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Operating a small business isn't easy. So, here’s a list of 25 must-have technologies that will help make your life easier and your business more successful.
Company: The Neat Co.
What it does: Scans and organizes business cards and receipts
What it solves: Organizational issues
A big challenge for SMBs is staying organized. At CES, I met with Neat Scanner and tried out the product. I came back from CES with my typical jumble of paperwork and business cards. Instead of stuffing them into a folder, I fed them into the scanner, which captured each receipt or card, categorized it and stored it. Now, instead of filling your pockets with receipts, you just snap a photo and load it into the cloud-based filing system.
What it does: Creates mobile apps
What it solves: Reliance on paper forms
With Canvas, you can turn paper-based forms into mobile apps. Many Canvas apps already exists for such industry sectors as health care, education and construction, but you can also send your form to Canvas, and they will turn it into a mobile app for $50.
Cost: $250 a month
What it does: Integrated marketing
What it solves: Integration of marketing and social media
The marketing tool recommended to me by small business owners is Vocus. Vocus recently rolled out a new feature, Buying Signals, which scours social media to find people who are seeking particular products or services. Then, it puts you in touch with the leads most relevant to your business. For instance, if you're an optometrist and someone in your city Tweets "I just broke my glasses," you'll be alerted.
Cost: Free to $99 a year
What it does: Schedules follow up emails
What it solves: Leads falling through the cracks
The trouble with leads is that most prospects do not buy immediately. Instead, they'll want to do research, kick the tires and may even have objections you must overcome. This is where many small businesses get tripped up: they fail to follow up. If you can’t afford an expensive CRM suite, check out Followup.cc, which lets you schedule a follow up to an email the minute you respond.
Cost: Free trial
What it does: Virtual agents for customer service over the phone
What it solves: Customer support problems viClone helps SMBs tackle customer support challenges. While phone support is prohibitively expensive, online customer service can also carry big price tags. ViClone's virtual agents are designed for SMBs. The agents have self-learning capabilities and can support more than 35 languages. Users are typically able to configure the virtual agents to answer their customers' top 15 to 25 most frequently asked questions, which could significantly reduce support requests.
What it does: Payment processing
What it solves: Makes payment processing easy
Now that you have customer leads, you need to have the tools in place that let them buy from you. One option is Square, a high-flying startup that gives retailers a small card reader that attaches to smartphones or tablets via the headphone jack.
Cost: $50 a month
What it does: Mobile point of sale infrastructure
What it solves: Helps SMBs process transactions
Leaf provides a purpose-built tablet that serves as your Point of Sale (POS) infrastructure. You can augment that by downloading apps for other smartphones in your business. The Leaf backend includes business management software and customer care tools.
Cost: Free to $500 a month
What it does: Customer analytics
What it solves: Allows SMBs identify new customers
Big Data isn't just for big business anymore. Real-time customer analytics service Woopra allows small businesses to identify noteworthy customers. You can spot hot leads, rescue lost customers, speed up customer onboarding, etc. Woopra also helps you spot overall trends in customer behavior.
What it does: Big data-as-a-service
What it solves: Data analysis
Prism from SiSense offers Big-Data-as-a-Service to help you crunch data from a variety of sources, so that you can create business strategy based on data analysis. Prism's drag-and-drop interface lets you create data mashups and visualizations from SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Excel, CSV files, Google, SalesForce, and other databases.
Cost: Single report for $259.
What it does: Compensation analysis
What it solves: Helps SMBs determine the right pay scale for a particular job
Hiring is, perhaps, the single most stressful event for small business owners. First, how do you even determine an appropriate salary? Sure, you can scour job ads trying to find ballpark figures, but a better option is to use Payscale, which has collected salary and career data from more than 35 million people, covering 12,000 job titles and 1,100 distinct industries in 150 countries.
Cost: $199 a month
What it does: Resume analysis
What it solves: Helps SMBs hire the right people
Pairin focuses on "on a candidate’s behavioral DNA and potential for success, instead of the time-consuming evaluation of a resume’s historical data." Pairin identifies optimal interview candidates through the modeling of existing top employees in the same positions based on 137 performance drivers. Pairin also lets you compare a candidate to an in-house employee.
Cost: $24/a month for 1 opening
What it does: Selection management
What it solves: Helps SMBs hire the best person for the job
Hireology has analyzed thousands of interviews across hundreds of companies to identify 67 traits that help predict the likelihood of success in a specific role. The process starts when a business posts an opening. Hireology then asks you questions to zero in on the most appropriate traits.
