15 of the best small-business tools.
If you run a small or home-based business, you don’t need to be told that every penny counts. But you’ve also probably learned by now that even when it comes to products or services that seem expensive, it’s always better to spend the money once on something good.
With that in mind, here are 15 products and services that we feel have the potential to help your business do great things. (Note: All prices indicate MSRP; you should pay significantly less.)
— Microsoft’s Wireless Optical Desktop 5000 and Optical Mouse 3000 ($105) make it easier than ever to go wireless at your desk. The duo offer four-way, silky-smooth scrolling and a wide variety of programmable hot keys, among lots of other features.
— US Modular’s 100GB Dragon Drive ($279) is a palm-sized USB 2.0 portable drive made for those who travel on business. Not only is it tiny (less than an inch thick), but it’s powered entirely via a USB or FireWire connection to a host computer. The Dragon Drive also comes in smaller-capacity sizes starting at $99.
— Using Ergotron’s LX Desk Mount Arm series (starting at $169) is like having a monitor or TV that always knows how and where you want to be situated. A proprietary lift-and-pivot method makes the Ergotron easily able to put your display where you can use it, whether you’re sitting or standing.
— Other World Computing’s 120GB FireWire/USB 2.0 Mercury On-the-Go portable drive for Macintosh ($350) runs at 5,400 RPM and includes an 8MB cache for fast and reliable performance. If your company works with high-resolution audio or video and needs a trusty portable solution, look no further.
— JacksonBackup’s Armor Card ($80) lets business owners and IT pros have total control of the content on their PCs. The Windows-compatible PCI card safeguards your program files and settings, allowing you to tinker with your OS or allow Web surfing without worrying that you can’t get back to your PC’s default settings.
— Palo Alto Software’s Business Plan Pro 2006 ($130) has the Small Business Administration’s seal of approval, and for good reason. The new version updates one of the most highly-regarded small-biz software packages with more than 9,000 industry profiles, advanced export tools, easy import from QuickBooks, and over 500 sample business plans.
— E-Book Systems FlipAlbum 6 Pro ($160) is tailor-made for professional photographers. It can automatically create book-like albums with an intuitive interface. Albums can be burned onto CDs to distribute to clients and prospects, who will be able to flip through them as they would a real photo album. The program also lets you encrypt your photos, set passwords and expiry dates, disable printing, and add watermarks.
— Sun’s Java Desktop System ($100 per desktop) is for companies that want Windows-compatible performance from their PCs without the expense or security headaches. It combines the best of open-source innovation with Sun’s muscle behind it, giving users the option of deploying the same desktop environment on Sun workstations, Sun Ray ultra-thin clients, or one of many non-Sun notebook and desktop systems with standard x86-based architectures.
— eFax’s online fax service (ranging from a free limited service to a full-featured $20-per-month version) that, the company says, eliminates the need for a fax machine, an extra fax line, and all the associated expenses. If someone sends a fax to your eFax number–which can be your existing fax number–it simply arrives at your in-box as an e-mail attachment.
— Brother’s HL line of personal laser printers (from $150 to $2,000) range from the HL-2040, which is strictly for occasional color work, to the workhorse HL-4200CN, which boasts 26-page-per-minute speed, 1200x1200dpi resolution, automatic duplex printing, and more, making it great for hardcore graphics shops.
— Xerox’s DocuMate 262 scanner ($1,300) isn’t cheap, but it’s crucial if your business involves the mass digitization of paper documents. Its OCR characteristics are second to none, and it scans documents at a mind-blowing 33 sheets per minutes–or twice that in duplex mode. It also has super-simple one-touch ability to send scanned documents to a variety of applications, either as text files or searchable PDFs.
— GotVMail’s VirtualOne hosted PBX service (starting at $10 per month) gives mobile workers a dedicated toll-free or local number that acts like a switchboard and gives the appearance of a big office where there might be no office at all.
— Another precautionary security tool, Delta Insights’ Silent Sword ($50) takes a different approach to virus and malware prevention: It maintains a regularly updated list of trusted programs, and locks everything else out. It works seamlessly with all firewalls and routinely scans an entire system in less than 30 seconds.
— Belltech Small Business Publisher 2.0 ($50 for a single license) is a designing and printing package made especially for SMBs, helping beginner and intermediate users to make flyers, envelopes, letterhead, and lots more.
Keith Mansfield writes from Mt. Laurel, N.J.