There comes a point in every businesses' life when those reams of hand written notes, whiteboards and password locked laptops won't cut it anymore and you find yourself needing to automate, share and communicate more quickly and easily.
Enterprise level collaborative and automation software costs can cost thousands, but if you're a smaller company or freelancer then there's still a huge array of free and low-cost online alternatives.
Let's take a quick look at ten useful web apps to get you started:
Pros: Let’s face it, we all want to know just what our competitors think they’re up to don’t we? This sort of info can be invaluable, and Bizshark is more than happy to give it to you.
Just enter a URL of interest and the Bizshark will show you a neatly segmented overview of traffic, reach, SEO, financial and contact information allowing you to set some goals and make some calls.
Cons: the free version isn’t updated that often. A search for Econsultancy.com has outdated contact and traffic info, meaning you’ll need to fork out for the premium upgrade if you want any useful in-depth figures.
Smaller businesses tend not to rank at all (no amount of digging could reveal the weekly special at Flying Pie Pizzeria, Boise) so if you’re an SME this may not be for you.
Pros: A neat tool for busy B2Cs in particular, allowing customers to book appointments quickly and easily online.
Not one to miss any bandwagons, appointy also boasts a social theme, allowing you to spread reviews and benefit from word of mouth PR through a tidy and intuitive interface.
Cons: While it may tie things together, Appointy is at heart a Google Apps mashup, combining calendar and places and you may find that as the big G continues to tweak these services, tools like Appointy become irrelevant fairly quickly.
Pros: As the name implies, Lovely Charts means those of you suffering from Excelophobia can still create a huge range of quick, professional charts for any occasion.
Lovely charts is free to join and has a smooth, intuitive interface. It’s user friendly and will make knocking up anything from workflows to wireframes a snap.
Cons: There’s no opportunity to animate your tables, meaning you might struggle to impress or entertain now that PowerPoint art communities are all the rage.
If you need a solid, basic workhorse however, you can’t go far wrong.
Pros: A great app if you’re on a tight budget or just haven’t got the time to go through an entire design phase.
Combining free, editable art with a paid-for upgrade option, it’s ideal for zero-budget mini projects with an easy to grasp ‘Wordart’ style control panel.
Cons: That same ‘Wordart’ style.
Logoease just doesn’t have the art or adaptability to cope with professional requirements, Logoease is better employed if you’re putting together a quick mock-up, but if you need a real, useable logo you’ll need to call in a real designer.
Pros: A handy project organiser for small businesses, ProjectBubble makes it easy to create and manage multiple projects and workflows, with plenty of options for adding in new elements and due dates as you progress.
Cons: You’re limited to 10 collaborators, meaning this is only a short term solution if you’re planning to scale your business.
Might be more usefully employed by separate in-house teams than across the board.
Pros: Invoicing. It may make you money, but it’s still undeniably boring. Filling out receipts, adding and subtracting, working out tax allowances, it’s all so...zzzzzz....
Thank your lucky accountants for apps like Curdbee then, who’s vaguely nonsensical name disguises a quick and easy invoice app that means far less time with a calculator and little chance that you’ll forget about an unpaid bill.
It’s easy to use and comes with a range of useful features like ‘download as PDF’ and allows you to accept payment online.
Cons: Ideal for the freelancer, Curdbee lacks the flexibility needed to handle other business must-haves like payroll, which can leave you hopping from app to app, while if you’re an employer, you’ll need a more robust solution.
Pros: Now that we’re entrenched in social, there’s a growing need to track online buzz and actively reach out to customers.
Of course, you’ll need a handy way to organise that info, which is where Netvibes excels.
The interface is straightforward and will even import your own branding to a page, allowing you to organise RSS feeds, Twitter searches, Facebook updates and a host of other news sources in an ‘iGoogle on steroids’ format that’s easy to keep track of and quick to set up.
Cons: It won’t do any research for you, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve already honed your keywords.
Once you have them all though, this is a nice way to organise and share info without resorting to the uber-dorky (and Machiavellian) Yahoo Pipes.
Pros: At some point every project manager has to deal with an overly-interested client, constantly panicking and requesting updates to the extent that fielding all their calls disrupts your workflow and sends projects over deadline.
Project Stat.us neatly circumvents the problem by posting regular project updates for clients as you tick of ‘to do’ tasks, meaning you can unplug the phone and get on with some actual work.
Cons: With the increasing ubiquity of Twitter and other Social platforms, do you really need to sign up to another update service?
One for the terminal busybody.
Pros: Not to be confused with the latest attempt to slow iTunes down even more, this Pingg is one for the event marketers among you.
Pingg offers general event management, organisation and reporting services, but their real USP is the option to design some very stylish on or offline invites, backed up by some great artists and a quick and easy design interface.
Cons: Does anyone actually send fully-fledged invites out unless they are for weddings these days?
(Frankly, I’m happy with an email containing the words ‘open bar’.)
If you're a B2B then this might be overly-fluffy, so it's usefulness may be limited to publishers and entertainment companies.
Pros: And finally, let’s leap offline into the exciting world of multichannel and increase our touchpoints with some good old fashioned cold calling shall we?
Dial My Call allows you to upload any message you want along with a phone number list and automate your phone marketing entirely.
It’s a cheap, quick and easy way to automate phone campaigns of any size.
Cons:Want to annoy a whole lot of people really quickly?
Set this thing up to call at... oh around dinner time should do it...
Use with extreme caution (if at all).
There’s a ton of great apps available for business out there that can really speed up your workflow (If I’ve missed your favourite feel free to let me know in the comments), just be careful not to over-automate, the personal touch still counts for a lot, but as long as you make sure you’re available in person if your client really, really needs you, then apps can really help you streamline your process and increase productivity.