This is a guest post by Wil Anderson. Wil helps small organizations build community outreach through free and low-cost tools. He can be found on Twitter (@wiljr) and on his website.

I was visiting with my sister a few weeks ago. She was taking me through all the new and exciting things happening with her business, and introducing me to new partners and friends.

We talked a lot about her operations and marketing, and how I could help her with different projects. While we were chatting, I asked how she did a few things:

  • Accept payments (at the Tasting Room and at events)
  • Record visitors (at the Tasting Room and at events)

She was doing both the old-fashioned way: credit cards, pen and paper. So we got to talking about how much time / money / resources these were consuming for each transaction. Turns out, it’s a lot. We talked about some solutions and I offered two: Square (for anywhere payments) and Google Docs (for form submissions). I’m sure there are others but these were two I thought she could get up and running quickly.

What I soon realized is that as a small business owner, it’s tough to stay on top of the latest technology trends that will likely have an impact on your business / industry. Since you are wearing more than one hat, the days are filled with activities that don’t allow you to focus on keeping up with the latest news.

When your business isn’t focused on technology, it’s even more of a challenge.

The great thing about being a small business is it’s easy to make change. While you might not have the same resources as the bigger players, there are tools available that can help you keep pace with them. And since you are wearing many hats, it will be easier to implement a new solution (ie, no need to go through IT, Marketing, Sales, Web, etc.).

Here are 3 (free!) tools you can use to help stay on top of today’s trends in your industry.

Twitter goes far beyond learning what everyone is having for lunch. Once you set up an account, simply head over to the search feature and start poking around. If you are a local business, you can narrow your search include all results located in a specific zip code or city.

So, if I’m in the winery business in San Diego, I might add that criteria into my search. Of course, I can add a handful of other searches related to wine – upcoming events, specific users / competitors / partners, etc.

Once you’ve found a handful of search criteria, save them. That way, you can quickly reference / review them as needed.

And just because your news feed / Twitter stream is coming in at a blistering pace doesn’t mean you have to keep up – just check in on it once a day until you get familiar with the setup. If you spend 30 minutes a day, you’ll be a pro after a week.

Easily my favorite reading site. Coupled with Spool (below), it becomes a powerful research tool. Google Reader takes news ‘feeds’ from sites you choose and combines them into a format that allows you to read them quickly.

As an example, I follow soccer. Instead of visiting a handful of sites everyday, I subscribe to their feeds. Once these sites are updated (normally via blog posts), they are updated in my Google Reader. This makes it super easy to quickly review al the latest news. Naturally, the more sites you follow, the more time you’ll spend reviewing these feeds.

Let’s go back to the winery in San Diego. I have a number of wineries that I like to visit regularly. If they post news regularly, it might be a good idea to subscribe to their news feed. Then, before I head out to see them, I can review their news. When I meet up with them, I’m all caught up on what they’ve been up to.

(You can also do this with Twitter, assuming they have a Twitter account.)

It doesn’t have to be isolated to the winery industry. If you find something on Twitter, you can find a related website and follow their news through Google Reader.

I have about 100 feeds I actively follow, focused on everything I’m interested in, from soccer to marketing to gargoyles in New York.

Ok, so we have two great ways of finding and reading news related to our industry. Terrific. What happens if we don’t have enough time to read / watch / listen to them right now? That’s where Spool comes in. Spool allows you to save an article for later, with the added benefit of allowing you to review the saved article offline.

I use this service a lot. Let’s say I’m heading downtown on the subway – I’ll load up Spool on my phone and read those articles I saved, even when I don’t have an internet connection.

While there isn’t a direct integration with Twitter and Spool, it’s easy to copy the link into Spool and it saves it for later. Google Reader allows you to Spool articles directly from it’s service with a single click.


The great thing about each of these tools is they can be used on your computer and on your mobile device. It’s likely you don’t have much downtime but when you do, check in on the latest technology trends and see how they might help your small business.