Although it’s quaint to think of working together with someone online on a document or video project as something that can be done while sitting side by side on the same computer, most online collaboration involves the sharing of data and information across separate computers. And whether it’s a problem with large files or trying to decipher multiple edits being done in a parallel, the need for streamlined online file sharing is important for families, individuals and businesses. Thankfully, a number of apps, cloud computing solutions and Web services can teach you how to share data online in seconds flat.
Remember the old trick you used to use where you would e-mail yourself important documents prior to a presentation or meeting to make sure you could at least access them somewhere electronically should we need to make edits? There’s no need anymore, thanks to the rise of wireless networks, mobile devices and cloud services, which make the practice seem woefully outdated. Here are 7 better ways to share data online that don’t involve e-mail attachments.
- GoogleDocs – All you need is a Google account, and you can collaborate on documents and spreadsheets in the cloud. Google Docs eliminates worries over “version control” with quick, automatic saves that ensure that anytime anyone access the document, they’re seeing the most current version. The main drawback with Google Docs is that the functionality of their document and spreadsheet programs is rather limited, although the service does a good job of providing basic functionality and similarity to Microsoft’s popular Office products.
- Microsoft Office Web Apps – Since many folks are most well-versed in Microsoft’s Excel, Word and PowerPoint programs, it’s great that the company has found a way to allow these to be shared online collaboratively. Using only a Windows Live ID (and a valid license for Office products), you can store, edit and share your documents online the way they were created.
- Acrobat – Adobe’s file sharing solutions are less focused on group collaboration and more on interaction. Although the firm does allow for manipulation of their proprietary .PDF docs, it also provides a robust suite of web forms, online signing apps and even large-file sharing services that make it simple to share data online. Although each service does offer a free, limited trial, there are paid versions which allow for deeper and unlimited form creation and sharing.
- Dropnox – Dropbox allows users to upload large files and e-mail a link to others where they can download them, or collaborate and share using cloud folders whose contents synchronze across users’ desktops. It offers a decent amount of space for free (2GB), with bonuses for referring new sign-ups. Depending on your usage, you can update to 50GB or 100GB plans for around $100 per year or $200 year respectively, or choose a more serious, customizable option if your needs are greater than that. Dropbox makes file sharing extremely simple, and doesn’t require passwords for your recipients to download.
- YouSendIt – A service that lets you upload large files then send them to coworkers and family members as simple web links. YouSendIt’s paid programs are more impressive than the free service, although if your file is less than 50MB big, then YouSendIt Lite is a nice version. But for files larger than that, you’ll need to spend either $100 or $150 per year to receive greater storage, control over expiration dates, and even tracking results in the YouSendIt premium ProPlus package.
- Box.com – Box.com offers 5GB of free file storage, and offers a number of other user-friendly features, such as the ability to upload entire folders with of data and files at the same time. It also offers apps that are maximized for mobile devices, and provide online document collaboration as well. This is a great solution for businesses large and small that need a common drive for their materials that can be accessed by many different people from many different locations. Plans start at $15 per user per month, but the company also provides customizable options and quotes for businesses and users with greater needs.
- Google Drive – Google is attempting to make “cloud storage” simple, easy and understandable for casual users with Google Drive. Its simple drag and drop interface and connection to users’ Google e-mail accounts just may help them succeed. It’s a great free option, with up to 5GB for free to store photos, resumes, school projects and more.
It’s a fundamental paradox for small business owners: How do you expand your revenues, grow market share and maintain optimum production and service levels without disrupting cash flow or sending operations into a tailspin? Thankfully, even for the most time-, money- or manpower-deprived entrepreneur, a wealth of apps, gadgets and online solutions exists that can help you broaden your reach without biting off more than you can chew. Looking to give your business a sudden boost of upward momentum? Try the following five high-tech tools and services, all of which could potentially prove vital resources in your ongoing fight to score more customers and send profits soaring.
1. Build an Online Presence – Need a professional-looking website, but don’t have the time, cash or technical know-how to get started? Try Onepager, which makes it possible for beginners to establish an attractive online presence in no time flat. Using the site, business owners simply type their company name, tagline and body text into a number of preexisting templates, to which photos and visual styling can be added. A point-and-click interface further makes it easy to introduce newsletter signups, service rundowns, social media links and contact information. Once complete, the site helps you register a domain name, monitor customer behavior and otherwise enjoy the benefits of marketing to the online world. Providers like Intuit and 1&1 also offer easy off-the-shelf solutions.
2. Secure Venture Capital – Have the perfect idea for a new electronic gadget or restaurant chain, but lack the funds to quit your day job, let alone mass-produce consumer products? Do what today’s smartest entrepreneurs do: Beg strangers for spare change. Crowdsourced funding sites such as Kickstarter, RocketHub and IndieGogo let you post details of your dream projects, complete with colorful descriptions, photos and videos, then source pledges from the general public. Rather than equity, investors typically receive personalized or product-based incentives for their kindness (e.g., a $5 donation nets a copy of the movie you helped fund’s DVD, while $500 scores a personal thank you call from the director). Group seed capital programs such as Grow VC and fundraising platforms like Crowdrise may also prove a handy alternative to romancing fickle angel investors or handing over 30% of your company for minimal return.
3. Start Taking Credit Card Payments – From everyday consumers to major corporations, many customers prefer to pay via credit card. Letting them do so on-demand using a solution like Square, which lets you connect a plastic card reader accessory to your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Android mobile device isn’t just simple and convenient. It also makes good business sense, allowing you to instantly swipe their American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover and secure down payments, project milestones and up-front advances on the spot. Charging a single 2.75% flat fee on each transaction, and letting you setup custom inventories of items with personalized photos, names and prices, it can streamline and simplify billing for businesses of all sizes.
