Friday, June 1, 2012

Top 5 Free Online Business Tools for Belly Dancers

As dancers, we are typically right-brained artists, focused on creativity, expression, and beauty. However, if you're pursuing belly dance in any type of money-making or business capacity, you also need to tune into your left-brained skills, which I think at times dancers can forget to do. Thus I wanted to focus this post on some free online tools that can help you organize and grow you business. I am actually a business woman by day (a CPA in fact, for those of you who didn't know), so I know a thing or two about business. By the way, even if you're not a dancer, these tools can be useful for almost any entrepreneur.

1. Google Voice: Don't want to put your personal phone number out on the interwebs, but also don't want to pay for a separate business line? Then sign-up for Google voice.  Using this free service, you select a phone number for your business. When your potential client/student dials this number, it rings through to your cell phone. If you don't answer, a separate business voicemail message (ie. not the personal greeting you already have set-up on your cell phone) is played to your potential client/student. You can access the message online or Google will send it to you via text message. Yeah, it's pretty slick. One thing to note, a phone number in the area code you want may not always be available, if that's the case, check back a few weeks later. New ones come available in rotating chunks. I use this service and I highly recommend it.

2. A Drive: This is a cloud storage system (cloud is just a fancy pants term for online). While you can pay for premium storage plans, A Drive offers a basic personal plan that gives you 50 GB of free online storage. How much storage is that you ask? That's about 12,500 MP3s or 75,000 pictures. So yes, the answer is a freakin' lot. Why do you want online storage? Because when your personal computer crashes, is stolen, burns up in a fire, or is dropped in the bathtub, you don't want to lose all of the pictures, video, and music you've accumulated over your belly dance career. One word of advice - no online system is completely hacker-proof. So the access codes to your bank accounts, certain risque pictures, the recipe for the Colonel's chicken, and anything else that you wouldn't want someone potentially getting their hands on, should not be uploaded.

3. Pinterest: As dancers, we are engaged in a visual art form, and Pinterest is all about the visual. With the swift and sudden popularity of Pinterest, I think everyone's heard of this one by now, but a quick explanation for those who haven't. Pinterest is an online pin board.  Think of it as a collage or inspiration board that you can pin electronic pictures and videos to. But while it's very popular, I think not everyone may understand how it can help their business.  I think Pinterest can be valuable in two different ways. The first is to use it as your personal idea or goal board: pin images of costumes you want to make or buy, videos of dancers that inspire you, pictures of stage makeup you want to replicate, etc. Then it's all there in one concise, easy to access page. Secondly, you can also use Pinterest to actively promote yourself. If you pin pictures directly from your website or blog, even as others repin them, the original upload link stays with the pin, thus helping drive traffic back to your sites. Also, if you're pinning pictures or videos of yourself, it's yet another outlet to get yourself and your art in front of the eyes of others. How many eyes you ask? Latest stats say Pinterest has 10 million active users and is the fastest growing site in history. You can follow along with me on Pinterest here.

4. Mailchimp: We all know email newsletters can be a great way to advertise your services and connect with your tribe. But it can be daunting to know where to start or how to put one together. Enter Mailchimp. Mailchimp has a "forever free" plan wherein if you have less than 2,000 subscribers, you can send up to 12,000 emails per month absolutely free. It allows to you upload your mailing lists, build sign-up forms to embed in your website, create newsletters, track your analytics, connect your newsletters to other social media sites, and more  If and when you do surpass the 2,000 mark, they also have some pretty reasonably priced plans.

5. PayPal: Now this one I know you've heard of, but the question is, are you using it? If someone wants to give you money, you should make it as easy for them as possible. I think for dancers, this is key for two types of transactions. First is for getting students to sign-up for lessons. We all know that if we've pre-paid for something we are much more likely to attend than if we haven't. So when the first class of your new session rolls around, it can be easy for students who intended to sign-up to get comfy on the couch and not show up Whereas, if you've already accepted that student's payment online, through a few easy clicks of the mouse, you are much more likely to guarantee attendance. For an example, you can check out the classes page of my own website here. By the way, to get the html code for the PayPal buttons, sign into your account, click Profile, and one of the options toward the top will be for PayPal buttons, where you can customize them and then generate the code. Another area that can be beneficial for dancers to use PayPal is for accepting deposits for private parties. We unfortunately live in a world of fraud and this can make some potential clients nervous about sending what is usually a sizable check off to someone they don't know for a service they haven't yet received. I typically tell clients that while I prefer to receive deposits via check, if they are more comfortable using PayPal that option is available to them. I have found that almost always the client elects to pay by check, but by having the PayPal option it fosters trust and shows that I am a professional, running a legitimate business.

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