Here at Invizio we spend a lot of time advising small business owners on how to get the most bang for their buck with respect to IT investments. While the only option for some clients is to purchase specialized software and systems, there are also a ton of free or inexpensive alternatives on the market . One of the most fascinating things for me personally has been the evolution of the web and the growth of rich web applications that put functionality and user experience at the forefront for little or no cost to the user. Many of these applications offer features that small businesses can leverage to operate similarly to their larger counterparts and without breaking the bank. So here are 5 applications that we either use in-house at Invizio or recommend to our clients and friends to help them be more productive everyday.
Yes, its not just one application but Google’s suite of Mail, Contacts, Calendar & Docs applications is in my opinion the best option for small businesses that want a strong mix of collaboration and mobility features without investing in an onsite email server. Available in two business editions (Standard, Premier), you can configure Apps to work with your company domain (e.g. invizio.com) and create accounts for all of your employees to receive mail, share calendars and collaborate on documents.
What I really enjoy about Apps is the convenience and flexibility that it offers. While you may access Apps via the web interface, features like push mail and calendar/contact syncing are available for mobile users through Google Sync on mobile device platforms like Android, Blackberry and iPhone.
Cost: Standard Edition: Free (supports up to 50 users); Premier Edition: $50 per mailbox annually (no ads, technical support & better Outlook integration)
How to Get It: You can get started with Google Apps at www.google.com/a/.
Google Apps has almost everything I need to be productive on a daily basis except a proper tasks application. So when I stopped using Microsoft Outlook a few months ago, I needed a replacement that would offer similar task management features and go well with my Blackberry as well. Remember the Milk fits the bill (free). The application provides an intuitive online interface to manage tasks allowing you to create as many lists as you’d like and lets you share tasks with family, friends or coworkers. There are a bunch of ways you can get new tasks into the application, but by upgrading to Remember the Milk Pro you get the option of syncing with your mobile device.
Cost: Free; $25 per year for Remember the Milk Pro (mobile sync functionality)
Where to Get It: Never forget another task (or milk run) at www.rememberthemilk.com.
After noticing that my best email sending hours are really late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, I didn’t want my contacts to think I was an insomniac (which for the record, I’m not). The Deferred Sender service lets you schedule the delivery of email messages at a date/time in the future. The service is free, reliable, and can be configured to notify when your message has been delivered. One of my favorite uses of the service is to schedule follow up e-mails within 24 hrs of meeting someone at a networking event and not have to worry about fitting it into my schedule the next day.
Where to Get It:Start scheduling e-mails today by signing up at www.deferredsender.com.
I can’t tell you the last time that I actually checked my voicemail, and it’s not because I’m rude or have a problem with voice messages. It’s because of Google Voice. Now finally open for public sign-up, Google Voice gives you a separate phone number in any area code you like and lets you redirect your voicemail inbox so that your voicemails can be transcribed and sent to you by text or email. You can configure your Google Voice number to ring and forward to any number you like, control your availability, screen calls and record custom voice greetings. We often recommend Google Voice for solopreneurs who rather not give out their personal cell phone number or need a business phone number.
How to Get It: Visit www.google.com/voice to get started.
Of course there are tons of places online to store files, but we have an app-crush on Dropbox. This online storage service goes the extra mile by offering 30-day revision snapshots and a convenient online interface. The application works on Windows, Mac or Linux uploads your most recent file changes to the cloud, provides collaboration features and is simply awesome on the go with iPhone, iPad or Android. Dropbox really shines in situations when you need to share file updates on file types that are not easy to shuttle back on forth via email. The basic (free) package kicks off at 2GB, but you can swindle your way into an additional 8GB of space by getting others to join.
Cost: Free (2GB, Basic edition); $9.99/month (50GB); $19.99/month (100GB)
How to Get It: Get your very own at Dropbox at www.dropbox.com
If you use any of these or any other applications to be more productive, please tell us what you think.