Free Tools for Entrepreneurs – Google
In yesterday’s Entrepreneur Evangelist post, I highlighted a list of collaboration tools for small businesses, including the ever popular Google application suite. Today, the tools I want to cover are five other valuable applications from Google that I’m always surprised to discover people are less familiar with.
Google Patent Search
Does your business have a piece of technology you are considering patenting? While it will probably never replace sound legal help, it’s a good place to start doing your own patent research. Take a quick look to see what other patents might already exist that are similar to yours to see if it looks like it is worth speaking to an attorney about moving ahead.
One of the greatest ways to get feedback from your customers or online community is to give them a tool that allows users to crowdsource information and then vote the alternatives up or down. Whether you are voting on product features, special event dates, promotional opportunities or a new company slogan, Google Moderator is a great way to engage your user base and get their feedback.
Have you ever wanted to research a comparison of information? Perhaps comparing products or vendors? Give Google Squared a shot. By typing in what you are looking to compare, Google Squared builds a dynamic ‘spreadsheet’ comparing various common data elements (such as manufacturer, price, product highlights, etc.) into an easy-to-read format so that you can compare one to the other. It doesn’t always pull in the information I’m most eager to see, but it is usually a really good start.
Google Local Business Listing
You can ‘claim’ your business using Google’s Local Business Listing tool. Not only will this help local customers find both your services and your actual location, but it also helps lay the groundwork for collecting ratings and reviews from your customers. Additionally, it helps with building some credibility online by demonstrating that you are, indeed, a real business.
Formerly Grand Central, Google’s new phone service is a great tool for freelancers and geographically distributed teams. Google Voice is a highly configurable system that allows you to set up your phone system in whatever way makes the most sense for you and your business: you can route in-coming calls to multiple people, you can set up different voicemails to be served to different callers, and you can decide on the fly if you want to accept a call or roll it straight to voicemail.
Another benefit of Google voice is that all voicemails are transcribed with Google’s voice-to-text software and then emailed directly to you. So, if you’re like me and hate listening to voicemail, you can still get your message by reading your email. And if you want to listen to the message, you can also do that from your email. You can even log into the system and manage historical messages via an online dashboard, instead of having to call in and handle it by phone.
The less obvious benefit of Google’s text-to-voice capability is making notes for myself while I’m running errands. I simply call my number, leave myself a voicemail, and the system will transcribe it and send me an email, so I can follow-up later. I’ve even written more than a few blog articles that way, while sitting and waiting for appointments.
Google’s got a host of goodies that can be great tools for small business. Some of them are obvious — such as Webmaster Tools, Apps and Analytics — but some of them are a little less well-known, but definitely worth some investigation. So when you have a moment, check out the additional functionality from Google, and if you really want to dig deeper, check out what’s going on in Google Labs. There’s always something interesting brewing, and more than a few of them have potential to help entrepreneurs build their businesses.
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