8 free must-have internet tools and applications for your business

So you run a business but the web is still a scary place, right? Well, here’s 8 free internet business tools you should be using right now.

On offer are web applications and internet tools specifically chosen for business people who’re on the move and need to make the most of their time, with the least expenditure of effort.

Google Local Business Center

Think of all those times you’ve gone onto Google and searched for: “car repairs Sheffield”, or: “plumbers Oxford”, and then you see the map to the left with a list of results to the right.

Here’s a chance for your business to get itself some free exposure, so the next time someone does a search for what you do in your area, you stand a great chance of being found. Pay a visit to the Google Local Business Center. If you don’t already have a Google Account, get one, sign up and add your company’s details for your free listing:

“Use the Local Business Center to create your free listing. When potential customers search Maps for local information, they’ll find your business: your address, hours of operation, even photos of your storefront or products. It’s easy, free, and you don’t need a website of your own.”

If you want your business to be found, a little search engine marketing can go a long way.

Facebook

Facebook might not seem like the obvious choice for a business tool, but there’s so much to Facebook, it’s difficult to ignore the potential.

Facebook even has its own advertising tools, which I’ve heard good things about. But it’s a must for you to know your target audience before spending a single penny, or every penny you spend might just be wasted.

Then there’s the Groups and Pages, which you can use to create a simple presence for your business, if you don’t have a website, or even if you have! The benefit here is that people can join and follow you, leaving messages and befriending you. Also, you can send group messages to all your followers, much like you would if you were making an announcement.

Facebook is also (as you might expect) a really good way to gather all of your family, friends, colleagues and clients into one place, keeping everyone up to date with what you’re doing, where you’ve been et cetera.

There’s no doubting the enormity to Facebook, but I really would recommend you persist and reap the rewards.

For those who’re new, TechRader offer an short introductory guide to Facebook. Also, if you’re totally new to social networking and social media, then I recommend you read my free ebook: The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media.

Google Docs

Yes, yet another Google tool. Trust me, this collection of office productivity tools are an excellent adjunct, or depending on your circumstances / needs, a replacement to Microsoft Office.

Google Docs consists of 3 applications; Documents, Presentations and Spreadsheets. As you can see, there’s an obvious correlation between Google Docs and Microsoft Office, which will no doubt ease the transition.

You can even open existing Word, Powerpoint and Excel files using Google Docs, as well as saving out / exporting as those formats, too.

The major benefit here is that you can access your documents from anywhere there’s a web connection. In addition, you can share your documents with colleagues, all editing the same documents at the same time.

Want to know more? Then have a look at the Google Docs guided tour.

Skype

If you’re serious about reducing your phone bill, then I highly recommend using Skype for voice calls and video conferences. If you know of anyone else using Skype, you can call them direct, either by voice or video for free. However, you do need a broadband connection to make the most of Skype.

You’ll need to install Skype onto your computer and register with them for a username. You can also get yourself a number, as well as buy credits to make calls to fixed land lines and mobile phones.

It’s worth mentioning that international calls are appreciably cheaper than with most mainstream providers, so it’s ideal for cross-continent conference calls, or for calling friends & family abroad.

Skype is also a great tool for text chats, as you might do on your mobile phone. In addition, you can send files to your recipients, which could be individuals or groups of people.

I use Skype myself all the time!

Google Gmail

OK, one more Google application. I think it’s fair to say that Google are producing some of the best productivity software right now, which is why you’re seeing 3 of their packages listed here right now.

Gmail is Google’s very own email client. To get you going, you get 7 gigabytes of storage, which is a handsome amount of space, easily enough for large email attachments. Imagine never having to delete an email again!

To help you sort all incoming mail based on a wide range of criteria, there’s Labels & Filters, so you can find all your emails quick and easy.

Related emails are grouped into “conversations”, so you can see an email conversation in its entirity, from the first to the last, even over weeks / months worth of emailing back and forth between friends, colleagues, family, clients et cetera.

You can collect email from any other email accounts (POP3 type accounts), so you can use Gmail as a central depositry for your emails, or even as a backup option for other email accounts.

You get a junk (or spam) filter, which grabs all of the crap you get sent, which are placed in a safe folder for later review. Additionally, the junk email filter is a good learner; able to figure our new kinds of junk, and sort them from genuine emails.

For power email users, Gmail can be set up as forwarder onto another account, or you can just set rules to forward specific emails to another email address, which is great for website / support contacts, checking for keywords / rules and sending copies to other people to ensure you never lose that customer because someone was out of the office or was away from their email.

Remember the Milk and Wipee List

Why the double listing? Based on the people I know, these two to-do list applications are highly prized as serious productivity tools.

Put simply, Remember the Milk and Wipee List are to-do list web applications to help you keep your life and business in check. Both boast a slew of features, but Remember the Milk may just edge things by having a version for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch, plus a few more extra features for you to play around with.

And because these are web applications, you can access them from wherever you an internet connection — ideal for people who’re always on the move.

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox is a web browser that is growing in popularity. It’s an alternative to Microsoft Internet Explorer and sports some very interesting features.

To ease the transition, the first time you install Firefox, you’ll be walked through a import option, which grabs all of your stuff in Internet Explorer and imports them into Firefox.

If you’re using Internet Explorer 7, you should be very familiar with the feel, such as the tabs, for example. Tabs are different windows within each window, so you can have multiple websites open in the same window. Ideal for people who’re busy working on different websites, or who’re into social media & social networking, like I am.

Firefox is also generally much more secure than Internet Explorer, which is essential in these strange times of scams, hoax websites and “phishing” exploits.

Firefox is also faster at leading web pages and supports a wider range of web standards; shared rules that dictate the layout and functionality of web pages. So you’re less likely to see a web page look strange, or not load properly.

And finally, and arguably Firefox’s biggest feature, the Add-ons. You install Add-ons which then enable Firefox to do things not natively supported. There are literally thousands of Add-ons for Firefox that do all kinds of things, many of which are productivity tools in their own right. However, the quality can be variable, so be careful. Some can Firefox unstable.

To get you started, here are 10 Add-ons for Firefox, which should point you in the right direction.

Conclusion

A lot of business people still suffer from web allergies, so this article is my attempt at an internet analgesic, to help you surf more easily, without the sniffs, gasps and groans!

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