What is Slack and How Do I Use It for My Team?

slack featured

Since the advent of the World Wide Web, the opportunity for collaboration has been one of its most touted features. Enter Slack!

Here at Small Business Trends, we’ve seen online collaboration apps come and go, but few have caught fire like Slack. The innovative “team communication” solution offers groundbreaking functionality that is just too useful to pass up.

So, if you’re asking yourself, “What is Slack and how do I use it for my team?” read on and we’ll give you the 411.

What is Slack?

At its heart, Slack is an instant messaging and collaboration system on steroids:


There’s a lot under the cover here however, so let’s start with a look at Slack’s base functionality.


Slack’s channels help you focus by enabling you to separate messages, discussions and notifications by purpose, department or topic:


Private Channels

If you need privacy, Slack provides that as well with invite-only channels:

Private Channels

Direct Messages

When you need to send a message to one person instead of a group, Slack provides traditional instant messaging functionality for you to do so:

Direct Messages

Share Your Files

Sharing documents is one of the basics of collaboration. Slack enables you to share all types of files, even those stored outside of the solution itself:

Share Your Files


Slacks robust search functionality enables you to find key information quickly, even if it’s inside of a document you’ve shared:



Notifications can be a tricky feature: too many and you start ignoring them; too few and something might slip through the cracks. Slack enables you to fine-tune your notifications (by channel, keywords and more) so you can focus on your highest priorities.



Slack provides robust preference features at both the company and individual level. This enables your employees to make Slack their own while you control the overall use of the solution.



No matter where you go, Slack can come with you with their mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone (beta).

At your desk, Slack offers apps for Mac, Windows and Linux (beta).



You may be surprised to learn that Slack offers a “free to use forever” pricing tier. For small businesses, that may be all you need.

However, to truly make the most of the solution, they offer reasonable per-user pricing at both monthly and annual rates.


Integration is what takes Slack from a normal online instant messaging and collaboration system to a solution that enables you to centralize all your notifications, from sales to tech support, social media and more, into one searchable place where your team can discuss and take action on each.

Slack offers three types of integration:

  • Pre-Built Integrations: At the time we’re writing this post, Slack offers built-in integrations with over 60 partner, many of which small businesses know and use every day. Here’s a small sample:

Integration Partners

  • If This Then That (IFTTT) and Zapier: You can use both IFTTT recipes and Zapier zaps to integrate Slack with many more systems and solutions. Currently, there are over 500 ways to extend your Slack integrations. We’ll discuss these further in a bit.
  • Build your own: Slack also enables you to build your own integrations. Here’s a list of their recommended ways to do so:

Integration - Build Your Own

While writing this post, we decided to give the pre-built integration with MailChimp a try. Configuring the integration and connecting Slack with MailChimp was a breeze:

MailChimp-Slack Integration Configuration

As you can see, we can receive notifications in Slack when:

  • Someone subscribes or unsubscribes from one or more lists of our choosing; and
  • When a campaign’s sending status changes.

Once the integration was setup, we subscribed and unsubscribed using our MailChimp form. Each time, we received a notification on our desktop:

MailChimp Alert

When we looked in Slack, our notifications were there waiting for us:

MailChimp Messages

Pretty slick, eh? And that barely scratches the surface of how you can use Slack for your team.

How Do I Use Slack for My Team?

As a simple instant messaging system, Slack has all the collaboration features you need in place. It’s when you throw in integration that things really get exciting. Imagine your:

  • Marketing team getting an alert in Slack when your company is mentioned on social media;
  • Support group receiving notifications when a Zendesk ticket is created;
  • Sales manager seeing every point-of-sale transaction made using Stripe; and
  • Staff kicking off a Zoom webmeeting directly from Slack when an impromptu face-to-face meeting is necessary.

And these don’t even take into account the amazing things you can do with IFTTT (449 “recipes”) and Zapier (64 “zaps”) such as:

  • A slack notification when your employees arrive at work;
  • Post news articles to slack based on keywords;
  • Notifications of updated DropBox files;
  • Letting everyone know when your daily web traffic exceeds a certain number of visitors; and
  • Automatic happy birthday messages.


At first glance, Slack appears to be yet another online instant messaging and collaboration solution. However, a closer look will reveal revolutionary innovation under the hood.

Integration is what catapults Slack into a category all its own. The solution enables you to centralize all your notifications, from sales to tech support, social media and more, into one searchable place where your team can discuss and take action on each.

Now that’s collaboration for the 21st Century!

Images: Slack

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Workable: Automates The Hiring Process For Small Business


Small businesses that are hiring but that don’t have dedicated human resource staff may want to take a look at Workable, a SaaS-based software system that automates the hiring process, from job posting through candidate hiring.

Workable provides a way to place a job listing on a business’s branded job page quickly and broadcast it to a large number of job sites with a single click.

When candidates complete an application, Workable tracks them, manages the interview process and collects analytical data, all at a price far less than hiring an HR person.

Workable is equally suited for use by businesses with 15-20 employees hiring a couple of people periodically throughout the year and for companies with up to 500 employees hiring at all times.

How Workable Automates The Hiring Process

Workable’s “genius” is its automated workflow process that significantly reduces the need for manual intervention. In fact, according to Workable VP of Communications, Daniel Howden, the only data entry required comes in writing the job description.

“Most small businesses use manual processes for hiring, such as email and spreadsheets, which can become a nightmare to manage,” Howden said. “Workable’s mission is to take the functionality of tools used by larger enterprises and make them available to smaller businesses. With about $40 and an hour to spend, you can get an entire hiring process set up for your company.”

In the jobs dashboard, businesses can see the number of applicants at each stage, interact with them via a Facebook-like timeline and email candidates, either individually or in bulk, as the need requires.

The process utilizes a five-stage “pipeline” approach that includes:

  • Setting up a careers page on your website;
  • Getting applicants;
  • Tracking applicants;
  • Interviewing candidates;
  • Improving the process through onboard analytics.

Careers Page

Once you sign up, which you can do using your LinkedIn or Google profile, Workable presents you with a page containing three options: Create a job, invite people to your team and create a careers page.

