Whether your business has just two people or two hundred, these tips can help you cut costs, save money, and let you focus on what's really important: the bottom line.
1. Use Open Source and Free Software
Let's face it--when you're trying to keep your business afloat, plunking down lots of cash for off-the-shelf software hurts like getting a cavity filled without Novocain. Thankfully, freeware and low-cost software can be a pleasant surprise in terms of robustness and functionality.
While not as polished as Microsoft's Office suite (but not as much of a memory or resource hog), OpenOffice.org is a free, open-source alternative with a full suite of applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and databases that are compatible with Microsoft Office. Though OpenOffice apps let you do nearly anything you can do in Microsoft Office, interoperability between the two suites isn't seamless. For example, if you use Word's Track Changes feature, it can be difficult to later delete or modify your edits when you use the document in OpenOffice, and vice versa.
Google Docs is another viable and free alternative to Microsoft Office--and has no software to download or install. Though it's not nearly as full-featured as either Office or OpenOffice, its basic functionality and streamlined interface may be all you'll ever need.
Creating PDF files may be crucial for business, but spending $450 on Adobe's Acrobat Professional is not. CutePDF is a free program that simply exports files to PDF. Just download and install it; from the target file, choose File, Print, and select CutePDF from the printer menu. (If you're using OpenOffice or Google Docs, you won't even need to install CutePDF--both let you export to PDF directly.)
Gartner Research predicts that by 2009, more than 25 percent of the U.S. workforce will telecommute. Telecommuting lets you save on gas costs, but you can also remain just as productive when working at home, thanks to tools that make it easy to connect and collaborate (almost as if you were in the office).
Wikis make it simple to post text or documents so that a group can make comments or changes. Some wikis are free and public, while others are more enterprise-focused, with more robust security features. PBwiki offers three flavors: Business, Academic, and Personal. The site includes WSIWYG editing tools, storage space, SSL encryption, automatic notifications via e-mail or RSS, and controls on access. It also offers reasonable business pricing--it's free for one to three users, $8 per month per user for 4 to 99 users, and $6 a month per user for 1000 to 4999 users.
The aforementioned Google Docs is also telecommuter-friendly, offering an affordable and easy way to share files (and to keep tabs on changes). Once you've created a file in Google Docs, simply invite others to collaborate online. When you're done, you can export the file to Word, Excel, PDF, or PowerPoint.
If you cringe at the thought of setting up a VPN (virtual private network), services like LogMeIn Hamachi may just be your ticket to headache-free remote VPN access. LogMeIn Hamachi promises easy setup using peer-to-peer technology to let off-site employees access files. The service works within your firewall and costs just $5 a month for one user license.
If your company doesn't have, and doesn't need, a centralized server, Central Desktop is a way to share documents online with virtually no setup. The site lets large or small groups easily share files, keep track of who's checked out which files (or modified them), and set up separate desktops for multiple groups of users.