Category Archives: Business Activities Zone

WELCOME TO OUR BUSINESS ACTIVITIES ZONE!

In this zone, you’ll find articles covering all manner of business activities. Use the business activities menu above to choose which activity you’re interested in.

Whether it’s budgeting, design or HR, we’ll find the free tools and advice to make your business lives easier to manage and lowest cost to implement. There’s no need to pay much for software if you know where to look.

And if you’ve found something we don’t know about, do let us know by entering it’s URL in the box at the foot of each article – thanks a mill!

Intellectual Property & Patents

For many businesses, exploiting and protecting Intellectual Property (or IP) rights is a core business activity. So it’s essential you do your homework to find out if others are treading on your toes – or if you’re infringing others’ intellectual property rights.

Here are a number of resources that will help you search various countries’ patents and find IP information.

You can perform free searches of the US Patent Office and find EU, German and Japanese patent documents at FPO, a free resource that includes blogs and articles on IP. You can also visit the US, EU and and UK patent offices directly, all of which have plenty of free tools and resources covering patents, copyright and trade marks.

If you’d like to license out your own intellectual property, Creative Commons offers a simple, standardised way to protect and share your IP.

Free File Transfer Software

When you need to send digital files, most of us tend to use email. However, when the files start to get larger than around 10Mb, that’s when you need to look elsewhere.

There’s lots of free cloud storage available these days and most give you the ability to share files from there. But if you’re looking for a solution that simply transfers a file without setting up an email and storage account, then one of these should do the trick.

The biggest capacity free transfer account we’ve found comes from Wetransfer who let you sent up to 2Gb files for free using their very simple web interface – and you don’t even have to register. Nice.

Hightail offers a free account that allows transfers up to 250Mb. You can send 300Mb files with Sendspace on their free, ad-supported account. Transferbigfiles has a 100Mb limit on their free account but allow up to 20Gb on their paid for accounts.

 

Project Management and Collaboration

Whether you’re managing a project alone, work as part of a remote team or in an office collaborating with a team on a complex project, there are useful and free tools out there to help you keep in control and communicate more effectively with the team.

Trello is a visual way to organise tasks. Think of it as a pin board on your browser but one that updates with live information and that’s accessible to every team member.

Asana is a way to turn email into a project-based, task-driven dashboard that’s accessible to all team members. The free version is limited to 3 project cards.

Evernote is a way to store notes, website cuttings, voice recordings and pictures, tag them with metadata and make them accessible to all your devices. The individual version is free, the team collaboration version has a small monthly charge.

If you’re looking for a team messaging service to replace Skype, Hipchat offers group messaging as well as file sharing and works on all popular platforms and devices. The $2 p/m paid version adds video chat and screen-sharing.

Business collaboration

Of course, if collaborating with the wider business world is your thing, then LinkedIn is the place to be. It offers one-to-one messaging, collaboration with business interest groups and an immense and up to date contacts database – and most of this is available with the free version.

Design collaboration

Invision offers a fully free version of their wireframing/mockup tool. This allows you not only to quickly mockup products, but is also a collaborative design tool used by lots of larger software companies.

Cheapest Car Rental

Renting a car can be a very cost-effective alternative to buying if you only need to use a car infrequently. For the lowest rates, rental companies generally accommodate drivers aged 25-70.

Cheap car rental companies covering Europe, US, UK & Australia

EasyCar compares prices from lots of car rental companies as well as car clubs and cover the UK, US and Europe. Indigo Car Hire is a comparison site that covers Europe, UK, US, Australia and parts of Africa and searches deals from eight suppliers.

In the US, Enterprise, Hertz and National have been voted as the best car rental companies, while Payless is known for the best deals, including $10-20 daily offers. Payless also has some international outlets too.

Cars & transport

A car’s an essential business tool these days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy one.

The major cost of owning a car is depreciation. On average, a car loses about half it’s value over the first three years – that’s money coming straight out of your pocket. Different brands depreciate at different rates, but if the car you want is a quick depreciator (such as a Ford or a Peugeot) then it might make more sense not to buy and consider one of the options listed below.

Of course, fuel, maintenance and insurance all take their toll on your time and bank balance too. So here we look at a few different options you might like to consider, listed below in order of requirement: the top of the list is for those who need daily access while the options at the bottom are more suitable for the occasional user.

 

 

Car Clubs

Car Clubs

Car clubs give you access to a car for as many days as you need without having the longer term commitment that comes with owning or leasing. They’re reasonably new in most countries so you might struggle to find a car club that covers smaller cities or towns, but if you are covered by a club and only use a car infrequently, they may be an attractive option.

