It's tough out there. The poor economic conditions have led to slashed budgets, reduced headcount, and projects getting put on indefinite hold. The problem is - you still (hopefully) have a business to run. What do you do if you don't have the budget to support that huge enterprise app? How do you manage if you need to the same work or more with fewer people?
When you are a small company (like we are) or a big company with shrinking budgets, you have to find creative ways of getting things done. Here are just a few of the tools that we've found make doing business on a budget much less restrictive...
- Instead of WebEx - Use "DimDim"
We got tired of using WebEx about 3 years ago. It seemed to take forever to get everyone online viewing the screen ("Can you see it now? How about now? Now?) and on top of that, we got to pay a small fortune for the privilege of the frustration. BUT - we still need to share screens and presentations with clients... Enter "DimDim." Dumb name, excellent application. Like WebEx, DimDim allows you to share screens, presentations, web pages, have white boards, etc. Unlike WebEx, it doesn't require users to download an application - it's a small java applet that runs when you access the meeting. Best of all - DimDim is FREE for up to 20 people in a meeting. Beyond 20, you can get a "Pro" or "Enterprise" account for about 10% of the cost of WebEx, but honestly, we've never seen the need. DimDim Web Meetings. (Highly Recommended.)
- Instead of paper - Use EchoSign
We work with clients all the time who have paper contracts that need to get printed, passed around, signed, then stored. It's no wonder trying to find that single signed piece of paper is liking trying to find a needle in a haystack. We don't use paper - we use EchoSign for all our contracts. EchoSign is an online document signature system that allows you to upload the document (from Word, Excel, etc...) and send it out for signature. The recipient gets email notification and can sign (or not sign) the document electronically. It then gets "filed" electronically in your EchoSign account. FREE for up to 5 documents at a time, EchoSign has paid versions for larger amounts of storage, more users, unlimited documents, etc. EchoSign.
- Instead of: your IT department - Use Coghead
In my opinion, Coghead has the potential to radically change the way in which companies view the IT department. That's a big claim, but Coghead is a truly amazing system. Quite simply - Coghead is a "cloud-based" platform that allows you to build any application you want, hosted on the web, for a pretty minimal per user fee. And - it's extremely easy to use. Here's what you can do with Coghead: instead of waiting months for your IT group to search for, buy, and implement a new CRM system - why not build a quick CRM application in Coghead and learn what works and doesn't work so you can provide IT with better requirements. Instead of using MS Excel or MS Access to track customer orders or inventory - use Coghead to build an online database complete with order forms, reports, and email notification when new items are added. Coghead doesn't require you to write code or understand programming languages. Instead, you drag and drop text fields, number fields, labels, etc. on to a Coghead "collection" - a tabbed web page - and arrange things any way you like. I can easily see how tools like Coghead could transform the central IT department in to the "keepers of the master database" with end-users developing the applications they need - in real time - and change them as quickly as the business changes. Coghead (Very Highly Recommended)
- Instead of: Microsoft Exchange - Use Gmail
I know, I know - EVERYONE knows about Gmail, right? Well - did you know that you can use Gmail with your own domain name (firstname.lastname@example.org instead of email@example.com)? A recent survey showed that using Gmail at an enterprise level is orders of magnitude less expensive than running your own MS Exchange server. Gmail for domains has two versions - FREE and $50/year/user. We use the free version which gives you up to 7GB of mail space per user, a shared calendar system, Google Docs, and Google sites (a good replacement for MS Sharepoint). The paid version removes a small text "ad" on the webmail page, which you'll never notice if you use MS Outlook or Apple Mail, and which is pretty discrete anyway. For us, Gmail works really well - all our mail comes from "nextwaveperformance.com" and we have huge amount of storage. Plus - the "dashboard" for adding and managing new users in your account is really easy to use - far better than other systems I've tried. Gmail for Domains (Highly Recommended)
- Instead of: Microsoft Visio - Use LucidChart
If you have to make flowcharts, MS Visio is pretty much the standard (unless you use a Mac, then do yourself a favor and get OmniGraffle). But - that standard comes with a price - about $270 for a single user copy of Visio. Wouldn't it be great if you could get the ability to build nice, clean flowcharts for, oh... let's say... FREE? You can. It's called LucidChart. LucidChart is an online flowcharter that again comes in two forms - a free account and a paid account. The paid account removes the LucidChart logo and costs $50/user/year. It also gives you some interesting collaboration tools that allow multiple people to work on the flowchart online. It doesn't read or write in Visio format, but if you can live with exporting as a PDF (which you should do anyway), LucidChart should get the job done. LucidChart (Recommended)
- Instead of: Microsoft Project - Use OpenProj
Let's get one thing out of the way right now. I can't stand MS Project. I think it is one of the worst pieces of software on the market today for reasons too numerous to mention but, many companies still use it. The problem is, it's pricey and companies generally have only a few people with a copy. OpenProj is the answer. OpenProj comes in two flavors - stand-alone and hosted. The stand-alone version (comparable to using the stand-alone MS Project) is - wait for it... FREE. That's right - everyone in your company can have a project management application that reads and writes in MS Project format free of charge. The server-based version - comparable to MS Project Server - is $20/user/month. This one seems like a no-brainer to me. Why would you ever pay for MS Project when you can get the same thing at no cost? OpenProj. (Recommended)
Since I originally wrote this, Platform-as-a-Service vendor Coghead has been acquired by SAP and is no longer offering the service to end users. In lieu of Coghead, I highly recommend TeamDesk as a web-based application system. Alternatively, you can find lots of info at the PowerInTheCloud website's PaaS Vendor list.