4. Land Free Publicity – Every entrepreneur dreams of making headlines or enjoying time in the spotlight. Help a Reporter Out (HARO) offers the opportunity to do so in seconds – and without spending a single dime on marketing or advertisement. A matchmaking service that pairs journalists with subject matter experts, simply submit your name and email to receive a daily newsletter from members of the media who need commenting sources. Think you’re the perfect fit to field calls for a professional organizer or whiz in the field of cloud computing? Just respond to the queries that show up in your Inbox, and you could find yourself quoted everywhere from CNN to The New York Times.
5. Create a Custom Virtual Store – The most direct way to put e-commerce to work: Add an attractive online storefront capable of effortlessly handling myriad payment solutions that’s chock-full of must-have goods. Multiple options from Goodsie to Shopify, Volusion and BigCommerce can help, making it possible to set up both basic solutions that require minimal to no programming, and more complex and sophisticated virtual bazaars. Note that while it’s tempting to go big on features and selection here, the first-time builder is advised to keep things simple. Start by staying focused on practicality, convenience and popular high-margin goods, then expand organically, rather than risking overcomplicating your user interface or overwhelming shoppers with frivolous alternatives.
Small Business Expert
Essential hints, tips & business advice for startups & entrepreneurs.
Want to increase your small business’ sales, expand market share and boost your year-end profits? Consider doubling down on custom marketing programs and online solutions. Thanks to the magic of high-tech, from unique value-adds to creative contests, giveaways and online deals, a variety of novel campaigns can quickly be assembled to match any budget. Looking to give your enterprise the gift of record growth? The following expert online marketing guide – complete with hints, tips and strategies for entrepreneurs, startups and local neighborhood stores – can help you bolster your balance sheet without breaking the bank.
Social and Affiliate Programs – Given word of mouth’s growing influence on today’s household purchasing decisions, it pays to turn fans of your business into evangelists. The best way to recruit them: Incentivize conversation by providing eye-catching offers and savings, and compensate those that generate direct leads with exclusive discounts, gifts and cash rewards. Using software tools such as those offered by providers like Extole, DirectTrack and ReferralCandy, you can create customized referral programs for almost any industry. (Refer a pal, get $20! Click here to send Facebook friends a code for 60% off!) Distributable via social networks, widgets, apps and email, white-label solutions not only offer wide flexibility across devices, platforms and promotions. They also make it easy to track ads from click to purchase, and conscript an army of credible sales associates working on a strictly commission basis.
Mobile and Location-Based Marketing – Over 420 million smartphones were expected to sell in 2011 alone according to IMS Research, many containing built-in GPS devices that actively monitor users’ locations. Letting you speak to customers at the right time and place when they’re in a shopping mood, mobile and location-based marketing services like Geotoko, Placecast and Xtify can potentially help close more deals. Providing users with discounts, giveaways and specials via text message, pop-up alert or email, you can also integrate marketing with services like Foursquare and GoWalla to tie campaigns to specific stores or locations. From unique apps that send notifications even when closed to search engines that serve up special offers based on zip code, choices continue to grow. Letting you reach customers right when they’re weighing their options, location-based services can help you steal a sale right out from under a competitor’s feet.
QR Codes – Another handy feature many smartphones and tablets with built-in cameras such as the iPhone and iPad enjoy: The ability to scan Quick Response (QR) codes. These high-tech symbols, which operate similar to retail barcodes, can beam over instant savings or provide access to useful online information. Add them to signs, print ads, business cards and brochures, and customers can quickly access coupons, download menus on-demand or even see how low your prices compare to rivals’. Simple bonuses they offer might include providing free seasonal recipes to go with every dining set, complementary festive music downloads for that new stereo or videos showing products you’re selling in action. Letting you offer everything from suggestions on complementary accessories to go with that scarf to driving directions, potential applications are endless. Just be sure each offers customers meaningful rewards and tie a call-to-action to programs (take our survey to win a beach vacation!) to maximize performance.
Discounts and Deals – With value still paramount for millions of households, many entrepreneurs are increasingly coupling door-busting offers with regular distribution through daily deal services. Providers like Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local and Google Offers can potentially put savings in front of millions for a slice of each purchase. Letting customers register to receive arresting bargains on spas, restaurants, movie theaters and more via email, all offer opportunities to help marketing programs connect with households trying to stretch every dollar. You can even set minimum purchase quantities required before discounts activate. Likewise, savvy marketers are also leveraging bargain-hunting services like FatWallet, RetailMeNot and DealsPl.us to reach today’s most price-sensitive buyers. Providing discount coupon codes, printable vouchers and unique presents for gift shoppers themselves (free holiday sampler with purchase) can help entice cost-conscious customers back into the fold.
Custom Content and Publications – Resourceful entrepreneurs can also give shoppers the gift of more precious moments to spend with friends and family by providing time-saving hints and advice. Email marketing services ConstantContact, iContact and MadMimi let you send custom digital newsletters (and even expert online marketing guides – how meta!) straight to shoppers’ inboxes for a fraction of the cost of print mailers, and enable content sharing through social networks. Popular service MailChimp even allows gorgeous, customized mailings to be sent free in small quantities, while upgrades allow you to track viewers’ social media profiles and send targeted emails via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or LinkedIn. Couple with links to bargains, storefronts and online videos (free to upload and host on providers like YouTube, Vimeo and Metacafe, then embed on your own site) to enhance SEO and user engagement. Beyond highlighting your expertise, all can enhance your reach, keep holiday bargains top of mind and help alleviate shoppers’ stress while building brand awareness.