The pandemic has forced us to adapt to a different way of living and working. It’s also taught us that business can be done online and doesn’t need to be restricted to one fixed place.
Superfast Business Wales has created a number of helpful how-to guides to help businesses make the move online.
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.
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 three social media accounts and gives you 30 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.
During the pandemic, we’ve all been looking for ways to stay in touch online, and many of us turned to video. By far the most popular video conferencing platform in 2020 has been Zoom – read our How to use Zoom article. It jumped from 10 million users in December 2019 to 300 million by April. 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, 10GB of team storage, and 2GB of personal storage, as well as the ability to share documents with colleagues and work on them together.
Microsoft Teams also provides free access to the web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint along with 250+ integrated apps. You can schedule meetings, invite guests to collaborate, host online meetings for up to 300 people, and have 500k users.
The world has changed, and many businesses now need customers to pre-book so they can visit safely and in line with any COVID-19 guidelines which are in place. This applies especially to hospitality and tourism venues, but can also include shops, salons, and other outlets. 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 access to the app, booking site, a booking button for your website and social media, as well as a directory listing on the SimplyBook.me booking page. 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.
Because of the obvious health implications, many customers want to avoid handling cash as much as possible at the moment, instead preferring contactless payment. If your business isn’t currently set up for this, a card reader is an easy and cost-effective place to start.
SumUp offers two card reader options, one with Bluetooth which works via the free SumUp app and connects to a phone or tablet, and one with unlimited free data or WIFI which comes as a standalone device. Both 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, currently 1.65%.
If your business is purely online, you can also use SumUp to take online payments via invoice, payment link, SumUP card, or an online store created for you. All remote payment options are free, you only pay a 2.5% transaction fee when you are paid, and you don’t need to buy a SumUp card reader to use them.
Square is another popular option for small businesses. Its Square Reader costs £19 upfront with transaction fees set at 1.75%, and no monthly costs. It connects via Bluetooth to a phone or tablet and uses a free point of sale app. 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. All products are free but incur a 2.5% fee on each transaction.
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.