The pandemic forced us to adapt to a different way of living and working. It also taught us that business can be done online and doesn’t need to be restricted to one fixed place.
In this latest article we’ve outlined four easy-to-use digital tools, all of which have free options, so you can let digital pick up the slack and do the hard work for you.
- Social media management tools
- Video conferencing and collaboration tools
- Online booking systems
- Online payment systems and card readers
Social media management tools
These can be a real time saver and help you to plan ahead, as you don’t need to post in ‘real-time.’ Social media management tools let you easily manage all of your social media accounts in one place, track keywords and schedule posts in advance, so you can keep your brand visible, and in the forefront of your customers’ minds.
Paid-for apps tend to come with extras such as access to analytics so you can find out when people are most responsive, and schedule posts for these times. Hootsuite is one of the best-known platforms, offering paid-for plans and a free basic version. The free version lets you link two social media accounts and gives up to 5 scheduled posts a month.
Remember, nowadays people use social media to contact a business at all times of the day, or night, and expect to get a response. Bear that in mind when you schedule posts and make it clear which hours you are available.
Video conferencing and collaboration tools
From being a relative unknown, Zoom has become by far the most popular and well-known video conferencing platform. It jumped from 10 million users in December 2019 to 300 million by April 2020 during lockdown. What attracts users is its simplicity, and, whether you want to speak to 100 people or just one, you get 40 minutes for free. It hasn’t all been plain sailing though as questions have been raised over security. To combat this Zoom has moved to password protect all meetings, whether instant or scheduled – find out more about Zoom security
If you have staff and want something a bit more sophisticated, Microsoft Teams is a good option. It has Microsoft’s data encryption built in to ensure that team members can keep in touch safely via instant messaging, phone and video calls. Teams is included in Microsoft 365 paid-for business packages but also comes as a standalone free version. The free version includes unlimited chat, video calling for up to 60 minutes for up to 100 people per meeting, 5GB of cloud storage per user, as well as the ability to share documents with colleagues.
Online booking systems
Many businesses, especially those in hospitality and tourism, require customers to pre-book online. A booking or reservation system is a great tool for any business looking to streamline and automate how they store customer information and take payment.
SimplyBook.me is an online booking system offering free and paid-for versions which enables businesses to easily accept bookings via their website or social media channels. If you don’t have a website, SimplyBook.me allows you to create your own customised booking site.
Bookings can be taken 24/7, managed on the go via the app, and synced to personal calendars to avoid appointment clashes. You can also send tailored automated appointment reminders to reduce the chance of ‘no shows.’
With the free package you get 50 bookings per month, access to the app, booking site, and a booking button for your website and social media. To take payments online, you will need one of the paid-for options, plus see our Online Payments section below.
More niche options available include Fresha (formerly called Shedul), a bespoke booking platform for salons, spas and other businesses operating in the health and beauty sector.
Online payment systems and card readers
During the pandemic many of us got used to paying by card. Giving customers the option to pay electronically can help to boost sales by allowing them to pay by the method that best suits them, rather than having to turn away potential customers because you don’t have the capability. If your business isn’t currently set up for this, a card reader is an easy and cost-effective place to start.
SumUp offers three card reader options, two with Bluetooth which work via the free SumUp app and connect to a phone or tablet, and one with unlimited free data or WIFI which comes as a standalone device. All allow you to take card payments safely and easily on the go so you can offer customers peace of mind and flexibility. There are no monthly costs and fees are only paid on each transaction.
Square is another popular option for small businesses. Its Square Reader currently costs £16 upfront with transaction fees set at 1.75%, and no monthly costs. It works via the Free Point of Sale Square app which can be downloaded to a phone. Square Reader can be used to take chip and pin payments, contactless, Apple Pay and Google Pay.
Square also has lots of products available for your business to take online payments via invoice, your own website, or a checkout link if you have no website. Square Online offers an ecommerce site to sell and take payments online.
Worth a mention is Patreon and Buy Me a Coffee, which are aimed at the creative industry and allow creators and artists to accept support and membership from their fans.