing. Approx. 82% of my clients use my website with either a tablet or a smartphone. This plugin detects the device from which the user is accessing your site, and decides which version to show the user – the mobile version, or the full site.

WordPress Google forms

Now you can add any Google form to any of your website pages. No need to code.

4.   Streak – Gmail CRM

How great would it be to extend the Gmail interface and add CRM functionality? Streak is installed and sits on your Gmail account (as a browser extension) and allows you to add all kinds of cool features to manage your sales/client/product pipelines. It is highly customizable to your needs, and even includes a “Send email later” feature where you set a time to send each email. It might be a little challenging to understand how to use it, but once you get it, it’s a breeze.

Streak Interface

Streak Interface

5. DropBox

Last but not least, the good ’ol DropBox. My business uses Dropbox as the primary file repository that is version controlled and backed up consistently.

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Feel free to contact me at ykoter1@babson.edu for more information about this blog post, other tools which I recommend or help getting setup with your technology.