Whether you’re a startup or a Fortune 500 company, every business needs to communicate effectively with their clients, employees and vendors. Since I started my company, MOD Restoration, I spend hours each month researching the best communication tools out there to enhance our customer experience and internal processes. I’m happy to share them with you so you can focus your time on the more fun stuff – like growing your business.
When MOD started in 2009, it was comprised of two 24 year-olds and an IKEA desk. On day 1, I decided that we needed to sound like an established conglomerate. The solution? A professional phone system with a full-blown auto attendant. I couldn’t afford a $6000 PBX System, but I did discover Virtual PBX systems, which have the same sophisticated features as a regular PBX system at a fraction of the price. We went with Nextiva and still use them today, more than three years and 12 employees later.
Email Hosting Provider
People are funny. We prefer to go back and forth by email for hours, when we can just pick up the phone instead and get an answer in 3 seconds. I’m guilty of that too, and have no idea why! Point is, email is extremely important. MOD started out using GoDaddy‘s email service but switched to Google Apps when we needed a more reliable and sophisticated email provider. Google Apps is really great for any size company, from a one-man show to a company with 500+ employees. If you still have an AOL or Yahoo email account, it’s time you switch to an @YourCompanyName email address!
I’ve had my fair share of bad website experiences, and threw away lots of money (specifically to some web developer from Nagpur, India!). I finally realized that you really do get what you pay for, so I hired a legitimate English-speaking web development firm to build my websites, MOD Restoration and MOD Textiles (built on Drupal and Magento, respectively).
We’re in middle of rebuilding our blog in WordPress since it comes with all the social media bells and whistles. Aside for it being lots of fun, blogging is really important for our businesses. It engages the client, infuses personality into your brand, and by default, gives you brownie points with Google. At the end of the day, we all want to rank highest on Google’s organic search results, and blogging will definitely help by creating relevant content. For example, if you were searching for a company to reupholster your Herman Miller Classic Sofa, Model 0693, you’d likely type in Google “Herman Miller Sofa 0693 Reupholster”. And who comes up first on the organic search results (below the yellow paid ads)?
Before the days of Dropbox, I’d literally have to email every file that I wanted to share – even if the person was sitting 2 feet away from me! And if the files were too large, I’d have to put it on a flash drive or figure out how to access our FTP. It was a royal pain. Dropbox (and now Google Drive, for half the price!) allows you to share actual folders and files that reside on your computer. When you add or update a file, it updates on the shared person’s computer instantly! Amazing.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
With hundreds of emails coming and going on a regular basis, we couldn’t keep track of what we told to which client, whom we sent a follow up email to, or whom we needed to reach out to. Once we started hiring staff, it got even worse. With multiple cooks in the kitchen, we were always afraid of double dipping responses to the same client. A CRM system finally solved that problem. We can interact with existing clients and prospects, keep track of sales, marketing and customer service support. We use ZoHo, which is a simpler version of Salesforce, and more affordable for growing companies.
Project Management System (PMS)
When we started out, everything I needed to do was scribbled on a sticky note. When my screen was covered from top to bottom with yellow stickies, I’d email myself reminders of what needed to get done. It reached a point when I sent 1 email to myself for every sticky, since I wasn’t sure which I’d end up reading, the sticky or the email. It was time for a PMS. I wanted something dummy-proof and cost effective. I was thrilled when I found Teambox, a PMS that integrates with Dropbox. Now my entire team uses Teambox, and we can’t imagine life without it. Don’t get me wrong, we still do use yellow sticky notes for special occasions.
You know those mass emails that you get on a daily basis and instantly send to your junk or spam folder? Those emails are sent using an email marketing program, which is actually the only legitimate way to send mass emails to people who (hopefully) signed up to your newsletter or want to hear from you. There are so many email marketing companies out there (SmallBizTrends lists a whole bunch), but I personally love MailChimp. It’s free for under 12,000 emails a month, it’s super easy to use, and their monkey is kinda cute.
These communication tools have helped increase my company’s productivity, efficiency and sales, and I’m hopeful that they will do the same for you. Of course, if you are currently using other tools that you love, please do share them with me!
This article first appeared on Forbes.com