Clean and Easy Web Printing With Joliprint

Have you ever read a really great blog post and decided you were going to print it so you can read later it offline? When you printed the article, did a one page article became a 6 page print file because it was full of advertisements and reader comments? Trying to print web articles can be a real pain. Luckily there are a several web applications that let you print neat looking PDF files that are free from ads and any other junk that normally fills up a webpage.

Joliprint is a web and mobile application that lets you create easy to read, ad free PDF files of any web page, all with the click of a button. Best of all, it's free!

Joliprint gives you the ability to capture any article, news, blog post or web page whenever they want using any web browser. You can even install it on your mobile Safari browser so it can be used on your I-Phone and I-Pad. Cool stuff.

Installation is easy. Just go to the Joliprint website and drag the bookmarklet into the bookmark bar in your browser

 

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When you find a great article that you would like to print without the advertising and comments at the bottom………

 

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Just click the Joliprint bookmarklet on your bookmark tool bar and Joliprint will convert the article into a downloadable PDF file

 

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You can share the link via email, Facebook or Twitter. You can also save the PDF into your Google Docs account. Joliprint will even provide you with a short link so you can share it anyway you want. Neat!

Once the conversion is complete, you have a nice easy to read article ready for printing

 

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Joliprint will automatically create a two column article, saving you additional paper. While there is no watermark on the PDF file, there is a small Joliprint logo on the left side of the document. It's very small though and well worth it for such a great, and free service.

If you have your own website or blog, you can install a Joliprint button on your website for your readers

 

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For WordPress users, they provide an easy to use plugin as well as a gadget for those using Blogger.

 

One of My Favorite Features

Joliprint allows you to create a single PDF of all the articles in your Read It Later list.  You can create a PDF compilation from your Unread, Read and Archived lists.  All you have to do is open your reading list in your browser, click the Joliprint bookmarklet, and you will be presented with a nice compilation of all the Read It Later articles that were on your list.  You can also do the same if you are an Instapaper subscriber.

I'm an avid blog reader and this features is just so useful for when i'm travelling or will be somewhere that does not have an internet connection.  It's like i'm creating my own custom made book of all the things I like to read about.

 

Give Joliprint a Try

Joliprint is a free, easy to use app that will not only make your offline article reading a pleasure, but will also save you a bundle in printing costs since it cuts out all of the clutter and creates a nice 2-column reading format for you.

If you really want to learn how to save on printing costs, use Joliprint in conjunction with iPrint.  I save about $20 dollars a month in printing costs by combining these two free services.

I'm sure there are other great tips of printing web articles and saving on printings costs, leave them in the comments below!

 

 

Why A Mobile App May Be Good For Your Small Business

As smart phone adoption increases in America (estimated to be over 50 percent by the end of 2011 according to Asymco), more and more consumers are turning to their mobile devices as a source of information when shopping.

What does this mean for small business retail store owners?  Consumers are no longer taking the traditional route of walking into a store, speaking to a sales associate and making a purchase.  They are using their smart phones to find more information and make better decisions than ever before.  It is not uncommon for a shopper to conduct price comparisons with your competitors while inside your store.  If you own a retail store you may want to consider adding an easy to use mobile application that your customers can use to create a better, and more interactive experience.

Why Mobile Applications?

According to a survey conducted by Demandware:

  • Only 12 percent of retailers have a mobile application available to consumers to download, while  23 percent of consumers currently use mobile applications when shopping and 50 percent plan to do so in the near future.
  • 38 percent of consumers use their smart phones to check in-store product availability with 52 percent expecting to do it in the future.  Only 29 percent of retailers allow consumers to use this feature.
  • 62 percent of consumers say that they intend to use their smart phone to make a purchase, while only 32 percent of retailers allow online purchases using a smart phone.

