SaaS – What’s in It for Your Small Business?

“Software as a service” is making computer news these days – but what’s in it for your small business? Is SaaS just a nerdy fad or does it really have a place in your business? SaaS, far from being a passing phase, has the capability to jump start your business. Do saving time and money while increasing efficiency sound good to you? The list of SaaS’s benefits starts there … and grows.

 

As you may know, SaaS is a new method of software delivery. Instead of the conventional model in use since the 90s – software which is installed onto your firm’s computers from purchased disks or downloads – SaaS is Web-based, offering access to the information you need on a subscription basis. All you have to do is sign up and log on. In fact, you are probably using one or more simple, free forms of SaaS already – online banking or webmail, perhaps.

 

Far from being pie-in-the-sky or only for Fortune 500-ers, SaaS makes sense for every enterprise, regardless of size. Besides a very impressive cost-benefit ratio, it allows small businesses room to expand and to compete with large corporations. Omri Erel, Marketing Director for walkme.com and self-proclaimed SaaS Addict, has to say on the subject: “SaaS by design is actually far more convenient for small businesses than any classical software model out there.”

 

Keep Your Customers Happy
Software as a service is gaining ground most rapidly in the field of customer relations management. By 2011, 35% of CRM software was SaaS-platform based. Gartner’s Market Trends forecasts that that percentage will rise to over 50% as of 2016.

 

Save Money
To update an old saw, why pay for the cow when you can rent the milk for much less? A relatively modest monthly payment gives you feature-rich computer services. For example, desktop applications similar to the popular Microsoft Office suite are available without the hefty licensing fee. And you completely avoid having to make an enormous initial investment in servers and infrastructure. What’s more, you benefit from your service provider’s economies of scale. IT costs are uniform and predictable.

 

Save Time
For most small business operators, software is a waste of time – literally. The amount of hours your employees invest in searching for, installing, maintaining and updating software could be better spent, simply put, on doing their jobs. Add to that staff time spent waiting for IT to deal with any problems that arise and you’ve got a serious productivity drain on your hands. By contrast, SaaS makes the latest version of the software you need available instantly, whenever you need to access it.

 

Make that wherever you need to access it, as well. You are no longer limited to just the on-site desktop computers in your office, but can conveniently get at essential information from your mobile or tablet literally anywhere you happen to be – such as a hotel room or an airport.

 

Be Consistent, Be Flexible
Whether on the road, in your new branch office or meeting in a client’s boardroom, all your staff will have access to the same data. For instance, the latest Excel spreadsheet on up-to-the-minute budget figures is available without jumping through hoops to get it. This opens the door to greater flexibility in collaborating with a team that may include your employees, clients and resource personnel, all working together on a project from different locations, yet all on the same page. Updates to software and information are applied across the board. Companies with work from home and flexible hours policies will find this equally convenient.

 

Another aspect of SaaS flexibility is the capability to scale up as your company grows, without large budgetary outlays for upgraded software or IT assistance.

 

Be Secure
Your information is protected with state of the art standards of security and encryption technology when you use SaaS. A lost or stolen laptop or a hard drive crash will no longer spell disaster. Every file is automatically backed up, so your valuable data will be safe.

The monetary savings associated with the subscription model, access to the best computers and most cutting edge software around plus efficiency, security, flexibility and ease of use leave only one question to be answered – how can you afford not to upgrade to SaaS?

 

Must Have Tech for Small Business

The importance of having the right tech tools on hand is undeniable for small business owners. If you’re not up-to-date and using all of the available channels and options available to you, you’ll eventually be left behind. Think about it this way: using tech ultimately makes your business seem bigger, giving customers greater confidence in your brand and your products.

“Small businesses can do BIG things using low-cost technology and readily available expertise,” says Ramon Ray, Journalist and Editor at Smallbiztechnology.com.

So what types of technology will launch your business? It goes without saying that you should already be setup with internet, a computer and a smartphone device, but we’ve got a few more suggestions, from the basics like a website and social media to more advanced tools like mobile hotspots and cloud storage.

Website
If you’re brick-and-mortar small business, having a website gives you the chance to brand yourself to a much wider audience. If you’re an online retailer, a website is obvious. There are plenty of easy-to-use website builders that offer e-commerce and other fun bobbles, including blogging tools, which, with constant content, will allow for search engine web crawlers to find and share your brand with the world. Also, don’t forget to make sure your site is mobile-friendly, or Google won’t give you the attention you want.

