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Nine Indispensable Online Tools for Your Web-Based Business

Few small business owners and entrepreneurs can avoid doing business over the Internet these days; luckily there are free and inexpensive online tools that make marketing, communication and running your business more manageable.

While there are certainly hundreds–if not thousands–of open source applications that compete with Microsoft Office, Photoshop and other expensive software that are not on this list, the tools below will help you reach more prospects, close more deals, improve your relationships with customers and help build your business.

Communication & Project Management:

Basecamp. For project management and collaboration over long distances there’s nothing as good as Basecamp. With Basecamp you can manage multiple projects, post and share documents, communicate with customers, have real-time chats, track employee time, share to-do lists and milestones and more. Although there’s a free version, the paid version (starting at $9/mo) includes server space and allows you to run multiple projects. I can’t imagine running a business without it. Cons: None significant.

Yugma. The perfect tool for online presentations, sharing your desktop, remote training and more. It works on Windows, Mac and Linux. Yugma also offers free conference calling. It will save you and your clients hours of travel time within days of installing it. And did I mention it’s free? There’s also a paid version that allows you to share your desktop with 10 or more people and record your sessions. Cons: None significant.

Skype. It’s pretty tough to beat free international phone calls. Of course, free international video conferencing calls might just do it. With Skype you can talk to anyone around the globe–and look them straight in the eye–with this free VoIP program. Cons: The person you are talking to also needs to have Skype installed for free calls.

Web Marketing:

Keyword Discovery. Why guess what your prospects are searching for at Google or Yahoo when you can know? This online tool uncovers how often your best search terms are searched for and how much competition you have from other sites. If search engine traffic is going to be an important method of customer acquisition, this is an indispensable tool. Cons: Learning curve might seem steep if you’re new to the SEO game.

iSnare. If you could spend $2 and reach thousands or even tens of thousands of new prospects, would you be interested? Well, with article marketing from iSnare, you can. You can distribute your short articles through iSnare which will distribute your article to hundreds of Web sites and tens of thousands of editors who can publish your article and drive traffic back to your site. Cons: Your success depends on how well you write; you may want to hire a copywriter if your skills lay elsewhere.

Constant Contact. There are plenty of email marketing companies out there, but few offer the customer service of Constant Contact. If you have a problem, you can pick up the phone and talk to a real person! Their “Advanced Wizard” allows Web developers to create customized templates for clients who want to publish their own newsletters, and their prices are a bit lower than their competition. Cons: Still no A/B split testing.

E-Commerce:

PayPal. While PayPal isn’t perfect, it’s a great way for small businesses to dip their toe in the e-commerce ocean without drowning. No start-up fees, no monthly fees, no need for a secure server, no need for a security certificate, no need for a gateway processor, no need for a merchant account…all of these are included. PayPal takes 2.9% + $0.30 of each transaction, which is probably less than a traditional e-commerce solution when you consider what you’re getting. Cons: Perceived cheese factor.

Blogging:

TypePad. The best fee-based blogging system. TypePad offers a great user interface, space for your images and files, and hosting is included. Also, now that TypePad supports pages (and not just blogs), you can truly turn your blog into a Web site. Cons: Poor backup tools; paid, proprietary software (see alternative below.)

WordPress. The best open-source blogging system. WordPress gets more user-friendly with each version, and because it’s open source there’s an army of 3rd party providers continually creating plugins to enhance its functionality. Plus, it’s free. Cons: You’ll need to be comfortable with installing software on a server or hire someone to do it for you.

These online applications–and new ones like them–are available to you…and your competition. The tools of acquiring and keeping new customers are continually coming down in cost. However, it will be up to you to understand and leverage these tools to keep your business competitive in this Web 2.0 world.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

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