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Technology can not only make life easier, it can make running your business easier too. Although the tools available today do not replace your own project management and communication skills – every entrepreneur or business owner still needs to be a strong communicator and be able to prioritize, delegate and manage projects – there are resources available to improve the process. This article will delve into the main areas where startups should consider investing, whether that is in time researching the best free platforms or money into purchasing more premium options.

Audio/Video Conferencing

There’s a good chance you’re going to need a web conferencing solution for your business, especially if you have clients and/or staff located in different areas of the country or the world. Many web conferencing providers offer a free plan in addition to pay-for plans. The free plans typically have limited features and some also cap the number of participants, while premium plans will offer a lot more. It all comes down to your needs, although you may be surprised by what the free plans do offer. Many of them include useful tools like screen sharing, switching between presenters, white boarding, and recording.

Whichever service provider you are leaning towards, it’s a good idea to sign up for a free trial period first, which most web conferencing services offer. That way you can find out for sure if the service is going to work for your needs, which is especially important if you’re going to be handing over money for it.

To learn more about audio and video conferencing providers, check out this roundup by PC Mag or this one focusing on free providers from VoIP Review.

Webinars & Webcasting

Although similar to conferencing in that they are hosted on the web and involve numerous users coming together for an event, webinars and webcasting are quite different to web conferencing.

Whereas conferencing is designed for virtual meetings where anyone can participate, webinars and webcasts are more of a one-way dialogue, usually delivered to large audiences. Although participants may be able to send messages to the host or participate in Q&A or polls during a webinar, this type of web conferencing is designed for the host or hosts to speak to an audience with little interaction, and it is most often used for educational content or training. A webcast is basically streaming video content to viewers, which may be live or pre-recorded, and offers no interaction for the audience.

Webinars and webcasts are very popular with many online businesses, both as a magnet for attracting customers or clients, or as a vehicle for delivering an online product such as an e-course. Here are two resources to learn more about webinar and webcasting providers: this article provides an in depth look at five of the top providers, and Business.com offers a webcasting service comparison and recommendations.

Email

Obviously, having an email service is mandatory, but you don’t necessarily have to pay for it. If you’re not worried about having a domain branded email address, there are a number of options, with Gmail of course still being the gold standard when it comes to safe, encrypted webmail services. (You can also upgrade your service for a small fee if a branded domain email address is important.) Services like Gmail or Outlook (reinvented Hotmail) are not your only choices however, with services like Zoho that offer domain branded email addresses for free (up to 3). Learn more about free webmail service providers here.

Collaboration Tools

Collaboration tools are becoming utilized more and more by many businesses, especially enterprise level companies, as they provide a platform that can be used for multiple purposes, from instant messaging, file sharing, video and VoIP calls or conferencing, to project management tools like setting up teams, to-do lists, assigning tasks and project tracking.

Some examples include Slack, Flock, and Trello – even Facebook is getting in on the act with their Workplace by Facebook software. Just like email and web conferencing, there are free and pay-for versions from most providers, so you can sign up for as little or as much as you need. If you’re just looking for instant messaging and video calling, then perhaps a free option like Skype or Slack will work for you. To learn more about what the top services offer, read this handy article from Tech Radar.

Project Management Tools

While not essential, many businesses can benefit from a full project management system. Service-based businesses with a large number of projects and clients in particular will find streamlining operations via one system to be a huge competitive advantage.

Project management tools can help your company stay organized. From assigning and tracking tasks, projects and costs to scheduling, forecasting, and budgeting, project management tools allow your team members to collaborate in real time to more effectively manage production. Some of these platforms even offer customer relationship management and accounting integration for an all-in-one management system.

Choosing a project management system can be a daunting undertaking. Not only do you need to choose the right system for your current needs, you also need to consider future growth and if the system can scale as your business does. There will also be a large time investment in training, not to mention the financial cost, so making sure you have the right platform before you pull the trigger is critical.

Some of the leading platforms include ProjectManager, Wrike, Workamajig and Clarizen, although there are many more to choose from. This article by Finances Online offers a good introduction to some of the top project management tools, although you’ll want to do as much research as you can before you commit to one. Take advantage of any free trial offers as well, as the importance of trying before you buy when it comes to these types of tools cannot be overestimated.

Project management tools aren’t just for large businesses: startups or small businesses with much simpler needs can also benefit from their use, and there are some free or low cost options that might make better sense for these types of businesses. If you want to keep things really basic, Google Drive is a simple and easy option for storing and sharing files, and collaborating on documents within teams or even companywide.  There are more sophisticated options like Asana or Teamwork that provide project management tools to delegate and visualize projects through comprehensive dashboards and Gantt charts, along with tracking, alerts and reporting features to keep on top of projects. Learn more about some of the free options for small businesses or start ups here.