Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Small Business Aps to support your business

As an avid app and web user I have found the following aps extremely useful in the running of my business. From business plan software solutions to diaries and invoicing support I'm sure you will find these extremely useful.

So to help with that I’ve compiled a list of some applications I’ve used over the years including the ones I think are the best. There are certainly more applications out there that aren’t listed here so if you’ve used something that has worked well, definitely let me know about it.

Time Tracking & Invoicing

On The Job
On The Job – If simple time tracking an invoicing is all you need, On The Job is the app for you. It purposefully has less features than some of the competition and that is something it definitely has going for it. It’s my app of choice for time tracking.
Studiometry – Full-featured time tracking, invoice, and client management. This is really one of the most solid applications for any client-based business. The $190 price tag is seriously worth it if you need all of the features it has.
Billings – Billings is a newer player in the full-featured time tracking and invoicing market but they’ve made a solid splash. Billings doesn’t have quite as many features as Studiometry but the features it does have are the core ones you’d be using regularly anyways. It’s $59 price tag also makes it significantly more affordable than Studiometry.
QuickBooks – While QuickBooks does not have any real time tracking abilities, it does have a fairly stout invoicing system that can be very convenient if you use QuickBooks to manage your business finances.
Web alternatives:
BlinksaleI use this for all my invoicing needs. Straightforward invoicing at its best. Prices starting from $12/month (not including the limited free plan).
Harvest – Solid time tracking (OS X Widget included). Prices starting from $9/month (not including the limited free plan).

Money Managment

QuickBooks Pro for Mac
QuickBooks – The industry standard for business finance management. The Mac version of QuicKBooks is frequently chastised for its clunky interface compared to its Windows counterpart but in all honesty I’ve yet to have any real gripes. This app is a core part of running my business. Pricing for this is $200.
Cha-Ching – Arguably one of the best looking applications on the Mac, Cha-Ching has somehow managed to make a boring financial application hip and fun. Class OS X features like smart folders and iSight integration make this a fairly easy application to learn and use. This one will cost you $40.
iFinance – Fairly simple interface. At $15 it’s one of the cheapest solutions available.
iBank – Pretty full-featured with things like report and chart creation and budget tracking. It’s $50 for one license with a 30-day money back guarantee.
Money 2 – Jumsoft’s Money has recently seen a major upgrade to Money 2. The new feature set in Money 2 really is extremely solid though some may find the extra features as a little overkill (ie. a built in web browser). For the number of features it offers, the $40 price tag is steal.
Web alternatives:
DimeWise – Super cheap ($5 a month).
Wesabe – Includes a helpful community for tips and suggestions.


Apple Mail

Mail – This pretty much goes without saying. I know some people prefer other mail applications but Apple’s own really is the best mail application I’ve ever used. This app is included with OS X. Skype – Despite the recent outage, Skype is still one of my favorite tools for phone communication. With bookoodles of add-ons from personal phone numbers to voicemail and more, Skype has raised the bar and become a viable solution for many small business owners.
Adium – Whether you think chatting is productive or not, it’s great for hitting up co-workers or clients for quick questions. This one is free in every way possible.
Web alternatives:
Mailroom – Mailroom is a fairly niche mail application in that it’s mainly built for customer support teams. Pricing starts at $9 (not counting the limited free plan).
Campfire – Perfect for group chats with co-workers and clients with features such as file attachments and chat logging. Pricing starts at $12/month. There is a free plan that would work fine for smaller groups.

Project Management

Daylite Productivity Suite – An incredibly full-featured project management application, Daylite is one of the most useful applications on the Mac today. The full suite includes some killer features such a Mail integration, shared calendars, contact management, and more. A 1-user license costs $189.
OmniPlan – One of the newer Omni Group applications, OmniPlan makes heavy use of Gantt charts to help schedule out any project you have. The full version costs $150.
Web alternatives:
Basecamp – 37signals’ flagship product, Basecamp has become the standard for project management in many offices (especially small/home businesses). I keep Basecamp open almost the entire day to help manage things. Pricing starts at $12/month.

