When you run a small business, it can be a challenge to establish an efficient technology infrastructure with features like an intranet, collaboration tools, and integrated calendars. The technology exists, but it can be expensive and thus, out of reach for small business owners. However, free or low-cost alternatives exist that can help your business perform better. Take a look at these free applications from search engine giant Google—offered as Google Apps:
There are many free or low-cost email services out there, but Google Apps offers extra features that can benefit a small business, like up to 25 gigabytes of storage per account and a search feature that allows employees to find vital business data fast. With Gmail through Google Apps, you can use your own domain to customize email addresses for your business, i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org. That kind of customization projects a professional image that many other free or low-cost email services can't.
This feature provides your business with a professional-grade calendar that allows you to organize your day and coordinate with employees and colleagues. You can send meeting invitations and keep track of responses. To help with scheduling, you can set up a shared calendar so everyone's availability is visible in one place. And Google Calendar can be accessed from anywhere via the internet, an especially important feature if you or your employees travel frequently.
If you and your colleagues or employees collaborate on business projects involving presentations, documents, or spreadsheets, Google Docs can help you work faster and more efficiently. Rather than emailing an attached document back and forth, document creators can set permissions so multiple users can collaborate simultaneously. The document is saved in Google's online storage instead of on your hard drive, so collaborators can access the latest version at any time. This eliminates version control issues since everyone is working on the same document, and Google Docs keeps track of revisions so roll-back to a previous version is always possible. Permissions can be set by document, so only those you choose will have access to any given document. And like the other Google Apps tools, it's easy to access Google Docs on the road.
An intranet can be an excellent way to share information within organizations and groups in real-time. Google Sites is an easy-to-use tool that lets users put together company and group intranet sites that can be used for posting shared documents and conveying business information to an entire organization in just one click. Because users can log in from any computer with internet access, it's easy to keep everyone up to date. Google Sites is user-friendly, so you don't need to know HTML to build a site.
Google Start Page
To bring all the Google App tools together on one functional desktop space, Google offers the Google Start Page, which gives users a quick view of their Gmail inbox, Google Docs files, and Google Calendar. Users can customize the page for maximum efficiency, and small businesses can brand it with their company logos for a professional look and feel.
Affordable Collaboration Tools
Just a few years ago, only large corporations could offer their employees collaboration tools and professional-grade email and intranet functions. Thanks to free and low-cost applications like the Google Apps suite, smaller companies can use professional online tools to increase efficiency and provide access to business-critical data. And using Google Apps requires little or no web design or programming expertise. If you want to provide big-business tools for your small business, check out Google Apps.