Workable human resource software jobs dashboard automates the hiring process

Create a job: Clicking the “Create a New Job” button takes you to the job description page. Enter the job details, which include the description, job requirements, benefits and any other relevant details.

Workable provides a library of more than 300 customizable job templates from which to choose. Find one best suited to the job in question and edit it accordingly. When completed, customize the application form to match the look of your website, and then advertise the position on job boards and social media.

Invite people to your team: Workable allows you to invite an unlimited number of people to join your hiring team, including other employees and outside recruiters. Team members can leave notes, comments and evaluations, which the system keeps in the candidate’s timeline.

Create a Careers Page: Click the “Create a Careers Page” button to set up a page that contains your company profile and all job listings.

workable-careers-page outline


You can insert your company logo and other images to personalize the page, and add a jobs tab to your Facebook Page if desired. When you add new positions, both the careers page and jobs tab update automatically.

Get Applicants

Workable lets businesses post to 15 job boards with a single click. These include free sites such as Indeed, SimplyHired and Glassdoor, as well as premium sites like Monster and Career Builder.

Workable job boards

Regarding premium sites, Workable purchases job listings in bulk, at a discount, and passes the saving on to its users. For example, a listing on Monster that might cost $375 when purchased individually is reduced to $225 thanks to the bulk purchase program. Workable also enables businesses to post jobs to social media — Facebook, Twitter, Github and Dribbble specifically.

From the candidate’s perspective, applying through Workable’s system could not be easier. It’s a one-page application, and applicants can even apply using their LinkedIn profile, to expedite the process.

Each day, you receive an email listing new applicants. The platform is also mobile-friendly, which means you can look at who has applied while on the go.

Track Applicants

One of the primary benefits of using Workable is its pipeline-style process that enables you to move prospects through up to nine stages. These include: sourced, applied, promising, phone screen, assessment, interview, executive interview, offer and hired. You can also customize the number of stages, to better fit your process.

Workable Applicant Tracking System automates the hiring process

All candidate applications go into Workable and appear on what the company refers to as the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). If an applicant attaches a CV, Workable reads it and breaks it down into standardized and comparable data.

The system also picks up candidates’ public profiles and matches them to the application to provide a 360-degree view. You get a clear idea of who applicants are, on a single page, and can sift through the list quickly, disqualifying those who are not well matched to the job and move qualified candidates to the next phase.

Interview Candidates With Workable

Scheduling interviews can, perhaps, be the most difficult part of the hiring process. To make this easier, Workable enables you to set up calls or interviews with candidates and invite team members. It also works with your own email system and calendar, so you don’t have to be logged into the dashboard to track and coordinate multiple interviews.

Workable candidate interview dashboard

Trackable feedback and notes make preparing for interviews simple and straightforward. You can see all previous interactions with candidates, as well as their social media profiles, resume and communications in the timeline.

Candidates’ screening tests or assignments, as well as your hiring team’s feedback, are housed in the same place, together with any follow-up from the first interview.

Reporting and Analytics

Workable’s onboard reporting and analytics give you an overview of progress related to open and closed jobs, track where the ablest candidates came from and which job boards are providing value for the money. Filters break down and export data in a variety of formats, including .CSV.

Workable reporting and analytics

The reporting component adheres to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws and Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs regulations, automatically collecting hiring data and producing compliant reports.



Workable makes it easy to manage any volume of applications, provides a standardized process that small business may otherwise lack, and do so at prices ($39 per month) any small business can afford.

Image: Workable


The Moto X Pure Edition is an Anti-Bloatware Smartphone




Most smartphones are sold with carrier bloatware on top of manufacturer bloatware, but the value of a phone that’s “pure Android” is to eliminate much of that annoyance.

The Moto X Pure Edition is the third and latest iteration of the Moto X, and surprisingly priced lower than 2014’s Moto X. It’s the first Motorola phone with which Lenovo has been involved. And the device may become best known for what it doesn’t have rather than for what it does.

Key Moto X Pure Edition Features

The Moto X Pure Edition, is now larger, with a 5.7-inch 520 ppi Quad HD LCD screen. It retains many of the quick functions of older Moto X iterations, but this time around has a microSD card slot to expand file storage capacity to 128GB.

The overall size of the new Moto X isn’t too large or too small, but will feel slightly heavier to seasoned flagship smartphone users.

Twist-of-the-wrist camera activation is still a signature feature. As with 2013’s original Moto X, this model also encourages you to use your voice to initiate commands, such as sending texts by dictating words to someone in your contacts list.

You can also activate a useful flashlight by moving the phone downward, quickly and twice. In sunlight, the screen on the new Moto X is great if you turn the brightness up.

Moto X Pure Edition Pros

Moto X Pure Edition Android smartphone reviewThe Moto X is sold unlocked and is surprisingly designed to work on all of the four major U.S. carriers. According to Motorola, the phone operates on the following wireless bands: GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHzUMTS/HSPA+: 850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz CDMA 800, 850, 1900 MHz4G LTE B1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 25, 26, 38, 41.

Bloatware was deliberately left out of previous Moto X phones and the trend continues on this year’s Moto X. It uses a 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 with hexa-core processor which works well running multiple apps, using 3GB of RAM.

The TurboPower 25 charger is included and provides even faster charging, when compared to the charger included with the ASUS ZenFone 2. Motorola’s charger also didn’t get hot.

The backspace key on the keyboard thankfully deletes one character at a time, at a sane speed, unlike Samsung keyboards which overzealously delete on a long press. You can also program custom shortcuts in the Moto X’s “Personal Dictionary” setting, such as “hhh” for “http://”. This function is extremely useful to people who regularly use ‘text expander’ apps designed for desktop computers.

Pricing starts at $399.99 for the 16GB version, but can exceed $525 for higher GB versions with special backs. Unlike the previous Moto X smartphones, this one has a microSD card. The water-repellent nano-coating is a plus.

Moto X Pure Edition Cons

Putting the new Moto X through several heavy usage stress tests, the battery life just wasn’t that impressive. It also has a sealed battery, which means Motorola-licensed businesses are the only people who should access the battery for any reason. While the battery life isn’t awful, you can’t help wishing it was better on this model.

