One of the critisisms of evolutionone was that it was before its time and small businesses would struggle with the idea of managing their entire business on the web. I suppose we are young enough and technical enough to have always been involved in businesses where management through the web was a goal, not a fear and because of this, sometimes we overlook the hesitations of our less web-based counterparts.
Why You Need A Web Office is a good outline for the more reserved, although I would like to see a shortening of the timeframe before the early adopters move to a fully web based office. Especially newer, smaller businesses who don’t have a legacy IT department, haven’t invested heavily in Microsoft products and who could really benefit from the reduced costs and greater efficiencies of web based office products. I think the creation of web based business management products opens a massive opportunity for small businesses to become far more competitive and the sooner they are adopted by the ‘fortune 5 million’, the better.
This article reminded me of a massive gripe I had while studying management at University. What I couldn’t fathom as an excited, motivated interested student, was why on earth those people insisted on teaching me management of production lines and old-world abstract theories. Degree cut short, I left feeling like I had learned next to nothing and wondering why on earth Universities don’t offer some form of ‘Start Up School’. How much easier would it be to start your own business if the idea seemed relevent enough to actually teach?
In New Zealand especially, where small businesses dominate the landscape, is it not a bit arrogant and old fashioned to think all business minded people aim to be high-level corporate managers in massive corporations?
| "With Thumbstacks.com, you can make presentations – like slideshows, or outlines – right in your web browser. When you’re done, you can share your presentations with anyone, anywhere, just by sending them a link." – Thumbstacks
I had a quick look at Thumbstacks and it sure is easy to use, so if you’re a heavy user of Powerpoint with a passion for web based products, give it a go. I, however, am not too sure how much ‘web-based’ Powerpoint-like presentations add to the world and honestly don’t see too much advantage in Thumbstacks – Is this web based for the sake of being web based?
Running a small business is hard. We are constantly fighting banks who don’t understand the concept of spending 9 months and tens of thousands on building a web based business management system, we fight the government who gives out 3 years worth of small business grants in advance to businesses that don’t really seem to need them, then offers us little to no tax breaks to help make it through the first few years. We fight sleep when spending long days and weekends elbow deep in our business, and invariably each other when money is tight and timeframes dragging.
So why do we do it? Because every success we have, we own, every day we wake up, we work on something we are passionate about, at the end of each day/month/year, we can sit back and look at how far we’ve come and what we have achieved. Sometimes, when everyone else we know is sitting in an office somewhere, we pack up and go out for a surf.
| "Everyday, small businesses, bloggers and freelancers waste hours answering their e-mail. This fall [Feb/March] Sproutit.com will introduce the first software built exclusively for small businesses and individuals to solve this problem." – Web 2.0 Central
I’ve just signed up to the free version of Sproutit out after reading the review on Solution Watch, which I recommend as an indepth description of this small business email management tool. They have also got a presentation on Demo, and an interview with Technosight, so further details here are a little unnecessary. Basically, if you’re like a lot of small businesses we know and spend half your day sorting through email, this could be your solution.
How they Describe it
"Mailroom can sort, organize and even suggest replies. Best of all, it actually learns how you work. You just start using it like normal and in a few days it will take over and basically do everything for you. Email will be assigned to the right person, tagged and replies suggested. All you have to do is log in to approve the replies. Instead of spending hours on email, you spend minutes. "
If you like the look of Sproutit, keep a lookout for the makers, their mission is to “build a suite of web hosted business applications uniquely designed for very small businesses.”
We profile a lot of tools that are based on working with people through the internet, here’s one that really aides in organising real-world events.
Meetup helps you to find and join interest groups in your local community. While the knitting ring may not sound appealling, joining or founding a group of entrepreneurs/business owners in your area can help you discover new opportunities and partnerships as well as put you in regular contact with qualified sounding boards.
a) May be of no use/interest to many
b) Only facilitates in forming groups
c) Is US based and has few users round these parts
At the very least it addresses the question of how small businesses can group together to become more competitive and how we can all benefit from helping each other out.
In the past, your network has been pretty limited to those physically quite close to you. When we were building evolutionone, one of the most exciting aspects about the system for me was the geographical freedom of ideas. If you had a brilliant plan for a business, you were no longer limited to the small pool of potential partners/helpers/believers around you because you had this space online where you could collaborate and build a business with anyone from anywhere.
