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Useful sites for small business

Elsa Wenzel | Sept. 30, 2011
Whether you're running a business out of your den or from a penthouse in the sky, you don't have time or money to waste on second-rate tools. These well-designed services and resources are among the best the Web offers for small and midsize businesses. Some include apps for smartphones and downloads for your desktop, but all of them provide the bulk of their features within a Web browser.

Whether you're running a business out of your den or from a penthouse in the sky, you don't have time or money to waste on second-rate tools. These well-designed services and resources are among the best the Web offers for small and midsize businesses. Some include apps for smartphones and downloads for your desktop, but all of them provide the bulk of their features within a Web browser.

Productivity

In the land of full-featured productivity suites, the battle royal rages on between Google Apps for Business and Microsoft Office 365. Upstart Zoho, meanwhile, has a loyal fan base of its own. We tend to prefer Google's tools for lean companies with little need for the desktop Office applications included with Office 365.

The free note-taking tool Evernote works in your browser, on the desktop, and on nearly any mobile device, so you really can carry your notes with you. If you've uploaded handwritten notes from a digital pen or a tablet, its basic OCR (optical character recognition) function might even read your handwriting to help you find a "needle" in a haystack of notes. For shared notebooks and video, Evernote costs $45 per year. (Evernote looks eerily similar to Microsoft OneNote. The latter tool is much clunkier in a Web browser, but worth checking out if you own a Windows Phone 7 handset.)

VMWare's SlideRocket is a beautiful, cloud-based alternative to PowerPoint (and Google Docs' weak Presentations). All of your content lives on SlideShare's servers, so team members can see one another's changes in real time. You can easily share and embed slideshows, or conduct a Web meeting to walk people through them. SlideRocket costs $24 per person per month.

Need to brainstorm in a more structured way than in a long text list? Want to visualize your thoughts in a flowchart? Mind-mapping tool SpiderScribe is a breeze to get started with, and it's free.

Communications

If you conduct business from multiple phones (who doesn't?), Google Voice is a godsend. It provides one phone number that rules all of your other ones, so you can white-out all the other digits on your business card. You can use this number to forward calls to your other lines, record calls, and even set your existing phone number as the Google Voice master. Its voicemail text transcriptions produce great bloopers sometimes, but usually communicate the gist of a message. You'll find a decent Web dashboard, too, not to mention myriad mobile apps.

HipChat enables private, browser-based instant messaging among groups, with companion mobile apps for taking the conversation on the go. The service costs $9 per month for a dozen users, with plans reaching to $99 for 100 members (and beyond to enterprise-level support).

 

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