Sometimes the simplest tools can make the biggest difference in how productive your business is.
Every year, I pick five software or hardware tools that promise to make the biggest bang for the smallest buck and recommend them to business owners. These are tools that you don’t have to be a geek to use. This year, however, I see so many fabulous technology tools -- or technology-related tools -- that I couldn’t limit my list to just five. This year’s list has 10.
Here are my choices for the top 10 tech tools for 2007.
iPod Shuffle -- The newest iPod on the market is a tiny inch-and-a-half long gadget that clips on your clothes for convenience. It has 1 GB of memory and stores up to 240 songs. And it only costs $79. Load it up with songs or business podcasts, and you’ll always be entertained and informed, whether on a plane, waiting in a doctor’s office, exercising -- wherever. My question is: why wouldn’t you get one?
Laptop wheelie bag -- I used to think nothing of lugging a seven-pound laptop plus a couple of pounds of cords and gear over my shoulder while traveling. No wonder I often had a stiff neck for days afterwards. Then one day a friend gave me a beautiful leather briefcase on wheels -- and I was hooked. If you do much traveling with your laptop, a wheelie bag means you arrive at your destination without feeling like you need a chiropractor.
Bluetooth headset -- If you watch much TV, you’ve probably seen the commercial with the guy who says, “Bluetooth! What is Bluetooth? I don’t know!” That’s how I felt for the longest time. But one day a colleague explained that Bluetooth simply let me have a wireless headset for my wireless phone. I bought a Bluetooth headset recommended by my cell phone provider, and life has never been the same. I can clip the headset on, walk into another room away from the phone and still continue my conversation. Ah, liberation.
Free Google account -- Have you noticed the growing number of free tools available from Google these days? You can get everything from email (over 2.5 GB of storage) to spreadsheet software, to image editing software and much more. Set up a Google account and access everything from one account. A “must have.”
Kate Spade notecards -- Today, 80 percent of my correspondence is electronic. But to stand out in an electronic world, go counter-culture and send handwritten paper thank-you notes. Choose something stylish, modern and classy, like Kate Spade Classic cards. You will be memorable, I guarantee it.
U.S.Postal Service website -- And when you are sending those handwritten notecards, remember the dramatically improved U.S. Postal Service website. You can calculate and purchase postage online; print mailing labels with postage; schedule a pickup of a package, and track delivery. You can even create direct mail campaigns from start to finish, all from your computer. You may never need to set foot inside a Post Office again.
Accounting software -- Statistics say that over 50 percent of small businesses do not have accounting software, but still use paper ledgers or spreadsheets. Accounting software tracks and organizes your finances; makes it much easier to get prepared for tax time, and lets you run sophisticated reports that help you stay on top of your business. Without accounting software, I would not have half the reports and insight that I have currently -- it would just be too labor intensive to run reports by hand. Intuit’s Quicken and QuickBooks are popular and used by six million small businesses. Microsoft is now offering its Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 as a free download.
Virtual Switchboard -- My business is a virtual one, in the sense that everyone who does work for the company does it from their own locations and my “headquarters” is really just the place where I happen to be working that day. With an inexpensive, software-based virtual switchboard, we are able to have one business phone number for all of us, even though we are spread out over the country. Customers and others can call one number to reach us all, and we can forward messages back and forth. The price is right, too, at just a few hundred dollars a year.
PayPal -- Millions of small businesses -- including mine -- would find business a lot more expensive and laborious without PayPal. PayPal is the shopping cart that I use on my websites. I use PayPal to make purchases, especially on eBay and other places where I may not feel comfortable giving out my credit card information. I even use PayPal to do much of my invoicing, and receive payments from a number of customers. It is now an essential part of my business processes.
Smartphone -- Smartphones combine the features of a wireless phone with a personal digital assistant (PDA). You have more choice that ever and today’s smartphones are coming down in price. Smartphones and similar devices are the best choice today if you want to send and receive email regularly from your phone.
Technology is no longer only for the tech-savvy among us. It is a necessary component of every small business today. It saves money and time, and gives your business a competitive edge. Embrace it and your business can move ahead farther and faster in 2007.
Anita Campbell is a writer, speaker and radio talk show host who closely follows trends in the small business market at her site, Small Business Trends.