As the world continues to go digital, the traditional tools of business are slowly but surely becoming impractical and obsolete. Thanks to computers, the internet and a world chock-full of software developers, systems are now available that are allowing small-businesses the opportunity to replace their expensive and high-maintenance management tools with stream-lined solutions.
We at Yardstick have started relying more and more on tools that allow us to conduct our business “as usual”, without the cost and inconvenience of traditional systems. Here are a few productivity tools that we’ve been using, with gentle-enough learning curves that just about anyone can start applying them to their own business model, no matter how big or small the organization may be.
ON-LINE BACK-UP AND STORAGE
Who hasn’t lost data due to a computer crash or virus in their lifetime of computing? If you have (and I suspect almost everyone has at some point), you know the importance of proper back-ups for your data. Over the years we have seen many options, including tape-drives, CDs, and dedicated back-up hard-drives. The downside to most localized back-up solutions is that they are not 100% reliable, are high-maintenance, and you are required to invest in hardware and media that quickly becomes obsolete as technology evolves.
Introducing on-line back-up. Cheaper per-day then a cup of coffee, several providers are now offering solutions that automatically back-up and synchronize your computer’s files and data to a cloud server network. Essentially what this means is that the data you choose to back-up is stored remotely on virtual drives. Depending on how you’ve configured your settings, your data will be automatically backed-up in real-time as you work, via your internet connection. Options include multiple-users to the same folders, which is a great replacement for traditional network storage. Your critical files and data can now be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection, synchronized to multiple computers and shared amongst your entire staff.
At Yardstick we have been using a product called Jungledisk, but there are many options available. Shop around and pick the one that best suits your needs.
E-MAIL, ADDRESS BOOKS AND CALENDARS WITH GOOGLE
If you’ve ever worked in an office that was using an exchange server or other complex IT solution to manage company-wide e-mail, contact databases and calendars, then you know how much effort and cost goes into managing these systems.
Welcome to “Google Apps for Business“. Unlike most Google products, this one unfortunately isn’t free. However, when compared to the purchase price of server-hardware, and the cost of I.T. support to run the infrastructure, Google’s e-mail and document sharing solution makes a lot of sense. Cost effective, and highly reliable, Google Apps is an efficient method by which to set up your whole team with an integrated communications tool. Google stores all the data and back-ups on its own network, making it accessible when, where and how you want it. If you have a domain name you’d like to use, the app will integrate this as well. No one you e-mail with will ever know the difference.
Don’t like the Gmail interface? No problem. Google’s e-mail, calendar and tasks can be synchronized through e-mail clients such as Outlook, Apple products, Outlook Express and Mozilla’s Thunderbird. If you use multiple computers in several locations, you can set up your e-mail client to leave messages on the server. This allows you to synchronize data to multiple computers from the same account, leaving your e-mails accessible to you wherever you happen to be working. No more forwarding messages to your home computer; they’ll be waiting for you when you get there.
For more information, contact Transparent Solutions (a local IT company that aids in migration to Google Apps) or check out Google’s Apps for Business page.
I was a long time MS Explorer user, until one day I finally got fed-up with browser crashes and inexplicable error messages on certain websites. I started using Firefox, as I had heard a fair bit about it, and I haven’t looked back since. If you are a web power-user, who plays with a lot of different web-products like social media and blogging, or do a lot of your own internet marketing, then you should strongly consider switching to Firefox. Firefox is a free program, created and maintained by a non-profit know as the Mozilla Foundation. It is less crash-prone, has excellent virus and spamware protection (when combined with AVG anti-virus), and automatically up-dates itself as new versions are released. For internet power-users, Firefox has a deep repository of add-ons and plug-ins that allow you to retrieve deeper information from websites you may be competing with, as well as productivity tools designed to make your on-line interactions quicker and more efficient.
I have been a dedicated MS Outlook user for more years then I can remember. Outlook has many great features that I’ve become accustomed to, that allow me to quickly and effectively automate routine tasks, archive e-mails for future reference and organize all my communication and scheduling needs. Recently, however, I decided it would be worthwhile to try out a few other e-mail options, just to see what other solutions were out there.
Enter Mozilla’s Thunderbird e-mail client. From the great people who brought you the Firefox web browser, comes a sophisticated e-mail management tool with many similar features to Outlook. And best of all, it’s free! One feature that jumped out at me right away was Thunderbird’s ability to handle both POP3, as well as webmail services like Microsoft’s Hotmail or Google’s Gmail. If you work from multiple work-stations, and have server-based e-mail through work, Thunderbird will allow you to install the program on multiple computers, and then synchronize your e-mail accounts to those different computers. What this means, is that no matter what computer you are working at, your e-mail inbox and sent folder will always be matched. No more forwarding e-mails to your home address, or using webmail interfaces.
I hope some of these productivity tools will come in handy for you and your business. This was just the tip of the iceberg, as there are a variety of solutions available today, for each one of the issues listed above. No only that, but there are an infinite number of other web-based tools out there, that will allow you to increase efficiency and stream-line work flow for you and your staff.
If you have any questions regarding these products, or have a problem for which you’d like to find a solution, please leave a comment below and maybe we’ll turn it into a future blog post. But of course, you can also e-mail me directly and I’ll be more than happy to walk you through any issues you may be having.