 

Social Media
The small business customer service game is played out largely on social media these days, making your business’s presence on Twitter and Facebook more important than ever. Having accounts on Vine, Instagram, and Pinterest give you an even greater edge with their visual branding possibilities. A constant social presence gives you the opportunity to get to know your customers, share brand activities, and offer new and exciting ways for customers to connect. Don’t forget to claim your business on Yelp, too!

 

CrazyEgg
A bit of a more advanced tech tool for small business owners, CrazyEgg is the king of heat mapping, which helps you figure out the ins and outs of how customers are experiencing your website. You might think aspects of your website are winning out, but through heat mapping you’ll probably discover that your customers are more attracted to certain links and images than other calls-to-action. CrazyEgg will give you the advantage in understanding your customers and being able to better cater to their behaviors and needs.

 

Social
Having a social media plan is a great, but knowing how to analyze and understand what’s happening on social is even better. Hootsuite and SproutSocial are amazing tech tools that allow you to create reports about your interactions, your posts, and your users. Curious about your demographics? Where those Twitter followers are coming from? Maybe you want to know the best time of day to post. SproutSocial gives you the upperhand on all of these things, even allowing you to create competitor reports so you know how you’re social plan is competing.

 

Mobile Hotspot
No matter where you are, as a small business owner you should always be able to access your company’s files, inventory, emails, and anything else you need to feel connected. Enter the mobile hotspot. The “hotspot” — a small device that plugs into your computer — essentially is a mobile wireless router that allows you to access the internet no matter where you go. Whether you’re at the airport heading to an investor meeting or sitting in a coffee shop, a mobile hotspot keeps you connected.

 

Cloud Storage
If you’ve got a mobile hotspot available, then setting up a cloud network will make your life all the more easy. Using cloud storage through DropBox or Google Drive gives you access to all of your important files no matter where you are. No need for large servers back at home or having to rely on someone to send you something at the last minute because you don’t have the files on your computer — with cloud storage, you have secure, convenient access to everything.

 

Of course there are hundreds of other amazing tech tools available to small business owners, ranging from point-of-sale systems to smartphone apps that will keep your operations running smoothly. However, whether you’re a seasoned veteran or newbie to the small business tech game, we recommend thinking macro until you’re comfortable and then getting down to the nitty gritty micro tech tools. Think big, and your customers will, too.

5 Free and Low-Cost Apps to Manage Your Off-Site Workers

As technology continues to improve and businesses remain focused on cost reduction, there has been a growing interest in telecommuting. Many smaller companies in particular have been embracing this option, as they scramble to maintain a healthy cash flow and stay competitive in this still challenging economy. If your small business is looking to test the waters with telecommuting, then consider integrating your system with these free and low-cost online services:

 

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  • Skype. Skype offers several attractive features for telecommuting. Aside from its free flagship video calling and internet-based Skype calls, businesses can opt for video conferencing, call forwarding, document sharing, and Skype calls to any landline or mobile number across the world, and all at extreme;y affordable rates.

 

  • Dropbox. Dropbox is an essential file sharing app for managing an off-site workforce. Not only are business files and documents easily accessible from any computer or mobile device, but business owners can control who has access to this information. A free Dropbox account comes with 2GB of storage, but can be upgraded to 100 GB for less than $20 per month.

 

  • Google Apps. This suit of online applications includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Sites ( a place to create company webpages and wikis), and Google Docs (where files across several platforms can be uploaded, amended, and made available to specific parties). The free version allows up to 50 accounts per business.

 

  • SohoOS. A new-comer on the block, SohoOS offers a free suite of cloud-based management applications for small businesses and freelancers that includes a unified contact system, free payment processing, a collection of marketing tools, and customize reports. Since everything is located in the cloud, it makes it easy for off-site workers to access what they need. then definitely check it out.

 

  • Xmarks Sync. For those workers who will be working both on-site and off and/or on a variety of devices, then bookmark syncing is a must. This tool preserves your bookmarks, passwords and open tabs backed up and synchronized across computers and browsers. It currently runs on the four major browsers: Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

Essential Small Business Twitter Tools: A Compilation (Part II)

In the spirit of the iPhone, the emergence of every great new technology these days leaves in its wake a clamor of software developers racing to build the applications that will enhance its usage. Twitter is certainly no exception. If you are just now beginning to integrate Twitter into your business operations the good news is that there are hundreds of really useful apps out there that can make a big difference in the way you use the site and significantly increase your ROI. The bad news is that with all the options it could get a bit overwhelming, not to mention a time consuming process trying to narrow down the most suitable apps.