Contact Management

SOHO Organizer
Address Book – Some people prefer simplicity (myself included). I prefer Address Book to keep up with all my contacts and it has served me great over the years. It is included for free with OS X.
Daylite – In addition to being a great project management app (as mentioned above), Daylite also does a killer job of managing contacts. I’ve used it to manage everything from new client leads to team members on a project. A 1-user license costs $189.
SOHO Organizer – SOHO Organizer is a bit less business focused than Daylite. In addition to helping you organize contacts, it also helps lets you attach everything under the sun to those contacts as well as group them together however you wish. This one will cost you $100.
Redlien Account Executive – Redlien is almost exclusively for people who are in sales. With features such as email logging and opportunity management, I can’t imagine this not helping you increase your sales to other people. Cost is $130 for a new license or $90 to upgrade from a competing applications (such as Daylite).
Web alternatives:
Highrise – The newest application from the 37signals crew, Highrise is contact management in the usual 37signals style. Simple, straightforward, no feature-bloat. It has just the tools you need to customize it to your workflow. Prices start at $12/month. There is a limited free version as well.

Miscellaneous Tools

Yep – Yep (formally known as Kip, and covered here) is an application for organizing your documents. I use it religiously to digitize and organize paper receipts and other documents so I can keep a paper-free work environment as much as possible. The $34 price tag is well worth it.
VMware Fusion – Prior to VMware Fusion’s release, I was Parallels guy. But since Fusion came out I’ve exclusively moved to it. Doing so much frontend development, I keep it open almost all day to do browser testing on Windows browsers. Right now you can get it for $60 (after a $20 mail-in rebate).
OmniGraffle – Whether you need to build a simple wireframe for a new web project or create a flow chart for any type of information, OmniGraffle is really the best option for you on your Mac. Pricing starts at $80 for the standard version.
MailTemplate – If you have a lot of email that frequently requires the same response (such as customer service emails), I highly suggest you check out MailTemplate. You create custom mail templates for either new mail or replies that will ultimately save you tons of time on responding to certain types of email. MailTemplate costs around $15.

Top Software options for small business

Anyone who says their business "runs itself" probably owes a great debt of gratitude to a small army of software applications and Web services that tirelessly feeds the machine from behind the scenes. From creating and storing documents and staying on top of e-mail to keeping the books and getting teams working together, it takes a lot of code to run a business, or at least to run it well. But setting up your company isn't as easy as just fishing apps out of a barrel. You want the best you can get, and at a price that isn't through the roof.
With capability and frugality firmly in mind, we rounded up 25 of our favorite software tools and Web services that we deem the best for powering small and medium-size businesses. Of course, not every business needs every type of program or service, but if your small business could use some help in any of the categories below, our list will give you a pretty good shot at picking a winner.

Accounting Software

Intuit QuickBooks Pro; click for full-size image.
QuickBooks: The industry standard in financial management.

Intuit QuickBooks Pro The flowchart-based accounting of QuickBooks is as close to a standard in financial management as the small-business world has, and it's arguably the easiest way for nonprofessionals to transfer their books from the filing cabinet to the computer, where they belong. Most actions, from cutting a check to billing a client, are just a click or two away from the start screen. ($200)

Backup and Recovery

Mozy; click for full-size image.
Mozy's remote backup service lets you select what you want to back up.

Mozy You can (and should) regularly back up files to an external hard drive or NAS (network-attached storage) de­­vice in your office--but what if the whole place goes up in smoke? Hedge your bet with an online backup service like Mozy, which automatically archives whatever you'd like across the Internet, safe and sound. Just select what you want backed up, and Mozy does the rest, either in bulk while you sleep, or in real time, as files are changed. ($5 per month for unlimited service)

Blogging Tool

WordPress; click for full-size image.
WordPress offers one of the easiest blogging platforms you can find--and it's free.

WordPress If your business still doesn't have a blog--one of the best ways around to provide up-to-date company and product news--you're only about three years behind the curve. Hey, it's not too late to catch up: WordPress installs in minutes (it even offers a free, hosted option on, and the platform is dazzlingly easy to use (the site's home page carries an ad for WordPress for Dummies, but we doubt you'll need to crack that volume). WordPress so simple, your team will be begging to contribute to the blog instead of whining that it's too laborious. (free)


Sunbird; click for full-size image.
Mozilla's Sunbird calendaring application can be integrated with its Thunderbird e-mail platform.

Sunbird Mozilla's Thunderbird (our e-mail pick; see that category below) lacks a calendar, so most business users rely on the equally free Sunbird for scheduling. It's a very straightforward application, with day, week, and month views, and even a publishing feature to enable sending your calendar to a Web site, should you wish to make it public. Get the Lightning plug-in to integrate Sunbird directly with Thunderbird. (free)


Vyew; click for full-size image.
The Vyew online conferencing/collaboration platform includes a useful whiteboard.

