While finding ways to work cost-effectively is always a smart mode of operation for savvy businesses, today’s shaky financial times make it downright essential. My company saves thousands of dollars per year using free services from legitimate Internet-based software companies or service providers.
What’s the Catch?
A few restrictions and the possibility that after using the “basic” freebees, we'll get hooked and upgrade to fee-based services. If this sounds like an opportunity too good to refuse, read on for my “Top Ten IT for Free” recommendations about ways to leverage technology without blowing your budget. Believe it or not, it is possible to take advantage of a wide variety of technology services -- from phone conferencing to video hosting -- for little or no cost.
1. Free Phone Conferencing
It’s available through Free Conference (www.freeconference.com), which allows you to schedule your conference call through the Internet. Beyond the normal long-distance charges you pay your phone provider, there are no surcharges, additional fees or commitments. We've been using this service for many years. I can tell you from personal experience, if you use conferencing frequently, this service will save you thousands of dollars per year.
2. File Sharing
If you have a large project that requires sending large files across the Internet and you don't want to choke your email server or deal with granting access to your network server, try www.YouSendIt.com. While it’s limited to a 14-day trial, if you're working on a short-term project, this service could do the trick. In addition, if you like it or need it going forward, you can use their service for about $10 per month.
3. Internet-Based Meetings
For live meetings over the Internet, explore your options by using of Internet-based meeting software. Microsoft Office Live Meeting (www.microsoft.com/livemeeting) and WebEx (www.webex.com) both offer limited, trial versions of their products. But don't make it a major event: both Live Meeting and WebEx limit the number of meeting attendees.
4. Online Surveys
Interested in surveying customers on new product questions? Online surveys make messy and cumbersome paper surveys a quaint business artifact. Online surveys provide an easy way for the participant to provide data. And, because the survey is online, with each completed survey, the results are tallied automatically allowing you to view them in real-
time. Zoomerang (www.zoomerang.com) and SurveyMonkey (www.SurveyMonkey.com) both provide an easy-to-use, free online survey. The free versions do have limits in the number of questions, participants, and how long you can access your data.
5. Video Services
For training, marketing, or really any recordable event, you can use Google Video (Video.Google.com) or YouTube (www.YouTube.com). The services are free and you're only limited by the length of the video. My company has put up samples of our training as well as an introduction to our company for new employees and prospective clients.
6. Audio Recordings
Has your company created podcasts (or any other audio recordings) that you'd like to share with customers and prospects? If you host the sound file and a fairly basic XML file on your site, you can register to have your Podcast listed with iTunes. To find out more, do a search on Podcasts at the iTunes (www.iTunes.com) website.
If you're interested in setting up a blog to let customers know about your product knowledge or professional musings, Blogger (www.Blogger.com) is a free blog hosting service.
8. Event Invitations
If you belong to a networking group or routinely host other kinds of groups or meetings, eVite (www.evite.com) is an interesting option for handling invitations. eVite lets you share information about your event, such as the time, location, and a description of the get together. You also must include a list of e-mail addresses for the people you are inviting to your event. After sending out your invitation, you and others can see who’s coming, who isn't, and read comments or messages from anyone that chooses to provide them.
9. Online Visibility
Want some free visibility and help in making your company more prominent with search engines? Check out Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.com) and put in a factual entry for your firm. It’s free and shows up at the top of most search engines. Just remember to check back periodically to keep your listing up to date since anyone can make changes to Wikipedia listings.
10. Management of e-Information
Finally, while it only offers a free trial, Roboform (www.RoboForm.com) at $30 saves a couple of hours per month (at least in my case). It remembers passwords for any site that you use that requires them. RoboForm also has an auto-fill feature that, with the click of a button, fills in forms with personal or business data, as well as credit card information.
These products represent just a sample of the many IT freebees currently available. Many other vendors offer “basic” versions of their service or limited use versions. If you're not sure, take the time to ask. Using these limited software versions may be all you need to solve a current need. So, with apologies to your mother, there really is such a thing as “something for nothing” in the world!
- 26th June, 2009: Initial post