 

To make the process a bit easier, I have compiled a list of some of the most versatile Twitter tools applicable to small businesses and organized them into functional categories. Some of the apps listed here will over lap in terms of features, so it’s a matter of trying them out to see which ones work best for you and your business.

Just a note before getting to the list… If you are just starting out with Twitter, then you should pick no more than two or three of these tools to use at first. As you become more familiar with the site and your pattern of usage and learn more about your needs, you can then change them or add more.

Twitter Search Tools

ChirpCity– A local Twitter search that allows you to see the latest tweets and the top twitterers in a given location.

Nearby Tweets – Find twitterers near your area; you can also limit your search by radius and keywords

Tweepz – A powerful search engine that helps you find people on twitter. Search within the name, bio and location.

Twellow – A search directory of people by area of expertise, profession or other attribute listed in users’ personal profiles on Twitter.

Tweefind – A Twitter search engine that displays results based on users’ rank

Twazzup A real-time Twitter search engine. Search Tweets, related photos and the most popular links.

Tracking News and Trends in Real-time

Trendistic – Search trends in the topics discussed on Twitter, and compare trends across topics.

Tweetmeme – A great resource to see the most recent news and trends within your industry.

Keeping Track of and Managing Follower Lists

Twitoria – This application allows you sort through your network of followers and filter out the inactive users.

Tweepler – Sort through new followers and easily accept them or ignore them. This app shows the followers’ stats and last three tweets in one simple screen view.

Twimailer – Use this free email client to receive extensive email notifications when your account gets new followers. Emails contain the follower’s location, followers stats as well as their most recent tweets. It also includes the ability to follow the person or organization back without having to log into Twitter.

Digsby – Manage all your existing IM, email, and social network accounts from one application.

IsFollow. This web-based Twitter app that lets you find out who is following who without having to login.

Topify – Another email client that provides new follower stats and allows you to follow and reply to direct messages by email.

FollowWatch – Receive hourly alerts of followers that you have gained or lost.

Qwitter – Receive an email notification whenever anyone stops following you.

Account Management

Future Tweets -Schedule your tweets ahead of time. You can also schedule reoccuring tweets daily, monthly, and yearly.

Tweetburner – This app allows you to keep track of what happens to the links in tweets you share.

Tweet Later – Track keywords, track replies, schedule tweets, send welcome direct messages.

Splitweet – A multi-account management app and brand monitor all in one screen.

Multi-user Account Management

Cotweet – Manage multiple accounts with multiple users by creating tweet assignments and on duty status, in addition to having access to several other productivity tools.

Hootsuite – Use this Twitter client to manage multiple Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn & WordPress profiles as well as montior keywords, schedule updates, and measure your impact.

Group Tweet – This app enables users to send private Twitter messages to specific groups of friends or co-workers.

Tweeting from Your Web Browser

Twitter Toolbar – Use this toolbar to get instant access to Twitter from your browser. Post tweets, check your stats, and access a variety of online Twitter tools.

TwitterFox – A Firefox plugin allowing people to post Twitter updates and recieve them from followers from their Firefox browser.

Feed Monitoring

Monitter – A web-based tool that allows you to monitor Twitter in real-time for mentions of any specified keywords.

Tweetbeep – Set up email alerts so that anytime anyone mentions your brand or any other specified keywords on Twitter, you receive an email notification in your inbox.

Twitter Clients

Tweetdeck – Stay on top of and even update all of your social media sites, manage multiple Twitter accounts, see top trends, and much more all from one screen and all for free. It’s even available for the iPhone.

Seesmic– A versatile Twitter client that includes features such as Twitter list integration and the ability to preview multi-media bit.ly links within the same browser window.

Twitzap – A web-based Twitter client that provides real-time Twitter monitoring and allows users to slice tweet streams into designated channels.

Blog and Website Integration

Twitterfeed – Allows you to feed your blog posts to Twitter.

Twit This – Allow visitors to your blog or website to post Twitter messages.

Twitter Counter – A badge that displays the number of your Twitter followers. You can add this to your site and invite customers to follow you on Twitter.

Analytics

Bit.ly – This popular URL shortener also packs several analytics features.

