There are myriad of business tools out there that can help businesses do everything from acquire customers and prospect leads, to collaborate and share documents, provide billing and even customer service and retention, re-marketing and more. So how do you determine what services can help your specific situation and which are better left alone? By looking at your business needs you can find specific solutions that can meet those needs. Here are five tools that are useful for different reasons, and a great place to start if you are exploring solutions. Definitely do your own research and leave any additional tips in the comments below.
- Freshbooks: Freshbooks is a great tool for those looking for a simple online billing solution. It offers the kind of simplicity that makes it easy to integrate in your current business processes, and is perfect for companies that bill less than 300k a year, as it acts as an accounting system as well. Set-up time tracking, recurring billing, track payments and integrate with PayPal from an intuitive clean interface. Freelancers will also enjoy the simple hour-tracking features and is well worth the monthly fee starting at $29.99. They do offer 30-days free and also offer a free version of the software if you have under 3 clients. As an added benefit, Freshbooks has an API and there are several 3rd party plugins available that allow Freshbooks integration.
- SohoOS: SohoOS is a fairly new online business management platform that performs multiple functions including contact management, inventory management, invoicing and billing, document sharing, project management and numerous management reporting options. SohoOS also has the added benefit of aspiring to let small businesses and freelancers easily find each other and collaborate globally to take advantage of economies of scale and form business partnerships and offerings easier than through traditional channels. The lofty goals of SohoOS make sense to small businesses who have been at a historic disadvantage when it comes to economies of scale, until now says SohoOS, who aim to, "leverage the power of many small-businesses to achieve a combined strength that bridges the gap in your favor." SohoOS has a free version and a paid version at $9.95/month which includes among other enhancements, a customizable leads widget for your website, easily integrated in to a WordPress, Drupal or other CMS that funnels leads directly in to your SohoOS account.
- Google Apps for Business: Google Apps is designed to allow small businesses to reduce IT costs by using Google’s array of business solutions as opposed to hosting their own email and other communication servers. Focused more on email and messaging solutions, Google Apps does have the advantage of a no-contract, flexible $5/month per user plan that lets small businesses and even freelancers the benefits of online collaboration, Outlook, Blackberry Enterprise interoperability and advanced communication tools hosted by Google. This is perfect for small businesses that want to start small, avoid up front setup and costly IT services. There is also the advantage of being a Google product, of which many small businesses recognize the tools and interface so there is ease of use and no learning curves and enhanced services layer in with existing products currently being used, like Google Doc’s.
- Box: Box or Box.net as it was known, it among a growing group of cloud collaboration providers including SugarSync, Dropbox and others. I am covering Box here because in my opinion it has features better suited for businesses than personal users. But SugarSync and Dropbox are both other online collaboration alternatives to Box. Business friendly features include the ability to not only sync with Google Doc’s, but your customers don’t have to log in to Google to view the documents you share is one standout feature. They offer premium accounts starting at $9.95/month and have additional business friendly options including the ability to brand your interface. Customizing the look and feel, including your company logo allow small businesses to collaborate with prospects, customers and vendors with a professional image that would otherwise be achieved through costly technology investments. There is also a document viewer and even editor for those who wish to operate completely in the cloud.
- DemandBase: This customer intelligence company offers a real-time ticker that companies can place on their websites to see when sought after prospects, or individuals from target companies visit the website. It allows you to find out when a blue-chip prospect is looking at your site and then offers to sell you this contact information. The database compares the IP address of visitors with information from Dunn & Bradstreet, Lexis-Nexis and other sources to match the visitors to the companies they likely work for. The average price of a lead from DemandBase is $1.80 according to an article in INC. , which also dubbed the service, "the iTunes of CRM".
So, whether you are looking for customer retention tools, lead prospecting or just collaboration or simple messaging there is likely a solution that can fit your small business needs out there. With a little bit of research and knowing what areas of your business can use improvement, technology and some of these free tools could end up saving you more than time and money, it could save your sanity as well. Running a small business is a challenge, especially in this environment, and keeping up with technology sometimes seems like a job within itself.