It takes time to get familiar with the interface on the Moto X Pure Edition which controls the ringer volume. It can easily be mistaken for the alarm volume controller.

Whites on the screen can sometimes appear as ‘eggshell white’, instead of crisp white.

Some people also might feel the Moto X Pure Edition phone flirts with the privacy line. For example, if you utilize Google Now, the Moto X can always remind you to pick up your dry cleaning if you’re near a dry cleaner you’ve designated.

Some users might find this useful and hard to live without, while other people might not appreciate it, and leave these ‘smart’ bonuses dormant. In either case, Google Now is optional.

A final con is that the phone is currently only available through online ordering.

Who Moto X Pure Edition Is Best For

This is a great phone for people who don’t touch smartphone bloatware and are also tired of tolerating it. Many Android users who have HTC or LG phones can say goodbye to bloatware by switching to Motorola.

There’s much to love about this affordably-priced model. If you ask yourself what makes a great smartphone, answers are often about processor speed, reliable connectivity, ease of use, and having a large number of free apps from which to choose. The Moto X Pure Edition delivers on all four points and much more. The cons are very minor.

Image: Alex H. Yong

Motorola provided the writer of this review with a complimentary Moto X Pure Edition. All opinions found in this review originate solely from the writer.


Plonked: Search Engine That Means Business



When you’re seeking the right information, you use Google. When you’re searching for the right company, you use Plonked. The question is whether this business search engine will be a hit for small businesses too.

If Google and LinkedIn had a child, it would be Plonked, a newly-minted search engine designed to discover, analyze, and connect searchers with businesses for the purpose of building a sales pipeline, securing venture capital, or finding employment.

Currently, Plonked’s database only contains a list of 250,000 tech companies, but efforts are underway to include all of the 24 million businesses in the U.S. by year-end. Once it accomplishes that feat, it plans to set the bar even higher and include all companies worldwide.

How Plonked Works

Conduct a search on Plonked using industry-related keywords or a company name and you will see results similar to those pictured in the screenshot below.

cloud computing results on Plonked

Click on an individual return and Plonked takes you to a company profile page that contains:

  • Company information — founding and funding data, employee count, location and background info;
  • Industry-related keywords;
  • List of similar companies;
  • Connections — company employees with whom Plonked users are connected;
  • Company leadership team members;
  • Media “traction” — aggregate data and a list of recent articles written about the company.

IBM result on Plonked

If you click the “View Explorer” link, you are presented with a visual depiction of related businesses based on four criteria: similar companies, partnerships, customers and vendors. A slider lets you pick the number of relationships shown, from 0 to 50. Also, users can click on any of the other companies included in the visualization, to explore further.

Plonked view explorer

For example, a search on Explorer for IBM revealed a vast network of related companies — 232 in all, to be precise — far exceeding the 50 returns limit.

A Focus on Connections

Connections comprise the heart of Plonked’s algorithm — ranking is even driven by company-to-company relationships — and even Kevin Bacon has nothing on this search engine’s ability to foster them.

“More than a knowledge base, Plonked is a search engine that unlocks connections and identifies leads and opportunities with business health metrics that provide greater insight into how companies are actually performing,” said Plonked Founder and CEO Ankur Varma in an interview with Small Business Trends. “The Plonked engine helps users understand a company’s ecosystem, including competitors, partners, vendors, investors and customers.”

The search engine has already made plenty of connections in the short time since its launch, according to Varma.

“The business network we have created is already yielding fascinating metrics, such as the average separation of 3.5 degrees for most tech companies,” Varma said. “In other words, even the most obscure small businesses are in fact connected to the other 24 million businesses in the United States in just 3 to 4 hops.”

Premium Options for Sales Teams

Anyone can use the search engine for free, but premium options are available for businesses that wish to build out their sales pipeline, identifying prospects that are similar to existing customers and which have first- and second-degree connections.

Starting at just $25 per month, the cost is nominal. Not only does it provide businesses with the ability to search and connect with other companies but also receive notifications when new connections or companies emerge and identify new leads by analyzing its existing customer base.

A second price tier — $250 — gives companies the ability to integrate with CRM and marketing automation tools, such as Salesforce.

User Profiles Promote Connections

Plonked gives individual users the ability to sign-up and create a profile for free. Once set up, the platform searches the person’s contact database for connections. Users can also invite others to join, creating another avenue for connecting.

In addition, subscribed users can follow companies and receive updates when new connections or companies surface. They can also edit company profile information, Wikipedia-style. And similar to Wikipedia, Plonked reviews and approves updates before they go live, to prevent spammers or trolls from posting information that could injure a company’s reputation.

Benefits to Small Business

When asked about benefits small businesses could expect to accrue from using Plonked, Varma said, “When people search for a particular type of business, Google will list all kinds of results and show paid returns at the top of the page. Not only will our search provide more relevant returns but there are no ads, which can help small businesses that don’t have deep pockets. It’s more of a fair-play solution.”

Businesses can also update their profile information, to increase relevance, according to Varma.

Why “Plonked” Chosen as Brand Name

Face it, tech companies often have obscure, even indecipherable brand names, and Plonked is no different. There is a story behind its choosing, however.

Varma explained:

“About a year ago when we were doing some due diligence before starting the company, we spoke to several sales guys about how they research companies and build their target list. One sales guy said that he had to ‘plonk’ down tons of money for useless lead generation engines that had dubious ROIs. That conversation stuck with me; especially the word (action) plonk … we did some domain searches and were able to get plonked.com.”


Plonked’s emphasis on helping business users explore, discover and connect with companies makes it ideal for sales and marketing professionals seeking to find prospects, as well as startups soliciting venture capital or job hunters exploring employment opportunities.

Whether Plonked proves useful to small businesses remains to be seen, certainly at this nascent stage. Give it a few months to broaden its reach, however, enabling the search and exploration of all companies and industries, and it may be worth searching for your company, optimizing your profile and making connections. If nothing else, it could prove worthwhile as a channel for discovering sales leads.

Visit the website, give Plonked a try and leave a comment, letting us know what you think.


How Nextiva Analytics Helps Small Business Succeed

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics



With quick and easy access to your call data and tools to analyze that data, Nextiva Analytics was designed to help small business succeed by providing them with the information needed to make informed decisions.

