We did a inventory this week to try and discover what our most crucial tools in the office were. Things we found crucial to the way we work, things that we found cost effective (mainly free!) and things that made our lives easier, cheaper and more streamlined.
We’re probably considered tech nerds to many, we spend way too much time online, we collect social media infographics on Pinterest, we jailbreak our iPhones and are early (over) adopters of anything to do with social media, but one thing we do have in common with most is that we appreciate free stuff and it kind of took us by surprise at just how well equipped a small business can be on a shoe-string budget.
We’ll accept that, at least for now, the Apple Mac book’s are on hold and we like the variety of software and the familiarity of the Windows OS. So.
Having said that, if you’re really feeling the pinch you can give that old PC or laptop a real speed boost by loading it up with Ubuntu . Ubuntu is the totally free OS that runs on Linux so there’s something of a learning curve vs. Windows, but the GUI (the graphical user interface) is surprisingly easy to get to grips with and you can run Firefox, Chrome, Mozilla Thunderbird and thousands of other similar software tools that’ll make it possible to run everything you need to run a small business just as well as Windows.
Take into account too, that Linux is known to be more stable than Windows and is based on Unix, which also powers Apple’s OS. If you want to try it out without committing yourself you can even boot it up from disc first.
If you’re grabbing the download of the Ubuntu OS then this office suite will be included in the install. Libre Office is a newer spinoff of OpenOffice, which was originally run by Sun Microsystem’s as a free alternative to Microsoft Office (you’re not still paying for that are you?) and does pretty much the same things as the paid software. So, you can write documents, do spreadsheets, edit Word docs (here called ‘Writer’), edit vector graphics, do database editing and presentations (similar to Powerpoint).
Still paying over the odds for your phone calls? Why? Skype is pretty much ubiquitous these days and as well as using it for (free) Skype to Skype calls worldwide, you can extend its usability by using USB phones (those headsets really aren’t that cool right!) and on the move (over WiFi) with Skype mobile apps for Android and iPhone handsets.
I had a recent laptop burn out which not so long ago would have crippled my productivity stone cold dead. Thanks to my Dropbox sync from laptop to cloud, all my working files and documents were safe and accessible immediately. You can sync up to 2GB for free and there’s an iPhone app for handheld access and a ton of add on services to squeeze even more usability out of the service. 50GB will cost less than $10 a month. You might also try Box.net (who’s free version extends to 5GB) and the much hyped GDrive. Essential.
There really is only one choice (in desktop apps) for me, for managing my Twitter (and Facebook, Foursquare and Linkedin) accounts. I’ve been using Tweetdeck for quite a while now and it was my favourite social media management tool until Twitter purchased the company and messed up all that I liked about it. Never mind, you can still ‘downgrade’ from the latest version to the ‘pre-Twitter owned’ version (hunt down the older Tweetdeck 0.38.2 from Oldapps.com) if you hate the latest version.You’ll need to install Adobe Air too. Schedule your social media posts, keep track of hashtag searches and monitor your @mentions and followers in real time.
Hootsuite is almost up there (for me) in terms of features and usability but is web-based vs desktop and its user interface is a little cluttered for me.
Besides being a voracious user of the often much maligned RSS (for which you should be using Google Reader of course) for keeping in touch with news, my most useful ace up the sleeve is by telling the mighty Goog to alert me when ever anything with my chosen keywords gets mentioned via Google Alerts. I can even tell them how often to let me know, as it happens, daily or weekly. Brilliant.
7.GOOGLE APPS FOR BUSINESS
For smaller teams (of 10 or less), Google Apps is an excellent set of collaboration tools in the cloud and include Gmail (please tell me you don’t still have a Hotmail address?), Docs and Calendar and has transformed how we work with others in many ways. Convenience.
I love Bit.ly, the ubiquitous URL shortener. It tracks every click on those URL’s I scatter across various social media networks, it gives me real time analytics and even lets me use my own custom shortener. Particularly useful for tracking the effectiveness of social media campaigns.
Invoiceable (ex-Invoice Bubble) is an alarmingly simple and useful free tool that enables you to use invoicing to clients. You can create professional looking invoices for free, hook it up to your Paypal account, have recurring invoices and even fire off invoices and estimates as PDF’s. Invoice Bubble is financed by small ad placement which you can remove for $5 a month.
Yeah, we’ve all heard of Basecamp, which kind of set the standard for online collaboration and project management, but here’s a younger upstart out of Latvia. Teamlab offer a brilliant set of business collab, document and project management , CRM and team management tools. You can import projects from Basecamp, documents from Zoho, Google Docs and Box.net and even have your team enter blogs, forums, polls, bookmarks and Wiki’s. Free. Pretty awesome. Alternatives to consider? Freedcamp and Project Bubble.
We will never stop raving about WordPress simply because it offers a brilliant platform for any young (and old) upstart to launch an online enterprise, blog or store, super quick, simply and cheaply. Hook yourself up with a reliable webhosting account (one with CPanel and Fantastico) and a domain name and you can be up and running in minutes. Absolutely indispensable.
We love Mailchimp too, primarily as its a great intuitive mailing list management service and also because they have a ‘forever free’ service if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers which lets you send up to 12,000 emails per month absolutely free. You can hook it up to your WordPress blog and if things really take off upgrading isn’t going to break the bank. Such is the nature of ‘disruptive tech tools’, we are now looking into Wysija WordPress newsletter plugin (you’ll see it in use on this site very soon!).
Honourable mentions go out to Gimp (free Open Source image editing alternative to Photoshop), Google Analytics, PortableApps.com (your desktop apps on a thumb drive), Rapportive (social GMail plugin), Survey Monkey (though Goog just released this) and Remember The Milk (task manager) amongst others !
If there’s any we missed (and because of space we know there are many!) do let us know in the comments.