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Essential Tools for Small Businesses

Apr 14, 2014 11:55PM ● By Erin Frisch

Whether you’re aiming to start a small business or you’re already running one, it can be a lot of work. Fortunately, there are plenty of low-cost products on the market that can help launch your entrepreneurial dreams or improve what you might already have in place. Read on to learn about several of the many tools available to small business owners.

Carbonite – Carbonite offers affordable cloud storage and online backup for any size business. Storing your information in “the cloud” actually sends it to data centers, where it is kept safe and is accessible to you in real time, anywhere you can access an Internet connection. Files are encrypted to provide maximum security. Carbonite is a leading provider of online backup solutions, with over 50,000 small businesses as clients. Storage is unlimited, and different tiers of plans are offered, depending on whether you need to back up one computer (starting at $59.99/yr), unlimited computers (starting at $269.99/yr), or servers ($799.99/yr). Discounts are offered to educational and nonprofit institutions. The plans for unlimited computers and servers are certified as HIPAA compliant, so if your business includes protected health information, this may be the solution for you. Carbonite is also able to restore lost files.

MailChimp – This is an email marketing solution that allows you to manage your contacts, send email, and track results. MailChimp offers a number of easy-to-use newsletter templates and the capability to customize your own design if none of the built-in templates fits your needs. MailChimp lets you create sign-up forms that match your business’s look and feel, and send your subscribers things like product updates, event invitations, announcements, and editorial content. It allows you to design email newsletters, share them on social networks, integrate with services you already use, and track your results. It even offers you the ability to segment lists and target certain subscribers, instead of blasting everyone. In terms of pricing, MailChimp offers tiered plans based on the number of subscribers you have (less than 2,000; up to 50,000; and over 50,000).

Expensify – Expensify offers easy expense reporting for both personal and small business use. Simplify the way your employees report expenses, how expenses are approved, and the way you export that information to your accounting package. Receipts and cash expenses can be easily scanned and uploaded, even through mobile apps, and email receipts can be sent to Expensify where they will be uploaded and entered, removing the need to manually enter each line item. Whether you’re the credit-card type or like to make your purchases with cash or by check, Expensify’s got you covered. Expense reports can even be created and submitted from your mobile phone. You can get reimbursed directly to your checking account. If you’re approving expenses, you can set basic guidelines, and the program will categorize them and point out any violations that occur.

Docusign – Docusign is the leading global solution for collecting and managing electronic signatures. It is based in the cloud and helps businesses (and individuals) collect information, automate workflows, and sign documents securely. It’s as easy as uploading your document, adding email recipients, tagging the areas in the document that need signatures, and clicking send. Once it’s signed, Docusign stores the document for easy retrieval. It can be accessed anywhere—on your home PC, while you’re traveling and using other computers, and even on your mobile phone. Docusign offers different tiered plans, depending on how many users you will have and what kinds of features you want.

Get Satisfaction – This is a platform that helps businesses create better customer experiences by facilitating online conversations about products and services offered. Designed with the customer in mind, it allows customers to interact with one another to ask questions, report problems, share ideas, and give feedback. The platform is intuitive and easy to use, and it’s optimized to be discoverable by search engines, allowing a large number of hits. It integrates with many platforms including Mailchimp, Google Analytics, Facebook, and Citrix. Businesses can use Get Satisfaction to find and acquire new customers, in addition to providing better service and building better products based on feedback.

Trello – Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. You can quickly see who is working on tasks, which tasks are actively being worked on, and which are finished. This tool uses boards, lists, and cards to create projects, separate different aspects of projects, and develop workflows. The interface is easy to learn and easy to use. If you have a lot of people working on different teams within your business, this is the tool for you. See each person’s updates on tasks in real time. You can also add a ton of information to your cards, including checklists, attachments, comments, due dates, and more. Everything is saved, even when tasks are completed. The tool can also be used to collaborate in real time with the employees working on tasks. Trello also has an app for your mobile phone and ranges in price from totally free to $50/month, depending on the kind of extras you’re looking for.

Do you run a small business and use tools that could be of help to others? Please share your insights in the comments!

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