Online basics – Free online tools for a small business

Running a small business these days requires you to communicate with people online. It’s simpler, faster and more cost effective to email a customer or partner than to send a letter. It’s also cheaper speak or chat with someone online then call them via the telephone. Sharing documents and collaborating online is a must these days. These are some advantages of using the internet for business. The hard part is choosing the right solutions that work best for you.

I recommend using online products that are simple and free. You don’t have to spend money to be organized online. All the basic tools I use are free or open source. Below is a list of basic online tools you will need to communicate and manage your business online and the products I recommend:

1. Email client: Thunderbird is a good free email client and is the best alternative to Microsoft Outlook, but it must be hosted on your local computer. It’s free to download and simple to use but not as robust as Outlook. I prefer an online client like Gmail because it’s web based and accessible from anywhere. It’s simple to use, has all the features of a paid email client plus an optional two step verification system for better security against hackers.

2. Office suite: Open office is probably the best free alternative to Microsoft Office. Please note that Microsoft Office is the best Office suite ever produced but you have to pay for it. I personally use Google Docs. All my documents are securely stored online and Google makes it easy for me to share any file to anyone with ease. I can even create a document and collaborate real time with a partner or client. Google also has a simple easy to use calendar and task manager.

3. Chat client with voice capability: The best and most used chat clients are Skype, Yahoo, MSN and Google’s Gtalk. I use all four of them because I have clients and partners that all use different messengers. I find Skype to be used more professionally and has more features than the others. They all offer decent voice and video quality as long as you have high speed internet and a good headset. For chatting I use imo. It’s a web based client that allows me to chat with anyone on Skype, Yahoo, MSN, Google at the same time in one application. That way I don’t have to have four separate programs running and I can access it anywhere.

4. Accounting software: GNU Cash is personal and small-business financial-accounting software, freely licensed under the GNU GPL and available for GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. This is used by many small businesses that need a system they can use offline where internet is not available. If internet is available, the following web hosted applications all work well: SohoOS, Freshbooks, Wave accounting and Zoho invoice. I have used them all and they are all very similar. GNU Cash is the closest you will get to Quickbooks but it’s not as simple to use as its web based counterparts.

These are the basic online tools anyone needs to communicate online and manage a small business. If you’re just starting out or if you’re trying to get organized. I recommend using one platform for your email, calendar, tasks and office suite. I use Google’s suite of products because its simple and everything is in one place. I can easily manage my emails, open/edit documents, view my calendar and tasks and network with my peers all in one place. Microsoft and Zoho also have a good complete set of products. You just have to take some time to set everything up.



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