25 must-have technologies for SMBs

Operating a small business isn't easy. So, here’s a list of 25 must-have technologies that will help make your life easier and your business more successful. (See the story version.)

Neat Scanner
Neat Scanner

Company: The Neat Co.

Cost: $400

What it does: Scans and organizes business cards and receipts

What it solves: Organizational issues

A big challenge for SMBs is staying organized. At CES, I met with Neat Scanner and tried out the product. I came back from CES with my typical jumble of paperwork and business cards. Instead of stuffing them into a folder, I fed them into the scanner, which captured each receipt or card, categorized it and stored it. Now, instead of filling your pockets with receipts, you just snap a photo and load it into the cloud-based filing system.

Canvas
Canvas

Company:Canvas

Cost: $50

What it does: Creates mobile apps

What it solves: Reliance on paper forms

With Canvas, you can turn paper-based forms into mobile apps. Many Canvas apps already exists for such industry sectors as health care, education and construction, but you can also send your form to Canvas, and they will turn it into a mobile app for $50.

Buying Signals
Buying Signals

Company: Vocus

Cost: $250 a month

What it does: Integrated marketing

What it solves: Integration of marketing and social media

The marketing tool recommended to me by small business owners is Vocus. Vocus recently rolled out a new feature, Buying Signals, which scours social media to find people who are seeking particular products or services. Then, it puts you in touch with the leads most relevant to your business. For instance, if you're an optometrist and someone in your city Tweets "I just broke my glasses," you'll be alerted.

Followup
Followup

Company: Followup.cc

Cost: Free to $99 a year

What it does: Schedules follow up emails

What it solves: Leads falling through the cracks

The trouble with leads is that most prospects do not buy immediately. Instead, they'll want to do research, kick the tires and may even have objections you must overcome. This is where many small businesses get tripped up: they fail to follow up. If you can’t afford an expensive CRM suite, check out Followup.cc, which lets you schedule a follow up to an email the minute you respond.

viClone
viClone

Company: viClone

Cost: Free trial

What it does: Virtual agents for customer service over the phone

What it solves: Customer support problems viClone helps SMBs tackle customer support challenges. While phone support is prohibitively expensive, online customer service can also carry big price tags. ViClone's virtual agents are designed for SMBs. The agents have self-learning capabilities and can support more than 35 languages. Users are typically able to configure the virtual agents to answer their customers' top 15 to 25 most frequently asked questions, which could significantly reduce support requests.

Square
Square

Company: Square

Cost: 2.75%/swipe

What it does: Payment processing

What it solves: Makes payment processing easy

Now that you have customer leads, you need to have the tools in place that let them buy from you. One option is Square, a high-flying startup that gives retailers a small card reader that attaches to smartphones or tablets via the headphone jack.

Leaf
Leaf

Company: Leaf

Cost: $50 a month

What it does: Mobile point of sale infrastructure

What it solves: Helps SMBs process transactions

Leaf provides a purpose-built tablet that serves as your Point of Sale (POS) infrastructure. You can augment that by downloading apps for other smartphones in your business. The Leaf backend includes business management software and customer care tools.

Woopra
Woopra

Company: Woopra

Cost: Free to $500 a month

What it does: Customer analytics

What it solves: Allows SMBs identify new customers

Big Data isn't just for big business anymore. Real-time customer analytics service Woopra allows small businesses to identify noteworthy customers. You can spot hot leads, rescue lost customers, speed up customer onboarding, etc. Woopra also helps you spot overall trends in customer behavior.

Prism
Prism

Company: SiSense

Cost: $50/user/month

What it does: Big data-as-a-service

What it solves: Data analysis

Prism from SiSense offers Big-Data-as-a-Service to help you crunch data from a variety of sources, so that you can create business strategy based on data analysis. Prism's drag-and-drop interface lets you create data mashups and visualizations from SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Excel, CSV files, Google, SalesForce, and other databases.

PayScale
PayScale

Company: PayScale

Cost: Single report for $259.

What it does: Compensation analysis

What it solves: Helps SMBs determine the right pay scale for a particular job

Hiring is, perhaps, the single most stressful event for small business owners. First, how do you even determine an appropriate salary? Sure, you can scour job ads trying to find ballpark figures, but a better option is to use Payscale, which has collected salary and career data from more than 35 million people, covering 12,000 job titles and 1,100 distinct industries in 150 countries.

Job Pairin
Job Pairin

Company: Pairin

Cost: $199 a month

What it does: Resume analysis

What it solves: Helps SMBs hire the right people

Pairin focuses on "on a candidate’s behavioral DNA and potential for success, instead of the time-consuming evaluation of a resume’s historical data." Pairin identifies optimal interview candidates through the modeling of existing top employees in the same positions based on 137 performance drivers. Pairin also lets you compare a candidate to an in-house employee.

Hireology
Hireology

Company: Hireology 

Cost: $24/a month for 1 opening

What it does: Selection management

What it solves: Helps SMBs hire the best person for the job

Hireology has analyzed thousands of interviews across hundreds of companies to identify 67 traits that help predict the likelihood of success in a specific role. The process starts when a business posts an opening. Hireology then asks you questions to zero in on the most appropriate traits.