What Retailers Can Do

A traditional transaction based shopping experience is no longer an option for retailers as consumers now expect a more interactive shopping experience with the brands they shop with.  Some things you may want to consider are:

  • Use QR codes in your product displays where consumers can check reviews and pricing for that particular product. Many retailers may balk at this but consumers are doing it anyway, you can now make shopping with you easier and much more informative.
  • Have an in store tablet device.  Have a tablet computer on display at your front counter where consumers can read reviews, log in to your online store, and even watch a customer testimonial video for that product.
  • Use Twitter and Facebook.  If you have an active Twitter and/or  Facebook community, offer deals and sneak previews to your loyal fans using these platforms.  Want to increase your followers and likes even more?  Have in in store monitor mounted on the wall that has your live Twitter stream or Facebook stream for shoppers to see.  Allow them to follow and like you right from the store.
  • Have a mobile application available to your customers where they can check product inventories, make purchases or to read reviews.

Making The Consumer Experience Easy and Interactive

Moving beyond just the traditional shop and buy mentality that most retailers are still holding onto can give your retail business a competitive advantage.  By creating an interactive experience as well as becoming a resource for your customers, your business will stay at the forefront of consumer shopping trends and keep customer engagement high.

Resources

Big Commerce.  Online E Commerce and Shopping Cart platform.  Offers mobile shopping features.

Delivr.  Free and easy way to create QR codes

 

image credit:Stuart Miles

Size Isn’t Everything – 3 Things to Consider Before Doing Business Across Borders

When people hear about a global or international business, large multinational corporations usually come to mind. However, this is far from the case. Given the potential that “going global” has in order to create a more efficient, successful business, many people are realizing the benefits of crossing borders and reaching out to a broader array of consumers, even if you may be a small business. Just as the world is globalizing, the barriers are being deteriorated and the limits as to you possibilities are infinite.

Although the risk of expanding operations abroad can be high due to the differentiating climate, culture, geography, and laws, the return can be that much higher given that the demand elsewhere could be much greater than of that in your domestic region. Whether you’ve considered going abroad before or not, now is the time, and in order to do so I have provided you with a few things you need to consider before expanding your small business further into this great world.

1.Know your numbers

It only takes time, and not necessarily much of it in order from your business to go from a small business to a rapidly expanding one. Keeping tight control on your quarterly expenditures will help give you a good idea as to whether your business is on the rise and whether you have the resources to expand. As many people aren’t too eager about bookkeeping or keeping track of numbers, there are many websites, books or people out there that can make sure you’re keeping a close eye on your payables and receivables. An easy online tool to organize you receivables and payables for a low monthly price is Lessaccounting. Although accounting may not exactly be the first place you want to spend anymore operating costs as a small business, it’s an expense that can greatly assist your managerial accounting and finances in the long run. If all goes smooth and your sales/revenues are heading the right way, chances are that your next potential step is crossing borders.

2.Get to know the culture/ foreign market

Familiarizing yourself with the new potential customers, investors, partners and complementary businesses are important in order to lessen the culture shock that may be imposed upon you when entering into a foreign country. Even if you plan on operating solely online and targeting certain countries or regions of the world, understanding the prospective market can go a long way and ease the transition into a new market. It is highly likely that the culture you’re dealing with will be very grateful of your effort put into getting to know them and it will be evident in their reciprocity towards your small business. Regardless, thorough market research of the foreign market is essential. After gaining sufficient background information on the new market you should be able to generally answer whether or not the product would pose as useful to this new market.

3.Ensure a strong business model is present

Since a value proposition is only one component of the business model, the model as a whole has to be very clear and precise to your own individual business. If it isn’t clear as to why, how or who you’re doing business to in your domestic region, much trouble will be endured within a different region of the world. The better you get to know your business internally, the better prepared you will be wherever you may be located externally.

Although these are only a few of the first things to highly consider before expanding into a new foreign market in the beginning stages, it is important to realize that “going international” isn’t as complex as many may think. Keep in mind that consumers are consumers and if a product or service is able to meet their needs, there will be an increase in demand, at a potentially global level.

