4 Free PR Tools No Small Business Owner Should Live Without

Good PR has the potential to become a significant source of brand recognition and act as a primary sales reference funnel. And unlike advertising or marketing campaigns, which usually require you to spend up to thousands of dollars, PR is free. Here are few tools to successfully implement a PR strategy for your small business.

Running a small business is one of the most exciting ways to earn a living. But with so many hats to wear at once, it can become easy to overlook important tasks that help drive the growth of your business.

Public relations – or in other words, press relations – is a prime example. Good PR has the potential to become a significant source of brand recognition and act as a primary sales reference funnel. And unlike advertising or marketing campaigns, which usually require you to spend up to thousands of dollars, PR is free.

With the right tools, you can successfully implement a PR strategy for your business with no budget and minimal time and effort. Here’s how:

HARO, abbreviated for “Help A Reporter Out”, is just that – a tool that lets you (literally) help a reporter out. But it can be used to help out your own business as well. An online service that sends out media queries via email up to 3 times a day, HARO gives businesses opportunities to connect with journalists looking for specific sources on upcoming stories. All you have to do is sign up to receive their daily email queries. An easy way to think of the service is like reverse story pitching: reporters ask for subject-matter help, and in return they give businesses a window to pitch their service or product if the subject-matter is relevant enough. Some tips for using HARO:

  • Keep your pitches brief, but informative. Remember that reporters are on tight deadlines. Be helpful, but don’t send them 5 paragraphs of marketing jargon. Instead, answer their query requests as concisely as possible (and skip the BS).
  • Don’t send attachments. HARO responses are sent through a separate third party portal, and attachments can fill inbox storage very quickly. If you want to provide additional content, include a link in the body of the email instead.
  • An example of what a HARO query looks like:

Example of HARO query

Social media can be very time-consuming, especially when there are multiple accounts to manage at once. And we all know that regardless of business size or industry, there’s no escaping social media marketing. Cue Hootsuite, a social media scheduling platform that lets you create and manage editorial calendars in one centralized place. You can link up any of your business’s social media accounts and see engagement and content feeds in a single dashboard. There’s no reason why any small business owner should be spending more than a couple hours a week managing social media, and tools like Hootsuite make that possible. Some tips for using Hootsuite:

  • Promoting an article or content your business is already mentioned in through social media is a great way to generate even more buzz. Remember the 80-20 rule of content and press strategy: 20% is the actual content, 80% is distributing the content.
  • Social media is not just a channel to promote your product; it’s also a way to educate your users and inform them about relevant news in your industry as a thought leader. Keep social content balanced between company news, product updates, and relevant topics your customers will find helpful. This is also a good way to gain their trust.
  • Use the “Suggestions” tool to post links from around the web that are relevant to your industry (without the hassle of doing the research). All you have to do is type in keywords related to your industry, and Hootsuite does the rest.
  • Use Hootsuite’s URL shorteners when linking out, and then use the URL click stats tool to track which links are being clicked on. This will help you figure out what kind of content receives positive engagement from your readers.

Small Business PR Tool Hootsuite

Mention is a digital media monitoring tool that helps businesses track when and where their business is being written about. It can also be used for social media monitoring, brand tracking and influencer research. Mention monitors billions of sources across the web in over 40 languages in real time, meaning you always know when your company is being talked about. Good PR isn’t just about getting your business name out in the public; it’s about joining the conversation your business is already a part of, and Mention enables you to do just that. Some tips on how to best use Mention:

  • Use the Favorites tool to filter out which mentions are worth responding to. Once you have gone through and selected relevant mentions, join the conversation by either adding valuable content in the comments section or continuing the dialogue by sending a friendly email to the author. Remember that a very important part of PR is building relationships.
  • Create an organized system for compiling media mentions you receive through Mention. At the end of the month, take a look at the report and see if you can find any patterns related to the type of content and publication that your business is being written in. Use that insight to help craft a press strategy based on what you know already works.

Google Analytics
The benefits of using Google Analytics are endless for small business owners on a budget. You can track marketing campaigns, optimize sales funnels from acquisition to retention, and even learn about customer demographics through segmentation sequences. The true benefit of Google Analytics for PR purposes, though, lies in its ability to track referral traffic. Any website or publication that links to your business will show up as a referral source, and from there you can look at page sessions, bounce rates, conversion rates and more. This insight provides invaluable information about where your potential customers are coming from, which means you can hone in on your PR messaging and target audience using actionable data. Google Analytics can be a bit tricky to set up, especially if you want to track traffic behavior coming into your site. Luckily, Google has tons of resources and support pages to guide you through everything.