Twitalyzer – Analyzes how effectively you are using Twitter by measuring five aspects of Twitter use: “influence, signal, generosity, velocity, and clout. The factors that influence these metrics include your number of followers, references by others, your retweet rate, and the number of times others retweet your posts. The new beta version also calculates the “hidden costs” of using Twitter based on your hourly pay.

Twitteranalyzer – Get quick, in depth analyis of your Twitter account activity. Plug in your account name and have instant access to a variety of stats.

Tweetstats – Graph your Twitter activity stats including tweets per hour and month as well as reply stats.

Multi-media/ File Sharing

Bubble Tweet – Use this app to post a short video message that pops up on your Twitter profile.

TwitPic – Share your favorite pictures on Twitter.

Twitxr – Post pictures and updates from your mobile phone directly to Twitter.

Tweetr – Share files up to 10MB via Twitter.

Twiturm – Share your MP3 files and turn them into a Tweet.

Twisten.FM – Listen to all of the music tweeted about in real-time.

TweetPhoto – A photosharing app that can upload photos by email, mobile or web. You can also manage and track who is viewing your photos.

yFrog – Use this app to share images and videos.

FileTwt – Quickly and easily upload and Tweet your files up to 20MB.

TinySong – Share songs with this application.

TweetMic – This iPhone application allows you to publish audio to Twitter

Marketing/Customer Relations

twtQpon – Use this handy app to create coupons and share them with your Twitter followers.

TwitterHawk – This app will send your local Twitter users a response if they tweet a certain keyword in specifc locations.

Information Back-up

Tweetake – Back up your list of Twitter followers, the people you are following as well as of your Tweets.

Twitter Safe – Use this app to ensure that your network of followers will not be compromised.

Miscellenous Business Tools

Track This – Track the progress of any UPS, USPS, FedEx or DHL shipments.

Tweetbrain This is a powerful crowdsourcing service for the Twitterers.

CalendarTweet – Use this app to tag, share and promote events.

Twitterific – An iPhone app that allows you to easily read and update Tweets.

TwitterMass – A paid-for suite of tools to help you grow your Twitter network.

TwitterContd – Expand your tweets to1250 characters and simultaneously upload images, video or audio.

Twiggit – This app works in conjunction with Digg.com. Digg an article, and your Twitter account will be automatically updated with the link.

Twitter Gallery – A collection of profile backgrounds.

The Best iPhone Apps for Small Businesses

When it comes to mobile phones and business use, RIM’s Blackberry series of feature-rich smartphones might immediately come to mind. But a wide and versatile range of apps are actually making Apple’s iPhone an attractive business tool for those on the go.

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Here are my picks of some of the most practical and useful iPhone apps for small business owners. Some of these apps are available free of charge at the iPhone App Store, others can be acquired for a nominal fee.

Personal Assistance and Time Management

  • reQall: A powerful speech-to-text task manager.

  • LiveTimer: A simple and easy to use online time tracking service.

  • Todo: This simple task management app can be used by itself or synchronized with tasks on the web or desktop.

News

  • Google News: Straight-forward app that keeps you up-to-date on the lastest headlines from news outlets worldwide.

  • Spreed: If your time is limited, then you can try this application that helps users read bits of news and blog posts faster and easier.

Business Tools

  • JotNot: This amazing app turns your iPhone into a document digitizer. JotNot enhances captured images and turns them into documents to be e-mailed.

  • FedEx Mobile: Get up-to-date shipping and tracking information, arrange ground or express shipping, find a FedEx location, or create labels on the go.

  • iTrack: Easy to use multiple-carrier (FedEx, UPS, USPS, and DHL) package tracker.

  • Gmail: Look up recently read messages while you are off-line, compose multiple drafts, and view attachments with Google’s easy-to-use format.

  • Epiphany Recorder: This must-have audio recorder can even record moments that already happened! Tap the “Remember That” button and it saves the previous two minutes of audio and continues recording as long as you want.

  • Fring: Users can connect to their Skype VOIP account to make free calls anywhere in the world.

Finance

  • BalanceDo: Send customer invoices, track receivables, and even manage payments through PayPal.

  • Billing Manager: A focused and easy-to-use invoicing app created by Inuit.

  • MerchantWare Mobile: Perform credit card transactions directly from your iPhone with a Merchant Warehouse account.

  • BizExpense: This app helps track and report business expenses. Great for those who conduct business on the go.

  • Timewerks: This time-tracking and invoicing app helps you keep track of your time and materials as well as send invoices.