With Vyew, anyone can host an Internet session that lets scattered colleagues work together on a project in real time. This Web conferencing platform gives you a very simple whiteboard where you can upload documents for discussion, share your desktop, or create designs from scratch. You don't even have to register to use Vyew, but if you do, you get access to VoIP and other audio services. (free for up to 20 live participants; additional services extra)

Collaboration/Office Suite

Google Docs; click for full-size image.
Google Docs lets a team share and collaborate on spreadsheets and documents.

Google Docs If your team members all have Google accounts (and why wouldn't they?), sharing files and collaborating on them simultaneously and in real-time is a snap with Google Docs. A word processor and spreadsheet are your only choices--no free-form whiteboarding here--but the service is free and easy as pie to operate. Upgrading to the Premier Edition brings extra space (a 25GB limit versus 7GB for free) and a conference-room scheduling system. (Standard Edition is free)

CRM; click for full-size image. offers many sales- and lead-tracking tools. Customer relationship management isn't just for the Fortune 500. Even one-person shops can benefit from a more ordered approach to managing the sales process, tracking leads, and ensuring that follow-ups are done in a timely fashion. requires some training and patience due to its vastness, but its exhaustive feature set and affordable pricing options make it a business must-have. ($8.25 to $250 per user per month)


FileMaker Pro; click for full-size image.
FileMaker Pro is more intuitive than Access, with many prebuilt templates to get you started.

FileMaker Pro Access is a part of many editions of Microsoft Office, but if you don't already have that database program in your toolkit, consider springing for FileMaker Pro instead. This database application is more intuitive than Access, while offering high-end features like live SQL data source support and easy Web-publishing capabilities, so your whole team can access the database via a browser. And its array of prebuilt templates helps you get up and running in no time. ($299)

E-Commerce Service

Yahoo Small Business
You'd be surprised at some of the sophisticated things being done with the simple e-commerce service at Yahoo Small Business. Yahoo provides everything from templates and wizards to credit-card processing and sales-tax collection. If you sell less than 50,000 units, this is definitely one of the easiest and quickest ways to go online. Even better: A small army of third-party developers stands ready to create Web designs that work specifically with the service. ($40/month and up, plus transaction fees)


If you have Microsoft Office, you already have Outlook, the industry-standard e-mail app. But if you're looking to save a buck and still get most of Outlook's features, Thunderbird is a capable, free alternative. Message tagging and a speedy, integratedsearch system actually offer a few improvements over off-the-rack Outlook. (free)
Yahoo Zimbra Desktop; click for full-size image.
Yahoo's Zimbra Desktop includes an impressive calendar as well as e-mail and contact tools.

Yahoo Zimbra Desktop Another interesting, non-Outlook e-mail option is Zimbra Desktop, which Yahoo acquired earlier this year. In simple terms, the Zimbra Desktop is an offline version of Zimbra's capable Web-based e-mail manager. It includes everything a small-business user needs: a contact manager, an impressive calendar, a to-do list, and even a simple, integrated document manager for quick note-taking. (free)

E-Mail Marketing

Topica; click for full-size image.
Topica provides an affordable e-marketing platform.

Topica Don't call it spam: Communicating via e-mail with your customers is cool, as long as they opt in. Topica has been in the e-mail marketing/mailing-list game for years, and most spam filters are pretty kind to messages that are sent through its service. Topica is also one of the most affordable of such e-mail marketing platforms that you can find on the Web--and it sure beats running a mailing list server yourself. ($50 per month and up depending on e-mail volume)


Instant Messaging

You don't have to run four different instant-messaging applications just to communicate with your clients and with everyone in your office. Multiprotocol software like Pidgin allows you to communicate with users across more than a dozen IM services: Not just AIM, ICQ, and other biggies, but also lesser-known ones like Gadu-Gadu (it's Polish) and Zephyr. Trillian is similar, but it supports fewer services. (free)


Zoho Invoice; click for full-size image.
Zoho Invoice offers simple, flexible Web-based billing.

