Technology can be a small business owner's best friend. It can help you work more efficiently, find more customers, and save money while doing it. Here is a high-level look at 12 areas where technology can help your small business become more profitable and productive.
Online Business Training
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As a small business owner, knowledge and a desire to continue expanding your experience is invaluable. With unlimited time and a boundless budget, you could travel the world to participate in live training and educational events. Of course, most of us are restricted by limited finances and time challenges, so that's usually not realistic.
Self-paced training and free online business training programs are an excellent way to expand your know-how, right from the comfort of your own home or office when it suits you best. There are a number of exceptional online business training resources that cover just about any topic you'd want to learn about. Once you know how to select an online business training program, the possibilities are endless.
Open-source software provides small business owners with alternatives to using mainstream commercial applications in the day-to-day management of their businesses. Open-source software is attractive for many business owners because it typically requires no financial investment and frequently has the flexibility to fit perfectly with a business owner's needs.
One of the most popular open-source tools available is OpenOffice.org, an office software suite with word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more.
These days, small business owners are not tied to an office or computer in order to do their work and stay in the loop. One of the ways that business owners can take their business with them is by using an alternative to a traditional landline as their telephone service. Cell phones, VoIP, and virtual phone lines are a few of the options available.
So much of what we do as small business owners has a virtual element. Being able to conduct conference calls with a group of team members and/or clients at different locations is one example of this. There are many teleconference services, some free, that give small business owners the ability to conduct teleconferences with multiple parties — anytime they want — without needing special telephone or bridge line equipment.
There are also a number of Web conferencing tools that allow you to connect with team members located all over the world, almost as if you're face-to-face.
Time Tracking Tools
Whether or not you bill your clients hourly, small business owners can find significant value in keeping track of where their time is spent. This has a number of benefits including making your project estimates more accurate and helping you boost your own productivity.
There are many time tracking tools available, including desktop applications, online tools, and even services integrated into larger project management or bookkeeping software.
Online Invoicing Services
Bookkeeping applications come in many shapes and sizes. But depending on your individual needs, you may not need an extensive accounting suite to manage your books. In fact, a streamlined online invoicing service may be an appropriate alternative for your business that allows you to manage your billing process quicker and more proficiently.
When it comes to getting paid, technology also provides many online payment options.
Remote Desktop Applications
Again, technology solidifies the connection between small business owners and mobility. Having access to your primary computer and all of the data on it when you are out of your office — and being able to view or modify it from your iPad or smartphone — can give you an edge when it comes to managing your business.
Remote desktop access applications, such as GoToMyPC and LogMeIn, can keep you connected even when you're not sitting at your desk.
Screencasting is creating a movie that shows specific activity on your computer screen with voice-over narration that you can share with others. Screencasts can be used for a number of purposes including tutorials, demonstrations, and lessons. There is quite a variety of screencasting tools available to small business owners with varying levels of complexity and functionality.
Online File Conversion
If you have to convert an unusual file format and don't have the necessary software, or if you're working from a different computer, online file conversion tools can make the process fairly quick and painless. There are services to convert documents, audio/video files and even graphics to a new file format.
Being able to take a picture of something you see on your computer screen is extremely useful. You may need to submit it with a support request to a vendor, include it as part of a walk-through in an operations manual, or simply use it to trigger your memory later on. Some screenshot tools will even integrate with your screencasting tools, creating visually rich demonstrations.
Help Desk Applications
Customer service is important for all business owners. One of the ways you can incorporate customer service into your business and into your website is through a help desk/customer service application. These tools enhance your ability to be responsive to your clients' needs and can make the process of managing relationships a lot smoother.
Online Appointment Scheduling
Whether you need to schedule an appointment with a client, arrange a product demo for a new prospect, or even plan a personal lunch with a friend, online appointment schedules let you manage everything in one place. You can save time by allowing others to select slots from your calendar and see at a glance what meetings you have coming up.
Online appointment scheduling also allows you to create a system that gives someone other than yourself access to your calendar, removing the meeting management task from your own list.