Company: Blue Jeans Network
Cost: $299 per port, per month
What it does: Videoconferencing
What it solves: Low-cost video for SMBs
For many SMBs, enterprise-class videoconferencing tools are too expensive, while free solutions don't always perform well. Moreover, different users will already have different tools installed and prefer to use what they know. Blue Jeans Networks allows people to use whatever videoconferencing tool they want. Schedule a meeting, send users a link and all they need is a device with conferencing capabilities
Cost: $69 a year
What it does: Cloud storage
What it solves: Online backup
Bitcasa is an online storage tool that includes mobile client tools, and although it is targeted at consumers now, SMB features will be rolling out soon. You can also elect to mirror all your devices to your Bitcasa Infinite Drive. Your files are then automatically and continuously backed up and available anywhere.
What it does: Online file sharing and collaboration
What is solves: Securing and sharing large files
Box is an online file sharing and collaboration service. It lets you securely share and share large files, while keeping them in sync across devices.
Cost: $9.95 a month for three users
What it does: Online file sharing and collaboration
What it solves: Securing and sharing files
Similar to Box, Soonr offers online file sharing and collaboration services.
Cost: Free, up to $99 a month for 40 users
What it does: CRM for SMBs
What it solves: Customer relationship/project management
Insightly combines CRM and project management in one app. The cloud-based solution, which tightly integrates with Google Apps, allows users to easily keep track of customer interactions and manage leads, proposals, opportunities, projects and files from any device. Users can start with a free account and upgrade as needed.
Company: Liquid Planner
Cost: Starts at $29/user/month
What it does: Predictive project management
What it solves: Project management issues
LiquidPlanner is a cloud-based predictive project management tool. Users estimate how long a task should take, and after searching through calendar availability, vacation time and set priorities, LiquidPlanner calculates when various tasks should be completed. When project priorities shift, LiquidPlanner automatically updates the schedule. It comes with a mobile companion.
Company: Pocket Desktop
What it does: Encrypted USB drive
What it solves: Security issues
Security is a constant concern for small businesses. Moreover, like every other business, small businesses expose themselves to data breaches when employees are out of the office. One tool to help prevent this is Pocket Desktop, an encrypted USB drive that stores all of your important information and lets you take your desktop with you and keep it secure in the process.
Cost: Free to $30 a year
What it does: Antivirus/VPN
What it solves: Hotspot security
Have you ever done something at a hotspot you shouldn't have? Maybe you checked your credit card account or you logged into your bank to check your account status. On public hotspots, this is risky. Hotspot Shield combines an antivirus program with the privacy capabilities of a VPN. Hotspot Shield encrypts your connection to a Wi-Fi network, and you can use it with mobile devices.
What it does: Tracks app and site permissions
What it solves: Unwanted permissions
With the cloud-based service MyPermissions, small businesses can track the permissions they grant to apps and sites and remove or control those permissions. MyPermissions will notify you when new apps have been unknowingly granted access. You can run it as a browser plug-in for your desktop and also download an app for your smartphone. The service will even email you monthly reminders to check your privacy settings.
Cost: $20 - $200 per month per website
What it does: Security
What it solves: Security for SMBs
Most small businesses lack the resources and expertise to properly maintain and secure their sites. CloudFlare protects sites from spambots and malicious DDoS attacks and helps boost site performance. CloudFlare features a "learning network," which means that new attacks on any website are automatically detected and blocked for both the website under attack and the entire community. As more customers sign up, the network grows smarter and protection gets better.
Cost: Free to $99 a month
What it does: Web site analytics
What it solves: Web optimization issues
SiteApps taps into Google Analytics to make recommendations for how you can improve your website. I recently launched a new site, Startup50, and from SiteApps I learned that a significant number of readers access my site from tablets. SiteApps recommended a tool that would create a mobile optimized version of my site. Other apps that may be recommended to you include lead-capture forms, social media widgets, user segmentation surveys, etc.
Company: Bizness Apps
Cost: $29 - $59 a month
What it does: Creates mobile apps
What it solves: Mobile app development
Small businesses looking to boost their mobile presence can use Bizness Apps to develop, edit and manage mobile apps – without having to learn any coding. Business owners start the process with a mobile template, customize it to match their business needs and then Bizness Apps turns them into native apps and distributes them to the iOS and Android markets.
Cost: Customized to a company's individual requirements.
What it does: GPS based fleet vehicle tracking
What it solves: Improves fleet efficiency
If you are a small business with fleet vehicles, consider the service from Fleetmatics. Using GPS, business owners can track fleet vehicles in real-time and help them avoid congested routes, prevent unauthorized trips and even eliminate time sheet fraud.