The year 2008 is when I resolve to unchain myself from my desk more. I intend to spend more time with clients and other business owners. And technology is going to play a big role in my plan. Technology has the power to liberate me from the chains that bind me to my office. It frees you from repetitious drudgery, making my work life more enjoyable, too.
That’s why I get so excited every year end. This is when I get to share my picks of the tech tools that every well-equipped entrepreneur should have for that liberated business lifestyle. Here are my choices for ten tech tools you can’t live without in 2008 -- with an emphasis on saving time, keeping you enthusiastic, and liberating you from drudgery:
- iPhone -- The iPhone is just cool. What else can I say? There may be other handheld devices that perform more functions and allow you to leave your laptop behind when you go out of the office for the day or on a short business trip. But for pure fun in surfing the Web, the iPhone is it. Not to mention that it’s a great conversation piece at the local Starbucks that can help break the ice and initiate some professional networking. Sometimes you just need something that makes you feel “in” -- in addition to helping get you out of the office.
- Start page -- Start pages are free webpages that serve as personalized home pages. On them you can add bookmarks, e-mail, widgets and more to organize your Web activity and communications. I run all my Web business operations from a start page at Netvibes.com. I have links to all my blog admin screens; my traffic stats; my RSS feed statistics; my social bookmarking profiles at places like LinkedIn; and even fun stuff like the local weather and motivational quotes of the day. It keeps me organized and saves time. Other start page options include: PageFlakes.com; iGoogle, My Yahoo and Protopage.com.
- Business dashboard -- Make 2008 the year you resolve to create a business dashboard for an overview of how your business is doing -- and really use that data in your accounting program. MyBizHomepage is a fabulous free Web-based service that imports your QuickBooks data and gives you a series of reports in a dashboard so you can see your business at a glance. And since it is on the Web, you can access it anywhere. You get the kind of dashboard that previously only big companies had access to.
- Wireless Broadband -- As someone who travels on business an average of twice a month, I usually carry my laptop with me. But then I find myself arranging my travel around getting Wi-Fi connections -- not to mention paying through the nose for Wi-Fi in hotels and airports. So this year I resolve to get a wireless broadband card so that I can be connected anywhere, anytime. Say goodbye to wasting time hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots. Say hello to being productive in those spare 30-minutes here and there while traveling.
- Jacquie Lawson Greeting Card Subscription -- You have to see the Jacquie Lawson greeting cards to understand why they are so classy and special. A subscription allows you to send an unlimited number of electronic greetings throughout the year for personal and business purposes. They’re not a substitute in every situation for a paper card or note, but for immediate greetings they are unparalleled. Trust me, it will be the best $10 you spend.
- Microblogging -- Twitter and similar microblogging tools are the hot new way to communicate. You type in a short message (on Twitter it’s 140 characters, or about one sentence). Your message gets broadcasted out on a public ”wire.” But you can choose just to follow the messages of certain people or companies. You can also send and receive the stream of Twitter messages on your mobile phone. Businesses use it to broadcast news, recent business blog posts and similar announcements. It’s also handy if you are at a large conference and want to find out what is going on in other sessions or where to meet up with other people.
- Facebook and LinkedIn profiles -- Facebook and LinkedIn have emerged as the two primary social networking sites used by business people. These services are a way to keep track of your business connections (and personal connections, too). And you can expand your network and “meet” other like-minded individuals -- i.e., meet the connections of your connections. Eventually another service may emerge as the new hot place, but for now it’s Facebook and LinkedIn. So get yourself a profile in each service, keep your profile up to date, and starting expanding your network. You’ll organize your contacts and be able to better keep up.
- Google Optimizer -- Google has been outstanding at introducing new services -- FREE services I might add -- and my latest favorite from Google is the Website Optimizer tool. With this tool you can do testing of alternate versions of Web pages, to see whether certain text or images or page layouts will convert visitors into paying customers. Don’t waste time guessing -- find out for sure what works on your website. Optimizer rocks!
- Voice recognition software -- Voice recognition software has been around for over a decade, and it actually works quite well -- so well, that I occasionally wonder why more people don’t use it. You have to “train” the software to recognize all your words, but after a couple of days it becomes 99 percent accurate. I find it great for breaking through mental blocks or writer’s blocks. Just put on your headset with microphone, and start talking. There are two major versions: Dragon Naturally Speaking, and a free version which comes installed with Windows XP/Microsoft Office. I use the free Microsoft version and a good headset.
- High quality headset -- Speaking of headsets, make 2008 the year you invest in a good quality headset for your computer. A USB headset is the most versatile choice, because you don’t have to worry about sound cards in your computer. You just plug your headset into a USB port on your computer. Voila! You’re ready to dictate using your voice recognition software; record podcasts; use Skype to make phone calls inexpensively or for free; and to listen to audio and video so you don’t disturb others in the same room. Logitech and Plantronics are two manufacturers of quality headsets.
- Bonus tool: purse organizer -- OK, gentlemen, this is for you too. Purse organizers -- inserts with a series of pockets -- can be used in your laptop bag, purse or overnight bag to organize all the stuff you need to lug with you when out of the office. An organizer can hold pens, iPod, phone, keys, credit cards, eyeglasses, PDA, small notebooks, post-it notepads, dry-erase markers -- you name it. You can easily move everything when you switch bags, too. Your life will seem so much easier when you are organized. And yes, they come in manly colors.
And if you are curious about last year’s picks, visit: Tech Tools You Can’t Live Without 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.