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5 Top small business tools that will save you time, hassle and money

September 27, 2016

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

PortableAppsPortableapps.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 oscanner-prof 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

camcardIf 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.

RELATED: How to create business cards that make a big impression

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.

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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.

Further resources

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;

Starting Up

Funding your business

Tax & Accounts

Website & Online marketing

Going for growth

Legal issues