| OUTSIDE THE BOX
Simple Tech Tools to Help Your Business Soar in 2021
by Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig
Now that 2020 is in our rearview mirror, many small and home-based business owners are looking ahead to a new year—one filled with growth and promise. But where does one find tech tools and services to invest in? There is an abundance of articles and websites that offer ideas and suggestions, but the time it takes to research each is a job in itself. Finding information that meets the limited financial resources that small businesses often face can be overwhelming. This column discusses tools, apps, and technology-focused trends to help entrepreneurs compete.
FILE SHARING AND STORAGE
Email is the preferred method to communicate with clients and customers these days. However, things get tricky when images are involved. Size matters. Dropbox Basic used to be the leader in sending and retrieving files, but with the increase in entrepreneurships, the playing field has expanded. Most services also offer business plans, but the cost can scare away individuals just starting out.
Today, the most common service—and easiest for those who use Gmail—is Google Drive. Other services to consider include Box, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and Hightail (formerly YouSendIt). A relatively new service is Amazon WorkDocs. It pretty much acts like the others. You can get started for a low fee; however, it does seem to focus on larger organizations. “With Amazon WorkDocs, there are no upfront fees or commitments. You pay only for active user accounts, and the storage you use,” its webpage on pricing boasts. “In most regions WorkDocs costs $5 per user per month and includes 1 TB of storage for each user.”
Your small business—no matter the size—is designed to make money. Turning a profit is a must to stay in business, and proper financial management is the key to success. However, budgeting, paying taxes, and bookkeeping can be daunting. Intuit’s QuickBooks is a favorite for many because of its popularity. It also provides a feature to track your time and projects as you go.
FreshBooks is another service that keeps individuals and small businesses in mind and has accounting software specifically for freelancers and independent contractors. A search of financial management templates on OneDrive or Google Drive also can provide ease of use—at no cost—and can be used on your desktop and online simultaneously.
For those who are selling products, being able to sell wherever you are is a must. And when customers see something they want to buy, you want to be ready. Square, Apple Pay and PayPal are three apps to help customers pay on-the-fly. AllBusiness.com—which provides online resources for small businesses—also recommends Stitch and Vend for keeping track of sales, while tracking inventory and streamlining order fulfillment. All of these services eliminate the need for cash for transactions.
For remote workers, the need for organization is crucial to keep one’s sanity, especially during these challenging times. Employers also can benefit from managing several employees from afar. And by starting at free or for a low cost, the following platforms combine some of the previously mentioned services while not emptying your wallet.
Slack is an easy-to-use communication tool that can work alone or in tandem with your current email service. It also offers file sharing and storage. Formerly known as G Suite, Google Workspace begins with a $6 plan; however, it does offer a 14-day trial period. For fans of Google, it’s important that Workspace allows you to keep using all of your Drive programs without disruption.
Easy to set up, Trello offers a clean look, along with boards, lists, and cards to manage your workflow, helping you organize both your professional and personal obligations. Zapier allows you to link together more than 1,000 apps to automate your workflow, using the “if this, then that” model. BIT.AI Blog suggests, “For example, you could tell Zapier, ‘when I get a new email in Gmail, copy the attachment from Gmail to Dropbox, and alert me in Slack about the new Dropbox file.’” Zapier integrates with Slack, Google Sheets, and QuickBooks, to name a few.
Known for being a leader in news, trends, and information for startups and individuals, Entrepreneur also offers a plethora of deals and steals for all income levels at its Entrepreneur Store. By following the company on social media and/or signing up for regular enewsletters, you can find just about anything you need to maintain and grow your business—at a bargain.
THE FINAL WORD
Due to COVID-19, there are many services—including some of those featured here—that have slashed rates to meet the needs of remote workers and small and home-based businesses. I advise finding one to three that you like, playing around a little during the free trial periods, and then deciding which works best for your business. Remember, you can always upgrade or change as your workflow increases and your business grows.