Tech Savers Online and Offline

Harpreet Singh | Print Edition: August 2011

How to save money online
When your business is still in its nascent stages, savings in any form can help even out the columns of the balance sheet. Of course, as important as it is to reduce operating costs, it must be accomplished without compromising your operations and your product.

With all enterprises being driven by technology in the modern era, saving on it could give small businesses that extra breathing room on capital. From advertising to documentation and productivity tools, much of it can be done using free software and the Internet.

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Business owners can utilise the Internet for a variety of tasks, including creating an online marketplace or managing customer relations. Online tools range from merchants services for processing credit cards to calls over the Net to connect with customers and partners around the world. There are also free tools to replace your favourite paid wares.

The Internet has levelled the playing field and has helped small players cross boundaries of global market knowledge, big business costs and accessibility. Below are some online business tools that offer services for no cost and some others that can help reduce the cost of business requirements to successfully jump-start businesses with shoestring budgets.

Online advertising

Advertising is the lifeline of any business. Modern advertising has grown to become an integral part of our consumer-oriented economic system. It has undergone a fundamental shift, from print, with its long lead times, to the immediacy of social networking and the Internet. PPC (Pay Per Click) is the most common model of online advertising where you only pay when someone clicks on your advertisement link, where the chances of getting actual business are much more.

Google Adwords and Yahoo advertising are big players in this segment. On the other hand, social networks and microblogging services such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn can serve multiple roles with a single tool. 

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For example, you can network with colleagues, while also promoting offers or passing on information to existent and potential clients. Social networking is also cost-effective. Most networks have free memberships. You can also advertise on some with the PPC model.

Online tools

Forget pricey desktop apps and piles of paperwork to keep your businesses organised and updated. There are now thousands of small and medium businesses managing all their affairs using online applications.

Online applications are more popular than ever, particularly as broadband Internet access has become commonplace and cheaper than before. With online services and applications, you do not need to download and install to use them.

Just open a browser and access your data over the Internet. Here are some online applications for super-productive companies.

Fax: Fax or Facsimile is probably an innovation of the past. We rarely need it now, but really miss it when we do need it. Though today's world of communication is ruled by mobile phones and e-mails, fax documents are considered authenticated in the corporate arena. There are various free and paid services available. 

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Some popular ones are Qipit.com, eFax.com, Freefax.com, Faxmyway.com, scanR.com and Myfax.com. To send a fax, all you goto do is attach a file of a scanned copy of the document to your e-mail instead of dialling the fax number.

You can also receive the fax on your e-mail address as an attachment.

Online office suite
Office Suite: Google Docs, Zoho Docs or Office Web Apps all offer a suite of Web-based productivity apps including documents, presentations and spreadsheets. It allows for users to create, share and edit files in real time with free storage.

Timesheet: Tools such as MyClientSpot and TickSpot helps you keep track of billable hours, to stay organised, track leads, among other features. There's also SlimTimer, which makes keeping track of your tasks and sharing them with co-workers easy. You can also print reports with selected report type, date range and other options, or save reports to your computer in CSV format.

Project Manager: ReqMan is a good choice for businesses that need a project management tool. It's extremely flexible and configurable. You can view it as a bunch of 'legos' that can be put together to fit your needs. ClockingIT is another option. It helps manage your projects by setting timelines and assigning tasks and helps view overall progress with an interactive gantt chart. You can also run reports or get notifications via e-mail.

Online invoice
Invoicing: The popular Zoho online office suite has an invoicing feature that can be used for free for a few invoices per month, but you'll have to pay if you have numerous payment requests to make. It allows you to import and export data, set up templates, set up recurring billing and more. Other than Zoho, BillMyClients has import and export capabilities, allows you to save invoices locally at any time, HTML customisation for better branding, recurring invoicing, and PayPal integration.

Payment Tools: PayPal is one of the best ways to get paid online without pre-approved credit or expensive fees and extensive paperwork to open a merchant account. PayPal allows you to accept credit cards as well as accept payments from people who already have a PayPal account. The transactions are safe and secure and the reporting is very reliable and easy to use to help keep track of both income and outgoing expenses for your business. Westernunion and Moneybookers are the other alternatives.

E-mail marketing: Mail marketing, usually through your clients registering for a free newsletter, is one of the best ways to keep in contact with both prospective customers and existing ones.

You can provide all information on your products or services as you want it advertised. A handy e-mail marketing online service such as Aweber or ConstantContact can help you manage lists of names, allow visitors to register and unsubscribe and send out auto-response messages or pre-prepared e-mails on a set schedule. Once you set your autoresponder, the rest of the work is done automatically.

B2B Directories: Online b2b directories, such as IndiaMART, Alibaba and Tradekey, provide some free or nominal paid services to the small business owners and gives them global market access.

Every b2b marketplace has its own business model but are generally focused on trade enquiries for buyers and suppliers, business offers, buy leads and developing a web presence for its members-depending upon the services availed by registered members.

One of the best advantages of being with a b2b business directory is that they are not restricted to a geographical region.

Customer Service: Mojo Helpdesk allows you to track customer requests, keep your customers and your staff informed about what's happening with their accounts and deliver better service. InsideSales provides a lead management CRM suite that incorporates an auto-dialer and allows coordination between multiple departments dealing with a single customer. And HelpSpot, a help desk software, allows support staff to easily manage requests from multiple sources in addition to providing powerful self-help functionality.

and Offline...

There are various tools that are available free to replace costly proprietary software.

Office Suite: If you don't want to keep your documents in a cloud, one of the most popular substitutes for MicroSoft Office is Open Office. It is a full featured suite of tools for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics and database. It also supports the Open Document Format and is compatible with MS Office documents and has a built-in feature to convert your documents into PDF.

Accounting: GnuCash is a small-business financial-accounting software, designed to be easy to use, yet powerful and flexible. It allows you to track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses. As quick and intuitive to use as a checkbook register, it is based on professional accounting principles to ensure balanced books and accurate reports.

E-mail Client: Mozilla's Thunderbird is an easy and securee-mail application. It features multiple new enhancements to help you better manage your unruly inbox, and stay informed. Thunderbird allows you to customise your e-mail to suit your specific needs, be it how you search and find messages or even listening to music right out of your inbox.

Desktop Sharing: You are on tour and your colleague calls up to ask you how to do something relatively complex on his computer or to give you some kind of presentation. In both the situations (or similar ones), you need to access or share the computer.

With TeamViewer, or similar programs such as UltraVNC, LogMeIn and Crossloop, youve got a cost-effective, one-stop solution for screen-sharing and accessing a remote desktop across the Internet. Most importantly multiple people in different locations can work on a presentation or a project plan simultaneously from their computers.

VoIP: Skype is one of the most widely distributed applications on the web. Skype for business makes it possible to interact with clients and employees via video conference. This VoIP phone service allows video conferencing and file and data sharing. Many clients use Skype and implementing it into a business model will be beneficial.

PDF Writer: The PDF format has become one the most common formats to share information, be it a report or performance graphs. The Bullzip PDF Printer creates a PDF document from pretty much any application.

You just need to print your document to the PDF printer, a pseudo-printer created during installation, and it creates a PDF document. The ability to password protect your PDF files, adding a watermark, option to choose from different levels of output quality are additional key features. It is free for personal and commercial use for up to 10 users.

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