Since the late 1990s, virtual phone services have enabled small businesses to obtain robust business phone services for less money by shouldering all the hardware, management and maintenance costs and spreading them across a number of businesses.

While enhanced phone system functionality for less is a big win for small businesses, one could argue that the most valuable piece in play here is the insight provided by tools like Nextiva Analytics.

Business Call Analytics – Nextiva Analytics

Knowledge is Power

While most virtual phone services offer some form of reporting, Nextiva Analytics has taken this to a whole new level by focusing on three key elements: view, analyze and act.

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - Nextiva Analytics Overview

By enabling you to view and analyze your inbound and outbound call data from as high as your entire organization down to a specific location, call group, user, or even phone number, Analytics gives you the freedom to make the right decisions on the fly.

In addition, analytics offers gamification, a feature that provides even more value to your business. Let’s take a closer look at what Nextiva Analytics brings to the table to help your small business succeed.

Visualize Data Clearly

Nextiva Analytics enables you to see your call data in a number of different ways including:

  • Real time or historical data using different types of charts;

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - Real Time Reporting

  • Map views; and

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - Map View

  • Custom reports.

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - Custom Reports

So far, these reporting features have been handy, if not very unique. Analytics however, has more tricks up its sleeves.

For example, while viewing a report, you can dig in and access individual call recordings:

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - Access Call

If you like to stay on top of your call data, analytics offers dashboards, scorecards, and wallboards like the one shown below:

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - Wallboard

All of these features help you visualize your call data in a number of different ways both quickly and easily. Once you have the data you want onscreen, it’s time for the next step.

Interpret Your Data to Gain Actionable Insights

Having relevant data in hand is important, however the true value lies in how you use that data to monitor progress and identify current or upcoming issues.

Nextiva Analytics helps you in this effort by enabling you to:

  • Identify patterns in your call history;

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - Identify Patterns in Call Activity

  • Gain an objective long-term view; and

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - An Objective Long Term View

  • Compare data between locations, call groups, users and phone numbers.

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - Compare Data

Once you’ve analyzed your call data, you can move on to the final step in the process.

Make Informed Decisions Clearly

This step is where Nextiva Analytics helps small businesses succeed. By making decisions based on actual data and analysis, small businesses can:

  • Avoid missteps in staffing and phone service levels that can cost you both money and time;
  • Catch issues before the potential for risk and impact grows; and
  • Gain true insight into the performance of your team no matter where they work.

That last point is one on which Nextiva has spent a great deal of focus. The result? Gamification.

Nextiva Gamification

Gamification is an approach that engenders friendly competition among employees to see who can come out on top in a certain way. This competition has been shown to engage employees, which in turn leads to better productivity.

Nextiva Analytics enables small businesses to achieve this boost in productivity by setting up a leaderboard for employees:

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - Deploy Gamification

Ranking can be calculated by the number of inbound, outbound or total calls, and by calls or minutes. Here are some examples of the leaderboards you can set up with analytics:

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - Gamification Examples

You can also view rankings for users, teams, locations or call groups:

Business Call Analytics - Nextiva Analytics - View Rankings


With quick and easy access to your call data and tools to analyze that data, Nextiva Analytics was designed to help small businesses succeed by providing them with the information needed to make informed decisions.

Throw in gamification and Nextiva has built a powerful tool atop its virtual phone system, one that may make sense to consider when shopping for a solution.

Images: Nextiva

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Not an Artist? Try the Easy-to-Use, Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet

Not an Artist? Try the Easy-to-Use, Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet



Given its price, features and functionality, FotoJet is one of the leaders in this space, especially for time and cash strapped small businesses.

You only need to spend five seconds on the web to appreciate how much people love visuals. From social media to websites, the Internet is plastered with more images than a big city fence covered with playbills.

In the business world, this love of images translates into visual marketing, a very effective approach to building your brand and attracting your targeted customers.

Unfortunately, many small businesses face a hurdle to effective visual marketing: creating the images. Most lack the expertise in house and the money to outsource those skills.

Fortunately, a number of solutions, such as Canva and Visme, have stepped up to help with drag-and-drop image creation software that’s easy for non-designers to use. Today, I’m going to take a look at the latest of these, FotoJet.

Free Image Creation Software

FotoJet is actually three tools in one and includes a:

  1. Collage maker;

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Photo Collage Examples

  1. Graphic designer; and

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Graphic Design Examples

  1. Photo editor.

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Photo Editor Example

Let’s take a closer look at the separate tools.

FotoJet’s Collage Maker

FotoJet’s collage maker was designed to work with your own photos, either uploaded from your computer or imported from your Facebook photo albums.

Using these photos, you can create an impressive array of images including classic collages, “creative” collages, photo cards and more:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Collage Selections

Once you make a selection (I chose “Classic Collage”), you’re taken to the collage maker:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Collage Maker

Here you’ll find most the standard tools (text, clipart, shapes and backgrounds). As you can see above, there are tons of classic collage templates ranging from layouts with two images up to those with eight.

Heading back to the collage maker project selection screen, I selected “Magazine Cover” to show you how the tool works.

Step One: Select the Project Type

After selecting the “Magazine Cover” project type, I was taken to the collage maker:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Magazine Cover Walkthrough - Step 1

Step Two: Select the Template

Next, I selected the template I wanted to use from the ones shown on the left

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Magazine Cover Walkthrough - Step 2

Step 3: Upload and Add Image

Next, I uploaded a couple of images to see which would work and tried both. Here’s the one that fit best:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Magazine Cover Walkthrough - Step 3

Step 4: Final Touchups

Since it was hard to read the black text at both top and on the left, I made it all white to complete my image:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Magazine Cover Walkthrough - Step 4

Step 5: Save, Share and Print

Now that I have a complete image, I can use the bar above the image to save it to my computer, share it via social media or print it:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Magazine Cover Walkthrough - Step 5

And voila, I’ve got a new image to use in my visual marketing efforts:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Magazine Cover Walkthrough - Final Image

FotoJet’s Graphic Designer

Fotojet’s graphic designer tool was designed to use your own images or free images from Pixabay.