After joining a car club (and sometimes paying an annual membership or joining fee), you can then access their network of cars to use as and when you need one. Typically, you’ll then pay a daily or hourly rental and/or cost per mile, but the price does include insurance and sometimes breakdown cover.

International Car Clubs

ZipCar offers the most extensive network globally, covering the US, Canada & UK, plus most European countries. For individuals, there’s a small setup and annual charge, then you pay either per hour or day, with inclusive insurance and free fuel up to 60 miles. It’s a similar story for business users but with a 180 mile limit.

Car hire company Hertz are getting in on the act in the US, UK, Europe and Australia with Hertz 24/7, offering car and van rentals by the day and hour. They offer a mobile app and membership is free.

UK-based Car Clubs

City Car Club have the most extensive network in the UK, covering most major cities. There’s an annual joining fee and drivers must be over 19 with at least a year’s driving experience. Easy Car Club is a UK-based peer-to-peer club run by the Easy Group, where owners add their own cars or vans to the network and members can rent them out. Membership is free and there’s no annual fee, though a sizeable deposit is required.

Free Customer Services Software

In addition to many CRM systems which support plug-ins for customer support functions, there are a small number of well-featured and free customer services platforms available. These are often easier to learn and better suited to smaller businesses. Most of this software costs but the latest generation is freemium, offering you a free way in to customer services supports software.

Freshdesk has a free version that supports up to 3 users and offers shared inbox, ticketing, mobile app and live chat. Zendesk offers a free trial then their starter package starts at a heady $1 a month. This includes support ticketing, knowledge base and access to their app database.

We’ll bring links to other customer services support software as we find it. If you know any we should check out, please enter the website address below.

Advertising Networks

Advertising networks aren’t free – at least worthwhile ones aren’t. However, the best networks will bring enough converting customers to your site to make them, at the very least, cost-neutral; at best, highly profitable. And there’s always the option to join an ad network as a publisher, where you can make between 50-80% of the advertising revenue by displaying ads on your website.

Advertising networks

Google Adsense (where ads are displayed on partner websites) and Google Adwords (ads appear on the Google search results page) are the widest used advertising networks and suitable for businesses of all sizes. You can choose from text or display adverts and the ads served attempt to be relevant to the hosting website content or search results. There are options for remarketing and demographic targeting too. Sign up with your Google account for free. Google Ad Exchange is their real-time marketplace for advertising trading and has an 80% publisher share. Prices of ads on Google depend on the popularity of keywords or the hosting website.

OpenX is possibly the next largest advertising global network with real time ad exchange. Media.net is the contextual ad network run by Bing and Yahoo which allows you to modify ads to reflect your site style too. Other advertising networks worth checking out include Sonobi, Conversant and Adroll.

Advertising on individual websites

Facebook offers relatively low cost per click (CPC) rates along with good targeting options which mean your ads get served to very specific groups. You can sponsor Twitter posts too and their platform has good targeting and reporting. The price you pay depends on the specific goal targets you define, such as more followers or retweets.

Human Resources (HR) Software

HR software allows you to manage things like recruitment, attendance, payroll and performance. Some solutions are cloud-based, while others are open-source (meaning they’re free to install but usually require paid-for hosting and support). Below we firstly list the best free and freemium cloud-based HR software, then some open-source alternatives.

Cloud based HR software

Employee management, holiday, attendance, training and performance are all covered by FreeHR, a tool that says it will always be free.

WebHR is a highly rated web-based application that covers attendance, payroll and recruitment. It’s free for up to 10 employees.

You have to dig a little to find the free account option at Natural HR but it features training, leave, performance management, events and announcements.

Apptivo offers a range of business apps as part of its free version, with HR covering recruitment, holidays, teams and employee management.

Zoho People is free for 5 users and includes holiday management and time tracking but limits some functionality and storage, however it works with the rest of the Zoho suite.

Open-source HR software

Waypoint HR offers both cloud and open-source alternatives as does OrangeHRM, though the cloud versions are time-limited free trials. A1eHR is a free open source HR system covering most disciplines plus payroll.

Other HR & Recruitment software

E-innovate offer a free timesheet application that tracks time and expenses.

General Business Advice

In this section, we’ll display only links to high quality* articles and resources for entrepreneurs and business owners who are looking for learning and guidance when running or growing their business.

Business Frameworks provides very useful and insightful checklists, guidance and templates based on the real-world experience of successful small business owners.

*For this reason, this section may take a little while to populate!