Each year seems to get better with inexpensive, innovative technology for small businesses. And for 2009 I’ve found some excellent products to recommend for you.
Here is my annual list of 10 tech tools you can’t live without in 2009. These picks can help you be that well-equipped entrepreneur running a successful and mobile business, being more productive and having more fun -- with less drudgery:
- iPod Touch-- Last year I recommended the iPhone. But I got a 16 GB iPod Touch for myself. The iTouch is like an iPhone without the phone. In essence it’s a PDA combined with an iPod for downloading podcasts, music, and video. I wanted to continue using my existing telephone because it’s comfortable to hold against my ear. But I couldn’t pass up the iTouch’s ability to sync my Outlook calendar and contacts; get access to Gmail when on the road; and surf the Web. Many of the iTunes Store apps also are available for the iTouch to expand functionality.
- Twitter tools-- Twitter, the 140-character micro blogging platform, is rapidly evolving as the place where small business contacts are being made and expanded, and conversations are happening. Here are three must-have Twitter utilities: TweetBeep, which sends you email alerts when your name or URL has been mentioned on Twitter; Mr.Twitter, which allows you to intelligently expand your Twitter contacts; and the Twitter Tools plugin for WordPress which allows you to pull in tweets to display on your blog and allows you to post blog posts on Twitter from within the WordPress application.
- Google Apps Premier for Business-- Google has created an offering that is hard to turn down for small businesses needing to bring together a distributed workforce or virtual team. For $50 per user per year, you can get Gmail with a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee using your own domain name for e-mail addresses. Among other things, you also get use of Google Calendar and Google Sites, which can be used to create a simple company Intranet. Best of all, you can do it yourself, or find vendors who will set you up on Google Apps inexpensively through the Solutions Marketplace that Google has established.
- Amazon Web Services-- Amazon Web Services, a division of Amazon.com, provides inexpensive cloud computing infrastructure. Among the services are Amazon S3 storage for backing up company data and websites and Cloudfront, which allows your website content to be distributed from multiple points to enhance speed no matter where users are located. There are no long term contracts required. You pay as you go, and for only as much as you use. And it’s pretty cheap.
- HP Touchsmart PC-- This is a visually stunning personal computer that has several aesthetically pleasing, productivity-enhancing features. It is a CPU and monitor in one. As the name suggests, you can navigate by touching the screen if you wish. And it has a unique way of presenting applications, with fanned-out and scrolling displays of its software applications and media. It’s primarily targeted to consumers. But some small businesses are seeing the advantages of the large monitor size (from 22” to 25.5”) which lets you have several applications visible at once. Also, the clarity of the high definition monitor makes it ideal to display a video feed or photo slideshow in a business lobby or at a trade show, for instance.
- Flip HD Mino Video Camera-- Everyone from the New York Times to my video guru friend Jim Kukral is “flipping” over the Flip. It’s a very small, light, cheap camera that takes good quality video for the price (and can deliver HD output). It has a USB plug so you can plug directly into a computer to transfer the video. It even comes in a range of beautiful color combinations like pink, lime green, and black. Video is increasingly more important to have on your website to get found in search engines, and what easier way to get started creating video for your website.
- Mini notebook computer-- Entrepreneurs have discovered the joy of not lugging around a laptop that weighs seven pounds. Instead, the latest thing is the mini notebook: ultra light, small, pared-down notebooks weighing less than three pounds. They’re now being called “netbooks” because their optimum use is to connect to the Internet and use applications in the cloud, with few apps loaded on the machine. The Asus Eee PC is one of the smallest and cheapest, retailing for a little over $300. Dell has its Inspiron Mini 9, which comes in stunning colors like cherry red. Just remember that with most minis you will sacrifice some comfort (keyboards are less than full size), features and computing power, in exchange for easy portability.
- Business card scanner-- If you attend a lot of conferences and networking events, you’re likely to end up with stacks of business cards that go into a drawer. It took work to make those contacts, so make sure you capitalize on all that work by inputting the information into your contact management system. A business card scanner will save you considerable time. I use CardScan and find it to be very accurate -- it even seamlessly transfers the scanned information into Outlook.
- Digital picture frame-- HP has a nice line of digital picture frames to display your favorite digital photos. The smallest is a 3.5” digital picture frame that is no bigger than a coffee cup. It stores/displays 45 images. You can download images directly from your digital camera by inserting your camera’s SD memory card into the frame. It is battery operated, so there are no wires. It includes an AC adapter. Best of all, it retails for around $59, making it affordable as a holiday gift to give employees or customers.
- Backup iPod battery-- Although Apple has improved battery life in its second generation products, your battery life could be as little as two or three hours for an iPod, iPod Touch, or iPhone. If you use yours heavily while on business trips, you will eventually run out of juice. That’s where the Richard Solo Backup Battery for iPods and iPhones comes in. The device will recharge your battery either partially or fully. So the next time you’re trying to watch two movies on a four-hour flight on your iPod Touch, you can get through them both before you have to find an electrical outlet or plug it in to your laptop.
- Bonus tool: The Mobigrip-- There’s no sadder sight than a Blackberry Curve with a cracked display screen because it fell out of your hand to the pavement. The Mobigrip is an inexpensive little helper that sticks to the back of any mobile device and has a little bungee cord that wraps around your finger. Voila -- your mobile device stays put. At first I was skeptical, but it really works and it’s reasonably comfortable. It’s inexpensive enough that you could have a supply customized with your logo and give them as trade show swag or customer gifts.
And if you are curious about last year’s picks, visit: Must-Have Tech Tools for 2008.
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.