While I will never be the type to wine and dine in the name of networking, having a bigger group of people interested in what you do and who you are interested in is an unbelievably helpful tool. However, most small business owners don’t have a lot of free time to schmooze, so welcome to the world of online networking tools…
Is basically what the name says it is. You enter your profile, keep it up to date and link yourself in with everyone else you know (if they aren’t already using Linked In, you simply invite them). They do the same, and because you now have access to their network, yours widens.
I have been dismal at adding to my network so I am currently only connected to one other. All that is about to change though as I throw myself into this very cool tool.
Other Networking Tools
Although Linked In is our current tool of choice, it is not a solitary player in the social networking market. Similar services include:
(Update: 03/03/06 ) This looks like the best of the bunch for getting things done
It looks like a lot of people are in agreement that Office Live is no more than an addition to Microsoft Desktop Office (or at least so badly named that average Joe Business Owner wont understand much difference anyway). One question thats popping up all over the show is ‘But we all have to use Microsoft Office anyway so what’s the problem?’. The problem is that we don’t.
Alternative One – for the desktop: Open Office
This is an alternative to using Microsoft Office at all. It provides much the same user experience and is only missing a few bits and pieces. We have been using Open Office for years until recently making part switch to Writely. Open Office now has a really slick marketing campaign that they parade outside Microsoft headquarters:
Alternative 2 – web based: Thinkfree
"Is now avaliable in an online version that virtually mirrors the capabilities of retail software"
Includes free online storage and the promise of more to come. We are looking seriously at Thinkfree now.
Obviously, if you only require bits of the Office suite, and can benefit from web absed applications, we also have:
Alternative 3 – word processing: Writely
The web word processor. We love it!
Alternative 4: gOffice
For letters, presentations, memos and simple reports. "High quality printable PDF output that rivals output from Adobe InDesign. Beautiful letterhead designs – work anywhere – easy to use – faster than local software. Write proposals, letters, homework, reports, memos, cover letters and more…"
Alternative 5 -web based spreadsheets: Num Sum
"Keep your records, lists and spreadsheets in one place online. Easily slice, dice and share with others."
As this seems to be a popular topic, take a look at this extended list of Best of Breed Web Office Products
I want to say now that although I talk a bit about writing well on the web, I am no expert and do not always practise what I preach. Last night I listened in on a teachers course in english grammer and most of the terms sounded like they were from an alien language. It appears that the learning of good language skills left schools at the same time as corporal punishment, grammer is now a university level subject and even then we fail dismally.
One Simple Rule For Improving Your Writing is actually a critique on another article about improving your writing, but I think it is far more realistic about how we should use commas, full stops and other nifty little grammer devices – The advice: don’t try to be perfect, just try to be a little better. This may all sound too simple, but even in my uneducated state, I still am overwhelmed by how many basic, basic english language skills a lot of business people are lacking.
The reason all this is so important
In the real-time world that is the internet, we forget that fast content still has to be good content. Improve your writing skills a little and you may notice a massive increase in the amount of people who return to your site.
In the interests of non-censorship, I will talk about the launch of Microsoft Office Live Beta. If you want a nice review, please move right along to Techcrunch or one of the many other fans. I however, feel that we are just getting to the stage where small businesses and people who aren’t total computer geeks have options other than Microsoft. We’ve had far too long of Microsoft abusing its power by charging massive licence fees and totally ignoring the concept of open standards. So when I signed up using Firefox to have a look and saw this page, I decided to launch my one girl crusade to stop this hype in its tracks:
(translation: You have to use IE to use Office Live)
I just don’t see how the short term benefits of Microsoft’s massive ability to pour funds into a (much) needed area outweigh the long-term costs of degrading back into a Microsoft world. We know an online office for small businesses is sorely needed, that is why we built evolutionone, and from the looks, companies like 37 Signals and Office Gateway are heading in that direction and have been for some time. In fact, I’d go so far to say that an entire sector of the web 2.0 movement is leading to integrated online business management tools, so why settle for a solution that forces us away from open standards and back into the Microsoft world we have just escaped? I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to make yourself dependent on a proprietry technology when you can avoid it – think about the future!
At this stage, it offers nothing more than your average blog service and a Gmail account anyway (feel free to email us if you need an invitation to Gmail), so I wouldn’t be rushing to sign up until at least we’ve seen whether or not they will deliver.
I think this comment puts it well:
“Among the additional applications was an office document collaboration tool. You can share an office document real time with others, allowing them to view and edit it. Impressive.”
How is this impressive? Writely.com and some other other web 2.0 apps does this already.