Blue Jeans
Blue Jeans

Company: Blue Jeans Network

Cost: $299 per port, per month

What it does: Videoconferencing

What it solves: Low-cost video for SMBs

For many SMBs, enterprise-class videoconferencing tools are too expensive, while free solutions don't always perform well. Moreover, different users will already have different tools installed and prefer to use what they know. Blue Jeans Networks allows people to use whatever videoconferencing tool they want. Schedule a meeting, send users a link and all they need is a device with conferencing capabilities.

Bitcasa
Bitcasa

Company: Bitcasa

Cost: $69 a year

What it does: Cloud storage

What it solves: Online backup

Bitcasa is an online storage tool that includes mobile client tools, and although it is targeted at consumers now, SMB features will be rolling out soon. You can also elect to mirror all your devices to your Bitcasa Infinite Drive. Your files are then automatically and continuously backed up and available anywhere.

Box
Box

Company: Box

Cost: $15/user/month

What it does: Online file sharing and collaboration

What is solves: Securing and sharing large files

Box is an online file sharing and collaboration service. It lets you securely share and share large files, while keeping them in sync across devices.

Soonr
Soonr

Company: Soonr

Cost: $9.95 a month for three users

What it does: Online file sharing and collaboration

What it solves: Securing and sharing files

Similar to Box, Soonr offers online file sharing and collaboration services.

Insightly
Insightly

Company: Insightly

Cost: Free, up to $99 a month for 40 users

What it does: CRM for SMBs

What it solves: Customer relationship/project management

Insightly combines CRM and project management in one app. The cloud-based solution, which tightly integrates with Google Apps, allows users to easily keep track of customer interactions and manage leads, proposals, opportunities, projects and files from any device. Users can start with a free account and upgrade as needed.

Liquid Planner
Liquid Planner

Company: Liquid Planner

Cost: Starts at $29/user/month

What it does: Predictive project management

What it solves: Project management issues

LiquidPlanner is a cloud-based predictive project management tool. Users estimate how long a task should take, and after searching through calendar availability, vacation time and set priorities, LiquidPlanner calculates when various tasks should be completed. When project priorities shift, LiquidPlanner automatically updates the schedule. It comes with a mobile companion.

Pocket Desktop
Pocket Desktop

Company: Pocket Desktop

Cost: $20-$60

What it does: Encrypted USB drive

What it solves: Security issues

Security is a constant concern for small businesses. Moreover, like every other business, small businesses expose themselves to data breaches when employees are out of the office. One tool to help prevent this is Pocket Desktop, an encrypted USB drive that stores all of your important information and lets you take your desktop with you and keep it secure in the process.

Hotspot Shield
Hotspot Shield

Company: AnchorFree

Cost: Free to $30 a year

What it does: Antivirus/VPN

What it solves: Hotspot security

Have you ever done something at a hotspot you shouldn't have? Maybe you checked your credit card account or you logged into your bank to check your account status. On public hotspots, this is risky. Hotspot Shield combines an antivirus program with the privacy capabilities of a VPN. Hotspot Shield encrypts your connection to a Wi-Fi network, and you can use it with mobile devices.

MyPermissions
MyPermissions

Company: MyPermissions

Cost: Free

What it does: Tracks app and site permissions

What it solves: Unwanted permissions

With the cloud-based service MyPermissions, small businesses can track the permissions they grant to apps and sites and remove or control those permissions. MyPermissions will notify you when new apps have been unknowingly granted access. You can run it as a browser plug-in for your desktop and also download an app for your smartphone. The service will even email you monthly reminders to check your privacy settings.

CloudFlare
CloudFlare

Company: CloudFlare

Cost: $20 - $200 per month per website

What it does: Security

What it solves: Security for SMBs

Most small businesses lack the resources and expertise to properly maintain and secure their sites. CloudFlare protects sites from spambots and malicious DDoS attacks and helps boost site performance. CloudFlare features a "learning network," which means that new attacks on any website are automatically detected and blocked for both the website under attack and the entire community. As more customers sign up, the network grows smarter and protection gets better.

SiteApps
SiteApps

Company: SiteApps

Cost: Free to $99 a month

What it does: Web site analytics

What it solves: Web optimization issues

SiteApps taps into Google Analytics to make recommendations for how you can improve your website. I recently launched a new site, Startup50, and from SiteApps I learned that a significant number of readers access my site from tablets. SiteApps recommended a tool that would create a mobile optimized version of my site. Other apps that may be recommended to you include lead-capture forms, social media widgets, user segmentation surveys, etc.

Bizness Apps
Bizness Apps

Company: Bizness Apps

Cost: $29 - $59 a month

What it does: Creates mobile apps

What it solves: Mobile app development

Small businesses looking to boost their mobile presence can use Bizness Apps to develop, edit and manage mobile apps – without having to learn any coding. Business owners start the process with a mobile template, customize it to match their business needs and then Bizness Apps turns them into native apps and distributes them to the iOS and Android markets.

Fleetmatics
Fleetmatics

Company: FleetMatics

Cost: Customized to a company's individual requirements.

What it does: GPS based fleet vehicle tracking

What it solves: Improves fleet efficiency

If you are a small business with fleet vehicles, consider the service from Fleetmatics. Using GPS, business owners can track fleet vehicles in real-time and help them avoid congested routes, prevent unauthorized trips and even eliminate time sheet fraud.

Jeff Vance is a Santa Monica-based writer. He's the founder of Startup50, a site devoted to emerging tech startups, and he also founded the content marketing firm, Sandstorm Media. Follow him on Twitter @JWVance.