We’re all relatively grown here, and chances are that most of us have dabbled in a business venture or two. We’ve spent time reading blogs and listening to podcasts that tell us about this new toy or online start up that may change the way we work (for the better, of course). Chances are we even went and signed up for an account or free beta or three, and spent a little more time mucking about to see if that new online tool would work for us. I have a long (looong) list of things I’ve tried and put aside, still use, or have flagged for later, when it suits whatever project I’m working on.
I’ve culled through that list and pulled out some of the online business services that stuck out to me, avoiding the more obvious ones like Google Apps, Producteev, Evernote, and the like. I’m pretty… thrifty… when it comes to online ventures, so all of these services will be affordable, and many of them will be at least partly free. Check out the list, below, and share some of your own highlights and discoveries in the comments.
image by Mr Ush
If you are doing a bit of work on the side, and just want an easy (and free) way to get an invoice to someone, Curdbee is a great choice. The wonderful price of $0.00 will get you the following:
- Unlimited Invoices, Clients & Items
- Your Own Logo and Branding
- Accept Payments via PayPal & Google Checkout
- Multiple Currencies
- Data Import and Export
If you need more than that, $5 a month will get you white labeled, custom domained, SSL encrypted, reminded, customized, extended, and a whole lot more. Definitely worth checking out. I use Curdbee for freelance writing services and other small projects.
Pulse is a specialized online finance app for business (or personal finances) — I say specialized because, while it has some very cool features for tracking and managing your cash-flow, it is not a full blown accounting app. It’s actually incredibly handy for getting a good picture of where your money is coming from and going to. You can group by category, and company or project, export to CSV, and view by month, week or date range. Pulse has some nice reporting features, too. Pricing ranges from $9 to 49$ per month, and the only difference is the number of accounts, users, and gigabytes you get. A 30 day free trial is available.
Keeping with the money theme of the first two entries — I do plan to move on, but I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that money management is important… — FreeAgent is accounting software for the non-accountant — which I very much am. It does most of what you could need, including quotes and invoices, cashflow reports (not to the same focus as Pulse, of course), multiple currencies, sales tax reporting that works outside the US, and even a low impact CRM. My business partner and I use FreeAgent with Bluetoque Marketing and like it a lot. The interface is easy to use and understand, and you are not overwhelmed with accounting terms. It costs $20 bucks per non-committed month and you get the entire service for unlimited users. There’s a free trial here, as well.
If you are doing anything that requires a discussion attached to something visual, especially a screenshot, Notable is probably one of the best tools you could get your hands on. Notable gives you the ability to click and drag over a section of your image and make notations. Each notation can be followed up with comments that don’t get cluttered or overwhelming, and images can be organized into sets, and sets into workspaces. These features, and others, make for very easy client or internal discussions on designs and design features. They have an iPhone app as well, but I find it to be somewhat lacking in features, as it is really just meant for mobile website captures.
Notable is a bit expensive for my tastes, ranging from $24 to $119 per month, with the differences being 5users/5GB to 50users/50GB. They used to have a free account, but they don’t advertise it anymore, so I’m guessing it was phased out in favour of a “give us your credit card, we’ll give you a free trial” model. Still, we’ve used Notable to great success at Bluetoque, and some of the big boys out there use it, too, including Mozilla, Twitter, Intuit and SEOmoz. If you are looking for a good way to discuss design with others, Notable is one of the best you’ll find.
UPDATE: This morning, while trolling Feedly, I discovered a Mashable article on Draftboard. Draftboard is, in a word, awesome. It does the same sort of thing as Notable, but costs less ($12-$99/month), still has a free account (with 1GB storage for one project), supports revision tracking and .PSD/.EPS/.AI file sharing. There is also a 30 day free trial. I’ve been playing with it and am very impressed — and not just because it was created by two teenagers from my fantastical country of Canada, and is located in my Vancouver home. It is very possible that both Bluetoque Marketing and my freelance services will be headed toward Draftboard. Check it out!