Using these free tools can help you automate and streamline your PR strategy to help get your business that buzz that it deserves.

Time Management Tips for Thriving SMBs

Mastering the art of time management can make or break your small business. Whether your challenge lies in finding enough hours in the day to get it all done, or in strategically delegating tasks to others, this guide will help you get more done without losing your mind.

Mastering the fine art of time management can make or break your small business. Whether your challenge lies in finding enough hours in the day to get it all done, or in strategically delegating tasks to subcontractors and employees, the following guide will help you get more done without losing your mind.

1. Accept the Inbox

Successful time management begins by giving up the false notion that you can somehow get it all done if you just work hard enough.

The truth is that you’re never going to get it all done – and neither is anyone else! No one dies with an empty inbox, and realizing that is actually a key component to getting more done.

Once you stop stressing about finishing everything, and realize that a new project or task will always take its place, you can begin to relax and enjoy the present moment. And the more present and focused you are, the less time each individual task is going to take because you are giving it your full, undivided attention.

2. Learn to Differentiate

Learn the difference between clock time and real time when scheduling your day. There is a difference between absolute time and mental time, as well as a difference between how long you think things may take, and how long things actually take.

While clock time is absolute – an hour is always 60 minutes, no more, no less – “real time” or mental time can shift depending on what’s happening that particular day. That means that your attitude and mental perceptions can color how fast or slow the day seems to be going, how much time it feels like you have to complete a particular task, and how stressed or relaxed you feel while carrying it out.

When cultivating time management skills, focus your energies on navigating the waters of real time. Your thoughts and perceptions have a much more powerful impact on the way you experience time than any clock ever could. Worry less about minute to minute productivity, and focus instead on the way you’re thinking about each task that needs completing.

3. Track your Time

Time management is all about developing an intimate understanding of how you spend your day, minute to minute.

Start by tracking how long things take you, keeping detailed records for at least a week. You could even use a time tracking app, many of which include the ability to create specific notes about how you’re spending each minute.

Think of time tracking like starting a new exercise regimen or food program. Only by getting crystal clear about your current habits will you be able to make changes to those habits. You’ll be surprised at how long things actually take you once you begin to investigate your current schedule. (“Whoa! I spent how long checking my email?”)

Once you’ve tracked your time for a week, create a graph or chart to help you visualize where you’re spending the majority of your time and where you can make adjustments.

time-management-24. Schedule Non-Activities

Most people think about time management in terms of activities – finishing projects, writing emails, creating marketing materials and attending meetings. However, time must also be scheduled for “non-activities” such as brainstorming, impromptu conversations with colleagues, and yes, even good old fashioned thinking.

But how can you anticipate how much time you’ll spend or need to spend thinking every day?

After tracking your time for a week, you should have a strong idea of how much of your day is typically dedicated to non-activities. If you find that your non-activity number is low when compared with time spent completing tangible activities, you may actually need to increase your downtime.

Allowing yourself ample time to prepare for and decompress after activities helps you to remain focused during said activities, thus decreasing the overall amount of time each task takes to complete.

For example, if you have a blog post to write, you might spend a third of your time brainstorming, a third researching and a third doing the actual writing. Without the brainstorming element, you’ll be diving into your project without any direction and are likely to need more time to complete it than you would had you mentally prepared.

It’s also important to allow yourself to decompress between activities. Rushing from task to task and checking off to-dos like a frantic Energizer Bunny is a surefire way to burn out and drastically reduce the quality of your work. It’s better to get less done and get it done well, than to complete everything under the sun in a sub-par fashion.

5. Go Above and Beyond

Once you’ve tracked your time and determined what you need to complete a particular task, over-schedule yourself. Think of yourself like that one client of yours who has seriously turned chatting into an Olympic sport. Just as you allow some extra time (okay, a lot of extra time)  for his conference calls, give yourself plenty of time to complete each and every task, even the ones that are usually quick and easy.

This time management trick ensures that you’ll never feel behind schedule, and will most likely be ahead of the game throughout the day. Because you’ve accounted for the inevitably of interruptions, unforeseen events and the ups and downs of your own energy levels, you’ll be able to meet the goals of each day without feeling stressed.