This is a guest post by Julie Cornell.  Julie is a freelance writer, WordPress enthusiast, and is currently the online community manager for Nusite Group, a specialty trades group specializing in basement waterproofing.  You can contact Shannon at shannonryan905[at]gmail.com

 

Photo credit BackgroundNow

Making A Profit Is As Easy As Moving Stuff Around

Winning the admiration of customers is a difficult task. There are many factors that contribute to their first experience in your store that can either lead to a return customer or could’ve been. One of most important factors is ease of use. What I mean by ease of use is the customer’s ability to locate what they are looking for.

Organizing your store in an “easy to use” manner will help the customer cope with their new surroundings and quickly start browsing for their product. Before we go straight into the layout, I want to give an example of a different industry that is already implementing these layout tactics.

The Example

Although it may seem odd but grocery stores have devoted millions to researching the habits of its customers. The basic layout of a store is a large “U” shape, on the edge are fruits, then onto produce, fish and finally the quick perishables like milk and eggs. The simple explanation for this is when customers enter a grocery store; fruits, meat and milk are the most common purchase. Simply put, the faster a customer can come in and quickly find what they are looking for, means faster revenue. Here’s an interesting fact; the reason the dairy and the eggs are at the back of the store is because when a customer comes in, the dairy is the last thing that is picked up before heading to the cash register, also they expire the fastest. For more information of this subject visit (http://www.marketstormer.com/supermarket-store-layout.htm)

K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple ____ (insert your version here)

The first thing you should do is clear your store of clutter, the more products that are in your store the more overwhelming it may be for a first time customer.Thoughts. Nothing bothers me more than seeing a wall crammed full of stuff because it makes it that much harder to find anything. The longer it takes a customer to find something the more frustrating an experience it can be for them. Ex. The Apple store implements this K.I.S.S. tactic the best. The most important design concept of an apple store is its simplicity. They believe that a customer should be comfortable when making purchases and it must be working because there’s an apple store in every major shopping center. In other words; less is more. This article explains apple’s core design strategy (http://adaptivepath.com/ideas/e000331).

Seasons

The second thing you should do is place your products according to season. This is geared more towards retail stores because every season new products are released or refreshed. The best thing to do is to place new products at the front of the store so customers can see the new products and the sales items towards the back. People are used to this layout and most people expect it. As a store owner use these habits to your advantage.

Kyle’s corner – if you have a lot of a single product, and this goes for any store, DO NOT put them all out on the floor at once. It hurts the appeal of your product as a whole. If there’s a lot of a certain product than a customer can draw a few assumptions from just the amount of product. The easiest one to assume is that the product is not selling, if something’s not selling then there’s a reason for that. The next is that having more of one thing will attract attention to that one area. This can be good because if it’s a hot product then you can just put other similar products close to it, but if it’s not, then you’ll have a surplus of products that don’t sell.

Organization

The third thing is just to be organized. Make sure your sections are clear, for clothing stores make sure your men’s shirts are with the men’s shirts and you proceed in a gradual order of clothing (shirt, long sleeve, sweater, hoodies, etc.) and that your women’s clothes are where they need to be. Don’t make your store as disorganized as a teenager’s room (If you’re a parent or sibling or even know a teenager, then you know what I mean).  Another thing you should do is when clothes are not in season, (winter jackets when its Spring) either lower the price to move them or put them back in stock because those clothes are just taking up space that can be used for another product. No one is going to buy a winter jacket in the middle of summer… unless it's at a steep discount.

