This past weekend one of my favorite websites for keeping up with tech and social news, Mashable, posted an interesting article about the 23 free web-based tools that small to medium-sized businesses are asking for now. The idea was to illicit a response on Twitter from folks working for or running an SMB regarding which online tools were most-vital to their daily operations and, in some cases, the best areas for improvement or new opportunities for tools to be created where a given need exists.
Of course protocol 80 is a small business, so this made me analyze some of the tools we use on a daily basis to communicate, schedule events and manage workflow. Feel free to take a look at Mashable's article here, and if you're interested in what we use, read on below.
If I'm addicted to one particular tech company's online services it would have to be Google's. In my opinion they provide the best suite of online office tools for email, calendaring and document/spreadsheet processing. Best of all, each of these services work together. For that reason it probably won't come as much of a surprise that we like to use Google Talk for chatting.
The nice thing about Google Talk is that it's integrated right into Google's online Gmail client that we all use, so you don't have to run an extra program or have an additional tab open in your web browser just to chat with coworkers. Furthermore you can create group chat sessions, call people's phones and even video chat straight from Google Talk.
This is one area where we've tried a few different solutions, all of which have their strengths and weaknesses, but as of right now our primary task management application is Salesforce. Salesforce is great for small businesses that need a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, but it also has a nice built-in task manager. With it you can share and assign tasks, and Salesforce even has a Twitter-like social tool called Chatter that lets you let your coworkers know what you're working on.
In the past we've also used 37 Signals' Basecamp project management solution, which integrates with their CRM offering called Highrise. Both Basecamp and Salesforce are subscription-based services but they have free trials, and in many cases they might be a bigger tool than is necessary for your needs. If you're looking for a free task management application there are a ton of options online, my favorites of which are Remember the Milk and Google Tasks which, much like Google Talk, integrates right into the same Gmail interface that I use for email.
Social Media Tools
For posting to the protocol 80 social networking accounts we all like Hootsuite quite a bit. It lets you post to multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts simultaneously, schedule posts so you can plan all of your updates for the week in one sitting and it even has a nice built-in link shortener. If you're interested in hearing more about the social tools we've tried take a look at the protocol 80 youtube channel where we've done a video overview of our favorites.
Cloud-Based File Hosting
For hosting and sharing files online we always recommend Dropbox to clients. I've personally been a huge fan of Dropbox since it was released in late 2008. With it you can easily sync files between multiple computers, and they also have mobile applications so you can access your files on the go.
The best part about Dropbox is how easy it is to share files once you have an account. If you've ever been in a situation where you had to deal with sending or receiving multiple large email attachments you'll know that it can get pretty frustrating. Dropbox eliminates all of that hassle - simply invite someone to be a contributor on one of your folders and they can download a .zip file of the group of documents, images or whatever else you'd like to share. Dropbox offers 2GB accounts for free, but if you really love the service you can pay a monthly or yearly subscription to get access to more storage.