Free Tools for Entrepreneurs – Collaboration
The word “collaboration” is one of those hot buzzwords in the online space, and for good reason: Web 2.0 has, at its core, the ability to make the rapid communication and execution of action (whether work or play) much easier than previous forms of technology ever accomplished.
With the social web we can connect in real time, using video, audio, text and shared visibility of documents with multiple people at the same time. This is a game changer when it comes to getting work done: people no longer have to be in the same place to work together and collaboration can truly be a collective experience, instead of a one-way braodcast of information.
So today’s free toolsets for entrepreneurs are about collaboration, and I’ll cover a handful of my favorites.
If you are often overwhelmed by email from within your team, I’d recommend taking a look at SocialText. Think of it as a private version of Twitter, just for your team. SocialText allows team members to use a microblogging format to communicate with each other, without overflowing your Inbox.
And, of particular value if you are working with geographically distributed or more dynamically organized teams, SocialText also supports user profiles and social networking that helps your team identify who’s who and help streamline finding the right person when it’s time to ask a question.
Whether you are training employees or clients, or reviewing documents together, Scribblar has some great features in their free package that make it a very useful platform for collecting feedback or brainstorming together as a team — no matter how far apart you may be.
With a real-time whiteboard that users can mark-up, the ability to upload images, conduct live audio or text chats, Scribblar is a great way to mock-up designs, review page layouts, prepare presentation materials or train someone on a new system.
One of the best suite of collaboration and small business tools online is Zoho. Whether you are looking for a client relationship management (CRM) solution, or a project management tool, or a basic human resources information system (HRIS), creating online reports or database-driven applications, Zoho is one set of solutions that no small business should over-look.
While many of the solutions that Zoho offers are similar to some popular products by Google (including shared documents, spreadsheets, presentations and email), Zoho is constantly developing new solutions to help small business customers, including their new Applicant Tracking System.
If you have a geographically distributed team who works from home in their underwear, then ooVoo might not be everyone’s first choice. However, if — like many people — you find that your team communicates better when you can see body language (and are all confident that everyone is paying attention to whomever is speaking), then you may want to give video conferencing a try.
The online presentation space was once owned by WebEx. These days, there are a number of solid competitors that offer a number of different tools. One of my favorites is Yugma. If you have a sales presentation, a client review session or an online training to conduct, Yugma allows up to 20 participants on a free account.
Webinars can be great tools for small businesses: whether you are training employees, reviewing new functionality with clients, or conducting a free demonstration for marketing purposes, webinars are often a great tool to reach audiences that are not in your own neghborhood. DimDim‘s free solution allows you to leverage the power of a webinar for up to 20 people for free.
Of course, the mammoth player in the free online collaboration space is Google. Whether you want to build an intranet site with Google Sites, whether you want to use Google Apps to host your company email and calendar, whether you want to use Google’s Blogger to build an internal blog for collaboration, whether you share and store your team documents in Google Docs, or whether your team works together in Google Wave to solve a problem in real time, Google’s suite of applications is another one that small businesses can’t afford to miss out on.
The one downside to Google, however, is that not all of the functionality is available via Google Apps. Some of the things that small businesses come to Google for require a Gmail account, and are not linked to your Google Apps account. Things like Google Analytics, Google AdWords and Google Reader are the three Google tools I use most, but which are not part of my Google Apps account (which is unfortunate).
All in all, the ability for teams to collaborate effectively is one of the things I find most exciting about in the online space. Even better, sites like Mashable and WebWorkerDaily make a living by staying current and sharing new discoveries with their readers, which makes it much easier to find new solutions to help you with the challenges of growing your team and your business.
Some of the most creative and talented people I know and enjoy working with are more than 1000 miles away. Even as little as five years ago, the tools to make long-distance collaboration a fairly smooth process were not yet mature. Now, the market is awash with options — all you have to do is find the right one for the job at hand.
So what is your favorite online collaboration tool?
Alora Chistiakoff is an entrepreneur, content strategist and project manager who has been developing online business and technology for startups for more than a decade. She co-owns The Indigo Heron Group, Inc., a content strategy firm in Austin, Texas.