Small Business Tools
5 Tools You Need to
Start Your Business
Starting a business can be hectic. We show you how you can use
some important tools to make things a little easier.
Starting a small business can seem overwhelming. It's easy to get bogged down in setting up key operational functions like financing, communications and technology. While these are all critical, spending time researching, purchasing and implementing them takes precious time away from actually running and growing your company.
Fortunately, both the technologies behind these business necessities and access to information about them have come a long way in the last several years. You can now leverage free online research to select the services that best fit your needs. And in many cases, you can also order and implement them all from the comfort of your computer.
Tool #1: Financing
Just about any small business can use all the financial help it can get. In the current economic climate, unsecured small business loans are often impossible to get. Fortunately, there is still a form of unsecured financing available to anyone with good credit history: credit cards. Countless successful businesses would never have gotten off the ground were it not for this critical source of financing. While it's ok to use your personal credit card for business expenses, business credit cards are a better option. They can keep all your business-related expenses separate from your personal ones (useful when tax season rolls around) and manage your company's expenses, like computers, printers, business travel, and business cards.
Besides being convenient, many business credit cards give back: cash-back or points-based rewards, online tools for keeping track of your company's purchases, and card-member perks, such as discounted flights and hotel rooms. Look for a card like the Chase Ink Cash Business Card which offers no annual fee, up to 5% cash back on purchases, a $150 bonus on your first purchase, and a 0% introductory APR for the first six months, which is essentially a six month interest-free loan. It's easy to compare credit cards as well as apply for them online, so there's no need to leave your desk to get your business financing off the ground.
Tool #2: Communication
When it comes to business basics, it doesn't get more basic than phone and fax service. While it can get pricey and complicated to install your phone and fax services, the Internet has made it possible to deliver them at a fraction of the cost with far less hassle.
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a technology that allows you to make phone calls over the Internet, thus avoiding the phone company and slashing your telecommunications costs dramatically. VoIP sends and receives calls through your already existing high-speed Internet connection. And it gives you a lot more features than a traditional phone service. You'll have extensions, voicemail, virtual PBX, conference calling, call forwarding and much more. The best part is they're all included at a price that traditional phone service can't match. And whether your business has just one employee, or hundreds, there is a low-cost VoIP solution to meet your calling needs. The Internet also makes it easy to submit your phone requirements in one place and get multiple competing VoIP quotes.
Many business VoIP services include an Internet fax service, which allows you to send and receive faxes without having a machine yourself. You can manage it all from your computer and no equipment is required. Instead, you'll be able to send, store and receive PDFs from anywhere, saving you money and helping you go green. If you're happy with your current phone service but just want to replace the fax machine, there are plenty of great options for a stand-alone Internet fax service.
Tool #3: Website Hosting
Regardless of whether your company conducts any business online, the Internet is the first place many of your potential customers will turn to learn about you. If you don't have a website for your business, those customers may be getting questionable or erroneous information about you from somewhere else. Bottom line, a website will get your message to customers on your terms, as well as provide vital information about your business.
Fortunately, building and hosting your own website has become very, very cheap and there are many great options out there. Look at some reliable web hosting reviews and comparisons to find the service that’s right for you. Some offer bargain basement hosting at less than $4 per month and others cost just a little bit more but offer tools to make getting set up simpler for beginners.
Popular features that many of the best web hosts offer include a free domain name for life, email hosting, and a user-friendly, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) website builder. If you're new to web hosting, look for good customer support. If you want to sell your goods through your website, make sure the web hosting service offers e-commerce options.
Tool #4: Online Backup
The most valuable part of any new business is its business data (client contact information, product catalogs, email threads), so the last thing you want to do is lose it. That's where online backup comes in. Online backup services store data "in the cloud," which means if you accidentally delete important files or your laptop gets left behind in a cab, you can access your information again from any computer with an Internet connection.
With business plans from, for example, Carbonite or Mozy, you can keep hundreds of gigabytes of spreadsheets, text documents and even emails in MS SQL server databases and Exchange servers. Many services are also compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley, SEC, HIPAA and other business regulations. With online backup plans costing as low as $4 a month, you can't afford not to back up your priceless data.
Tool #5: Meeting Tools
What happens when you need to brainstorm but your team members are in different locations? Or if you need to deliver a slick presentation to a prospect in London but don't have the budget to fly there? Online meetings (also known as web conferences) can get you there. If all the parties have computers and Internet connections, travel costs and telecommuting workers don't have to get in the way of your small business's productivity. Online meeting services like GoToMeeting allow meeting members to share screens, chat, send and receive files and collaborate on documents.
Don't get overwhelmed by everything it takes to get your small business going. With the help of online research and tools, you can do it more quickly and cheaply than you imagined. Once you've gotten your operations set up, you can actually focus on building your business. Do what you love, and let online services take care of the rest!
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