Use the “Back”

Everyone knows what “the back” is. It’s just leftover space left in the back where you try and fill with sale items, or other random things that aren’t really worthy of being in the front of the store. What you can do instead is put some of your personality in the back, I don’t mean getting an interior designer to move stuff around because you can do that yourself… for free. What I mean by that is if you like art put local art or nice paintings in the back. It’s your shop you can put anything you want. I’m a dancer; I would personally put a large stereo and vinyl flooring in the back. You can be as creative as you’d like, no one will stop you (unless it goes against pre-set building codes and or the infringement of any or and all contracts, licenses, copyrights or patents … I think I got all of them.) Ex. I used to work in a computer store and the manager had a music technology degree, so what he did was convince his boss to let him put a large music room in the back of the store. It worked well and it brought in customers.An example of the change room’s idea came from a store in Ottawa; they liked to try and individualize their store so they got large shower curtain covers and they hung them from the ceiling and played music while people changed. It was unique and I hadn't seen that before and it stood out for me.

A lot of this stuff you probably know from your own deductions but I do hope that I was able to add to your understanding. Like usual put your own spin to all of these ideas, I want to help give suggestions on what you could do; I do not wish to tell you what to do. I hope this helps.

 This is a guest post by Kyle Chan

Image Credit: nuchylee

Create Fast And Easy Mobile Landing Pages

Nothing is more frustrating for a consumer than trying to access a website that has not been optimized for mobile phone use. With the increased popularity of QR Codes in America and the dramatic increase of smart phone adoption, having a mobile presence for your business may no longer be optional.

In a recent Google study, 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site that they had trouble accessing from their smart phone, and 40% will turn to a competitor. Having your entire website optimized for mobile may be too tough a task for a small business owner, but have you ever considered using specific, mobile friendly landing pages in your marketing mix?

Mobile Landing Pages With Google Sites

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Google Sites, a free service for Google users and Google Apps users, allows you to create mobile friendly landing pages using an easy to use drag and drop website builder. They also have several mobile templates available to create landing pages quickly.
Why use Google Sites to create your mobile landing pages?

  • It's Free. As part of the Google and Google Apps suite of tools, it comes included when you sign up for a Google account
  • It's Fast. With several available templates, creating a mobile site only takes a few minutes
  • It's Really Easy. Creating a website using Google Sites may be the easiest way to build a website, with the possible exception of Weebly

Embedly Powered

What Can You Do With A Mobile Landing Page?

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You can create a mobile landing page for pretty much anything, but to make things easier, Google provides several templates and ideas such as:

  • Local Business. Insert a Google Map and a click to call button on your landing page. You can also add a short product description, price and call to action
  • Social Media. Add a call to action to join you on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Your Tube
  • E-Commerce. Add a Google Checkout button along with your product description and price so consumers can purchase right from their mobile phones
  • Restaurants. Add multiple landing pages for Coupons, Directions and a Menu. Make it easy for your customers to make a reservation with a click to call button

Use QR Codes To Drive People To Your Mobile Landing Page

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After creating your mobile ready landing page, you will need an easy way for your customers to find it. Using a QR Code, people can simply scan the code with the camera on their smart phone and they will instantly go to your landing page, no typing required. Where can you use a QR code to promote your landing pages?

  • Your business card
  • On your brochures and other print marketing materials
  • In a newspaper or magazine advertisement
  • On promotional materials when promoting an event
  • Inside your store

There are dozens of possible uses for QR Codes to drive traffic to your mobile landing pages, the important thing is that once they scan the QR Code, they are taken to a mobile page that's easy to read and is user friendly.

So there you have it, a free and easy way to create mobile landing pages for your business. There are many more possibilities for than the ones outlined in this article, these are just a few examples. If you have comments or questions, leave them below!

 

 

Bartering – Why not? … It worked in the past

Bartering is defined by dictionary.com as “a trade by exchange of commodities rather than by the use of money.”

As a small business you have flexibility to alter with the price of your products and or services. The advantage of working in neighborhoods rather than in busy malls is the fact that you can talk with the businesses beside or around you. There is a possibility that a store down the street may be selling something that doesn’t directly relate to your store but may benefit you in some way down the line. There are many ways to set up a good partnership between stores without necessarily using money. The examples I will give are not exactly to the definition of bartering, but I will try to give practical examples for modern day small businesses. The examples can range from employee deals to shopping opportunities for customers. It’s best not to deal with relative gains, rather than mutual gains because even if the gain is in your favor, the end may not lead to a sustainable relationship.

