Keith Cowing

Keith Cowing

Product guy. Entrepreneur.
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10 Must-Have Tools for Entrepreneurs

January 18, 2010

There are so many great tools for entrepreneurs and business owners these days. Here are 10 of my favorites. There are plenty more. But these are a few that will make life easier so that you can focus on your core business.

Gmail: It’s free (or $50/year if you want the Enterprise version). It’s fast. You can archive over 7GB of email in a free account and search them all in under a second (try doing that on Exchange). It lets you check your mail from other accounts, aggregate them in one place, and send from multiple addresses. Not to mention that it’s all stored in the cloud so if you ever have a computer problem, it’s not a problem.

Google Apps: Google Apps for your domain lets you easily manage your company’s web domain, users, and email addresses (with cheap URL registration from GoDaddy). Google Docs is great for basic collaboration and storing data in the cloud and Google Calendar is easy to use, syncs with all your devices, can be accessed from anywhere, and can be used to share your calendar.

Web Meeting Software: There are plenty of tools now to hold conference calls through the web with employees, clients, or partners. DimDim is really slick, requires no plugin download for attendees, and is free for up to 20 users. It’ll provide you with a voice dial-in number, a website for sharing your computer screen with attendees, and live video if you want it. WebEx is a step up (supposedly) if you insist on paying for the service or want a more mature product.

HR Outsourcing (TriNet, Paychex, SurePayroll): Payroll and HR management is a pain and not just because it involves draining your checking account twice a month. Don’t think about the little things. Let somebody else handle this and handle it right. Companies like Paychex and SurePayroll provide inexpensive payroll services (can be done through Intuit as well if you use Quickbooks) with options for 401(k) plans, insurance benefits, background checks, etc. TriNet and other Professional Employer Organizations officially hire your employees and manage everything, though you obviously decide who to hire and fire and how much to pay. Employee handbooks and other services can help reduce legal exposure as you grow.

File Sharing – Drop Box, Drop.io, Box.net: When Google Docs won’t suffice (sometimes you really need a PPT, PDF, or other file type) there are plenty of options for easy and secure sharing. Most are free for basic services and charge premiums for extra features and storage. Great for storing company pitches or files where formatting is important and Google Docs is not enough. They’re easy to share with investors or clients and will make sure you always have the latest version available (if you’re not a large enterprise, playing with Microsoft Sharepoint is probably not worth your time or money).

Automated Backup – ZumoDrive, Mozy: Don’t ever let yourself be in a situation where losing your computer would be deadly. Who knows when your laptop will get fried, lost, stolen, or left behind on a last minute trip? There are great options now that will handle automated backups when your computer’s idle and store all your files in the cloud. They may slow down system performance a bit, but they only upload new or updated files. Backup is insurance that you can’t afford to pass on. Free to get started, low monthly fee for unlimited storage (great for videos, pictures, and music as well as key business documents).

Craig’s List: Gotta love free job postings. This is becoming a legitimate recruiting tool, especially in the tech industry. Don’t pay for something if you don’t have to. Enough said.

Smartphone: BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, etc. Everybody has one and you definitely need one. I use a BlackBerry but will be changing to Android as soon as Verizon gets a Nexus One (or the new equivalent). Syncing with Google services will be phenomenal. That’s me. Pick whatever you’re comfortable with but make sure that you’ve got fast email, search capabilities, decent web browsing, reasonable battery life, good voice quality (don’t forget that you might actually use your phone to call somebody), and a way to seamlessly backup all your data.

Google Voice: I started using Google Voice and I love it. The voicemail transcriptions that are sent to my email are priceless. If I miss a call, I can take a quick peak at my BlackBerry, scan the email and find out who called, why, and how urgent it is. Not to mention that with a Google Labs feature I can actually play the audio voicemail from within Gmail. The call routing functions are superior as well. Route the calls wherever you want (cell phone, home, office…) or turn them off as you choose (for example, do not forward calls to your cell on Sundays if the caller isn’t in your contact list). Don’t worry, they’ll still be collected in your voicemail box and you can easily manage your voicemails whenever necessary.

Twitter and Facebook: These are standard tools now and if you don’t already love them you should probably learn to. Twitter seems to be best for posting links to blog posts and interesting articles on the web. Use Twitter to connect with your customers and business partners. Don’t underestimate the power of recognizing your clients and calling them out in positive ways. Facebook is good for promoting your business but is also a powerful crowd-sourcing tool. If you want feedback from your friends on an idea, a blog post, or a business situation, why not use Facebook to quickly find out if any of your friends have suggestions?

I definitely didn’t hit all the tools that are great for entrepreneurs, but these are the first 10 that came to my mind. What are you using to grow your business?

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