Apr 30, 2010

Seven favorite free business tools

Brad Buhl

Brad Buhl

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Are you a multi-tasker who’s technically-savvy, business-centric, and all about efficiency in the creation and distribution of all your thoughts and ideas? No?! How about looking for some cool free products and services?

Friends and colleagues often ask me about the different tools I use in the old bag o’ tricks, with a strong emphasis on anything that doesn’t take cash or credit. In honor of those that are the typical PC-toting, Microsoft Office-deployed business user, then (and by the way, I’m a big fan of both free product offerings of Google Apps and Open Office if you’re not on the MS Office suite), here we go in no particular order:

Favorite freebie #1: FreeMind

FreeMind is a mind mapping tool great for brainstorming (or general note taking), framework building (a favorite pastime of consultants) and content organization (just hit Ctrl+K to link to a website or Ctrl+Shift+K to link to a document on your local computer). In fact, I organize my blogging, personal goals, career development, client engagements, and yes, strategic/project frameworks in this tool.

Favorite freebie #2: Evernote

Evernote is a great single note repository I can use on my laptop, home computer and smart phone (fyi, I’m an Android smart phone user). If I have a white boarding session in the office with a colleague, I can take a picture of the white board from my Evernote app on my phone and it automagically synchs up with my note repository. If I have an idea while driving I can use the voice recorder on my phone to do the same. If I’m using my tablet PC at home to journal, I can upload the file for sync, and look at it later on my laptop at work. And it’s all searchable – bonus!

Favorite freebie #3: Xobni

Xobni is just ‘inbox’ spelled backwards. It’s a free Microsoft Outlook integrated app (it puts a new window pane in MS Outlook) which gives you email analytics (wanna know who emails you back the fastest or who doesn’t understand how to use the ‘Reply’ vs. ‘Reply All’ functions properly?), advanced indexing/search (for those of you not too fond of the built-in Outlook search), and social media integration (so when you click on an email, you can see if the sender is on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter). As an alternative option for those that just want a better indexing/search solution, you can download Favorite freebie #3.5: Google Desktop, though the few times I tried to deploy Google Desktop, even after indexing was complete, each computer ran too slowly.

Favorite freebie #4: PrimoPDF

PrimoPDF is simply a PDF file creator, but the genius factor is adding a (virtual) printer to your computer called ‘PrimoPDF’ so from any program you can print from, be it a document or website, you can turn the print output directly into PDF. Great for MS Word users in particular that want a free way to create PDFs. As a bonus to the simple and effective interface, PrimoPDF allows you to collate items as well, so if you have 15 individual pages scanned off of a flatbed scanner, you can then turn the 15 images into a single PDF document.

Favorite freebie #5: Mikogo

If you like the idea of online meetings and conference calls, but don’t want to pay for either, then Mikogo is for you! As long as you limit your conference participants to ten (10) people, you can broadcast your screen across the interwebs and have a private party line (yes, I was a child of the ‘80s), including remote desktop sharing, switching presenters and taking over keyboard/mouse control. I’ve even used it to help my mom with computer issues remotely! Mikogo also has calendar/invite integration, so scheduling that next client meeting is easy…and free.

Favorite freebie #6: .docstoc

.docstoc has the tag line “Documents for Small Business & Professionals,” with the current ability to “Search Over 13 Million Public Documents.” Whether looking for Commercial starting points to contracts, marketing materials/collateral for your next white paper publication, or initial research material related to just about any project, .docstoc is a pretty solid starting point as long as you can sift through the unprofessional docs.

Favorite freebie #7: SlideShare

SlideShare has done a good job of growing their business based on social media integration, and the current push is to generate business leads using the platform. Regardless of the end use, SlideShare is a great way to put a presentation on the web (PowerPoint, Word or PDF) and add audio (.mp3) with a simple audio-to-slide integration tool for your online viewing enjoyment. The most critical features of the platform from a business perspective, then, are the public and private options, the ability to allow other users to embed the presentation (in case they’re ‘social’ people) and the ability to allow downloading of the presentation. It should be noted, however, that the ‘secret URL’ option is still publishing a public web page, and no password is required for viewing. Nevertheless, pretty cool free service.

I hope these seven freebies serve you well in your own bag o’ tricks, and if there’s just one person out there that now has a more productive, stress free life because they found this post…well, then, my work here is complete.

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