Technology has made it easier than ever for small fries like us to provide big-league service. I’m often amazed how many Web-based applications are available now – it can actually be mind boggling and overwhelming at times.
Here, in an attempt to help you wade through the options, I’ve assembled the tools I’ve personally found most helpful. Best of all, most are free or have free versions.
- Google Docs – Offers applications including word processing, spreadsheets and presentations that you can create and share online, and then edit anytime, from anywhere. You can even import existing documents for no-cost backup storage.
- Zoho – Zoho is a suite of 16 productivity and business applications that compete with Google’s offering. Zoho allows you to not just import existing documents, but also entire folders via the Zip function. For that reason, I personally give Zoho a slight edge over Google Docs, but you may want to check them both out to see what works best for you.
- iGoogle – Develop a personalized page of widgets for easy access to your key online resources. Make it your home page for a productivity boost.
- When is Good – Simple way to schedule meetings with multiple participants without the email back-and-forth.
- Zamzar – If someone sends you a file that you don’t have the software to open, check here to see if you can convert it into another format that works for you. Not sure how we lived without this one!
- You Send It – Circumvent email when sending large files by using this service, which allows you to just send a link to the download.
- Jott – Jott’s voice-to-text services allow you to record and capture thoughts, create to-dos, set reminders, and send emails and text messages – just by calling a special phone number. Unfortunately, Jott’s free version is now more limited than it once was, but it can still be useful for reminders.
- Evernote – Allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient. The stored information is then accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere.
- Yahoo mail – I know… this sounds old-school. But if your brain is trained to think in folders (a la Outlook) rather than tags (which is how Gmail works), you just might prefer Yahoo for your online email system.
- Slideshare – The leading site to publicly share your Powerpoint presentations, giving them greater visibility, and to view presentations of others for inspiration.
- Toodledo – There are countless Web-based to-do list tools, but my favorite right now is this one. I like the ability to group tasks by project and assign priorities. If you have an iPhone, you can also use it to sync with the Todo application.
- Delicious – Delicious is a Web-based bookmarking service that allows you to save, manage, tag, and share Web pages from a centralized source. The site has social features, with an emphasis on the power of the community, but even if you only use it to give yourself access to your bookmarks regardless of browser or computer, it’s definitely worth a try!
- PimpMyNews – Many favorite news sources and blogs have signed up for PimpMyNews, so you can have them read to you while you’re on the go. It’s a bit robotic, but it can be helpful, especially when traveling.
- Firefox – If you still feel locked into Internet Explorer, you may want to give Mozilla Firefox a try. The best thing about this browser is its full library of “add-ons” from various developers, which install easily and can be used to customize your Web experience (based on your personal needs) for greater productivity.
- Help a reporter out (HARO) – One of the easiest ways to get story leads also happens to be free. Just sign up and you’ll receive an email (usually twice daily) of press queries organized by industry/interest for easy scanning. I recommend you give it a try (you can always unsubscribe if it’s not useful to you).
- Google Alerts – Setup Google to automatically email you with new news – including blogs, if you’d like – about search terms you designate.
- Twitter Search (formerly Summize) – You don’t have to be on Twitter to find out what’s being said about you or your clients. Searches on this site can even be subscribed to via RSS feed.
- Techrigy – A software solution designed specifically for PR and marketing agencies to monitor and measure social media. A “Freemium” version is available.
- Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com – This two-fer is in my opinion the best online dictionary resource, with a thesaurus search on the same word an easy one click away.
- OneLook Dictionary Search – This site offers wildcard searching for both words and phrases, which can a helpful resource.
- Microsoft Word Built-in Thesaurus (Shift + F7) – OK, this one isn’t online, but I had to include this tool because many people don’t know about it. In MS Word, you can highlight a word and hit Shift + F7 for a list of synonyms. Click your choice and hit “replace” (a productivity boost!).
- AP Stylebook Ask the Editor – Can’t find your Stylebook? This online Q&A is searchable, and you can often find the answers to your style questions here.
