12 Most Must-Have Free Online Productivity Tools for Small Business
The world of web 2.0 has opened up the floodgates of resources for small business people. The playing field has truly been leveled. It used to be that larger businesses had the upper hand, because they could afford to shell out money for expensive customer relations, project management, knowledge development, and data management systems. Now, those once exclusive programs have been made available to the average Joe.
Small business people such as consultants, medical professionals, insurance professionals, shop owners, contractors, and managed services providers — just to name a few — are missing out if they aren’t taking advantage of what the “cloud” has to offer in making them more productive. It’s time to throw out the rolodex, the Post-its, the newspaper, and the desk calendar. As you adopt and implement these tools in your everyday activities, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.
Oh, and the best part? At least at the introductory level, they are all FREE! Click the name for a link to their website.
This online data storage tool has simplified my life more than anything since the Internet came into existence. Dropbox enables users to save up to 2GB of data to their accounts for free. With Dropbox, you can pull of your files on any computer on which you have it installed… or you could pull the files up from your online account. When you save something on one device, it instantly saves to all other devices as well as your online account. Therefore, everything is always accessible everywhere.
The best note-taking platform available on the web. You can save notes in separate folders, leave voice memos, store images, save articles, and more. The mobile application is very easy to use and syncs instantly with your online account. Stop forgetting and start Evernoting!
Yes, you are hearing me right. A free Customer Relationship Management system! The free version only allows three users and there are some upgrades that you are denied but, for the average everyday small business professional, there’s no better and more cost-effective way to keep track of your contacts, leads, and customers.
Best to-do list on the web and the mobile application is clean and simple. You can set different categories, due dates, priority levels, and reminders. Helps you remember to get stuff done. Plus, how could you not use a tool with such a cool name?
I am convinced that there are more calendar applications than there are young adult novels about vampires. Nevertheless, nothing has emerged that can compete with Google. It allows you to see a daily, weekly, or monthly view, and enables you to send invitations to people for meetings. It works with your Gmail account, so that you can get reminders for appointments. It’s simply a must-have.
Bookkeeping. Ugh. The bane of many a small business person’s existence. Well, you can stop paying so much for accounting software. FreshBooks allows you to track expenses as well as time on projects. You can also create invoices for clients and see detailed reports. How much were you paying for your accounting software again?
Speaking of time spent on projects, one of the most difficult things for the business small business professionals to do is to manage projects with others. Whether they are employees, sub-contractors, strategic partners, or anyone else, it can be nearly impossible to coordinate schedules and activities. Do — yes, that’s right, “D-O” — helps you manage. You can easily create projects, delegate tasks, establish deadlines, and receive progress updates. Project-managed! (P.S. How on earth did they get this domain?)
Need to meet with a group of people and you can’t seem to coordinate schedules? Just send them all a “Doodle.” Establish a handful of time slots that you are available and have them all check the time slots that they are available as well. I’ve used this to set up many meetings since finding out about it. It sure beats pulling your hair out from playing rounds and rounds of phone or email-tag. Give it a shot!
Newsflash, much of the time, you no longer have to meet in person. The web has enabled long-distance conferencing for just about anything. AnyMeeting is a free screen-sharing, telephone and/or video conferencing tool. You can video conference with up to 6 people at a time and invite up to 200 people to share a screen with you. This will save you a ton of time in not having to over the same information with different people. Just invite them to an AnyMeeting webinar and show them what you’ve got. Did I mention it’s free?
You’re probably wondering what Twitter is doing on this list. What does it have to do with productivity? Isn’t “tweeting” a waste of time? Well, as a small business owner, you’ve got to stay informed about what’s going on in your industry. The Internet is full of websites that you can browse to find content, but it can be time-consuming. There is no better way to stay informed than with Twitter. In using Twitter as a productivity tool, I’m not suggesting you “tweet.” I’m suggesting you “follow” relevant accounts and use the information they provide to learn. Most tweets have links to articles attached to them. Have a Twitter account that you use almost exclusively to gather information and make you a more well-informed industry leader.
Instapaper is the easiest-to-use application for saving articles. Did you find something you want to refer back to? Did you find something you want to share with a customer? Just save the article to your Instapaper account with the click of a button. You can even sort articles into folders, send them in emails, and share them on social networks. Fantastic tool.
Okay, so this article isn’t about social media. It’s about productivity. There’s obviously a lot involved in networking on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. And it’s important to have conversations with your contacts. That being said, it’s assumed that you will be sharing content of some sort on these platforms. Many people use social networks, especially Twitter, to gather information as much as they do to interact with others.
How can you find time to share relevant information with your social contacts? Dlvr.it is by far the best tool for freeing you up and still allowing you to create valuable content. With Dlvr.it, you can set up RSS feeds to shoot automatically to your social networks either when they are published or when you schedule them to post. Once you set up the route, you never have to post anything. Ever. Sound too easy? Give it a try. It’s pure gold.
If you adopt all of these tools and use them, either one of two things will happen: your business will become insanely more productive or you will spend too much time reading stuff on Twitter and it will nullify all of the time and money you’ve saved elsewhere. But, in all seriousness, if you are a small business owner and are not taking advantage of the tools that the web has to offer, you’re missing out.
You can now compete with the giants. David, it’s time to meet your stone.
Featured image courtesy of Patrick Hoesly licensed via Creative Commons.