You could try to:

1. Set up a deal between the store owners.

Ex. My parents used to own a Chinese restaurant and we had a deal with the video store owner down the plaza. The deal was we gave them free food and they gave us free movie rentals. It may just be food and movies but we did build good relations with the video store and watch a lot of free movies.

2. Bundle yourself with other similar stores to give a discount for shopping at specific locations.

This is a business to business exchange. Logic. If you bundle yourself with other stores then you instantly get free advertising for your location because of the automatic referral from the other store. You could also trade clothes with the other store, to further help advertising. Also, a discount does not necessarily mean a loss of money. At the end of the day, the entire point of any business is to make more than break-even.

Kyle’s Corner – I highly recommend if a customer is already buying a few items of clothing, then you either give them a discount to build good will or throw in an extra item for free. The basic principle behind this move is you want to show that you appreciate their business and build a good relationship between the customer and YOUR store. There are many benefits to having a good relationship with a return customer. They may bring in more people by saying good things; physically bring in friends or relatives, etc. As long as your make more than break-even, you don’t really lose money!
At this moment I just want to quickly clarify what the terms break-even and Cost of Goods sold mean in a general sense. Break-even is a point where your expenses and revenues equal zero. You’re not making anything and not losing anything. Without getting too technical, cost of goods sold is the cost a retailer pays to buy an item from a wholesaler, to sell to a customer (whew, need a breath). COGS (cost of goods sold) for this simple example will encompass manufacturing, labor, and transportation costs but normally they will be handled in more detail in separate accounts. For the sake of simplicity we will say that all COGS for one pair of jeans is 10, a shirt is 5 and a belt is 10.

To prove my point, I will break down this situation mathematically:

Item                   Selling price ($)                  COGS
Jean                   30                                             10
Shirts                 20                                             5
Belts                   40                                             10

Say a customer buys 2 jeans, a shirt and is thinking about picking up a belt. You can convince them to buy the item by giving a discount or even throwing it in for free. Even if you sold the belt for $20 you can still make a $10 profit.

Jeans X 2 = $60, shirt X 1 = $20, belt X 1 = $20, with a grand total of $100. When you look at your spending price of $35, which is a $65 profit rather than a $45 profit. There’s no point trying to get every little dollar when it will hinder profits, it’s counter-intuitive. Especially when any positive gain is better than no gain at all.

I would like to stress that in certain cases doing what I mentioned above may result in a loss, it depends entirely on your product or service and the costs attributed to it.

3. Make deals with local civic, school (university, high school, etc.) and or social clubs to give discounts.

I would like to focus on universities because I can give more thought out examples. Ex. During my stay at Carleton University in Ottawa I joined the Taiwanese Student Association. With joining you got discount card to use at different local places. My friends went to at least a few of these places because it was just convenient and nearby. Any small business can be a part of this deal as long as it is useful to the student. This strategy can be used in multiple situations. Ever go to a bowling alley and see a bunch of women wearing a certain color playing together? That’s a small business making a deal with a local club.

4. Trade a service for a service.

There are a lot of service businesses that don’t really have a set way to calculate their prices for providing their service. Ex. Computer repair isn’t exactly rocket science (I would know, I did it! sigh… took 2 years to use that joke), but what they do is charge you for their time. Usually they can solve the problem in 10 minutes but charge you for the whole hour. By bartering with IT Company’s, especially repair shops you can sidestep this fee. Depending on your store this may be easy or hard, it depends entire on the store and owner. Long story short; time to make some friends.

These are just a few examples of how you can use a loose form of bartering to help your small business get a little advertising, good will and more customers. You can think out of the box and I actually encourage you to try and put a unique spin on it. Just remember not to try and cheat anyone or even try relative gain because it can hurt a small business. I hope these suggestions help.