Being on top of your to-do list will also create positive feelings and make you feel more productive, which in turn will help you get more done.

How to Start a Small Business: Your Pre-game Checklist

The Internet has changed the way SMBs must think about creating and positioning themselves before they even enter the market. Here’s a helpful a pre-game checklist of things to do – and things to think about – before you start a small business.

So you want to start a small business – that’s awesome! Small businesses account for over 50% of jobs in the United States, and two out of three new jobs in the U.S. are created by small businesses each year.

In the past, most brick and mortar businesses began with a business plan, applied for a small business loan, incorporated themselves and got down to, well, business. Today, the Internet has not only changed the entire nature of the small business world; it has changed the way SMBs must think about creating and positioning themselves before they even enter the market.

What follows is a pre-game checklist of things to do – and things to think about – before you start a small business.

how-to-start-a-small-business-21. Survey the competition

It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s essential to make sure that there is plenty of competition in your market before you start a small business.

If there is absolutely no competition, or no successful competition, it doesn’t mean that you’re a brilliant business pioneer with an idea unlike anything the world has ever seen. Instead, it most likely means that someone has already tried your idea and failed.

The key to deciding what kind of business to start lies in making sure that there is money to be made in your chosen market. No competition means that no one is making money, and that you probably won’t either.

Just like deciding upon keywords with low, medium or high search engine competition, choosing a niche with a moderate level of healthy competition assures you that your target market is alive and well… and ready to spend money.

It also means that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Assess your competition, figure out a problem they’re not solving very well, and find a way to offer something even better.

2. Solve a specific problem

The products and/or services offered by your small business must solve a specific, pressing problem that your customer needs remedied now.

It’s your job to either ease your customer’s pain, or increase their pleasure, and to do it in a unique way that keeps them coming back again and again.

Are you easing the pain caused by termites by providing your customers with expert, affordable pest removal services? Or are you increasing your customer’s pleasure by creating out-of-this-world gluten-free cupcakes?

Remember, your product must solve the customer’s problem and give them what they want – which may not necessarily coincide with what you want to give.

So what’s the difference? Here’s an example:

While you may think those neon-yellow bike pants with a built-in iPhone charger will sell like hotcakes because you love neon-yellow bike pants, it doesn’t mean that everyone else loves neon-yellow bike pants. Your customers may very well prefer lime green bike pants, and if that’s the case, you better start giving the people what they want (in short, either go green or go home).

Regardless of your personal tastes or what you think people should prefer, as a small business owner, you need to cater to your customer’s needs and wants, not your own.

3. Define your target market

Once you’ve figured out the problem you’re going to solve, you need to become intimate with your target market.

Which people most desperately need the solution you’re offering and have the money to pay for it today? What type of person would you love to interact with on a daily basis?

If you suspect that your target market is comprised of Fortune 500 CEOs with over $1 billion in annual income, but the thought of giving Larry Page a call makes your blood run cold, you may need to rethink your approach.

In addition to targeting people who want, need, and crave your services, your target market must consist of people you actually like. Fall in love with your target market, and watch yourself going above and beyond the call of duty to get and keep their business.

Paint a specific picture of your ideal customer. Instead of targeting middle class Latina females from ages 35-47, create a profile of your target market, personified: Her name is Elena Sanchez, she is 38 years old, a mother of two, works in a travel agency, owns a home, and is thinking about going back to school.

Once you’ve defined Elena on paper, you’ll be able to start a small business with her in mind.

Everything from your business plan to your marketing materials will attract people like Elena and let you qualify your leads without doing any extra legwork.

Remember, if you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one!

4. Create a game plan

When you finally decide that you’re ready to start a small business, you may be tempted to simply dive right in!

As excited as you may be, force yourself to put the brakes on long enough to create a detailed game plan that incorporates your above work with 3, 6, and 12-month checkpoints.

What are your goals for your first year of business? How many sales would you like to make, and how much do you expect to make in revenue? More importantly, what will you need to spend to get started?

Ask yourself all of these questions, and get specific with the answers. After all, if you can’t even imagine your business generating $100,000 in its first year, how is it ever going to actually happen?

As you set goals and plan for the future, keep in mind that much – if not most – of what you write down will probably change. The important thing is that you take the time to brainstorm ideas, set specific intentions, anticipate problems and needs, and account for every area of your business’s operations.