This tool is ideal for online marketers as it has templates for the more popular social media site. Here’s the project type selection page for the graphic designer:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Graphic Designer Selections

Once you’re inside, the graphic designer looks much like the collage maker. One big difference are the available templates:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Graphic Designer Templates

Another difference is that you can use free photos from Pixabay in your own images:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Pixabay Process

  1. Select “Stock Photo” under “Add Photo”;
  2. Search for the photo you want and then click the “Add” button;
  3. Now the photo is shown on the left so all that’s left to do is;
  4. Drag the photo onto your image and there you go!

FotoJet’s Photo Editor

FotoJet’s photo editor tool was designed for well, photo editing. It’s an easy-to-use option when you want to touch up your photos.

When you first enter the photo editor, it will ask you to upload a photo to edit:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Photo Editor Start

Once you’ve selected a photo, you’ll be taken to the photo editor where you can work your magic:

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Photo Editor

The Pros – What Sets FotoJet Apart from Other Solutions?

Completely Free

FotoJet is completely free. While there are some features you cannot use without creating an account, registration is also free. You can’t beat that price, especially with the powerful, easy-to-use tools that you’re getting inside.

Collage Maker

The collage maker functionality within FotoJet is very robust. With more than 80 classic collage layouts (simple squares and rectangles), and dozens of templates in their modern, art, creative and 3D template areas, you’re sure to find a way to display that group of images.

So Many Templates and Designs

As you might have inferred from the collage maker section above, FotoJet offers tons of templates and designs for you to use when making images. You’re sure to find something to fit your needs in here which is handy when you cannot create images on your own.


FotoJet has created a number of handy tutorials that will walk you through the creation of many types of images.

The Cons – What Sets FotoJet Apart from Other Solutions?

No Saving

One downside to the solution is the absence of a save button. Sure, you can save your image to your computer however, you cannot save a partially completed image and then come back later to finish it.

Clipart Selection is Inconsistent Between Tools

While you can import images from Pixabay, the clipart available from within FotoJet’s graphic designer tool looks like someone’s left over PowerPoint images from the 1990’s.

Interestingly, the clipart selection in the collage maker is much more modern and up-to-date. Not sure why this discrepancy exists, but it can be annoying.

Free Image Creation Software, FotoJet - Clipart Difference


Overall, FotoJet is a fine addition to the pool of image creation solutions online. Given its price, features and functionality, it’s also one of the leaders in this space, especially for time and cash strapped small businesses.

Take a moment to check out these samples and, while you’re there, play around with all three tools – you’ll be glad you stopped by.


What Is Yodle and How Can It Help Your Business?

What Is Yodle and How Can It Help Your Business?

Yodle is an all-in-one digital marketing platform that offers everything a small business needs to build a presence online. It is to marketing what an all-you-can-eat buffet is to meal time. There’s plenty to consume, and then some.

Yodle is primarily designed to assist local small businesses: realtors, plumbers, doctors and retailers, to name a few. Currently, the company serves more than 50,000 businesses across 250 industry verticals.

“Small business owners want to focus on the reason they went into business in the first space, which is their craft,” said Dafna Sarnoff, SVP of marketing for Yodle in a phone interview with Small Business Trends. “They don’t have time, money or the desire to acquire marketing expertise. We provide the tools they need to do much of the marketing for them.”

Web.com acquired Yodle in February of this year. Currently, it remains a self-standing platform, however that could change over time.

What is Yodle?

Yodle’s all-in-one platform, called Marketing Essentials, consists of web presence, local SEO, social media, customer reviews, email marketing and special offers. Businesses can also run Google and Bing ad campaigns, but that’s a separate product. A reporting dashboard, shown here, is also built in.

What Is Yodle - Marketing Essentials dashboard

Regarding Marketing Essentials, Sarnoff said: “We create a website that is mobile and SEO-optimized, build a Facebook page, make it easy to distribute offers and reviews and build templated emails for customers, so they don’t have to do the content. It’s set it and forget it. We will send emails on their behalf throughout the course of the year.”

Here is a rundown of each Marketing Essentials’ component:

Web Presence. Yodle uses the term “web presence” to describe its local search-optimized, mobile-responsive websites. Sites feature content such as customer reviews, business photos and maps. They also resize to fit the device the customer is searching on.

What Is Yodle - Yodle Website

Although the business owner has some customization and design options under his or her control, the bulk of the content used on the site comes from Yodle’s database. The business has to go through the customer service department to make changes, which could, potentially, slow down the updating process.

Regarding the reason why Yodle retains control, Sarnoff said that the content chosen for a particular site is based on years of experience developing websites for various industries and seeing what converts, gets ranked in search engines and more.

“We also have an excellent customer service team that enables us to work quickly and make sure the websites are something customers are proud of,” she said.

Local Search Placement. Yodle’s sweet spot is the local small business. As such, it optimizes customer sites with local in mind. That includes directory placement and maps.

Social Media. Yodel will build the Facebook page for the business, and then post reviews, photos and offers to it. Currently, the company has no provision for managing Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or other social networks.

What Is Yodle - Yodle will build your Facebook page for you.

Customer Reviews. Yodle’s customer review component enables companies to request and collect reviews from happy customers, and then post them on the website and Facebook page.

What Is Yodle - Customer Reviews

“Business can respond to reviews through our platform and add or remove them,” said Alyssa Sharp, senior product marketing manager at Yodle, who spoke to Small Business Trends via phone. “Each site has a section for reviews. Businesses can choose which to show and which not to show.”

Email Marketing. Yodle comes with its own email marketing client that lets businesses send customizable appointment reminders, confirmations, thank you notes, newsletters and holiday greetings to their customer base.

What Is Yodle - Email Template Library

“Creating email content is one of hardest things business owners struggle with,” Sharp said. “One area that we find our customers are excited about is our email marketing template library (shown above). They can design their own template if they like but can also choose from default templates, which help business owners have a starting point when setting up an email.”

Special Offers. The platform includes a special offer component designed to incentivize purchase behavior. Yodle publishes offers to the website and Facebook page.