Screencasts are a must-have tool for digital products and services these days, and are even useful if you just want to show someone something or ease the burden of repeated tech support calls from family. Both of these apps are very good “super-simple-screencast” services, and I sometimes have a hard time deciding between them, but I think my favour ultimately lies with Screenr. Both services are free (though GoView will likely charge when it comes out of beta), and both make sharing your screencasts very easy, but, while GoView has the added advantage of a simple editor, Screenr is entirely browser based, allows you to select what part of your screen you want to share, makes sharing your screencast to Twitter a no-brainer, and your screencasts are playable on iOS devices. The only downside to Screenr is that you are locked in at a five minute maximum. That could could be a benefit though… raise your hand if you also hate 15 minute screencasts.
If you are running the sort of business that takes appointments, a cool app that just opened to the public is OpenCal. I tested them out just last week and I really like the simplicity of the app. It’s very easy to set up your business’ services and employees, and very easy for people to see your availability and book appointments. You even get a nice mini-site that is complete with your hours and a map to your location (if you want). You can embed the service in your own site, as well. OpenCal also features automatic reminders, drag and drop calendar management, client history and notes, promotional help, and more.
My only complaint about the current version of OpenCal is the lack of flexibility for businesses that have services that take more than 300 minutes to complete. It’s a great service for personal trainers, hair stylists, therapists, lawyers, and anyone else who gets paid by the hour or short job; it may not be the best service for a cake decorator or other custom-design business.
OpenCal ranges from $19 to $59 per month and has a free plan that allows for three staff members and three appointments per month. They barely have the bubble wrap off and say they are always adding more features — definitely worth checking out!
While not as powerful or complex as a full featured app like Google Analytics, Seevolution offers a really cool way to track what your website users are doing. Seeing what people are doing and where they are clicking on your site, in real time, is a very good thing, especially when the data is displayed as a heat map that can go also go back in time. This is invaluable way to learn what works and what doesn’t on your website. Seevolution also offers active email alerts that let you know if something is getting in the way of your site’s usability.
I think that Seevolution is a very good tool to run alongside of your main analytics service. So far, Seevolution is free, and, while I understand that they need to make money, I sincerely hope the service remains free when it comes out of beta.
Some people love mind mapping, some people hate it. If you love it, and are familiar with Freemind and MindManager, you will like Mindomo. The interface is very reminiscent of MindManager’s (which is very reminiscent of Office 2007), and it supports Freemind and MindManager filetypes. You can even export to one of those programs, if you like — but that’s a premium service.
Premium services in Mindomo are the way to go if you want to do some regular mindmapping. The free plan only gets you seven private maps and basic import and export (no export to Freemind or MindManager), as well as the basic desktop app. The paid version unlocks quite a bit more, and only costs $6 per month, or $9 per month (per user) for a collaborative workspace.
I would love it if online mindmapping entered the HTML5 world, but most services — Mindomo included — are still flash based. MindManager is available for iOS devices, though, and there are a few others that will read their files as well as Freemind, so there is still the possibility of portability.
HubSpot is one of the best resources on the web for learning inbound marketing techniques and generally increasing your leads, traffic and sales. They can get expensive when you get into the meat of their services, but there is a lot of information to be had for free on their blog, and in their whitepapers, social media marketing kit, and webinars. There are also several free “grading” tools that allow you to see how you (or others) rank on everything from your blog to your website, Twitter, Foursquare, and more. Helpful tips are added into the mix as well.
One thing to watch for with Hubspot is giving them any sort of contact information. Yes you can get great use out of their expertise — but if you are not on their site looking to purchase, be aware that their free services sometimes come at the price of many, many sales attempts.
I hope you enjoyed my list! There are many others I could have added — this is by no means exhaustive. I would love to hear what you think of each service. Even better — tell me some of your favourite online business services are so I can check them out myself!