How are you faring in these hard times? The recent economic down turn has hit many of us, especially with small businesses, rather hard. I don’t want to dwell on the tough stuff, because you know it. Instead I wanted to focus on opportunities available to save you money in these tough times. Today there are dozens of quality products and services available online, often free of charge, that are not only significantly cost saving but also boost efficiency and are extremely simple to use.
This article focuses on 10 tools I’ve been using to cut costs and improve efficiency in my business. They’re easy to use, very professional and integrate successfully into office work flows.
The recent economical crisis forced many small businesses to tighten the belt. We keep hearing about massive firings or cost-cutting emergency plans. Not fun, to say the least. But the financial crash can also serve as an opportunity for improvement. A harsh need to lower expanses can prove to be very efficient, especially now that the web is serving us with awesome freebies.
It’s incredible how many quality products and services are available online, free of charge, and a small business that learns to master these opportunities can save a lot of money.
I’ve gathered 10 such services that I especially like. These sites can help any small business cut costs. They’re easy to use, highly efficient and can successfully integrate with the office work.
The Law – Free Legal Assistance
A business cannot function without legal consultation, and while this site won’t go as far as representing you in court, it will certainly provide you with more than basic legal advice and assistance for free. Amongst the services available on The Law you’ll find a law dictionary, law outlines, a directory of lawyers, law-related articles and legal documents for download. But the most important feature this site provides is its forums, where you can post questions about contracts, copyright issues, cyberlaw or even lawyer jokes. If the forum failed to deliver the appropriate answer, you can ask for a free consultation meeting with an attorney in your area. I guess lawyers are not as greedy as we thought.
Wix – Create a Free Website for Your Business
Every business needs a website, right? Usually, companies hire web designers and programmers to help them with the complex and challenging mission of building a website. This costs a lot of money and can create problems in the execution and update process. Wix puts a stop to all of that.
Wix is an online flash-based app that enables anyone (seriously, anyone, even me) to create professional websites. The Wix editor is basically a drag&drop interface, where users can design their site from scratch or choose to work with an existing sample. The creating process is very simple and actually quite enjoyable. Wix does not require any knowledge of designing or programming, but the results still look very professional and respectable.
Check out these samples, created with no expenses:
internet is fun – Spread Yourself
Viral no longer means disease. It spells success. Everyone wants their product/service/vision spread virally across the web, generating millions of views with minimum effort. Internet is fun is designated for sharing web bits with viral potential. How does it work? Mike shares a site that he likes with 4 friends. 3 of them share the site with 6 other friends and so forth. This used to happen in the private sphere of our email inbox, but internet is fun took it upon themselves to liberate the inbox and transfer the viral action to the web.
Businesses get two main benefits from internet is fun. One is access to users who enjoy sharing and forwarding. Consider them your fwd minions. If they like your product, they’ll make sure it gets to as many people as possible. The other advantage is that the site allows you to track where and how your viral item travelled, who saw it, who forwarded it and what people have to say about it. It’s a very groovy site filled with young, internet savvy folks. A tip:if you want maximum results from them, try talking to them in their own language.
Mint – They Care for Your Money
Most people think the internet is only good for watching free vids or googling their new co-worker, but what would you say if I told you the internet is now capable of managing your financial issues – for free? Crazy as it may sound, Mint offers an online money management service that can not only keep an eye on what your money’s doing, it can also suggest new ways for you to save money.
Mint assist users in managing their investments, tracking their transactions, planning a balanced budget and even keeping up with it. While some people are still a little concerned with sharing their financial information online, Mint assures their users that their security policy is of the highest levels. If you ask me, it’s probably safer to use Mint than to trust your bank or Credit Card Company. A significant advantage of Mint is it’s terrific usability. I get completely lost around numbers, so I really need a simple mechanism to help me with my financial stuff, and Mint is exactly that.
OpenProj – Ultimate Free Project Control
Keeping track of all the different aspects of a project can be a real pain, especially since most of us are not natural born Gantt wizards. That’s why efficient project management for free, as provided by OpenProj, is a real blessing for businesses. OpenProj is an open source desktop application that aims to simplify the complexities of project management – scheduling, tasking, estimating, multi-dependencies coordinating, analyzing, resource assigning and all those depressing processes.
The interface is neat, simple to understand but still maintains a high level of professionalism. It’s one of those cases where “Intuitive” does not mean “For Dummies”. You can run Microsoft files, Primavera files and other external Gannt files with OpenProj, which is a great advantage because it allows you to easily integrate previous projects with it.
