This post is about 4 tools available online that you SHOULD be using. The tools are essentially free (some charge you to go for premium accounts, but you can easily get by with the free versions as long as you are just starting out – and aren’t we all just starting out?)
Also, note, these tools will help you individually, to manage your next entrepreneurial bout with your market. These tools will not only cut costs, but give your an edge and will directly influence your personal work flow (and as you are an entrepreneur, your personal work flow sometimes is your business work flow).
Mozy is your ultimate backup champ. The ease with which the Mozy backup works is exactly like you’d want a ubiquitous backup application to work. If you already don’t have a Mozy account, please do yourself (and your enterprise/project) a favor and get one right now:
- Sign up for a free account
- Download the Mozy client for your computer (login required)
- Easily configure it to backup your critical folders
- And then forget about it.
That’s what I did, and only recently I checked, the backup was done 16 hours ago, and the file size (just topping out at 1GB) is well below the 2 GB limit that Mozy offers. Of course, this is all free.
And if you belong to the group of people who don’t take backups, perhaps you also need to be explained the realities behind the stork, Santa and unicorns as well. The latter are important, but the former – the backups – they are just too darn necessary, please.
The ‘main attraction’ for Mozy is that it takes automatic backups. ‘Automatic’ is the keyword here. Research shows (and I am making this up here ) that you don’t take a backup of your computer files because really, you don’t want to be ‘hassled’ into first finding a blank DVD, take out that Abba CD ‘out’ of the CD-ROM (shame on you), put the blank DVD in to the CD-ROM, then run a DVD-burning program, burn the files onto the DVD, then place the DVD in a safe place, only to forget what that ‘safe place’ was when you really do need to restore your backups. These are all ‘hassle-some’ steps. With Mozy, you just install it on your computer once, and your are good to go. Seriously, this is exactly what you – that lazy, Abba-listening you – would need.
While putting together this list of 4 Free Online Tools necessary for your business, I was tempted to just include Mozy as the backup tool of choice and not include Dropbox at all. But that is because sometimes I am stupid. I initially thought, rightly, that Mozy and Dropbox both store my files online on their respective servers, so therefore both are basically different tools for taking backups. That conclusion is stupid. You see, if Mozy’s game is ‘automated’ backups, then Dropbox’s game is ‘accesibility’ to your files from anywhere! Mozy is backups, Dropbox is mobility.
I use Dropbox to store files that I access on a regular basis. So if I update a file I use on my laptop, I get the same updated file when I log on to my PC. I could be using the Laptop in Pakistan, and accessing my PC in South Africa, the file would not only be accessible, but updated and ready. A typical real-life example is when you update your ‘accounts’ spreadsheet (yes, that’s right, not an Excel sheet, but a spreadsheet – more on that below).
So, to get Dropbox, simply download the Dropbox client. That will automatically install a My Dropbox folder on your computer.
Any file that you place in that folder, that file will get synced with Dropbox’s secure servers. To access that file on any other computer, you just need to download the Dropbox client from their website, and your files will be downloaded onto that PC and accessible and synced. Beautiful is the word here people, beautiful.
Agreed, this makes the Dropbox somewhat of a niche tool, that is used more by people who are usually on the move. But as this is a list targeted primarily for entrepreneurs, and mobility is always (or rather should always) be one of the priorities for any budding or seasoned entrepreneur, Dropbox shines out as a necessity. Given that it is free (up to 2GB of storage), it pretty much becomes a no-brainer to start using Dropbox and enjoying more mobility.
Google Apps should be like the main pole that supports the tent of your business communication. In many cases, Google Apps has the capability of being the tent as well, covering all gamuts of your communication needs.
A lot of enterprises start out with your average hosting and your average email servers. Ranging from anywhere between 20 USD per year to USD 300 per year, people are buying up domains and getting their emails set up with their hosting providers. The moment they actually start using the email service, they wonder how is the world so excited about emails when the emails are so broken (can’t access the mail server), so unreliable (the email never reaches the destination – or lands up in the oblivion of a spam folder) and so tiresome (a billion emails manually stored in to a million folders). Of course, these people don’t know what an enterprise-grade email setup should look like. Really, they don’t know what they are missing out on Google Apps.
If you are an entrepreneur and use email, take my word for it, there is no better ‘system’ out there than Google Apps. If you are not on it, you should be. It is free to begin with, allowing you to grow your business in to the premier version of Google Apps (which is still cheaper than Microsoft’s offering).