Zoho Invoice Don't need a full-fledged accounting app like QuickBooks? Zoho Invoice is a near-perfect Web-based solution for managing simple billing needs. Create and manage customer accounts, build invoices, and then print or e-mail them with a mouse click. You can also tie in your use of Invoice with Zoho's other, extra-cost business services. See our full review of Zoho Invoice. (free to $35 per month depending on invoice quantity)


Mobile Device Remote Access

SoonR Desktop
It's one thing to be stuck in an airport without access to a critical file back at the office, but what if you don't even have access to a computer? Enter SoonR, which lets you snag files from your PC or Mac via a mobile phone. SoonR isn't built for serious data transfer needs--but it just might get you out of a jam when it counts. (free)

Office Suite

Microsoft Office
Like it or not, any business, big or small, probably needs at least one copy of Microsoft Office somewhere in the building. All of the suite's applications are simply too close to being industry standards to ignore. It can be pricey, but you likely needn't worry about upgrading to the latest version--anything produced since the turn of the century should do. ($85 to $400 per user, depending on version); click for full-size image.
The OpenOffice productivity suite is mostly compatible with Microsoft Office. Don't want to fork over beaucoup bucks for Office? We can't blame you--and this alternative suite will work for 95 percent of your productivity needs. is mostly compatible with Microsoft Office, and operations are similar enough that any Microsoft user should have no trouble using it. The big three apps--word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation tool--are all here, along with a simple database and drawing tool. One caveat: OpenOffice has trouble with Office 2007 files; but the imminent new version, OpenOffice 3, is said to remedy that limitation. (free)

Project Management

Build complicated project timelines, to-do lists, and message boards, and share files among your team members-all via one simple-to-use Web tool. Basecamp can keep all your workers on task while letting everyone else know what other team members are up to. It can even track project time on a per-member basis, for creating detailed billing and reports when the job is done. ($24 to $149 per month, depending on number of projects managed)

Remote Access/Syncing

If all you need is occasional access to a single PC that isn't within walking distance, you can get by with this simple remote-access tool. LogMeIn lets you quickly connect to your office computer to grab a file or check an application you don't have on your laptop, all via any computer with a Web browser. (free to $20 per month)
If you regularly use more than one computer, keeping track of which machine has which version of which report can get a little confusing. The solution: Synchronize the PCs so you can ensure they're all up-to-the-minute, while protecting yourself in the event you made different changes to the same file on more than one PC. Unlike most traditional sync software, Syncplicity works over the Web, so you can sync from anywhere. (free for 2GB limit, to $10 per month for 40GB limit)

Security Suite

Avira AntiVir; click for full-size image.
Avira's antivirus packages start with a free version for individual PCs.

Avira AntiVir Yes, you need to protect your business with a solid antivirus package, but big-name, enterprise-level protection can be really expensive. At its most basic, Avira offers security for individual PCs for free (if you're willing to deal with one ad pop-up per day); but if you need protection for file and mail servers or other central services, Avira can provide such tools as well, for a generally reasonable price. (pricing varies by protection level)

Social Networking

LinkedIn; click for full-size image.
LinkedIn is a social networking service for business.

LinkedIn When it comes to finding employees, contractors, service providers, and even outsourcing partners, LinkedIn has proven to be an invaluable tool for many businesses. But the real beauty of LinkedIn is something that becomes apparent only with use and time: As you expand your network--recommending other businesses, and otherwise participating--you may find that other LinkedIn users are recommending your business, as well. In addition, a Q&A system lets you ask for general advice on all matters business. (free, up to $50 per month for premium services)

Task Manager

Chandler; click for full-size image.
Chandler is a free, easy-to-use task manager.

Chandler Post-it notes and day planners are so 1988. Get your schedule, brainstorming notes, to-do lists, and just about anything else you have tacked up around your office into one place--your PC, that is--with Chandler. This free, open-source application gives you deep control over your day while still being easy enough to use that you'll never have to crack the manual. (free)


Skype for Business
Spend megabucks on your own PBX (private branch exchange), or spend nothing for a voice-over-IP setup like Skype for Business? If you're on a shoestring, the answer is clear. Sure, Skype can't easily handle things if, say, you want to run a tech support call center out of your basement. But for modest calling needs-especially if you place a lot of international calls-Skype is a solid and hugely affordable choice. (free software; subscription up to $9.95 per month for unlimited international plans)


LogMeIn Hamachi
There's no need to set up complicated VPN (virtual private network) servers to give remote users secure access to the corporate network: Hamachi (which recently became part of LogMeIn) does the job with managed peer-to-peer technology, so no centralized VPN server is necessary. It's easy to set up, easy on the budget, and your subscription gets you LogMeIn's remote desktop system, too. ($5 per month)