In an informal Twitter poll, we asked our friends working at or running small and medium-sized businesses not what they could do for the Internet, but what the Internet could do for them.
We heard responses that ranged widely, running the gamut from social media marketing tools to internal team communications. Here's a list of great resources for SMBs that meet some of the most pressing needs you experience as a business owner or entrepreneur.
Best of all, every single one of these tools can be used free of charge (some have paid options for larger businesses or for those that need more features). And all of them are web-based; that means you won't have to install software, worry about cross-platform compatibility, take up any of your own system's resources or have to leave work when you leave your own PC.
If you have other tools you love using that you think other SMBs could benefit from, please let us know about them in the comments.
2 Internal Chat Tools
When you want to get your employees or clients together to brainstorm, make decisions or simply run your business, instant messaging can be a huge time-saver -- especially if you're working with a distributed team or out-of-town clients and vendors. While we love programs like Skype for business chat and conference calls, it may not be installed on every machine you have to use. These web-based group chat programs solve that problem.
Zoho's web-based chat client allows you to create and chat with groups. You can easily share your desktop with co-workers, and you can integrate your calendar for quick appointment or meeting scheduling. Best of all, Zoho's IM service also supports all kinds of IM clients, including Yahoo and AIM.
Another good online group chat service is Gixaw. With this service, you can create a unique URL for chatting with your group. You can share files, create multiple "rooms" for different projects or departments, and even search through chat history.
2 Task Management Tools
As your business and number of employees grow, you may need a central place for delegating tasks, monitoring progress and ensuring everything gets done correctly and on time.
HiTask is a free, web-based task management tool perfect for SMBs. It has a user-friendly, easy interface for your to-do lists and for team or project management. With HiTask, you can work on recurring events, make assignments, sort tasks based on priority and more, all within a simple drag-and-drop UI.
Another great task management tool is RememberTheMilk. Don't be fooled by its homemaker-ish name. This web app has been widely acclaimed over the past several years, and it works for individuals as well as small teams. RTM integrates with Gmail and Outlook, and the service has mobile apps for Windows, Android, iPhone and BlackBerry.
8 Social Media Marketing and Monitoring Tools
One of the categories SMBs ask for the most help with is social media. You need to quickly and easily keep an eye on what people are saying about you; more importantly, you need to participate in the social media conversation, yourself, without drowning hours upon endless hours bouncing around various websites.
There are three great tools we'd recommend for pushing out updates to a variety of sites at once. All three have free, web-based services, and they're great for working with teams, too. Depending on your specific needs and tastes, you could try out Hootsuite, Seesmic and TweetDeck.
You also have options for network-specific monitoring tools. To see how your tweets are performing, try CrowdBooster. And remember, Twitter's official analytics product is coming soon, too. For Facebook, use that social network's Insights dashboard for your business's Facebook Page.
3 Bookkeeping Tools
When it comes to keeping your finances straight, there are also several free, online tools just right for SMBs.
You can try Numia.biz, accounting software made just for recording and processing small business transactions, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, bank balances and more. It also gives you forms for invoicing, purchases and bank reconciliation and allows you to set up customers and vendors.
The desktop version of QuickBooks is a standard feature of many SMBs. This web-based version of QuickBooks is free and perfect for the new or smaller business. You can use QuickBooks Online to create invoices, pay bills, track expenses and more.
Finally, MoneyTrackin' is a free web app for simply and quickly tracking your revenue and expenses. You can also share budgets and collaborate with many people together on the same account. MoneyTrackin' lets you control as many accounts as you need to and tag your transactions; the service is also available as a handy mobile web app.
5 Cloud-Based File Hosting Tools
For sharing and storing large files, Google Docs will allow you to share a wide range of files -- including PDFs, spreadsheets, images and much more -- free of charge for the first 1024 MB. And believe us, it can take quite a while to get to 1024 MB of content. Google Docs files are easy to keep private and easy to share with others, including clients and team members. Plus, you'll have a relatively stable company on your side, which isn't necessarily the case when the startup hosting your files gets bought by Facebook and shuts its doors, for example.
However, if you'd rather go the small-web-company route, there are lots of options for moving large files around the Internet.
If you just need to e-mail a large file to another person, try YouSendIt, which lets you e-mail a link for downloading files up to 2 GB. If you'd like to permanently or semi-permanently store rather than just e-mail your files, you could try Esploded, which lets you create a free account, upload your files and create groups for sharing files. There's also Dropbox, FilesAnywhere and Box.net, all of which offer free and paid memberships, just depending on your business's size and needs.
3 Hiring and Applicant-Tracking Tools
Last of all, as you grow, finding and hiring great new staff members becomes increasingly important and requires more of your attention -- and likely greater organization.
Zoho Recruit is free for one person to use. It lets you schedule interviews, add and manage candidates, store resumes and publish job openings from within a simple but robust dashboard.
SmartRecruiters is hiring software that helps users create job ads and post them all over the web, including major job boards and social networks. You can consolidate all your applicants in one place, prescreen them online, share the best candidates with your co-workers or executives, schedule interviews and even rate the candidates all from within the app.
iKrut is an interesting free recruitment system. You can build your own recruitment microsite quickly; from there, you can list all your current job openings on this new career portal. Candidates visit the microsite to upload their résumés and cover letters for you to review. This all also allows for interview scheduling and organizing references. Microsites can be branded to match your own website, and the system has built-in messaging.
Images courtesy of Flickr, in order of appearance, by danox, inlinguamanchester, esther17, tsevis, nhankamer, takashi, socialisbetter.