Effective business tools to help startups keep costs low
Startups have to get by without much money. Established businesses don't want to spend much money. Whichever you run, try these tools.
GET WORK DONE
Google Docs (docs.google.com)
It would be almost impossible to operate a business without a suite of office software. Search-engine giant Google gives you the tools to create documents, presentations and spreadsheets for free with Google Docs. This trio of software (plus the accompanying but less used drawing and forms programs) are cloud-based, so you can access your documents from any computer with an Internet connection. Share files with any number of people; they can make changes on their own, or you can collaborate in real time and see changes as others type. Because everyone works on the same document, there's no emailing attachments back and forth and no need to merge versions later. Plus, you can view a revision history to see who made what changes when. Popular alternative: OpenOffice (openoffice.org)
BACK UP AND SHARE FILES
Losing your work can cost time and money-and lots of stress. To prepare for the inevitable computer crash, store your files with Dropbox, which syncs documents, photos and more across all your computers and mobile devices. Plus, easily share large files that are too big to email. Installed on your desktop, Dropbox acts like any other folder on your computer and you can access any file, even without an Internet connection. Store up to 2GB of data for free, or pay for more space and users. Popular alternatives: Box (box.com), SugarSync (sugarsync.com)
MANAGE YOUR FINANCES
Wave Accounting (waveaccounting.com)
Keeping the books is one of the most important business functions-it's the only way to really know how your business is doing. But data entry and tracking expenses can be tedious. That's where web-based Wave Accounting comes in. This double-entry accounting system automatically communicates with your bank accounts, minimizing how much you have to enter manually. Features include unlimited invoicing and expense tracking. This software will even generate income statements and general ledger reports. All that sensitive financial info is safe, with automatic data backups and bank-quality security. And, thanks to advertiser support, Wave is free. Popular alternative: FreshBooks (freshbooks.com)
MANAGE CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS
Zoho CRM (zoho.com/crm)
Spend more time selling and less time on administrative tasks with Zoho CRM. This online customer relationship management software will help you track leads, manage contacts and organize communication with clients. A free account hosts up to three users with 10,000 records-or pay more if your sales team is larger or if you think you'd use some of the program's additional features, such as inventory management. Popular alternatives: Salesforce.com (salesforce.com), BigContacts (bigcontacts.com), ContactMe (contactme.com)
SEND MASS EMAILS
Try sending an email to a large group of people at once and your message is likely to get caught in spam folders. Email marketing tool MailChimp gets your newsletter, coupon offer or event invitation to your customers in style-and in compliance with spam laws. Tutorials and predesigned, customizable templates make the system simple to use, and analytics reports keep track of who opens and clicks on your emails. Send up to 2,000 subscribers as many as 12,000 emails a month, or pay for more. Popular alternatives: Constant Contact (constantcontact.com), Benchmark (benchmarkemail.com)
For startups, a lack of manpower can be a barrier to getting those big contracts or making a large sale. Hire the staff you need through oDesk, an online marketplace for professional services, from writing and design to bookkeeping and administrative assistance. It costs nothing to post a job or browse contractors to find help at the right price and skill level. Popular alternatives: Elance (elance.com), Outsourcing Things Done (outsourcingthingsdone.com)
TAME YOUR TO-DO LIST
A mile-long to-do list can be paralyzing, which is why Teamly's task-management system is focused on putting your top five priorities front and centre. You and your staff set goals, and Teamly will send daily email reminders to prompt you to stay on top of your list. You can assign tasks, monitor your team's progress and leave notes for them. The basic version is free; the upgrade includes enhanced security, the ability to export data and no ads. Popular alternatives: Cohuman (cohuman.com), Microproject (microproject.com)
If you need a more elaborate project-management system than just a to-do list, try Goplan. In addition to managing your and your team's tasks, Goplan lets you set milestones, track time, record issues, manage a project's relevant files and communicate with your team about each project. US$10 a month allows you 10 projects and 10 users; pay up to US$80 per month for unlimited access. Popular alternatives: BaseCamp (basecamphq.com), Lighthouse (lighthouseapp.com)
HOLD MEETINGS ACROSS THE GLOBE
When you're dealing with clients and staff outside of your geographical location, virtual meetings allow you to share presentations and collaborate even when you're not all in the same room. Join.me allows you to share your computer screen, teleconference and chat via text, even without signing up for an account. The paid version includes scheduling and the ability to have multiple presenters. Join.me's iPhone, iPad and Android app versions mean you don't even have to be in the office. Popular alternatives: GoToMeeting (gotomeeting.com), Zipcast (slideshare.com/zipcast)
GET BUSINESS CARDS
There's nothing more embarrassing-and unprofessional-than being asked for your card and not having one. Stock up for a low cost with Vistaprint. Not only are its printing costs as low as free-plus-shipping, there are thousands of templates to choose from so you don't have to hire a designer to get a pro look. Vistaprint can even design your logo for you. Other offerings include signage, flyers, brochures, business stationery, and branded swag such as pens and magnets. Popular alternative: Moo (moo.com)
BUILD A WEBSITE
These days, a business doesn't exist without a website. But having your site written, designed and coded by pros can cost as much as tens of thousands of dollars. Instead, build your own website and/or blog for free using WordPress. Download the open-source software and install a predesigned theme, then modify with plugins to achieve the functionality you need. Infinitely customizable, a WordPress-based site can grow with your business. Popular alternatives: Squarespace (squarespace.com), Weebly (weebly.com), SnapPages (snappages.com)
If your startup involves ecommerce, then shopping-cart functionality for your website is a must. Shopify makes it easy to set up your online store at little cost. Pick a template or design your storefront from scratch, add and edit products, accept various payment methods and manage customers. Pay more for a lower per-transaction fee, additional SKUs and storage, plus the ability to offer discount-code coupons. Popular alternatives: Volusion (volusion.com), BigCommerce (bigcommerce.com)
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