Information & File Management

  • SugarSync: An amazingly versatile and easy to use app that lets you remotely access any computer (even if it is turned off) and view files in several formats, including Word, Excel, PDF files, Powerpoint, videos, and MP3. SugarSync also supports an impressive file sharing feature.

  • ReaddleDocs: A comprehensive document and file management app that can access and store documents from computers, web sites, email attachments, MobileMe iDisk as well as other online file storage solutions. ReaddleDocs features a document viewer, file manager, network file server, web storage client and a web browser.

  • Print & Share: Print emails, mail attachments, photos, documents, contacts and web pages from your iPhone to a local printer.

  • Quickoffice Mobile Office Suite: View and edit Microsoft Word and Excel docs. Also accesses files from MobileMe or networked computers.

  • QuickBooks Online: Check your accounts receivable and payable, vendor, customer, and employee info, bank account and credit card balances, balance sheet and profit & loss reports. You can even look up vendor and client addresses using Google Maps.

  • Google Analytics: Check the data from multiple Google Analytics accounts in a user-friendly format.

Business Travel Tools

  • FlightTrackPro: Get real-time itinerary updates for flights around the world. Stay current on airport delay and closure warnings, conduct alternate flight schedule searches, look up weather forecasts and TripIt flight itineraries.

  • Gas Buddy: The most comprehensive source of gas prices in the US and Canada; this app will tell you where to go to get the cheapest gas.

  • MileBug: Keep track of your mileage for one or more businesses.

  • Superpages Mobile: Find local businesses by searching the Superpages directory of over 20 million US businesses, get directions, and submit a business review. You can even use this app to look up people, get movie info, and locate local WiFi hotspots.

Popular Open Source Applications for Small Businesses

Open source applications and online services have been generating a lot of buzz over the past few years. Many of the open source alternatives are formidable contenders to the major liscensed software programs and services out on the market. Depending on the nature and circumstances of your business, bringing in open source apps may be a cheaper and more practical option to shelling out hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars in liscensing fees for the commercial versions.

Here is a list of the some of the most popular open source apps divided into categories. Most of these options are available for free, while some offer additional support and service packages at a cost:

Accounting Software

  • TurboCASH. – A powerful fully-featured, multi-user accounting system.
  • GnuCash. – A personal and small business accounting software

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

  • SugarCRM.– Probably the most well-known, and powerful, CRM open source options. It is better suited to bigger businesses, however.
  • Daffodil CRM.– Full-featured CRM application
  • ConcourseSuite. – Formally CentricCRM, it is a “front office application suite to integrate Customer Relationship Management (CRM), web content management and team collaboration capabilities into a single, easy to user web application.”
  • vtiger.– Easy to use CRM software. Good option for smaller businesses.

Office Suite/Word Processing

  • Open Office. – Full-featured office suite, compatible with all other major office suites including MS Office
  • The Fifth Element.- Full-featured office suite, compatible with all other major office suites including MS Office
  • AbiWord.– Word processing software, easy-to-use version of MS Word.

Email

  • Thunderbird. – Open source, cross-platform email and news client developed by Mozilla
  • Pegasus Mail. – Less well-known email system, but offers plenty of features and easy-to-use format

Graphics

  • Photofiltre.– A full-featured image and photo editing program; a good Photoshop alternative
  • Paint.NET. – A solid image and photo editing program; a good Photoshop alternative
  • The GIMP. – the GNU Project’s excellent image manipulation program.
  • Blender 3D.– Richly featured 3D content creation and animation program. Check out the features and gallery section.

Point of Sale Software

  • Openbravo POS. – Popular Point-of-Sale application designed for a wide range of retail businesses.
  • NolaPro POS. – A Web-based accounting, inventory, POS, and business management suite.

Business Tools/Apps

  • Asterisk.– IP PBX software
  • AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition. Anti-virus, anti-spyware program for Windows XP and Vista
  • Freemind.– Mind mapping software
  • Google Pack. – Download a bunch of Google applications/tools, such as the Chrome web browser and Goggle Apps, in one shot
  • Opera Browser.– A fast, secure web browser. There’s also a version for smartphones.
  • Mozilla Firefox. – A fast, secure web browser; a good alternative to Internet Explorer.
  • Web CEO– A collection of powerful SEO tools
  • CCleaner – A system optimization, privacy, and cleaning tool
  • PDF Creator – Convert documents to PDF format