My inbox is constantly cluttered with announcements about the latest newfangled Website that will change how we all do business. Some of them, like the inbox fixers I wrote about in my recent magazine column, really do help.
But there are a bevy of sites that have stood the test of time and gained a foothold with many entrepreneurs. If you just started a company, or you are looking to beef up your arsenal of sites to help with daily operations, these seven tools deserve a look.
This customer service engine seems to pop up everywhere, which makes sense: It's used by about 20,000 companies and 65 million users. You can integrate the service into your own site, so when a customer has a complaint and support issue, you can track the ticket. Best part: The service works through multiple channels like Facebook, Twitter, and on mobile devices.
I'm a big fan of FreshBooks because it seems to understand how real businesses work. Instead of offering a cheaper alternative to QuickBooks Online, this service includes features small businesses need, like a way to generate an estimate on services (branded with your logo). Then, when you send out the estimate, the customer can go to Freshbooks and approve (or request changes to) the estimate.
MailChimp is more than just a way to send out an email newsletter. You can import your contacts and create email marketing campaigns, but the real power is in tracking your success. For example, you can see who has opened your newsletters, and then decide to target those customers for a more aggressive campaign. The service also integrates with business dashboards like GeckoBoard that offer a snapshot of your campaign's performance, including details such as how many people left your newsletter unopened.
Still using a simple hit counter your ISP loaded for you automatically? That can tell you a simple count for visits, but Google Analytics goes much further. You can find out how long people are staying on your site (that measures engagement) and see which pages are getting the most traction.
Most small companies understand how important it is to "Tweet" their own horns about company services and major news. Sprout Social makes this much easier. In a previous column, I wrote about how the service won me over because I could see a history of my Twitter success and send tweets to multiple accounts at the same time.
Even if you do not sell a physical product, you might consider offering something to customers anyway, even if it is just a branded T-shirt or a coffee mug. (Note to the dissenters: Homestar Runner, a online gaming and cartoon site, still makes most of its money from selling T-shirts and other gear.) Shopify is one of the best e-commerce options and integrates with many other Web services.
I mentioned how MailChimp integrates into GeckoBoard. Well, Geckoboard (and similar dashboards like GoSquared) is valuable in its own right. It's a business dashboard that shows site traffic levels, Salesforce success, MailChimp campaigns, and many other data metrics. You can run the site in a tab and see, at a glance, how your entire company is doing. (By the way, I'm also keeping my eye on Domo, another business intelligence tool that is geared for bigger companies but might work for start-ups. Domo is in in beta right now and not sharing too many details yet.)