This post is part of our Spending Hacker Business Class series which helps small business owners secure the BEST deals on products and services they need for the ongoing operation of their business.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “time is money” before.
This is very true for any kind of business from the large listed companies all the way to the ‘one-man-band’ small business.
The thing is that for a small business, time is an extremely limited resource and as small business owners, as we have less staff (and sometimes no staff!) which means we have to do more ourselves while having the same amount of hours in the day as the executive of a large corporation.
We often also don’t have spare cash just sitting around that we can allocate towards hiring expensive experts and consultants to set things up for us or train us up.
One of those ‘things’ are:
The technology tools we need.
As small business owners, we need tech tools that are:
- Easy to setup and use ‘straight out of the box’ with no prior knowledge or training required;
- Reliable; and
- Cost effective
Let’s think for a moment what things we need technology tools to manage for us
We need it to help us:
- Manage our time;
- Manage our staff;
- Manage our documents, forms and operating manuals; and
- Manage our emails
Not too long ago, we all had Microsoft Office and Outlook on our computers and for many of us, this was it as far as technology tools.
Maybe that’s still the case for you today!
That’s all well and good but the problem with this kind of setup is that it is both expensive and inefficient.
After all, you have to pay for every single copy of Microsoft office you use and you and your staff are probably constantly emailing documents and other files back and forth between each other, especially if you have staff that are often on the road or are spread across multiple geographic locations.
The efficient, smart and cheap way to run the productivity software for your business is through the ‘cloud’ which is a generic term that means your information is available on-demand wherever you are and you can access and work on it from anywhere.
There are a multitude of both free and paid tech tools which allow you to do that. They vary greatly in the features they offer, their ease of use and for those that are paid, the price.
Getting all those tools to work well together and also be easy for you to use is not always easy.
That’s why in recent years, many well known tech companies have started offering dedicated versions of their widely-used products and services that are aimed specifically at small and medium size business owners.
Even Facebook have recently jumped on the bandwagon and announced they’ll start offering their social media platform as a tool for internal communication and collaboration within business environments.
With regards to cloud-based productivity tools for business, the two big names are Microsoft with their Office 365 for business suite and Google with their G Suite platform (formerly known as Google Apps).
They both offer a very reliable and cost effective solution as well as functionality and interface which will be very familiar and easy to use to anyone who has used their products in the past.
Seeing the huge potential in the cloud-based technology tools for business productivity, Amazon have also jumped on-board in recent years with their WorkMail & WorkDocs platform.
However, the problem with Amazon’s product is that they have never offered these kind of tools previously so their products, while they might be relatively easy to use (the jury is very much still out on that one!), the user interface will not be something people will be familiar with.
As a result, there will be a learning curve.
As far as choosing between Office 365 for business and G Suite, the opinion amongst the experts is that Microsoft’s offering is more suitable for larger businesses and enterprise environments while Google’s G suite is geared more towards the small to medium businesses.
For example, check out this comparison between the two done by CIO magazine (which by its very nature, is aimed more at enterprise users and large businesses).
You can also check this series of short video case studies showing how Google Apps is being used by various ‘real-life’ small businesses, most of whom have little to no IT knowledge or staff.
The Technology tools I use in my business
G Suite (Formerly known as Google Apps)
G Suite has been my personal choice due to it being cheaper and also because of its very flexible pay-by-the-month per user pricing which fits better with the nature of my business.
This is because my staffing levels can fluctuate regularly based on my needs as my staff are predominantly contractors or freelancers.
If you want to give Google Apps a try for yourself, you can get a no-obligation free trial and if you choose to continue beyond the first 14 days, you can get 20% off during the first year (on any of their plans) by using one of the coupon codes below:
(Google have a ‘crazy obsession’ about making all their coupon codes ridiculously weird and meaningless).
If you use any of these coupon codes, you are subject to the following terms & conditions so make sure you check those first.
One thing that both these platforms lack is the ability to send documents by fax for the odd occasion you need to go ‘old school’ and fax something through.
You wouldn’t think this is something that happens too often in the 21st century (I know I didn’t and so did many experts!) but no doubt you’ve had instances in which you needed to send through a document with information that is too sensitive to be sent by email (like a paper form containing your credit card or tax file number).
Because I don’t have a physical fax machine and also have no intention of getting one, I decided to look for online tools that I can use for the odd occasion I need to fax something through.
After trying many different ones, I decided to go with HelloFax.
HelloFax is a very cheap and easy to use online faxing service which allows you to fax documents directly from many cloud storage services including Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive (which is also part of G suite).
Here’s a quick demo video of how it works:
I can say from personal experience (I’ve been using this tool for almost 4 years now) that it really is as easy-to-use as this video shows.
HelloFax is very reliable and allows you to fax to pretty much anywhere in the world as well as receive faxes (on the higher priced plans) from anywhere in the world.
Finally, the prices are the lowest I was able to find amongst similar tools.
Business Productivity Tools – the free alternative
A common thread across business productivity suites such as G Suite, Office 365 and Amazon WorkMail & WorkDocs is that they cost money.
They may give you a certain free trial period but after that, you have to start paying (monthly or annually) regardless of the amount of employees or users you have.
If you are a small business owner who is just starting out, money may be extremely tight and it could be perfectly understandable if you were keen to minimise your expenses.
So, is there a full-featured business productivity suite with features similar to G Suite and Office 365 which you can use completely free of charge (at least to start with)?
Well, actually there is:
It’s Called Zoho
Zoho is an Indian company which makes cloud-based business productivity software. You can read more about them here.
They have all the productivity apps G Suite and Office 365 have as well as additional apps they don’t (like a full-featured CRM software).
The good thing is that most of those apps have a ‘free forever’ plan which is still fully featured and not ‘crippled’ in any way as far as functionality. Furthermore, there are also no annoying ads!
This means that provided you don’t need more than a certain amount of users (normally 25 but I’ll show you how to increase that limit to 30), you can use their service free of charge forever.
Here is a short video demonstrating what their cloud-based business productivity suite offers:
With Zoho Mail, you get 25 email accounts under your own domain (i.e firstname.lastname@example.org) completely free of charge. Each of these email accounts gets 5GB of storage space for your business emails.
Here is a video which demonstrates the capabilities of Zoho’s Email Suite:
Zoho Docs is a cloud-based Office productivity suite similar to G Docs or Office 365. The free tier (which is up to 25 user accounts under a single domain) gives you access to the full suite and all its capabilities with the only limitations being:
- Each user gets up to 5GB of file storage;
- Each single file uploaded to Docs must not be bigger than 1GB; and
- Only the last 25 versions of each document are kept.
Here is a short video showing how Docs works:
Get an extra 5 users for free
Zoho has a referral scheme whereby if you sign-up through a referral link provided to you by an existing user, you get an extra 5 users free of charge which means you can have up to 30 user accounts without paying a cent!
As I mentioned in a previous post, you will almost always get a better deal by going through a referral instead of going direct and this is no different.
So, if you want 30 free user accounts instead of the normal 25, make sure you sign up through one of these two links:
For Zoho Mail – Click Here
For Zoho Docs – Click Here
These are our referral links which we got when I signed up for an account to test the service (as usual, we never recommend something before we test it ourselves!).
If you don’t want to use our referral links, you can source your own. Any existing Zoho user can provide them to you.
I hope these tech tools will help make life easier in your business and increase your productivity.
Leave a comment below if you have any questions.