According to 1950’s B-movies and sci-fi novels, by now we should be living in domed cities on the moon surrounded by busy robots while we plan our extended leisure time. But while technology hasn’t quite caught up with that vision, there is a wide range of business software available that can help make running a small business simpler and more efficient.
The good news is that a lot of it is either free of charge or minimal cost - here are a few practical suggestions.
Working together online can be far quicker and more effective than updating and emailing documents to colleagues. With email, not only are you spinning your wheels waiting for a response, if more than one of the team is making amends and suggestions, you can soon run into problems with version control.
There are a number of solutions available for the small business, depending on your budget and the level of control needed. Applications that allow people to work together on the same document, adding or editing as they like, without an owner are particularly useful for marketing and other projects that thrive on creativity and shared ownership.
You don’t need thousands of employees to benefit from accounting software. As well as automating business essentials like invoices and payroll, it can also record sales, expenses and profits. Some software even allows you to analyse how the company is performing and reveal trends, offering the opportunity to make changes. Others can produce financial reports and help with tax returns.
There’s no doubt that Microsoft’s presence is pretty much ubiquitous in not just the US, but worldwide when it comes to PCs. However, for the small business, there are alternatives without the hefty costs or licensing fees.
Software like Apache OpenOffice, Oracle’s StarOffice or LibreOffice are either free of charge or low cost compared to the big guns and, just like their bigger brothers, typically provide word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics and databases. And they’re compatible, so there’s no need to worry about losing contact with your Microsoft-based customers.
Email systems can soon be brought to a grinding halt if you’re in the business of exchanging videos, photos or designs. Instead of having to resize attachments, or go through a tedious, ‘here’s email 1 of 4’ routine, file-sharing software could be the answer.
Dropbox has swiftly established itself at the top of the tree and boasts around 300 million users. For a small monthly outlay, Dropbox allows you to create a link to a file and send it to anyone inside or outside the business without the need to install software, or go through FTP servers.
Google’s own Google Drive is particularly popular with businesses and their customers who work with Gmail or other Google services like Google+ because of its easy integration. Storage is free up to a size limit, (currently15 gigabytes) with paid options available if more storage space is needed.
Travelling to meetings costs both money and time and reduces productivity. And while nothing is likely to replace face-to-face for that all-important meeting, conference or pitch, video conferencing can allow you to complete day-to-day meetings without having to leave the office.
Skype, Apple’s FaceTime and Google Hangouts are free, while Cisco’s Webex or Citrix’s GoToMeeting typically offer enhanced services such as greater integration, security and High Definition for a fee.
Note: we don’t necessarily endorse all of the companies listed in this blog post; we just thought you’d find the links useful. It goes without saying that plenty of other businesses offer similar services, so always do your homework to make sure you get the right service for you and your company.