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Useful sites for small business

Elsa Wenzel | Sept. 30, 2011
Whether you're running a business out of your den or from a penthouse in the sky, you don't have time or money to waste on second-rate tools. These well-designed services and resources are among the best the Web offers for small and midsize businesses. Some include apps for smartphones and downloads for your desktop, but all of them provide the bulk of their features within a Web browser.

Managing the Paper Trail

You'll reduce papercut injuries by signing up with EarthClassMail--as long as you don't mind strangers' opening, scanning in, and uploading your snail mail to a private website for your online reading. The service will recycle junk mail, shred sensitive stuff, or ship items to you that you'd rather handle in person. It starts at $20 per month for 100 pieces of mail, or double the price for double the volume.

Alas, some people still insist on doing business via fax. If your fax machine already went under the sledgehammer, FaxZero lets you fax a .doc, .docx, or PDF file for free. An ad will follow your document out of the recipient's machine, but you can eliminate that with a $10-per-month subscription or a $2 one-time fee. HelloFax performs the same job, with no ad the first five times you use it. After that, the pricing is pretty much even with FaxZero's, but the service offers pricier options for power faxers.

Shoeboxed wants your receipts, expense reports, and business cards. Either snap a smartphone photo of each item and email it, or pack up your piles and mail them to the service. Shoeboxed will scan your pages and make the data available for export. It provides unlimited storage for free, plus paid and multiuser options with more features for up to $50 per month.

Time Tracking, Billing, and Accounting

Both Harvest and FreshBooks offer time tracking, billing, and bookkeeping tools ideal for service-based businesses. FreshBooks, $20 monthly, has a clean interface, plus integration with Basecamp for project management. Harvest also works with Basecamp, as well as with Google Docs, Outright, and other services; it costs $12 per month for an individual, and up to $90 for ten users. Harvest has more features, but neither service offers accounting.

Think of InDinero as for small businesses. It imports data from your bank, credit card, and other accounts (including Harvest and FreshBooks), after which it spells out where your money is flowing, through handy charts. You'll pay from $20 to $50 monthly for more features. At $10 per month, Outright provides a similar financial dashboard. It integrates with other services for invoicing and payables, which are baked into InDinero.

Then again, for more features under one roof, you can always turn to another little name in accounting software that you may have heard of: QuickBooks. Intuit's accounting and bookkeeping package dominates the field, although reviewers often wish that its online versions better mirrored the desktop software.

Managing Customers

When it comes to choosing a customer relationship managment service, Salesforce is overkill for smaller businesses. But you'll get a wide range of CRM features alongside usability in Landslide, which starts at $29 each month for a team of five. Insightly is a solid but lean option to add to your Google Apps suite--and it's free for three users.


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