There are so many excellent tools for different purposes that I think I need to start with two pieces of rather generic advice.

Firstly, your time is expensive and limited; so fast, easy things are generally better value than less slick free ones. Secondly, where a product has a free version and a paid-for version, the latter is almost always a lot better. Insisting on “free” is normally a false economy.

Here are my five favourites.

Autopilot for LinkedIn is a core tool in our prospecting for new contacts and even if you only trial it for the free 15 days you’ll still achieve great results (in my case hundreds of new LinkedIn contacts). What it does is allow you to target searches of LinkedIn profiles by a number of criteria and save the results. It tells the searched people you have looked at their profile. Most of those will then look at yours and about 10 per cent of those will link with you. On my best day so far, I made more than 60 new links from people from my target searches. They give you lots of good marketing tips also. (To know who has visited your profile, you do have to have the basic paid LinkedIn level of service – and only those of your targets who also have this level of service will see who has viewed their profile – but a lot of the most useful contacts will have this).

Ease of use is a big consideration for me. I expect to be able to use software straight out of the box as it were. My next two choices are the easiest examples of their type of product I know.

Buffer does essentially the same job as Hootsuite, described in the last issue by Catherine Bailey – it provides automation of your social media management. I prefer Buffer because I found it much easier to learn and quicker to use. I also love the way it allows you click on a particular LinkedIn Group it feeds and see the data relating to your posts. The weekly email data summary is great also.

FusionExpress is for setting up email campaigns and eNewsletters. I found this by far the easiest email engine to use and the data collection and presentation is absolutely first class. So is the quality of the email you can produce with it. It is a real heavyweight in email delivery. It has everything. (Fusion Express is the UK version of a US system called Campaign Monitor. It is better to use the UK version since part of the service is being able to talk on the phone to them).

Mitingu is a brilliant bit of event management software with the tools to set up, monitor, manage and promote your event and the people coming to it. The simplicity of the pay-as you-go platform is great, but two things make it stand out. Firstly, whilst it is (of course) easy to use for the people running the event it is also really helpful for potential attendees as well (a serious lack of most other systems). Secondly, its data collection is simply superb. The system can be branded to your company (a “white label”) as well.

Snip.ly. You all know the link-shortening magic provided by Bit.ly. Well, Snip.ly does the same job but enables you to use the shortened link in your social media output builds and to add a small piece of text which floats near the bottom of the viewer’s screen and can contain a message and button linking to your website. There is a short video to explain how this works on the snip.ly site. Result of doing this? The click rate is typically multiplied fourfold: not bad for 30 seconds’ work.

Note on “free”

These are all apps (with one exception) where the core product was so good that I moved onto the paying version fast. Whilst all such systems offer a free trial etc, they are not all free to use long-term (Mintingu is a Pay as You Go). I think this is OK. When people give you free software, they don’t want you to stick with it; they want you to move to the paying version and, if it is good enough, you do. They are all very cheap for what they deliver in paying form.

The point I am making is that this is almost always economic sound sense, because the functionality delivered is invariably worth the small payment they require you to make to get it. I long ago ended my obsession with free. It simply isn’t good economics.

Joe Reevy is the Managing Director of Words4Business and LegalRSS, which combines automated CRM and content delivery across all web channels with a steady stream of firm-client-targeted legal news content delivered by rss, atom, xml or javascript direct to subscribing websites.

Email joe@words4business.com. Twitter @joereevy.

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