Low-Cost Tools to Kickstart Your New Business - Page 2

By Jamie Bsales
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Bill On Site is another invoice creation-and-tracking service, but with a twist. It lets you use your Web-enabled mobile phone to create and send invoices, so you can bill clients while still at their location (or wherever you happen to be).

In addition to creating and sending invoices, the service lets you track unpaid and overdue invoices, keep track of client histories and collect payments automatically via PayPal. Bill On Site starts at $15 per month for up to 25 invoices.

If you plan to bill for your services on an hourly basis, you’ll need a system for tracking billable hours — something a bit more advanced than hash marks on a Post-it — and turning those hours into invoices. Enter Bill4Time, an online time-tracking program that helps ensure you don’t miss out on possible income.

Billing Boss
Bill4Time offers a dashboard viewso you can monitir billable hours by client or project. 
(Click for larger image)

With the company’s service, you can record your time and enter expenses directly from your Mac or PC desktop using a handy desktop widget, without having to install and learn a cumbersome time-tracking application. The service also lets you record time and expenses (and access other Bill4Time features) in real-time from most PDAs and mobile phones including the iPhone, Blackberry, PocketPC and Palm devices.

Bill4Time also supports flexible billing rates that can be set by project or client. Pricing starts at $19.99 per month, and a free version supports one person with up to three active clients and five active projects.

Other Essentials

Of course, if you’re just starting out you’ll need a lot more than a convenient billing tool. A Web site to announce your existence to the world is a must. Intuit has you covered, here, too, with low-cost Web hosting starting at just $4.99 per month.

The service offers 2,000 professionally designed templates that you can customize to get just the right look, and the design tool’s drag-and-drop functionality hides the complexity of creating a site. The industry-specific templates even include relevant graphics and text, so you won’t be starting from scratch.

For many consultants, real-time collaboration with clients is extremely important. Setting up one-on-one phone calls is easy, but if you need to have three or more parties on the line, things get tricky — and expensive. FreeConferenceCall.com offers free private conference lines. Just enter your name and an e-mail address on their site to receive an instant account.

FreeConferenceCall will provide you with a dedicated dial-in number and an access code, which are ready for immediate use 24/7 — no need to make a reservation. Long distance charges may apply, but there are no additional charges from the company. Calls can be up to six hours in length, and the company offers free recording and downloading of the calls. Recordings are accessible by phone or computer, and you can distribute, archive or even send recordings to your listeners via RSS and podcast.

Since you’ll be flying without an IT department, you also need to worry about backing up critical files. And while you’re at it, remote access to those files and the ability to collaborate on them would be nice.

Of course, setting up an Exchange server with SharePoint and VPN access is out of the budget, so consider a service like Nomadesk. This service allows you to store and share data via online file servers and offers local 256-bit encryption of files, automatic synchronization of files among several PCs, and Windows and Mac compatibility.

Like other online backup services, Nomadesk ensures that critical files are safely stowed off-site should your hard drive crash or your PC gets stolen. But Nomadesk goes further, allowing an unlimited number of authorized guests to access a company’s online fileserver for easy file sharing and collaboration, while also letting them automatically synchronize stored files across multiple devices including desktops, laptops, PDAs and smartphones.

The service offers two versions: Team Fileserver costs $15 per month per fileserver, and it’s designed for businesses that need to share and collaborate on documents. It supports unlimited synchronization, file sharing among an unlimited number of guests, secure storage and backup, adding files to a fileserver via e-mail, the sending of download links for files to anyone, TheftGuard protection and free, live tech support via phone or online chat.

The Personal Fileserver service costs $50 per year and is designed for individual customers primarily interested in synchronizing files among multiple PCs or devices. It supports up to five PCs and delivers all of the features of Team Fileserver except for file sharing and e-mailing files to a fileserver.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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!

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This article was originally published on November 19, 2009
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