In the last couple of weeks, I've been testing and highlighting some of the best online business tools out there. First, I looked at the kinds of tools you need to form a new venture. Then I wrote about brilliant people-management tools. Up this week: simple apps for keeping your operations under control.
The ability to expense business purchases can be a lifesaver for any fledgling entrepreneur--as long as you have a system to track them carefully. Expensify lets you import a credit card statement and track expenses, create reports for expenses by category, and upload business receipts. You can link a business lunch to specific people for accounting purposes. A mobile app for every major platform lets you scan receipts and add the data (vendor, amount, etc.) automatically. The service is free for 10 receipts per month or about 20 cents for each additional scan.
Business-management software like SAP and Oracle can zap your profits quickly. SohoOS offers similar tools for managing inventory, creating invoices, and customer-relationship management for a much more affordable price. The site is geared for keeping a start-up organized: You can create a marketing plan, store documents online, and track your sales leads. The free version includes many of the business-management features, but a paid version for about $10 per month adds more templates and storage.
I'm a big fan of Mint.com, because it forces me to get organized with my personal finances. Outright.com is a similar service but is more business-focused. You can import bank records and credit card transactions, then generate reports that show profit and loss. The key benefit is an ongoing estimate of how much tax you might owe at the end of your fiscal year.
Making sure your website is up and running is critical. I like this simple service from Zoho that tracks not just whether the site is up or down but also how it is performing when a boatload of customers suddenly stop for a visit. Site24x7 can also monitor security and even your email server, and the reports are designed so that you can scan them visually in a few seconds.
Another tool from Zoho, Bug Tracker lets your developers track website bugs, share files with one another, and link to version control systems to make sure you've identified problems and prioritized them accordingly. The service costs about $40 per month to manage 20 projects, but only the $60 and $80 plans include version control.
GroSocial, which used to be a tool for increasing followers on Twitter (the company had a staff who would identify relevant businesses for you to follow), has now become more of a Facebook marketing aid. The service will help you perk up your Facebook page with, say, contests and product promotions. You can also create Twitter background pages using stock templates.
PressKing is a unique service in that it lets you distribute a press release to a network of about 200,000 contacts. The service also distributes press releases to social network contacts and via email. Prices start at about $50 for distributing a press release to about 500 journalists and bloggers.