This is a guest post by Kyle Chan

6 Domain Research Tools For Your Business

Choosing a domain name for your business is a very important decision, and is one that cannot be easily changed without major headaches. There are many resources available online, many of them free, that will help you find the right domain for your business.  Below are 6 tools that I use when searching for a domain name and also for checking to see if that domain name is available on the major social websites.

Before deciding on a name for your business, it is wise to do some online research to see if that name is available to use as a website since the internet plays such a major role for any business.

There are many theories about what type of domain name to choose and I've listed some resource articles at the end of this post so you can do some follow up research.

Google Adwords Keyword Tool

The Google Adwords keyword tool is a great place to start your research. Why? Because if you will be using keyword terms in your domain name you can check to see what kind of search traffic you can expect from people naturally searching Google for that search term. For example, if I had a carpet cleaning business in Denver and wanted to use the domain CarpetCleaningDenver.com, using the keyword tool I would know that there are an estimated 8100 searches a month for that term. This doesn't mean that if you had that domain that you would automatically end up at the top of Google, you still need to create and optimize your website, but it defiantly helps.

Panabee

Panabee lets you brainstorm for domain names by entering keywords and generating a list of possible ideas. If the domain name for your business is not available, you will probably need to use a modifier in your domain name. An example would be if the domain name KatiesCupCakes.com was taken, you might add a modifier like “Famous” to create KatiesFamousCupcakes.com. Panabee will help you get some ideas for domain names you may not have thought of.

Namechk

Namechk lets you check to see if your name or vanity URL is available on dozens of popular social sharing sites like Twitter and Facebook. It shows you if they are available and let's you click through to secure those accounts right away. Another great service that is very similar is Knowem.

DomiansBot

DomainsBot lets you enter a domain name to see if it, or similar domain names are available. You can also use the advanced search option to specify extensions, status, use of hyphens and maximum domain length.

Just Dropped

Just Dropped let's you search for expired domain names and you can even sign up to be notified via email of the most recent domains available that you can purchase. This is a good site as it lets you scoop up domain names that people have let expire. 

US Trademark Search

If you will be using a unique name for your business, you may want to check to see if that name has already been trademarked. It would suck if you spent a lot of time and money building and marketing your website only to get a notice that you have infringed on a trademark and must immediately take down your site.

My Favorite Domain Name Tools

So these are some of my favorite tools when researching a new domain name. I'm sure there are plenty of great tools that I didn't mention here, so leave them in the comments below!

Additional Resources

How to pick a local business name

How to choose a name for your small business

 

 

 

5 Essential Google Products For Small Business

Everybody knows that Google is the go to search engine when you need to find something online, but did you know that Google also offers over 100 additional products, and that most of them are free or at least very inexpensive? Whether you like Google or not, you can't argue that they provide tremendous value to small business owners with it's extensive range of tools and services.

For a new and growing business, having to pay for dozens of programs and services can quickly add up and eat away at your bottom line during a critical period in your business. Many small business owners don't realize that there are so many free or almost free products available online that can greatly improve the way you Market, Organize and Operate your business. Below are 5 Google products that I recommend to every small business owner that is just starting out, I do this because they:

  • Are free, or in the case of Adwords, very cost effective
  • Offer tremendous value to the small business owner
  • Relatively easy to use, once again, except Adwords. (Adwords Express is now available, it's a simpler version of Adwords)
  • Are trusted and reliable. Google is not going anywhere

 

Google Places

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If you have not set up your Google Places page yet, I suggest you stop now (or after you finish this article), and get started right now. Google Places is a free product from Google that allows business owners to set up a simple, yet effective business web page. You can use this service whether you currently have a website or not for your business. Why should you use Google Places?

