Having spent the last the last nine or 10 years working with technology companies, I’ve been introduced to many online tools created to help run a successful small business. Some of those tools I now regularly take for granted, nevertheless, I recently discovered some of my non-tech friends weren’t familiar with them—although they could potentially have value within their businesses. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of the free or inexpensive tools I’ve found useful over the years that you may or may not know about.
1. Google Apps and Google Drive
This suite of business productivity tools is at the top of my list. If you ever create documents, use a spreadsheet, keep an online calendar, make presentations or store digital information—in addition to sending the occasional email—you should know about Google Apps and Google Drive.
If you share documents or your calendar, Google allows you to do so with just about any device you can think of anywhere there’s an Internet connection. If you’re familiar with other word processing programs, spreadsheets or presentation software, you’ll find the Google experience easy-to-use and pretty straightforward. There’s not a day goes by that I’m not using one of my Google apps.
If you’ve already heard about apps like Google Docs, you might not have heard about Google Drive. It’s online storage for all the documents or other digital media you want at your fingertips, and the first 15 GB of data is free. If you need more space, they offer a tiered pricing plan up to 10 TB and beyond.
Additionally, if you want your email and calendar tied to your business URL, you can still use Gmail at your .com address. Of course, you’ll need to do some investigating to determine whether or not it will work for your business.
2. Mobile Credit Card Payment Processing Technology
There was a time when accepting credit cards was challenging for very small businesses or independent contractors. Technology companies like Square have made it easy for just about anyone to accept VISA, MasterCard, AMEX or Discover Card with your smartphone. They offer services for businesses of just about any size and products for retailers as well as independent plumbers, carpenters or any other business that takes credit cards. I particularly like how easy it is now for a service technician making a house call to accept a credit card off-site.
3. Video Conferencing
Video conferencing and online meeting software like GoToMeeting, Cisco WebEx, JoinMe and others make it much easier to collaborate with colleagues or customers around the world. All these tools offer similar toolsets, but some have more bells and whistles (and more cost) than others, so you’ll want to investigate to determine which is the right approach for you and your business. I’ve used all of the tools noted above and there are things I like about them all.
I typically spend a lot of time working with people on the other side of the country from my office, and I’ve found it much easier to communicate and understand what’s being said (whether in a one-on-one conversation or a group meeting) when I’m able to see their faces and they can see mine. Thirty-five years ago, when I started my career, this was strictly science fiction. Now it’s something I use almost every day.
4. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Tools
I started my career in field sales and managed my territory from a little black book. CRM tools like Salesforce make it much easier to keep track of customer information, track them through the sales process, and report on your successes—and challenges. There are a lot of similar tools available—some are industry-specific, and others can be used within any industry. You’ll need to do a little research to determine the right tool for you, but if your company has sales people and you strive to nurture long-term relationships with your customers, a CRM tool could be just the ticket.
5. Business Expense Manager
Managing expense receipts has become a lot easier thanks to smartphones and online tools offered by companies like Concur, Quickbooks and Shoeboxed. It can be as easy as taking a photograph with a smartphone to scan a receipt and uploading the image to an expense app that makes it easy to add a description, detail and submit. It also makes it easier for you to keep track of everyone’s expense accounts—allowing almost no excuse for lost receipts.
The beauty of these tools is that they exist on the Internet, and so as long as you have a connection, you can access them whenever or wherever you are. Just a few short years ago, I don’t think I ever imagined how much productivity tools like these would impact my workday. What are some of your favorite online tools?