5 Top Small Business Collaboration ToolsCollaboration means different things to different people, and the definition can even change on a project-by-project basis. Some small businesses might view collaboration as the ability to share work with their clients. For others, collaboration might mean a way for internal teams to communicate easily.
Small business collaboration might be as simple as a shared spreadsheet or as complex as a project-management tool. Whatever you require, chances are you can find a small business collaboration app to help. We look at five great small business collaboration tools that solve a range of collaborative needs, and they all offer a free option to help you get started.
We chose these applications as an example of the breadth of available small business collaboration tools, but you'll find plenty of collaboration applications that offer similar feature sets. As a bonus, we list one such alternative for each small business collaboration tool listed.
Slack: Small Business Collaboration ToolsSlack, a unified messaging tool for work teams, also incorporates file sharing. You create what Slack calls "channels" to manage the communications for projects and teams in general. Once you create a channel, you can invite team members to join. The channel becomes the central place where conversations about the project take place.
Slack integrates with applications like Google Drive and Dropbox, and you can share documents stored on these sites with your team in Slack. You can search all conversations—and any of those shared documents—in Slack, which makes it easier to find information when needed. Slack integrates with most major applications, and it supports most mobile devices so you can take your conversations with you wherever you roam.
An alternative to Slack: HipChat.
Trello: Small Business Collaboration ToolsTrello, a simple project management tool, lets you organize project tasks into a series of columns. Each column can contain a series of cards that represent the individual tasks requiring completion. You can assign deadlines and labels to cards, and you can drag the cards around to rearrange them as required. You can also drag individual names onto cards; their avatars appear on the cards, and it provides a quick, visual way to identify the people involved with specific tasks.
Trello requires practically no training to use to get up, running, and managing a project. The program runs in a browser, and companion apps for Android, iPhone, iPad and Kindle Fire make it easy to take Trello on the road with you.
An alternative to Trello: Asana.
WebEx: Small Business Collaboration ToolsIf you need to meet with other people in real time, then your small business needs an online meeting tool. Cisco's WebEx is free for an unlimited number of meetings for up to three people. You get real-, face-to-face HD video and VoIP (audio), as well as the ability to share your screen with other meeting attendees.
Meetings also include commenting, real-time annotation, and chat features. You can record meetings for later review and then share the recordings with other people. WebEx also has a range for for-fee services for larger meetings.
An alternative to WebEx: Skype.
Dropbox: Small Business Collaboration ToolsDropbox practically wrote the book on file sharing. It's simple to set up, it works across a range of devices—from desktops to tablets—and it's compatible with a range of applications. Seamless integration into other programs means that you can save and open files stored on Dropbox in a variety of different ways.
In a team environment, you can create shared folders in Dropbox and allow all team members to access, view, or edit the same files. Dropbox stores files both online and locally on your computer so you can access them even if you're offline. Dropbox Basic is free and comes with 2GB of cloud storage and file sharing tools.
An alternative to Dropbox: Box.com.
Google Drive: Small Business Collaboration ToolsGoogle Drive, a central online file storage tool, integrates with Google applications such as Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. Within the Drive interface you can share documents with other people, create and edit new documents, spreadsheets, forms, drawings, and slide presentations. You can also message other people who are working on the same file.
You access all the Drive applications via a browser when you're online. What you're able to do offline varies depending on the file format you're working on, what device and which browser you use. Google Drive offers apps for most mobile devices including iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. Drive is a great tool for sharing and working collaboratively on office documents.
An alternative to Google Drive: Zoho.
Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!
Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her website, HelenBradley.com
No matter how you define collaboration, you'll find a free app to help you get the job done. We look at 5 small business collaboration tools.