  • Free to business owners
  • It's fast and easy to setup
  • Since it's a Google product, it gets a special place at the top of the search ranking when people search for local businesses

To find out more about Google Places check out our article, “Create a Google Places Page in Under 5 Minutes”

Google Adwords

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Google Adwords is the leading provider of Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising on the internet. As a business owner, you can create keyword specific ads targeted to people in your local business trade area. Adwords placements are those listings that you see on top and to the right of your Google search results. When people are searching for a specific topic or product, ads relating to that topic or keyword are shown alongside the natural search results listings. What makes these ads so great for business owners?

  • Once you set up your Adwords campaign and choose your keywords, Google will automatically serve your ads using the keywords and target area you specify
  • You are only driving people to your site that have already expressed some kind of interest in your product or service
  • You can closely track all details of your ad campaign, including number of clicks, where the clicks came from, which ads perform best and which keywords perform best
  • You can easily make changes or ad new campaigns in minutes
  • You set a budget of how much you want to spend each day and month, allowing tight controls over your marketing budget

Here is a good article from Red Fly Marketing on “How to set up your first adwords account”

Google Apps

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Google Apps is a suite of servces that Google Offers to businesses to create a web based platform to help manage your business.  There is a free edition that allows you up to 10 user accounts, with paid options once you go above that. The services are based around 5 key products:

Gmail

Google offers a custom email address for your business using the Gmail platform. All of the Google Apps services are built around and integrate with your companies email system. If you are currently using a non-domain specific email address (eg: @hotmail.com), shame on you, that just looks unprofessional and casts a shadow of doubt in the eyes of your potential customer. Even if you are using your domain address (eg:@yourbusinessname.com), chances are you are using the free or low cost service that came with your website hosting provider.  With Google Apps, you can use the easy to use, yet powerful Gmail platform under your own domain.

Docs

Google docs is a web based suite of tools, similar to Microsoft Office. You can create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings using Docs. You can also share files with co-workers and even collaborate and edit documents online together in real time. With a Gigabyte of storage space, you can also store and share your Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF and pictures with Docs.

Calendar

Google calendar is, in my opinion, the best web based calendar application around. You can create calendar events from emails, embed your calendar online, share your availability with others and create multiple calendars for specific purposes. It also seamlessly integrates with your email making it super useful.

Sites

Google sites is an easy to use website creator allowing you to create an intranet for your company. I currently use Google Sites as an intranet for my business and also have another site set up as an online file cabinet to keep track of all of my HR stuff like employee documents, evaluations and general notes.

Marketplace

The Marketplace is what really sets Google Apps apart from the regular Google services. The Marketplace allows you to integrate 3rd party products directly into your Google Apps account. There are hundreds of products in the marketplace from Productivity tools to Marketing applications.

Being able to organize all of your business tools and services using a single dashboard in your email account is worth it's weight in gold. You can read my article on Google Apps for Small Business to find out more.

Reader

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Google Reader is a free tool that let's you keep track of what is going on in your industry. We all know that staying current on the latest news and trends is vital to remaining competitive, and we all know how difficult and time consuming it is to read dozens of articles from dozens of websites. Google reader allows you to “pull” all of those articles into a central place for your easy reading pleasure. The articles come to you, saving you hours of your time and allowing you to keep on top of what's happening in your industry.

Along with it's desktop reader, there is also a neat looking mobile version that allows you to read articles on your smart phone. I have used this service for years and I can truly say it's one of the most important tools I have in my small business arsenal. In just a few minutes a day, I can quickly scan and read dozens of articles to see what is happening and what people are saying. If you run a blog for your business, Google Reader is a great tool for finding new and relevant ideas for articles.

Google Alerts

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Google Alerts is a great tool for monitoring your business reputation online and even your own personal reputation. By adding a term, like “Your Company Name”, Google will email you any articles, blog posts, videos or discussions it finds with that term when it is scanning the internet. Just imagine that a customer is discussing your business (good or bad) on a discussion forum somewhere and Google emails you the link to the discussion allowing you to read and respond to whatever is being said.

