Online Business Tools to Help You Leapfrog the Competition

I’m really jealous of how quickly a new company can acquire and begin using technology that used to be extremely expensive and difficult to setup. Gone are the days where you had to pay high license fees up front for technology…you can now essentially rent services that are available everywhere, all the time, at a low cost of entry. A lot of time previously spent in IT can be avoided for newcomers to business. Here are some of the applications I recommend:

Google Apps for Email and Calendar

Your business is starting to grow, and you need to get rid of the cheap looking @gmail, @hotmail, or even @telus email address? In addition to letting you use your own .com domain for your emails, Google Apps‘ GMail interface makes it easy to search and sort your emails, and is available everywhere. Whether you use Outlook, your phone, tablet, or the web interface, Google’s enterprise email is an inexpensive option that means you don’t have to buy expensive servers and set them up in a rack at your office. You just need an internet connection. 25GB of data ensures that you don’t really need to worry about archiving, and GMail’s fast built-in search functionality makes it simple to go through. Google’s Calendar is also a really good, basic calendar and you get it everywhere as well. Google’s enterprise email is available on PC via the website or Outlook, on any device via the web, and on most phones or tablets as a dedicated app.

  • Google Apps: $5 per user per month, available on as many computers or devices as you want.
  • Replaces: On premises server at $1000 plus ~$500/yr to admin. Microsoft Exchange licenses (varies), device specific support administration issues.
GMail on tablet
GMail on tablet

Google Docs for Multi-Device, Multi-User Collaboration

Okay, so while I love Microsoft Excel and I can’t argue that Microsoft Word is absolutely ubiquitous in business, there have been times when I’ve cursed both. I’m a power user, and even I struggle to maintain my sanity with Word formatting. The bigger issues comes when I’m dealing with documents that are shared, specifically when it comes to revision and collaboration.

If you opt in for a complex Sharepoint install, you can get all sorts of cool collaboration tools and proper revision storage, OR you can just go to Google Docs. Google Docs features seamless multi-user collaboration (yes, you can work on a document at the same time as others), revision history and easy storage online. For me, it enables sharing more complex data with customers and ensuring that everyone’s literally on the same page. Functionality-wise, the Word and Excel replacements in Google Docs are more basic, but I’ve found that very few people really use the advanced features in Office anyway. Mobility of Google Docs is excellent, as you can access them on pretty much any device, whether it be an iPad, smartphone, laptop or Android tablet.

  • Google Docs: Free or part of a Google Apps installation. Multi-user, multi-device collaboration.
  • Replaces: Microsoft Office plus in house file server or Sharepoint installation
Google Docs on Mobile
Viewing a document in Google Docs on Mobile

SalesForce for Customer Relationship Management

Do you have a few customers and need to start track your sales professionally? Keep dropping the ball trying to track opportunities via email or on the backs of napkins? Can’t accurately forecast sales? It’s time to graduate to a CRM package (Customer Relationship Management). No product embraces the cheap and cheerful, always online, cloud based philosophy like Salesforce does. Unlike in-house hosted CRM’s, Salesforce is hosted in the cloud. They update it, you pay a subscription, and other vendors provide plugins to extend the functionality into email marketing, advanced analytics, and more via their AppExchange. Make it as easy to use or as complex and comprehensive as you want. Build dashboards and reports or have them emailed to you on a scheduled basis. Similar to most of the services I’m showing here, Salesforce is available on all devices via the website, as well as iPhone/Android via an app. You can integrate with Outlook, and even have Salesforce create template proposals or quotes for you.

  • Salesforce: CRM software on the cloud. $15-$60 typical per user per month.
  • Replaces: In house CRM’s that cost thousands of dollars and require IT staff to maintain and modify.
Salesforce Mobile
Salesforce Mobile

Dropbox for File Transfers/Sharing

You’re at your desk with a 12MB PDF that you need to send to a customer, and their email system only accepts attachments up to 10MB. What do you do? Traditionally, you’d have your IT guy setup an FTP login and section for your customer, with username and password, or uploaded it to your custom setup intranet/customer area online. Nuts to all of those options, we’ve got work to do!

Dropbox gives you up to 2GB for free to share larger files. And like everything else  in this post, Dropbox is available online, on your PC and on your mobile devices. So if push comes to shove, you can open that 12 MB pdf on your tablet when you meet with your customer. And don’t worry about updates. Dropbox magically synchronizes files in the background.

Dropbox: large filesize sharing is free up to 2GB, with larger sizes and other collaboration options available for a fee.

Replaces: clunky FTP access or expensive customer accessible intranet setup.

Dropbox Mobile App
Dropbox Mobile App for Painless Screen Sharing

Have you ever been on the phone with someone trying to describe something on your computer and been frustrated at the results? I sure have. These days, there are a plethora of choices to share screens or virtually go over a document with a customer, but my favorite is

Rather than paying a monthly fee for GoToMeeting, Webex, or Live Meeting, offers quick and dirty screen sharing. You will still need to have the person on a phone call (or Skype), but makes the screen sharing part extremely quick and easy. also has an Android and iPhone app so that you can even view someone’s screen on the go.

  • Quick screen sharing for free for up to 250 viewers. Paid version includes more options and conference lines for $20/month.
  • Replaces: The need for hardware or monthly screen sharing costs screen viewing on Mobile screen viewing on Mobile

Hamachi for Networking

Let’s say you started your business before all this magic cloud-based stuff was around and you have some in-house resources like an email or file server that you need to access remotely. Traditionally, you would need to create a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which can be a bit complex to setup and maintain. Hamachi makes simple setup of a VPN a lot easier.

  • Hamachi: Easy VPN network creation
  • Replaces: Need for complex VPN setup by IT

And there you have it, my favourite picks for simple and cost effective IT solutions. Try ’em out and let me know what you think.


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