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25 must-have technologies for SMBs

By Jeff Vance, Network World
April 29, 2013 06:09 AM ET

Network World - Running a small business isn't easy. I know. I run one. As a freelance writer, I’ve learned that you need to run your writing career as if you were running a business.

Writing takes up about 10% of my time – in a good week. The rest is spent on invoicing, accounting and sales. I spend more time on client relations, managing contractors, website optimization, social media promotions, product development, security monitoring – and on and on and on – than I ever do on writing.

Running a small business can be extremely stressful. But here are 25 must-have technologies that will help you make your SMB a success.  (Want to know more about each product listed, see this slideshow.)

First, let's start with one of the biggest challenges for SMBs: staying organized. For years, my accounting system was a big envelope. Recently, I noticed late-night commercials for the 1) Neat Scanner. I was embarrassed to admit that it looked like a good idea, and when I was invited to meet with the company at CES and demo a scanner, I bit.

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I came back from CES with my typical jumble of paperwork and business cards. Instead of stuffing them into manila folder, I fed them into the scanner, which captured each receipt or card, categorized it and stashed it into an appropriate folder, such as "travel receipts" or "2012 taxes."

But what really made life easier was the mobile client. Now, instead of filling your pockets with receipts, you just snap a photo of your receipt and load it into the cloud-based filing system.

Neat also allows you to create and file PDFs from whatever paperwork lands on your desk. Then, you can use 2) Canvas to turn paper-based forms into mobile apps. Many Canvas apps already exists for such industry sectors as healthcare, education and construction, but you can also send your form to Canvas, and they will turn it into a mobile app for $50.

Sales, Marketing and Support

The marketing tool that was recommended to me most often by small business owners is 3) Vocus. Michael Yack, president of Toronto-based FS Local, said, "[Vocus] lets me work 12 hours a day on growing my small business while not falling off the face of the social media planet. I have one social media 'inbox' where I can read and reply to my Tweets and Facebook posts, thank bloggers for their posts, and then log out and get on with the day. When we get a new customer, I can log back into that same system and send out a press release, which notifies all my fans and followers for me – and it reminds me when someone has mentioned me, so I can thank every fan."

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. Pricing starts at $250 per month.

The trouble with leads, though, 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 fail: they don’t follow up.

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