Whether you’re running a small business or planning to launch one, coming up with cost-effective ways to collaborate with your team can be a challenge. Paid software programs always tend to feel bloated and overpriced when you only have a few people on your team. After all, most of them were designed to scale for larger groups.
So I thought I would share with you five free tools that I use to manage my collaboration across various teams. Don’t worry, when you’re ready, most of these products have paid versions for “enterprise-level” users.
However, I think you’ll be thrilled at just how much you can do for free.
I’m always surprised at how few people are aware of Google Apps. How do I know? The number of business cards I receive with email address that look like [email protected] or l[email protected]. Seriously? It’s time for your business to grow up and use your own domain name.
Google Apps is free up to 50 users and allows you to host professional email addresses while using the much beloved GMail interface (or any other email client you prefer). There is absolutely no excuse for not having a custom domain name.
If you aren’t sure how to get started or how to do this, contact me for a free quote.
Google Apps is not just for email. It has full calendaring features and provides mobile access to email, contacts, and your calendar. It also includes Google Docs for creating and sharing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with people inside and outside of your company.
Google Voice is one of those services I depend heavily on. Think of it as voicemail on steroids. When you sign up, you choose a phone number and then use it as your primary contact number.
For me, it’s the only phone number I give out anymore. I then have it ring to any other phones I want – be they a home phone, office phone, cell phone, vacation phone, etc. I can opt for transcribed voicemails to be sent via text message or email. I can also setup different voicemail greetings based on who is calling.
Perhaps the best feature is one that was just recently released. GMail users can make and receive calls directly from their computer to any number in the US or Canada for free. That means that if you call my number, it will ring my cell phone and my laptop and I can choose which to use. I can also dial your number from my GMail account and it will look to you like I’m calling from my phone.
Being able to make and receive calls using my laptop with my main number is awesome. Doing it for free to any phone in the US and Canada makes it cooler than Skype which charges for the same service.
Don’t get me wrong, I still use Skype for international calling – just not as much for non-international calls.
I’ve known about Tungle.me for a while now but only recently set it up. I work with people across many different time zones. Scheduling appointments and consultations without double-booking is a constant struggle for me. I also hate all of the back-and-forth emailing that comes with setting up an appointment.
Tungle.me synchronizes with my calendar and let’s me set “office hours.” Clients can head to my Tungle.me page to see only available time slots on my schedule and select a few that work for them. I simply accept a proposed time and it’s added to my calendar and the client receives a confirmation email. Everything is adjusted for user time zones so I don’t have to do it in my head.
If you’re used to working with project management tools like Basecamp, then you need to check out Manymoon. Unlike Basecamp, Manymoon will give you unlimited users, projects, tasks and events. It also integrates with Google Apps and Google Docs.
There are paid versions for more advanced features, but the free version will work well for most freelancers and small teams. And if you do have to upgrade, the cost is nominal.
If you are involved in any type of work that requires you to take control of another user’s computer, you need to look at TeamViewer. It works with Mac, PC, Linux and….iPhone and iPad! Now that’s cool.
Another possible use is as a free replacement for GoToMyPC and similar paid applications. (Hat tip to Joel Widmer for telling me about this one.)
Share Your Free Collaboration Tools
This is by no means an exhaustive list – it’s just what I’ve found works for me. Which free collaboration tools do you use? Share them with the community in the comments below.