Consider the following as a real-life example how using Google Apps affects your personal productivity and saves costs (remember, Google Apps essentially is free, and gives you ample time to grow your business into it):
I use Google Apps for my email, calendar and document management. I started with email (the super-duper Gmail on my own domain) and then got comfortable using their Calendar application and finally their Google Docs.
I check my email either online or get the email on my phone (a Blackberry) – I don’t use email clients like Outlook, although Google Apps works well with Outlook too.
I use the calendar to set up any event that needs a reminder (it is anything ranging from birthdays, to the next FC Barcelona game to a meeting with a potential client – I run a small consultancy on online marketing and infrastructure). Thanks to Google, I can sync my Blackberry calendar with my Google Apps calendar (click here for more on syncing your calendar using Gmail and Blackberry).
The most interesting usage of Google Docs is that I now use it to Invoice my clients. I already have set up an Invoice template from the many templates available online at Google. Anytime I need to invoice a client, I save a copy of the invoice template, make the necessary changes (such as client name, invoice number, amounts, dates etc) and then share that document with the client.
Note that the document is placed on Google servers, and I just email a link to that document to the client. This keeps a central repository of my invoices. I have found this to be an effective way of managing the low volume of invoices that I need to give out to my clients. And whenever I receive any payment, I update the payment on the same document under the heading “Payments against the Invoice”, and then send an update to the client to acknowledge the same. This way, I get to have an ‘online record’ of all invoices and payments, that is accessible by me and any set of clients that I choose (privacy settings are controlled by email, so the client has to log in through his or her email, which makes this simple invoicing system quite effective & secure – so far). Although I do not suggest that you use this exact system for your invoicing, this should give you a fair idea on how you can ‘hack’ the system to suit your exact needs.
Using Google Docs as the standard document creation and management tool is, frankly speaking, not that good an option. Google Docs still has issues on offline mode and the whole experience does feel a bit awkward and sketchy. The charm that Google tries to sell, that of Online document access, is easily handled by using Dropbox combined with OpenOffice.
You are in business, or are planning to be into one – freelancing, enterprising, running your family business, starting a new one, whatever your circumstances, you would need to have a decent document creation tool. I have already mentioned that using the free Google Docs as your primary tool for this purpose is just not a viable option (yet). So you get what everyone else is already on, Microsoft Office. Now, as a principle, one must always spend wisely, right? Right. Spending the USD 350 or so dollars for Microsoft Office is not even under consideration here people, I suggest using OpenOffice based strictly on the principle of ‘spending wisely’. Again, I give you a personal example:
I have been using OpenOffice as a direct replacement for Microsoft Office for the past 8 to 9 months. Remember please, I prepare and deliver presentations, I prepare reports, write letters, print out bills, update spreadsheets with 100’s of customers, I do all of that on OpenOffice. Not once have I ‘missed’ any of the features available in MS Office (well, OK, I used MS PowerPoint to make and deliver one presentation).
All said and done, OpenOffice has served me just fine. I would go ahead and say that it is perfect because apart from being a direct replacement of the most popular office software (MS Office), OpenOffice is free (thank you Sun, the company behind OpenOffice).
Given that I have extensively used PowerPoint during my college days and have freelanced not only as a presenter, by as a presentation ‘maker’, it is only fair that I tell you that PowerPoint is the most useful software put out by Microsoft. Yes, yes, I know, Excel is considered the end-all of all products from Microsoft, but the thing is, OpenOffice Calc easily replaces the MS Excel when it comes to basic to intermediate usage. OpenOffice’s Impress (that competes with MS PowerPoint), on the other hand, has some way to go to completely replace PowerPoint for me. But for general, everyday usage, and given the savings, I’d suggest Impress over PowerPoint to most entrepreneurs. Unless you are not heavily into presentations (like me), you would do just fine with Impress.
So, with OpenOffice, you got a replacement for Word, for Excel (hells yeah), for Access and for PowerPoint. And you are 350 dollars richer. To download OpenOffice via their website, click here.
So, these are the four tools that should be a part of your arsenal. These tools not only help in reducing cost (as all of them are Free!), but these tools also are finely engineered to work seamlessly in the background and let you do what you set out to do in the first place: be enterprising.
If you found the above article helpful, do leave a comment/response – all sorts of feedback is appreciated. If there is anything you’d like to know about using any of the above mentioned tools, also ask in the comments section below.