What Is Yodle - Special Offers Dashboard Component

Reporting and Analytics. While the reporting component provides plenty of relevant metrics, such as the number of site visits, its real value is the CRM-like lead sourcing, scoring and management capabilities that allow users to see the prospect’s name, the type of lead (e.g., phone or email) and ratings that determine whether he is likely to convert.

What Is Yodle - Leads Management

Yodle Ads. Yodle Ads implements customized pay-per-click search engine ad campaigns on Google and Bing as an add-on module to the Marketing Essentials package. Users get keywords, ad formats, bid strategies and landing pages optimized to convert at the highest level possible.

Customer Service. As part of the package price, Yodle has expert marketing professionals who guide small businesses through how to maximize the value of the Marketing Essentials platform. The customer service team is available via email, phone and live chat.

How Can Yodle Help Your Business?

Yodle is ideal for a small business that relies heavily on digital channels for marketing and that wants one place to do everything. Companies that understand this can benefit from the end-to-end solution, and many have.

Within one month of signing up with Yodle, an electrician based in New York started receiving seven more calls per day as compared to the other online marketing tools he had tried.

A criminal defense attorney also saw business growth as a result of transitioning to Yodle.

“My first day with Yodle was incredible,” she said in a case study on the Yodle website. “Within the first hour of going live, I got a client call, and it more than paid for six months of Yodle marketing.”

This video showcases what other customers have to say about the gains they have received from using Yodle:

Remarking on the benefit Yodle provides small businesses, Sarnoff said: “Yodle has been at this for ten years and has conducted marketing for tens of thousands of small businesses. As a result, we can mine the insights we’ve gleaned around what actually works. Over the years, we have tested multiple approaches to marketing techniques and continually improve based on what we’ve learned along the way.”

Yodle Pricing

If there is one problem with Yodle, it’s pricing. Not only is the platform all-in-one but, regarding pricing, it’s all-or-nothing.

Businesses do not have the luxury of picking and paying only for the components they want to use in an a la carte fashion. Instead, they must pay for everything — the whole enchilada — at a cost of $299 per month.

The price, while reasonable for those who make use of the entire platform and who are serious about marketing online, is steep for businesses that only need a few of the components or that don’t rely on internet marketing to a high degree.

Lighthouse: Vertically-specific Marketing

Marketing Essentials is not the only product Yodle offers its small business customers.

In 2013, the company acquired Lighthouse Practice Management Group, which provides business management tools to four specific industry verticals: auto repair, chiropractic, dentists and field services.

A primary goal of Lighthouse, according to the website, is to help businesses in these industries reactivate lapsed customers and clients.

Lighthouse manages more aspects of running a business than just marketing. For instance, the dental version includes patient communication, practice operations and practice marketing.

Where marketing is concerned, Lighthouse is not merely an online product, but includes multiple “offline” channels such as telephone, direct mail and text messaging.

Pricing varies based on the vertical but uses a monthly subscription model, the same as Marketing Essentials. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Dental: $329
  • Auto: $299
  • Chiropractor: $299
  • Field Service: $99 – $199, depending on number of users (from 1-2 to 10+)


Yodle is a great fit for businesses that take their marketing seriously and rely on digital channels to drive leads and sales. But at $299 per month, it’s less than ideal for those that only need a handful of tools or are less dependent on the Internet for marketing.

Visit the Yodle website to learn more about Marketing Essentials. Dentists, chiropractors, auto repair shops and services companies may also want to check out Lighthouse.


SureFire Social Focuses on Local Marketing Goals

SureFire Social Focuses on Local Marketing Goals



The SurePulse Dashboard from SureFire Social aims to help small businesses simplify, automate and centralize their marketing efforts, both locally and beyond, all while saving you money.

One of the best parts of my job is watching the evolution of business solutions with my own eyes. Yep, I’m geeky that way.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that successful business solutions use one or more of the following principles to make it easier for you to run your company:

  1. Simplification – reducing the steps to get something done;
  2. Automation – enabling solutions to handle tasks for you; and
  3. Centralization – integrating processes and reporting into one place.

All three of these principles contribute to one goal: reducing the amount of time you need to focus on back-office processes so you can focus on increasing sales and serving your clients and customers.

Rarely have I found all three principles applied in equal force within one solution yet that’s exactly what I encountered, and more, when I took a look at SureFire Social’s SurePulse Dashboard.

SurePulse Dashboard Helps Keep You On Top of Your Local Marketing Goals

SureFire Social’s Founder and CEO, Chris Marentis explained SurePulse’s mission this way, “Using SurePulse, you can ‘win’, you can be more visible than your competitors and we’ve spent the last five years figuring out how to automate most of the processes to do just that.”

SurePulse Dashboard Tracks Local Marketing Goals

Visibility is the core concept within SurePulse as the solution aims to put you in front of your target market no matter where they come to meet you online.

One of the features that really stands out of the ability to dig into the data presented within the dashboard to see the information that underlays it all. This is particularly useful in the National to Local tab, however, it’s super handy all-around.

The three principles mentioned at the top of this post are present in full force in each component of SurePulse and underneath, there’s a fourth principle that really sets the solution aside from the rest: the ability to take advantage of economies of scale.


Before I talk about economies of scale, I need to explain the first component of SurePulse, connections.

SurePulse Connections Centralizes Local Marketing Goals

Connections are the way SurePulse provides centralization. Each connection is an integration point with an outside source of information.

For example, when you connect to Google Analytics, the solution will automatically display the campaigns you have set up in that tool. In order to track a campaign within the dashboard, you need to add it via a connection:

 Local Marketing Goals - Adding Google Analytics Campaigns to SurePulse to Track

The connections you currently have access to is driven by your login. More refined user management is coming down the road.

The Fourth Principle – Economies of Scale

While the SEO and Social connections are available free of charge, the three Online Presence connections are paid for in one of two ways:

  • Behind the scenes where the cost is spread – while the Visibility and Directory Listings connections are included in your SurePulse fee, third party vendors that are paid by SureFire Social provide them both, the cost of which is spread across all users.
  • Separately by you at discounted rates – if you want to use the phone campaigns connections, you need to pay separately for DialogTech however, if you sign-up for that service through SurePulse you will get a discounted rate negotiated by SureFire Social.

