Monday, July 28, 2008

4 must-have online tools (and they're free!)

Software companies finally got smart. The good ones anyway. Can you use a free project management tool? How about 2GB of free online backup? For small businesses, the 'free' version may be all you need to get the productivity you need. In this eBook, you will find four online tools that boost your productivity and not cost you a dime.

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You have probably suffered the minor (or major!) tragedy of a crashed hard drive. Eventually, they will all stop spinning. Mozy in an online data backup service that will automagically encrypt, transfer and store your most precious files. For individual users, they give you 2gb in the free account. Not bad at all. Depending upon your broadband connection speed, the initial backup could anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Once the first complete backup is done, subsequent backups will finish much quicker. To get started, you need to download the client software and install on your computer. They have a version for PC and Mac. They also have a Pro version for Windows servers or multiple computers.
Google Apps (
Google Apps is THE killer app of the last 10 years in this authors opinion. It is possible to create all types of standard documents using Google Apps. And, again - it's free. Google Apps offers word processing, spreadheets, presentations and online forms. All Google apps run in a browser, of course, and can be used with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, among others.

One killer feature for their apps is the collaboration and publishing. You can create a standard "word-like" document and invite other people to collaborate and view the document online. The best part, your original version stays in-tact. Once an invited users edits your document, a new version is created and all past versions are saved separately. You can revert to any version at any time. Think about how valuable that is for contracts and legal documents. No more emailing redline documents.

Here is an example of a sales proposal published using the spreadsheet app. You can also view the original version of this article, which as created using the Google Apps word processor.

Google Reader (
Google has so many products and services to use other than their search engine. The Google Reader is significant because it can aggregate just about any content that is viewable on the web. Content aggregation or "feeds" is nothing more than email-like threads of information that is specifically chosen by you. If you like sports, biking and fishing, you can "subscribe" to those topics using Google Reader and it will consolidate articles or websites and present to you all on one page. And it's real-time. As new content is published, you will see the updates on your personalized reader page.

This is great for business too. If you are an accountant for example, you can subscribe to tax updates, local business events and even the competition and it's all visible in one place. There is no limit to the content to which you can subscribe. This can also be overwhelming, so choose wisely.
BasecampHQ (
37signals is a killer software company. Their mantra is to create software that provides a core set of highly valuable features. Not a ton of bells and whistles - just elegant web-based software solutions. They have several products, but Basecamp is their flagship product and it provides automation for project management.

As with all their software, Basecamp is highly collaborative in nature. You can login and create a project, add several tasks and milestones within 10 minutes. Then, notify everyone involved in the project about their role and keep track of progress. No training is required to use Basecamp and their support is incredible. For $12/mo. you can run three projects at a time. Great for freelancers and small businesses.

Another cool feature is the file storage. Any type of file can be uploaded and shared with the project team. Oh yeah - you can subscribe to your project updates via Google Reader and watch progress in real-time!

There are plenty more free online services, but these can boost productivity without adding any overhead. Check out our blog for more helpful information.
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