And on a personal note, I always support initiatives that battle Microsoft’s greedy ways. OpenProj is one of these brave initiatives, offering a quality free alternative to Microsoft Project (now available for only $599.99!!). Choosing OpenProj over Microsoft is by no means a compromise.You get a great product for free and keep $600. It’s just common sense.
DocStoc – Documents Heaven
Everyone has an online community these days, even documents. Meet DocStoc. This site successfully provides two time saving services for the cost of nothing. One is managing and organizing your documents. After uploading them, you can store your documents, create an embed code for them, share them with other people and keep track of who’s viewing them. It’s an excellent solution for messy desktops and crowded folders.
The other thing DocStoc offers is an immense variety of much needed documents concerning legal issues, business and financial matters, technology assistance, educational affairs and even showbiz. You can easily browse or search the huge pool of docs, available in more than 50 different languages. The documents are ranked according to different parameters (rates, views, downloads), and users can also write their own review about them. You can also browse the “Docsters”, meaning, the people behind the documents. This doubles as a good networking opportunity, as you can easily come across people with similar professional profiles as yours, or in industries you are seeking to connect with.
Free CRM – Smiling Customers
Businesses have customers and customers require Customer Relationship Management. Free CRM (the title is pretty much self-explanatory, I think) is a web-based CRM tool that provides a very clever method of tracking, organizing and analyzing your relations with the clientele.
As online contact with customers intensifies, the demand for more advanced CRM softwares grows accordingly. Free CRM deals with this demand quite well, delivering features such as email-campaigns regulation, contact lists management, multi-sources synchronization, simplification of the support system and many other professional CRM solutions. Compared to other free CRM products, Free CRM simply offers more no-cost services (a major plus is the Unlimited Users option, which other CRM tools charge for). Like any other company in this field, they also offer additional services for money, but from what I’ve seen their Professional Edition, sold for $14.95 per month, is substantially cheaper than other paid services.
Flickr Creative Commons – Pool of Visuals
I don’t know what I hate more about photo stock services, the fact that they charge a lot of money or the fact that the same photos are used in everyone’s marketing. Anyway, Flickr’s Creative Commons section solves both these problems very well. And then some. You get access to a massive quantity of photos that were uploaded by the site’s users, meaning, photos of real people and not unemployed models sitting in fake plastic living rooms. The quality of the photos is usually very good. And though I’ve never tried to use them for print purposes I can vouch for their benefit in online marketing campaigns.
A word of warning when you’re using photos from Creative Commons – be sure to pay attention to the license type chosen by the user. Some photos are not available for commercial use or graphic modifications, and you must respect that. Also, if you’re a Flickr user yourself and you’re using Creative Commons, it will only be appropriate that you share some of your photos as well. Consider it good for your business and your karma.
Babel Fish – Everyone’s a Translator
Yahoo! Babel Fish is definitely one of my favorite online tools. I often deal with texts in foreign languages that I somehow need to crack – fast. Babel Fish takes care of it with no bother. It’s the simplest mechanism in the world (you copy, you paste, you click, you understand), it translates all the major languages and it’s free free free. I used to work in an office that paid enormous amounts of money to a translation company, and often it was a waste. Naturally, you shouldn’t trust Babel Fish with translating mportant business and legal texts, but it is certainly capable of translating texts, emails and websites that you need to read, and competitors you wish to analyze.
There are two translation options available on Babel Fish. One is to feed the text you want to translate into a designated field (up to 150 words) and the other is to translate an entire URL. Google also offers a freebie translation tool, but I find Babel Fish more convenient and accurate than theirs.
Tech Support Guy – No Cost Tech Support
Paying a technician for every little thing that goes wrong was the expensive but only way for small businesses that don’t have in-house tech support. , Now you have an alternative: a brilliant site called Tech Support Guy. It’s filled with technology prodigies who are willing to offer their help for free. I’ve used Tech Guy’s assistance for so many different things – from office printer issues to my rebellious iPod. The answers you find in their forums are so professional it’s really hard to believe there’s no money involved.
For me, Tech Support Guy captures the essence of the future web communities. Soon enough, we will all be helping each other out for free.
This list is just the tip of the snow cone. There are plenty of excellent services and tools available online for free. If you think I left out something valuable, please share it with us in the comments below. And of course, let us know what’s working for you!