If you are starting your own business, you can’t hope to succeed in today’s commercial world without employing good, time-saving technology.
Fortunately, there are plenty of low-cost, or even, free tools out there that help small businesses to do those everyday tasks that much quicker and simpler. But, faced with dozens of different tools, the biggest problem is usually trying to work out which one offers the best solution.
So to help small business owners find the best time and money-saving tech tools, we asked Martin Bailey, author of The Useful Book of Gadgets, Gizmos and Apps, to share five of his favourite small business utilities that can give you the edge over your competition.
1. Run all the apps you’ll ever need from a USB stick
Portableapps.com is a downloadable platform that effectively allows you select, install and run over 300 apps from a USB stick.
You won’t find paid-for apps on here like Word or Photoshop, but there are plenty of open-source alternatives that will meet most users’ day-to-day needs, including Skype, photo-editing software, antivirus and even a completely free office suite.
It’s like having a completely portable PC that you can take with you anywhere. None of these apps need to install onto the host computer – they run entirely from the USB. You can also install apps to cloud services such as Google Drive or Dropbox, keeping everything in sync and accessible across different devices.
Portableapps runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS as well as other systems such as Linux.
2. Turn your phone into a photocopier and filing system
I’ve been using Scanner Pro – an app for iOS only – for several years now, and it is by far the most useful app on my phone for digitally scanning documents.
It doesn’t just take a photo of a document – it will find the edges, remove shadows and use ‘keystone’ correction to deliver you a perfectly cropped image to the same shape as your document, regardless of whether your phone was squarely above it.
You can save in full colour, greyscale or black and white, with the latter two reducing the resulting file size. You can also rotate pages as required and take further shots, quickly creating multi-page documents which you can save in PDF or JPG formats.
Scanner Pro is an absolute steal at under £3. If you’re on other platforms such as Android or Windows there are plenty of alternatives, but spend some time to make sure that they have features such as folder creation, password protection and cloud syncing.
More info: www.readdle.com
3. Manage your clients from anywhere
SuiteCRM.com is a free Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that allows you to store and share prospect and customer information on a PC, tablet or mobile via a web browser.
It installs onto a web server (which will cost you around £100 per year for the PHP/mySQL functionality required to run it). Alternatively the SuiteCRM website will host it from £10 per user per month.
It actually covers significantly more than just being a list of names and addresses. It can handle marketing projects, sales pipeline, shared calendars, store documents that can then be accessed by all staff, plan meetings, handle invoicing and even act as a support portal, allowing customers to log support requests and relevant staff being instantly notified.
It includes integration into popular email software such as Outlook and Thunderbird and there are dozens of third-party extensions to add functionality or connect to other applications. If you run a small business and are not using software like this then what are you waiting for?
4. Scan all of your business cards
If you are in a job where you tend to collect business cards you’ll know how difficult it is to remember details about each person. During a trade show, for example, you’ll meet dozens of people and end up with a stack of cards.
Camcard allows you to scan a card and, using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) it will read all of the text on the card (in 16 different languages) and drop it into relevant fields such as phone, fax, email, address and job title.
Once you’ve scanned and verified your data you can create folders to store them within the app’s searchable database.
As well as being able to share cards you’ve saved with others you can also add in your own cards which can be shared just as easily – very handy when you run out.
Camcard is available for all major mobile phone platforms and also has a plugin for Microsoft Outlook. At under £2 it’s an absolute must for business users.
5. Build and maintain your own website
If you need a website you have several options: Hire a web designer to write something from scratch, use one of the website builders offered by most web hosting companies, or use one of the many free open source Content Management Systems (CMS) that are essentially ‘a website to build a website’.
A CMS will provide you with a back end administration control panel for creating pages and linking them together. Editing pages is similar to using a word processor, so it’s very easy to add or amend content.
Two stand head and shoulders above the rest – WordPress and Joomla!. WordPress is much more popular, powering over a quarter of all websites, while Joomla! covers around 2.7%. However, each meets slightly different needs.
Building a site using either system after the basic installation does have a bit of a learning curve, but again there are plenty of tutorial videos to get you started.
What really makes these systems so powerful is the vast array of extensions that you can easily install to extend their functionality. Directories, forums, shopping carts, auction systems, calendars and photo galleries are just some of the components that can enhance your site, with many of these available free or at very low cost.
These are just five tools which, for virtually no cost at all not only make day-to-day tasks much easier but also make you easier to do business with.
Having information at your fingertips and being able to pass it quickly is critical in an age when people expect an instant response or will take their business elsewhere.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Martin Bailey. His love of all things technological has also spawned several marketing, website and gadget-related books, with The Useful Book of Gadgets, Gizmos and Apps, out October 4th on Amazon being the latest.
ByteStart is packed with lots of help and great advice on all aspects of running your own business. Try some of our most popular guides and articles for starters;
- 5 things you must do when you go self employed
- 10 advantages running your business as a limited company has over being a sole trader
- How to set up a limited company
- 10 Do’s and Don’ts of writing a business plan
- Which types of insurance must your business have?
Funding your business
- How to maximise your chances of securing a small business loan
- A Guide to ‘Alternative Finance’ – the new funding options for startups and small businesses
- Finding finance for your new business – funding advice for start-ups
- How peer-to-peer lending offers businesses a new funding option
- What to do when the bank says “NO”!
Tax & Accounts
- 10 ways small business owners can pay less tax
- How to choose the best online accounting software for your business
- Book-keeping basics every new business owner must know
- A Guide to the main business taxes
- Dividend tax changes from April 2016 – A summary of the financial effects for small business owners
Website & Online marketing
- Turn your ecommerce website into a deadly selling tool with these 5 steps
- 7 Mistakes you could be making with your website
- Making your business a success online – A Digital marketing guide for small business owners
- A Practical guide to Content Marketing for small business owners and start-ups
- When to get SEO for your website, and when not to
Going for growth
- Developing your startup’s greatest asset – YOU
- How finding a great mentor could help you to grow, and your business to flourish
- The 3 issues you’ll need to overcome if you want your start-up to reach £1m turnover
- How reverse mentorship can help drive fresh ideas, develop staff and help your business succeed
- Barriers to growth – how to identify them and how to overcome them
- Which types of insurance must your business have?
- Becoming an employer – Your responsibilities when you hire staff
- Health & Safety compliance for small businesses – where do you start?
- A Guide to the National Living Wage for small business owners
- Dismissing a member of staff – what you need to do to stay on the right side of the law