These days, most small businesses rely—either somewhat or heavily—on software applications. According to a new report by PC World magazine, here are 15 of the best free and low-cost software tools for powering any small or midsize business:
1. Accounting: Intuit QuickBooks Pro. Its flowchart-based accounting is the simplest way to transfer your books from the filing cabinet to the computer. ($200; http://quickbooks.intuit.com)
2. Backup/recovery: Mozy. If your home base is ever destroyed, it’s wise to have an online backup service that automatically archives whatever you want via the Internet. ($5 per month; www.mozy.com)
3. Blogging tool: WordPress. It’s not too late to jump into blogging—a great way to provide company and product news online. WordPress installs in minutes and is easy to use for non-techies. (Free; www.WordPress.com)
4. Collaboration: Vyew. Host an Internet session with far-flung colleagues and work together on a project in real time. The Vyew Web conferencing platform provides a simple whiteboard to upload documents for discussion and share your desktop. (Free for up to 20 live participants; www.vyew.com) Another good option is Google Docs, which allows people to collaborate on online documents simultaneously. (Standard edition is free; http://docs.google.com)
5. Customer : Salesforce.com. Even the smallest companies can gain from a more organized approach to managing sales, tracking leads and scheduling follow-ups. Salesforce.com requires some training because it’s large, but powerful. ($8.25 to $250 per user, per month; www.salesforce.com)
6. E-commerce service: Yahoo Small Business. Their service provides everything from web site templates to credit-card processing. If you sell fewer than 50,000 units, this is the quickest way to go online. ($40 per month and up; http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com)
7. E-mail: Thunderbird. If you have Microsoft Office, you already have Outlook. But if you’re looking for a free, stable alternative, Mozilla’s Thunderbird offers most of the same features. (www.mozilla.com/en-US/thunderbird) Another good option: Yahoo’s Zimbra Desktop, which includes a contact manager, calendar, to-do list and document manager. (Free; www.zimbra.com)
8. E-mail marketing: Topica. This service helps you communicate via e-mail with customers and send large e-blasts without landing in spam folders. ($50 per month and up; www.topica.com)
9. Invoicing: Zoho Invoice. If you don’t need a full accounting tool like QuickBooks, Zoho is a good Web-based solution to manage simple billing and customer accounts. (Free to $35 per month depending on invoice quantity; www.invoice.zoho.com)
10. Office suite: Microsoft Office. Like it or not, Microsoft Office is an industry standard, so its applications are compatible with most everyone else’s. ($85 to $400 per user; www.microsoft.com) If you’re looking for a free option, OpenOffice.org will work for 95% of your needs and is mostly compatible with Microsoft Office. (Free; www.openoffice.org)
11. Project management: Basecamp. Create project timelines, , build message boards and to-do lists on this easy Web tool. ($24 to $149 per month; www.basecamphq.com)
12. Remote PC access/syncing: LogMeIn. This tool lets you access your PC from remote distances via the Web. (Free to $20 per month; www.logmein.com)
13. Security suite: Avira AntiVir. Anti-virus protections can be expensive, so here’s a simpler, cheaper version. The basic version offers security for individual PCs free (one ad per day). (Pricing varies; www.avira.com)
14. Social networking: LinkedIn. This networking tool for adults has become a valuable resource for small business owners to help find employees, contractors and outsourcing partners. As you expand your network and recommend other businesses, you’ll find partners recommending you. (Free; www.linkedin.com)
15. Task manager: Chandler. As PC World says, Post-it Notes and day planners are so 1988. This free, open-source app lets you put your schedule, brainstorming notes, to-do lists and other bulletin board info onto your PC. (Free; www.chandlerproject.org)
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