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25 must-have technologies for SMBs

25 must-have technologies for SMBs

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Getting Paid

Now that you have customer leads, you need to have the tools in place that let them buy from you. By now most people know about 6) Square, a high-flying startup that gives retailers a small card reader that attaches to smartphones or tablets via the headphone jack.  A  Square alternative is 7) Leaf, which provides you with a purpose-built tablet. The tablet serves as your Point of Sale (POS) infrastructure. You can augment that by downloading apps for other smartphones in your business. The Leaf backend includes business management software and customer care tools.

At $50 per month, Leaf is more affordable than many other mobile POS solutions, although Square offers more flexibility to start small 2.75& per swipe (on up to $275 per month).

Analysing Data

Now that you have leads, customers and sales, it's time to start analysing your business to see what you can do better. Big Data isn't just for big business anymore.

Real-time customer analytics service 8) Woopra allows small businesses to identify note-worthy customers. You can spot hot leads, rescue lost customers, speed up customer onboarding, etc. Woopra also helps you spot overall trends in customer behavior, such as pinpointing where exactly most prospects bail out of the sign up or buying process. Pricing ranges from free for a basic account to $500 per month for a high-octane account that measures 10 million actions per month and retains data for two years.

Prism from 9) SiSense offers Big-Data-as-a-Service to help you crunch data from a variety of sources so that you can create business strategy based on data analysis. Prism's drag-and-drop interface lets you create data mashups and visualisations from SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Excel, CSV files, Google, SalesForce, ZenDesk and other databases.

Prism helps you visualise trends, identify critical metrics and formulate complex business queries without having to write a single line of code. Pricing is $50 per user per month or you can contact the company for a flat fee per server.

Hiring

Now that you have leads, sales and even data to help you optimise your business, it's time to decide if you're ready to expand. Hiring is, perhaps, the single most stressful event for small business owners. Getting the right candidate isn't easy, and hiring the wrong person can devastate a small business.

First, how do you even determine an appropriate salary? Sure, you can scour job ads trying to find ballpark figures, but a better option is to use 10) Payscale, which has collected salary and career data from more than 35 million people, covering 12,000 job titles and 1,100 distinct industries in 150 countries.

But how will you determine whether a candidate is a good fit? Services from 11) Pairin and 12) Hireology should help. Pairin focuses on "a candidates behavioral DNA and potential for success, instead of the time-consuming evaluation of a resumes historical data." Pairin identifies optimal interview candidates through the modeling of existing top employees in the same positions based on 137 performance drivers. Pairin also lets you compare a candidate to an existing in-house employee. Pricing ranges from $49 for a one-to-one comparison to $199 per month to assess unlimited employees and unlimited applicants against job listings.

Hireology, meanwhile, has analysed thousands of interviews across hundreds of companies to identify 67 traits that help predict the likelihood of success in a specific role. The process starts when a business posts an opening. Hireology then asks you questions to zero in on the most appropriate traits. Pricing starts at $24 per month for a single opening.

Conferencing & Collaboration

You've brought in employees, so now it's time to make sure they can actually collaborate on projects. If you're like many small businesses, many of your employees may work remotely at least some of the time.

I know from experience that videoconferencing tools leave a lot to be desired. Enterprise-class tools may be too expensive for SMBs, while the low-cost (or even free) solutions like Skype don't always perform well.

Moreover, different users will already have different tools installed and will prefer to use what they know. 13) Blue Jeans Networks' technology serves as the glue that holds all of these various conferencing tools together. It allows people to use whatever videoconferencing tool they want. Schedule a meeting, send users a link and all they need is an end device with conferencing capabilities (laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc.).

For instance, early customer Envision Studios, a commercial casting company, uses Blue Jeans-powered videoconferencing to connect casting directors watching via their iPads in Florida with ad agency reps who are on their office PCs in other states. This makes casting less expensive, while also letting agencies tap into a much larger talent pool. You can try Blue Jeans free for two weeks.

14) Bitcasa is an online storage tool that offers 10GB of storage for free. You can get unlimited storage for $69 per year. It includes mobile client tools, and although it is targeted at consumers, SMB features will be rolling out soon.

You can also elect to mirror all your devices (PC, laptop, smartphone, etc.) to your Bitcasa Infinite Drive. Your files are then automatically and continuously backed up and available anywhere. Everything is still available offline, and your changes will sync up when you are back online.

15) Box and 16) Soonr are online file sharing and collaboration services. Both let you securely share (and store) large files, while keeping them in sync across devices. Box for small businesses is priced is $15 per user per month. Soonr's pricing starts at $9.95 per month for three users.

Day-to-Day Operations

The two main tools many small business owners use to run their businesses and track customer interactions are email and Excel spreadsheets. Most owners eventually realise that this approach leaves records scattered across various accounts, hindering sales and marketing efforts and even compromising the customer experience. Meanwhile, big CRM solutions like those from Saleforce.com and Oracle are out of reach for many SMBs.

17) Insightly combines CRM and project management functionalities in one application, so users dont have to manage multiple applications. The cloud-based solution, which tightly integrates with Google Apps, allows users to easily keep track of customer interactions and manage leads, proposals, opportunities, projects and files from any device. Users can start with a free account and upgrade as needed. The most expensive plan, supporting up to 40 users, is priced at $99 per month.

18) LiquidPlanner is a cloud-based predictive project management tool designed to execute millions of schedule calibrations over the course of a project.

LiquidPlanner helps focus teams on what's most important: strategic projects and tasks and/or those with the most revenue potential. Users estimate how long a task should take (giving a range), and after searching through calendar availability, vacation time and set priorities, LiquidPlanner calculates when various tasks should be completed, giving both best- and worst-case scenarios.

When project priorities shift, LiquidPlanner automatically updates the schedule to reflect the changes. It comes with a mobile companion, so you can stay on track while on the go. Pricing starts at $29 per user per month.



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