Free Tools to Manage Your Business
One of the biggest challenges running a business is figuring out how to stay organized, and deciding what software packages are best for staying on top of the multitude of details we deal with every day. In years past, getting effective organizational tools to manage activities, communication, and collaboration required spending a great deal of money on software. The open-source software movement and several for-profit companies now provide powerful and free solutions to these organizational challenges.
Email, Calendars, and Collaboration
“Free email” isn’t a groundbreaking idea. The free Gmail service from Google, however, is far more than simply email. The browser-based mail client includes built-in instant messaging, and can be linked to a Google Voice account to provide a telephone number for incoming and outgoing calls, and free long-distance calling inside the continental US. Gmail can even send and receive mail from an existing mail account. The service also includes a full-featured Calendar which can synchronize with many cell phones, and includes advanced features like calendar sharing and delegating the ability to add and edit calendar entries.
Google Docs takes collaboration a step further, and gives you a very powerful free office suite for creating documents, letters, spreadsheets, and presentations. All of the documents created can be saved online, accessed from any internet connection, and can be shared with others. It is also possible to give permission for other users to edit documents, and they can be downloaded as Word-compatible .doc files or as PDF files.
For a small office or professionals who frequently work on the road, Gmail is a compelling alternative to traditional mail and calendaring systems, and provides an extremely user-friendly way to take documents anywhere. Advanced users will appreciate features like web-based videoconferencing, and everyone can appreciate the power of free incoming and outgoing phone calls. For more information, visit www.gmail.com .
Customer Relationship Management for Larger Organizations
Larger organizations and professionals with a large client base need effective marketing and contact management tools. SugarCRM is a free software package that provides enterprise-grade sales-force management tools, including task and opportunity management, keeping track of leads, organizing contacts and accounts, and giving marketers an easy way to keep track of prospects and follow-up activities. This package takes some effort to install, but provides extremely powerful features at an unbeatable price. SugarCRM is available online at www.SugarCRM.com .
Zimbra Collaboration Suite
Zimbra Collaboration Suite is a full-featured email, calendering, and contact management platform well suited as a replacement for Microsoft Exchange. Businesses that are unwilling to completely outsource collaboration and data storage to a third party provider will appreciate the ability to run an on-site Zimbra server, or to co-locate a server in a data center. ZCS is available in a free open-source version, as well as paid and hosted versions for organizations that require more features.
These free tools make staying organized and running a business easier and less expensive than ever. The time invested in learning to use these free tools, or hiring a consultant who is committed to low-cost solutions instead of selling expensive proprietary packages, can make your organization run like a well-oiled machine in 2011.