“If you were to buy all this separately,” says Marentis, “It would be $400 or more per month. For $150 per month, SurePulse customers are getting social media and reputation management, and all the other things we bundle in including discounted fees at preferred providers.”

For a small business, these economies of scale savings are a big deal and a step towards the next stage of evolution in business solutions where the fourth principle adds a new dimension to the mix.

What’s Coming in Connections?

The team over at SureFire Social has put together an ambitious roadmap. As with all product roadmaps, it’s hard to promise exact delivery dates, however, I’ll be giving you a preview of some highlights throughout the post.

New Social Connections

In the coming months, connections to the following social media networks will be added to the three already in place:

  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Foursquare
  • Instagram

New Integrations

The company plans to open their solution so third party vendors can create apps that connect their solution to the dashboard. The current vision is an app marketplace for SurePulse.

These apps will enable users to connect their dashboard to solutions beyond preferred ones.

While economies of scale may not exist with non-preferred solutions at first, I suspect that the team plans on expanding the number of preferred solutions by negotiating discounts with popular third party vendors.

Main Dashboard

Currently, the main dashboard shows a rollup of all your data or, if you’re a marketing consultant using SurePulse for clients, all your client’s data including:

  • Referral sources (where’d your traffic come from?);
  • Search broken down by queries, impressions and clicks;
  • Visibility; and
  • Reputation.

If you have more than one location, you can dig down into local views as well — more on this in a bit.

What’s Coming in the Main Dashboard?

Top Search Queries

The team plans to surface the Top Search Queries report so it shows on the dashboard. This is a pretty cool word cloud that gives you an at-a-glance view of the searches people are using to find you:

Local Marketing Goals - Top Search Queries


Right at the top of the main dashboard, the team plans to add important key performance indexes including:

  • Cost per lead (CPL) based on organic and paid (though other calculations based on things such as website, social, etc. are coming); and
  • Cost per sale (CPS) that will be displayed as well if you integrate your CRM.


SurePulse enables you to track the number of leads you get as well as the source of each leads by integrating Google Analytics goals.

For example, you can run a campaign that utilizes multiple channels (social media, newspaper ad, etc.) and send prospects to different landing pages where they perform an action (e.g. fill out a form, call your business on a certain number). Thus, the specific landing page on which they convert indicates the lead source.

Local Marketing Goals - Lead Sources

Below the primary leads chart are more details including one that enables you to dig down into phone calls and even access call recordings. Now that’s handy!


The traffic tab displays a wealth of information collected from Google Analytics. At the top, you have a chart that compares your total traffic to your organic and referral traffic. You can even compare different time periods as shown below (you can see the figures from the different periods in the small pop-up box):

Local Marketing Goals - Traffic Results


Using a number of factors such as keywords and their rank in search engine results, SurePulse calculates your visibility score. I loved the way you can compare your score against specific competitors as well as your industry’s average:

Local Marketing Goals - Visibility Score

Another handy chart on the visibility tab is the keyword search engine comparison which shows how you rank for each keyword across Google, Bing and Yahoo!, as well as any changes in those rankings over time:

Local Marketing Goals - Keyword Visibility


This tab is all about your online listings and reviews.

Online Listings

SurePulse will synch up your company information with over 65 spots online search engine and other directories. You can adjust your info at any time as well as add images and other pertinent information.

One chart on this tab also shows how much action you’re listings are getting in terms of search result impressions and profile views.

Online Reviews

SurePulse consolidates your reviews from different sources so you can get a top-level view of your online reputation:

Local Marketing Goals - Online Reviews

What’s Coming in Reputation?

Soon you’ll be able to respond to reviews from directly within SurePulse, a real time-saver for sure.


The content tab enables you to create, schedule and publish content on both your blog and social media profiles. The standout feature here is the ability to setup an approval workflow so content is reviewed before going live.

National to Local

Now this is where things get local! The National to Local tab is where SurePulse takes the key statistics from throughout the system and breaks them into regions and territories:

Local Marketing Goals - National to Local Views

In addition to Website Stats, you can see the following stats broken out by location:

  • Goals;
  • Social; and
  • Visibility.

Digging In

Perhaps the coolest feature of all is the ability to dig in to the dashboard for any one location. All you need to do is click on the location’s name in a chart such as the one above and all tabs in your SurePulse dashboard will now show info for only that location.

Not Only for National Businesses

After seeing the National to Local tab, I asked Marentis if SurePulse was only a local marketing solution for multi-location businesses. “Oh no,” he replied, “a business with only one location will get plenty of value out of SurePulse, especially if they want to track multiple campaigns, results for different product offerings, publish content and all the other features we bundle in.”


The final tab on the dashboard is the pay-per-click (PPC) tab which shows the results of your PPC campaigns (surprise!).


You can get SurePulse for $150 per month as a standalone however, the dashboard solution is also included free with all three tiers of SureFire Social’s marketing packages.


The SurePulse Dashboard from SureFire Social aims to help small businesses simplify, automate and centralize their marketing efforts, and track their local marketing goals, both locally and beyond.

By adding a fourth component, economies of scale, the solution also puts powerful functionality in small business owner’s hands at a much-reduced cost.

This is the next stage of business solution evolution and I can’t wait to watch it develop further.

Images: Surefire Social


Automate Content Marketing with Scoop.It Content Director

Scoop It Review - Automate Content Marketing with Scoop.It Content Director



Scoop.it is flexible and has great content marketing features. It might so far be the easiest way for small businesses to create and curate content for their blogs/websites.

If you struggle with having a steady flow of relevant, fresh content for your website, you are not alone. Perhaps one of the easiest and best ways to overcome this challenge is through editorialized content curation and this is where Scoop.it comes in.

Scoop.it is a marketing and content delivery platform that is aimed towards three specific users: knowledge managers, thought-leaders and content marketers. All three curate content but their purposes vary. Scoop.it, however, comes in as a one-stop solution for all content curators. The platform enables content curators to enhance SEO, generate leads, discover and distribute information across organizations, create and sustain brand awareness as well as develop personal brand among professional networks.

How Scoop It Works

Scoop.it is an SMB-focused solution for lean content marketing. The platform allows content marketers to set and document goals and at the same time they can manage their content marketing strategy (sourcing of content, publishing and ROI measurement).

