Beyond event planning software … putting the rest of the Web to work for your business
Here at Planning Pod, we're always trying out the newest Web-based tools and applications built to make people like you more productive. Not every tool or application is perfect for everyone, but there are some that are just so useful and cool that we had to tell you about them so you can try them out and see if they help you, too. So here are our recommendations of essential tools and apps ... in addition to our online event planner. Social Media Sites Social media sites have been hugely popular over the last few years (and almost over-celebrated). However, although sometimes the hype often doesn't match the usefulness of these sites, they are definitely used very frequently by your target audience (i.e., females of the marrying age - 18-35); in fact, some media outlets have stated that Facebook has more active users on it every day than all Google's applications and properties put together. For event and wedding planners, the main usefulness of social media sites is 1) to be discovered by your target audience so they can contact you about your services and 2) to stay up to date with friends and colleagues regarding your profession. If you haven't yet dived into the wild world of social networking, here's a quick primer on setting up pages and accounts with the main players. LinkedIn - This is probably the main site for professional and business-to-business social networking. To take advantage of their free tools, just go to http://www.linkedin.com/ and click on "Join Today" in the top navigation bar. Once you have created an account, you can upload your address book from Apple Mail, Outlook or another file format (like a csv file) to connect with your peeps (and LinkedIn will then start making suggestions of other people you can connect with based on your current connections). Finally, you should create a page for your business in LinkedIn. Just go to the "Companies" tab in the main navigation of your LinkedIn account; click on the "Add a Company" link on the top-right side of the page; and follow the instructions. Facebook - The current 800-lb gorilla of all social networking sites. For starters, if you don't have a Facebook account yet, just stop byhttp://www.facebook.com/ and create one. Just creating an account is only half-the battle, though, in reaching out to prospective clients. Next, you need to create a Fan page, which you can do in a few easy steps. First go to http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php. Next, under the area labeled "Official Page," check the circle marked "Local Business" and then choose "Event Planning Service" in the drop-down menu. Type in the name of your business into the field labeled "Page Name" and check the box saying you are the official representative of your company. Facebook may ask you if you already have an account. If you do, just type in your login information. If you don't, just follow the instructions to create your account. That's it ... now you can fill your page with lots of posts, pictures and videos of your clients and events and much more. Review and Profile Sites There are thousands of sites where you can create a profile for your business and have people rate your wedding and event planning services; however, there are a couple large ones where you should definitely put up a listing. These include: Yelp! - Probably the biggest business review site going right now. On Yelp, you can post info about your business, directions, a link to your Web site and more. To create a profile, just go to http://www.yelp.com/business and complete the information for your free account. The power of Yelp, though, is in the recommendations that people can post about your business. If you have lots of glowing reviews on Yelp, this can reassure prospects about your expertise and give them more incentive to contact you. So make sure you encourage all your clients to leave a glowing, 5-star review about the service you provide them. Google Places - Have you ever noticed that, when you conduct a search on Google for a local business or service, the search results often display local business listings associated with a map? This is the work of Google Places. Creating a business listing through Google Places is quick and easy. Just log into your Google account (and if you don't have one, you can create one by going tohttp://www.google.com). Then, navigate to http://places.google.com/business and click on the button labeled "List Your Business." Blogging Platforms In some industries, blogging is more popular than in others, and in the wedding planning industry, blogging is huge. Many of your competitors have blogs, so if you don't, you should consider starting one up. It's a great way to post stories and photos of your events and keep people up to date on your business. Many prospects check out planner's blogs to "see the product" before they call you, so a blog can just be another arrow in your quiver for getting a prospect to pick up the phone. There are several drop-dead-easy blogging platforms to use that require no technical expertise, and they include: Wordpress, Blogger, Blog.com and MyBlogSite. Special note if you already have a blog - Having a blog is half the battle ... promoting your blog is the other half. And one way you can get people to share your blog on sites like Facebook and Twitter is via a tool like AddThis. It's basically a tool that allows you to put a button on each blog post so that all a user has to do is click on the button and they can post a link to your blog post on their Facebook page, Twitter account, Delicious account, Digg account and lots of other social networking sites. Just go to http://www.addthis.com/, create an account, copy the little chunk of code they provide, and paste it into every blog post using your HTML view option. (See the bottom of this blog post for an example of what the button looks like.) Other Online Sites Delicious - This is a Web bookmarking site that makes it easy to save, label and categorize the sites that you visit. This way you never forget a site that you've visited that you want to revisit. Picnik - There are many photo editing, management, sharing and storage sites out there ... this is currently the best and easiest to use. TweetDeck - If you tweet and post to Facebook regularly, then this is the one tool you can't do without ... keeps you completely organized with posting on all your social media sites. DimDim - Although recently purchased by SalesForce.com, it is still one of the best free sites for holding collaborative online meetings. Ning - If you're really ambitious and want to create your own online social space/forum for your clients, vendors and contacts, Ning is the tool for you. Very easy to use and you will have your own little community up and running inside an hour. Meebo - Most of your clients probably communicate via instant message, and if this is the case, Meebo will be your new best friend. It basically lets you pull all your IM communications, accounts and information into one place and lets you IM with people who are on multiple IM platforms. It also has several versions for your computer and your mobile device. Mobile Phone Apps Most mobile phone apps are tremendous time-wasters (see Exhibit 1, Angry Birds ... although it sure is fun). However, these are a few that just might save you some time and give you an edge. Color swatch app - Most wedding planners are very creative people who deal with colors and color palettes on a daily basis, and color swatch apps let you use your phone's camera to shoot a picture and then pluck colors from the photo. myPANTONE is a great app for the iPhone and Color Collector is a good one for Android phones. Voice recorder app - Sometimes is really nice to record your meetings with clients, just in case you needed to confirm something or have a record of the phone conversation. Most PDAs come with a voice recorder, but we like iRecord. Weather apps - Might sound like a "no-duh" recommendation, but any good wedding planner knows that the weather is a crucial (and often the most unpredictable) variable in wedding planning. We recommend The Weather Channel app, which gives you a 10-day forecast so you have a heads up if you need to arrange for a tent for that outdoor wedding next Friday. Hopefully you found at least one or two helpful tidbits in this list of excellent resources.