5 Tech Tools to Help You Manage Your Small Business From Home

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online toolMy wife and I were recently blessed with our first child, which is not only a very exciting addition to our family, but also means that frequently working from home while the rest of my team is at the office has become a necessity for me.  Managing a small business from the home office (oh, wait, my the home office is now a nursery; I mean the kitchen table!) is challenging.

Thankfully, technology makes moving things forward when you are out of the office easier than ever. Here are some of the tools I use to help my team stay productive when I’m working at home.

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Yammer – Yammer is like a private Twitter for your office. It’s a great way to post updates and let the team know my status – i.e., when I have to step away from the phones, if I need someone to look into something, or when I’m ready to talk about something. Yammer can work on your desktop and politely lets you know what’s going on without interrupting your work. There is a free version of this service, although my company pays $5 per user.

Skype – Skype is a great way to actively interrupt/ping someone with a question when we are not in the same office. I can see when they are online and ask a question quickly. We also use it to transfer small files directly with each other. The beauty of Skype is also the downside – like a phone call, it interrupts you. Thankfully, you can adjust your status to “away” or “busy” to keep coworkers from getting in the way when you’ve got important things going on (like changing a diaper). Best of all, basic Skype is free.

FaceTime –Apple’s video chat service is free, and it’s been really helpful for me to have face-to-face conversations with my team. It works only on the iPad, Mac and iPhone, so each party needs one of these pretty pricey devices to take advantage of it. However, I find FaceTime is just as easy as making a phone call and more reliable than other video chat programs. When I need to have an important conversation with someone and want to see their reactions and facial expressions is when I find myself using it the most.

Google Docs – I’ve been sharing basic spreadsheets with coworkers over Google Docs for quite some time, so this fits nicely into my work-from-home situation. I find Google Docs especially useful for collaborating around potential contracts or proposals that we are sending to our clients. Quick note: We still use Word for final formatting. Google Apps business plans start at $50 per year per user.

GoToMeeting – For larger internal meetings we use GoToMeeting. This allows us to have phone dial-in, Web voice meetings and screen sharing all at once. We used to use Skype for these purposes, but it became too unreliable for group calls, so we switched. GoToMeeting isn’t cheap at $49 per month, especially when competitors offer similar services for free.  However, I feel it’s better to pay for a meeting service rather than having my employees wait around for a virtual meeting that is delayed because of technical issues.  That’s a loss of money! I see GoToMeeting as a must-have as I try to keep the company moving forward from my house.

Phone and email – Two bonus tools that we all use! While working at home, I’ve made a serious effort to be available by phone and email at specific times during the day (of course, my newborn didn’t exactly get this memo). I bundle both email and phone times, since it’s easy to pause what you’re doing with email to answer a call. I also delegate email – forwarding an item to a team member and asking them to take care of it while cc’ing the original sender.

Have you managed and grown your business from home? What tools and tactics did you use? I’d love to hear what worked for you. Do you have any ideas that would help me become more efficient as a businessperson while I do my duty as a new dad?