By Carole Bennett
Keeping up with your day-to-day business activities is time-consuming all by itself. If you’re like me, any tool that can make your life easier, save you time and give you more room to focus on your core business is absolutely worth investigating. Unfortunately, most business owners don’t have the time to evaluate products, weigh the pros and cons, and test by integrating into their business workflow.
But because you’re a smart business owner, you read articles like this, and so you can choose what works for you, and hit the ground running. These are terrific tools I’ve found to be invaluable in running my business, and each one has made a positive impact in my profitability.
If you’ve ever been out running errands, or stuck in line, and had a great idea pop into mind, you wanted something like Evernote on hand. With synchronization between your browser-based interface, and Android/iOS apps, it’s a terrific way to jot down notes, leave voice recordings, upload files and images, and otherwise keep track of your day-to-day brilliance. The basic service is free – premium upgrade is $5/mo., or $45/year.
Now that you’ve got that great idea, you need to work up a business plan. Hate business plans? LeanCanvas makes it easy to keep a living document that you can refer to and update as needed. With a graphical interface, you can use LeanCanvas to model out multiple business options, share with collaborators, and get your business idea organized and moving in less time. Initial 30-day free trial, with free basic plan afterward for 2 collaborators, and tiered pricing for more advanced user needs.
Time to sell that big project, but creating a crisp, organized proposal isn’t easy for everyone. Bidsketch makes it easy to set up a custom template with your own branding, optional segments that you can edit on the fly or leave to be automatically populated with customer information. You can send your proposals out through Bidsketch, track who’s seen the proposal, and when, get notified of your proposal progress, and even get an e-mail when it’s accepted (yes!). Free 14-day trial, tiered pricing afterward.
You sold the project – now it’s time to collect! With customizable online invoicing, mobile credit card processing, and the ability to accept credit card purchases through your website without an additional merchant account, PayPal offers a great payment solution for quick transaction processing. Get a PayPal ATM for instant access to your funds, and pay for business items directly from your PayPal balance. Basic services are percentage-based, with tiered pricing for additional services.
You will absolutely love this service. Outright provides the ability to link to your PayPal and/or credit cards and bank accounts, and imports all your transactions, to help organize your receivables and purchases. Once you’ve categorized a specific expense, you can tell Outright to automatically categorize all other instances. You get a weekly e-mail showing you your profits vs. expenses, which is a terrific motivator, and means of knowing how your business is doing. Free until December 31, 2012, premium services will then be $9.99/mo.
An open-source alternative to Microsoft Project, ProjectLibre will help you keep your projects on track. If you’re familiar with Microsoft Project, you’ll find this free tool easy to use, and a great asset for managing your projects.
Social media is the lifeblood of smart business marketing; Hootsuite allows you to track multiple social media streams, as well as keywords on social media outlets like Twitter. You can add additional users to your Hootsuite account, and delegate responsibilities through the Hootsuite interface. Basic account is free – tiered pricing plans are available.
Skype is one of the best VOIP services available; with video support as well as audio and chat support, you’ll find this service to be your business’s best communication asset. While the basic service is free, it’s incredibly inexpensive to get a Skype Online Number for your business. With a desktop, Android and iOS client, you can receive your calls anywhere, use voice mail service, and keep in touch with collaborators and clients all over the world.
One of the limitations of Skype is that they don’t offer 800 numbers, or e-faxing – RingCentral fills in the blank, as well as offering individual voice mail boxes with routing to individual numbers. Billed as a virtual PBX for your business, RingCentral provides a desktop client, as well as Android and iOS. Local and 800 numbers are available through this service. Free trial: pricing is available via monthly or annual billing, and tiered rates are available.
Team Viewer is a great remote desktop service, free of charge for personal use. I love being able to use TeamViewer to remote into my desktop using my smartphone (Android and iOS apps available) to check on projects, retrieve files and light remote work. TeamViewer is also terrific for distance-training, remote client support, and online collaboration.
Free and tiered pricing available; use as an online backup, or for sharing really large files with other users (saving your hosting provider massive headaches when you try to e-mail that 2Gb file attachment).
Here’s to having more time to devote to your success!
Carole Bennett is the founder and primary voice of IndigoTea. As a professional IT consultant, Carole has provided solutions for companies as diverse as Verizon, Frito-Lay, Capital One Auto Finance, and Zales Jewelers, parlaying a unique talent for acting as a translator between the worlds of business challenges and technology solutions. After nearly two decades of experience in providing business and technology solutions in the corporate space, Carole chose to dedicate her wealth of experience towards creating outstanding results for her small business clientele. She considers her skills gained from simultaneously managing a fire performance troupe, raising a family, and working as a full-time IT consultant excellent preparation for her current career incarnation as the driving force behind IndigoTea Small Business Solutions. “Fire-breathing redhead on a mission” is not just a metaphorical description!