How to use Scoop.it for Your Business

  1. Use Scoop community and its smart searching feature to find and gather the best content that relates with your business.
  2. Choose content that’s fresh and satisfies your business need.
  3. Reach your audience with ease and speed by effectively delivering content using a whole slew of channels, including social media channels, email or even within your professional networks.


Content Sourcing: Scoop.it’s tech ensures you have a dense editorial line as it delivers relevant and personalized content by crawling over 35 million plus web pages. You can then filter the content by date or format or rank it according to relevance, freshness or popularity.

Quick Publishing: This platform allows you to publish curated content within minutes. The publishing process is super easy. Scoop.it Content Director allows for quoting, editing and enriching of third party content. You can also edit and upload your preferred images to match the content. You can then hit publish or schedule. The platform automatically formats your curated content to fit your website’s template.

Smart Calendar: Define your content objectives using simple rules. The integrated smart calendar automatically and instantly highlights when content needs to be scheduled for your newsletters, social media and blogs.

Auto Scheduler: Let Scoop.it’s auto-scheduler do the heavy lifting for repeating tasks so you can focus on other important stuff. The auto-scheduler maximizes distribution of content on all your channels.

Analytics: Of course every content marketer wants to know how their content is doing on the web and for this case, Scoop.it provides a detailed content performance analysis for each content item across every channel. The analytics are presented in a visually impressive and user-friendly KPI dashboard.

The Scoop.it Edge

A major Scoop.it advantage is that it aggregates information (which you have 100 percent control over) into a clean interface that its developers refer to as the “magazine” format.

The platform also comes in really handy for business owners and marketers who don’t have time to write good content for their websites/blogs. Scoop.it helps with identifying and publishing quality content across the web.

Scoop.it, it could be argued, also helps with SEO, though perhaps not in the way you might traditionally think. The platform will help you manage your content marketing strategy allowing you to provide your readers with quality content that they care about. This strategy will help you grow visitors and grow leads.

Other advantages include:

  • Built-in social networking features,
  • Simple and fairly intuitive interface,
  • Room for a promoted on the top spot — quite useful if you want a particular post to be prominent,
  • Content suggestions for your readers but with the control if what is published still firmly with you,
  • No ads on either the user or the public end.

How Much Does it Cost?

Scoop.it offers two premium editions and a free version for personal use. And you can try out the paid accounts for seven days or sign up for the demo.

The cheapest paid version is the Pro Annual plan that will set you back $11 per month. With this plan, you get all the benefits of a paid plan minus newsletter publishing, content in your website or blog, document upload and sharing and premium support.

To get all the features Scoop.it has to offer you will need the Business Annual plan at a cost of $67 per month.

Note: all paid plans are billed annually.

Getting Started

Signing up on Scoop.it is remarkably easy. Use Facebook or Twitter to login. If you don’t have an account on either, you can simply enter your basic details (name, password and email) to get started. Create a topic or two. The broader your topic is, the more likely you will be posting content to it often, so you want to look for topics that have mileage.

Overall, Scoop.it is a simple and easy-to-use platform that you’ll actually enjoy. Any business owner or marketer that is keen on improving their ranking, increasing traffic and keeping his/her readers engaged will want to give the service a try. Would you use this platform for your content curation?

Image: Scoop.it


New Promo Feature from Slidely Aims to Make Every Marketer Into a Video Creator: But Does it Succeed?

New Slidely Promo Feature from Slide.ly Aims to Make Every Marketer Into a Video Creator: But Does it Succeed?



Promo by Slidely brings video content to any business, small, medium or large, to help them participate in the video age. With Promo it is now possible to effortlessly create instant, affordable promotional videos with access to premium footage from Getty Images – the same premium footage used by the biggest name brands.

The current surge of videos in content marketing and social media channels is almost a clear indication of the ever increasing demand for visual content. In the past year alone, Facebook averaged about 1 billion video views per day and with the realization of just how effective videos can be, many businesses are now turning to videos to promote their products and services.

Nonetheless, creation of video content, especially high-quality video content can be time consuming and expensive too, but it no longer has to be as Slidely, a social video creation platform, recently announced a partnership with Getty Images that allows marketers, businesses and agencies to create instant, stunning promotional videos for social platforms.

The new Promo by Slidely platform allows you to upload photos, video, music and create a snappy looking product in minutes. Slidely’s partnership with Getty Images means that you now also get exclusive access to a deep library of nearly two million high quality stock video clips – the same premium footage used by the biggest name brands.

“The Social Media world and marketing professionals understand that video is the future of digital advertising and that it takes more than a single video to create impact.  However, professional promos have been difficult and expensive to produce until now. Promo is an effortless way to generate super engaging promotional videos tailored to your brand in a matter of minutes. Promo is not just about engaging more eyes; it’s about bringing more hearts into your brand’s world.” the CEO and Founder of Slidely Tom More told the Small Business Trends.

A Look at Slidely Promo

Getting Started

Getting started on Promo is pretty easy. You can either log in using your Facebook account or enter your details, which includes your name email address and password.

Slidely Promo - Getting Started

Next, you will be prompted to choose your business type. Choose form the simple drop-down menu. You can as well enter your sub-category details for best results.

Slidely Promo - Choose Your Business Type

Become the Video Director

Choose your preferred footage from the over 2 million footages in the video library. You can search using specific keywords. The good thing is that they allow you to preview the videos, so you can always try out a few.

Customize your Video

This is where you perfect your marketing video with your message, logo, and music. Select licensed music from their collection and you can as well add a message using their built-in editor. You can also edit fonts, color as well as replace footage during the edit process.

Slidely Promo - Customize Your Video


Promo provides you with a free account that you can use to learn the ropes and also experience what the platform has to offer before you register for the paid versions. Their pricing, however, might seem a bit high for startups given that you will have to part with $49, $99 for four videos per month and $199 for 10 videos per month. Nonetheless, having access to more than 2 high quality videos together with an easy to use platform somehow makes the packages worth the price. You probably won’t be able to get the same level of quality you get here at a lower price.

At the moment, Promo only has a desktop version but the company says that the Android and iOS versions will soon be available.

Image: Slide.ly