The Internet is quite an appetizing prospect for entrepreneurs. No matter where you work from, there are a few services that can make your business run more smoothly, and afford you more to time expand, rather than deal with mindless administration or problems when half-baked software breaks down.
1. Engage with new software
To change your business’ fortunes, new software is crucial. Everything from enterprise financial management systems to the latest web design software can make all the difference in your company’s bottom line.
HTTP is what the web has been built with, but by upgrading to a brand new system, to Web 2.0 tools, user interfaces can look smarter, work faster, and catch the eye of the consumer who wants a more engaging shopping or consumer experience than just clicking through static pages, refreshing pages and having to navigate through tables of links to find what they are looking for. Software like Adobe’s Flex is an example of software that can make purchasing much more intuitive, consumer friendly, and better for business. The newer the software, the faster it works, and often, the cheaper it is to develop brand new applications – as you’ll see in the applications below.
Kiva is a pioneering small charitable loans company that provides loans to third-world producers, which are subsequently paid back to the donors, and then can be paid out elsewhere. Prosper takes this micro-credit system and turns it: offering micro-credit loans for your business. If you’ve already got a successful business and want to manage loans from friends and family, or ask people to ‘bid’ to give you a loan, all with interest of course, then Prosper may be the place to find the cash injection. Peer lending has been hugely successful in the charity sector, and with a business incentive, and visible profiles of the businesses looking for loans, you can either use this as a way to use capital and exchange ideas with brand new businesses, or find your own money, without having to deal with any bank managers.
Keeping in constant contact with your employees when running a virtual business, which is typically outsourced and fragmented across the globes, is crucial. With so many chat applications in use, Campfire offers one place to gather around. One of the key features is the ability to create password protected chats with clients, sharing media in real time. The application integrates well with 37signal’s other elegant software, like Basecamp. Campfire is described as “a godsend for groups”, which summarizes it nicely.
For the Web 2.0 businessman, award winning web application Networth IQ both keeps tracks of your finances, as well as your net worth. And for the competitive businesses owner, there’s even an option to compare your successes with people your age, or in the same industry sector.
As with many financial applications, Wesabe can integrate with your bank account, and create a report for you and your business which allows you to take better control of your business. Perfect for small start-ups, Wesabe also offers the ability to seek financial advice from fellow business owners, and talk money with people who understand the problems and risks involved in running a small business – perhaps worth signing up if only for the community involved.
With so many people using Google for everything from email to blogging and photo sharing to document writing, it’s often easiest to use what people are already familiar with and stick to the free applications that integrate well with similar other free services. Google Calendar enables different calendars for different people, or even different clients, so that all of your employees, wherever they are, know who is meant to be doing what and when. This app makes it easy to keep on top of it all, assigning them task and changing the schedule, virtually.
A virtual office deserves virtual to do lists, or at least it makes sense to do use them. Rather than writing reams of to do lists for all of your projects, clients and workers, use Remember the Milk to do everything. The most integrated of all to do list clients, Remember the Milk can be shared with your contacts, placed onto a map, organized in every way you need, whilst maintaining the simplicity to get your work done, and your to do list clear.
Virtual businesses need virtual business cards. LinkedIn is the place where you can advertise yourself, and you business, to people all around the world. Set up a profile and reaquaint yourself with old colleges, get recommendations from current workers and get introduced to a network of contacts in your field, all of whom you can allow to see your background, your expertise, and your company. Who needs a business card when you be linked to all these people digitally, automatically?
Eye OS, Eye Operating System, is a web-based operating system that allows you to create a virtual desktop that can be used wherever you are working. Like your Windows or Mac desktop, you can ensure that you always have your applications and your files with you wherever you are. Virtual business needs virtual space: EyeOS may provide just what you’re looking for.
Even virtual businessmen need to travel, and since you probably aren’t spending someone else’s money, when you need to connect in the real world you’ll want to find the cheapest, fastest and most efficient way of getting there. Kayak does a lot of the hard work for you, finding cheap flights from over 140+ sites at once. With a clean interface and all the extras you need including hotels and car rentals. Kayak is the way to get where you need to go.
11. Sales Force
For Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions, Sales Force is the market leader in providing marketing, sales and service, professionally running your business operations and ensuring business growth. Everything your business needs can be managed and outsourced to Sales Force.
When working for clients, you want them to recognize how swiftly, or how comprehensively you’ve undertaken the work they’ve asked you to do, and how much you deserve a continued relationship. Harvest allows businesses to track time, log any expenses that you and your business incurs, and then allows you to invoice clients with a breakdown of exactly how the workflow proceeded. With nothing to install, all of your colleagues, virtual or sat next to you can use the interface. With smart desktop widgets and a strong emphasis on customer service, Harvest is a robust and simple way to conduct and manage business relationships.