- FreeConference.com – Get your own free dedicated dial-in number and access code to hold conference calls on demand. Other no-cost and modest fee options available.
- Skype – With Skype you can make free calls over the internet to other people on Skype for as long as you like, to wherever you like. It’s free to download, and new services are added all the time.
- Backpack – Billed as “an Intranet in 30 Seconds,” Backpack provides a central spot for organizing your business and sharing information with your team (which, via permissions, can include clients, vendors, partners, etc.). With integrated to-do lists, files, notes, and a calendar, Backpack is not free but many independents swear by it.
- GoToMeeting – This online meeting and conferencing software is another paid service, but one that allows you to operate in a virtual environment. A competitor to WebEx, it offers secure screen sharing without having to set up complicated video feeds or Webcams.
- Powered Templates – A great source of downloadable PowerPoint templates and backgrounds. Most require a small fee, but if you’re design challenged (as I often am) it can be well worth it.
- Compfight – You’ve no doubt heard of the photo sharing site Flickr, but you may not know it can be a great source of free professional images (for your presentations, blogs, etc). At this Flickr search tool you can turn the “Creative Commons: Commercial” qualifier on, and it will find only those images that are usable for commercial purposes (be sure to give the photographer attribution per their individual terms).
- iStockphoto – For around $1 per image, this site makes it easy to find just the right image you need, with no attribution required.
- Picnik – An amazingly easy online photo editor.
- Freshbooks – Fast becoming the solution of choice, Freshbooks offers time tracking and invoicing that is easy to use and free to try.
- Hostgator – After some pretty exhaustive research to find the best low-cost – but robust – hosting solution, I’ve gone with Hostgator. If you have a Web site or blog (or you’re looking to build one), I can happily recommend them.
- WordPress – It’s the best platform for blogging, but did you know WordPress can also be a great way to build your own easy-to-manage Web site? I wish it had been available when I built mine!
- GoDaddy – Offers an easy and reliable means to register a low-cost domain name, which you can then use for your email address. There may be cheaper registrars out there, but some are not entirely trustworthy.
- Get Rich Slowly Personal Finance Spreadsheets – Though these are billed as “personal, this list of links to helpful financial spreadsheets unveils many that can also be used for your business finances.
- HighRise – A simple system where you can track communication and conversations with leads, employees, clients, colleagues, and vendors.
- Survey monkey – All the tools you need to create your own online surveys quickly and easily. Use it on your clients’ behalf, or create a quick survey to solicit feedback from clients on your performance.
- Paypal – With economic times being strange as they are, some clients may want to pay you with their business credit card. This online payment system can offer an easy way for you to accept these credit card payments.
- FaxZero – These days, the need to fax is rare. In those unusual instances, this service can be a good solution if you don't have a machine and want to avoid a trip to Kinko’s. Note that free faxes are available, but they will include an ad on the cover page (ad-free versions cost $1.99).
For Fun (and Work)
- Pandora – Do you need a little music to get yourself going while working? Pandora is a personalized Internet radio service that helps you find new music based on your old and current favorites.
- BLIP.fm – Another music service, on BLIP.fm you are your own DJ, creating your music station through access to millions of streaming songs. It’s a social site, so you can develop a list of your favorite DJs and share your tunes.
- Hulu – This online video service offers a huge repository of movies and TV – all free. The many news clips and documentaries available can be useful for client research.
- iTunes – For those of you who use it, this seems like a no-brainer. But some folks don’t realize that you don’t need an iPod or iPhone – or even a Mac – to use iTunes on your computer. With iTunes, the whole world of podcasts is opened up to you – virtually all for free.
- Urban Dictionary – Be warned: this consumer-generated site of the latest slang is usually funny, sometimes offensive, and nearly always addictive! But it’s not just for fun – I’ve actually tapped into it to make sure a word I’m using doesn’t have any unintended connotations for some readers.
So that’s my list of favorites – purposely not too long to save you time. And don’t worry, I didn’t forget about social media. That’s a big topic, which we’ll cover separately in-depth.
These are just the services I have used and can personally recommend, but there are many more. What’s your favorite?
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