There are so many useful applications here for business owners, here is an article from Hubspot on monitoring your company's presence online.

So there you have it, 5 tools you can start using today to help your business. I'm sure I've left out lots of other great Google services, please leave them in the comments below!

 

The Real Story Of The Movie Rocky

Here's a the real story of the movie rocky small businesslittle inspiration for you small business owners who can sometimes feel overwhelmed, frustrated and sometimes even doubtful of your own abilities to run a successful business. Every business owner goes through these emotions, just like riding a roller coaster, you have to take the stomach drops along with the thrills.

Everybody knows about and has seen the movie Rocky. And just about everyone has left the movie theater throwing jabs and uppercuts in the air, inspired by the guts and determination of Rocky Balboa. Did you know that the “real” story of how Sylvestor Stallone came about creating the movie Rocky is actually more inspiring than the movie? Tony Robbins tells a great story about Sylvestor Stallone, you can listen to the audio below.

 

What’s your Small Business Value Proposition?

The Heart of your Business Model

At the heart of every business model comes a company's value proposition. For those of you who may not be familiar with what a value proposition is, it is the precise guidelines of how a company's product or service meets the needs of customers. Every individual has their own definition of what may or may not be of value to them, but when it comes to the customer at hand, the way you manage and control your small business in direct line with your value proposition can make or break the business model as a whole. The business model from sales to management could severely be at risk if your proposition doesn't match the offerings of your business to the end consumer. You have to take the time to look back and really consider why the customers will choose to do business with your firm instead of other companies, maintaining a clear focus on who your customer is at all times.

Maintaining a strong value proposition is crucial when running a business, and will ease the process of doing business online. Value propositions that are able to differentiate themselves from those of other businesses work well interchangeably, online and offline, however, with all the new prospects and programs available at your disposal online, having a unique online presence will create added value to your business and most likely increase customer reach.

Verifying Value to your Customer

When operating your business online, you have to make sure that at the end of the day you have provided your customer with what they intended to receive as well as an online experience that they'll want to return to. When it comes to fulfilling the needs of customers online, they expect more with having to do less. From a consumer point of view, the online world doesn't fall far from the real world as far as the B2C (business to consumer) or even B2B relationships go. As long as you ensure to put your customer first no matter if you may or may not be dealing with them in person, a satisfied customer usually means a loyal customer.

In order to make your value proposition successful, something as simple as personalizing and customizing your products or your website as best you can in order to help the consumer find exactly what they are looking for. Fulfilling the needs of customers online is just as important as meeting their needs face to face and for that reason several businesses fail at such a task. Many fail to put as much effort into their presence in the real world rather than into their presence in the online world or vice versa which comes as a huge downfall when trying to reach out to both types of buyers.

Focusing in on the Customer at Hand

Whether your customer may be located in your hometown or maybe even on a different continent, despite the lack of physical communication with your customer and maybe a few cultural differences, there is no reason for you to treat them as if one may be more important than the other. If your business isn't able to keep up with both online and traditional in-store shoppers, chances are that you may be losing potentially valuable customers. Always remember that it is your customers who keep the business coming in at the end of the day. When operating your business online, be sure to always stay in line with your value proposition and at the same time keep your customer, as best you can, satisfied thanks to the added value that your business is able to contribute to their lives.

* Instead of looking for ways to be similar to other websites and businesses out there, think of ways to be different from them.

* Be sure to clearly identify your consumer groups along with their demographics, especially when there's more than one.

* Be patient! Don't rush into any business ventures that you haven't carefully prepared yourself and your customers for.

* Put yourself in the position of the consumer. It takes time to realize any weaknesses.

* For assistance creating your value proposition there are several simple templates available online that can help you create your own today!

This is a guest post by Julie Cornell is a freelance writer, WordPress enthusiast, and is currently the online community manager for Nusite Group, a specialty trades group specializing in basement waterproofing

Photo Credit ideas4christmas2010.