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80,259 News Articles

Business special: The best free tools for SMEs

Free small business software guide

Business Planning: Planware

If you don't plan your business, you're planning to fail. An important part of business planning is forecasting your financial outlook. This includes both financial statements and cash flow.

Typically, the financial projection will show the likely future financial results of the business. A projection will usually cover the next five years. The first year or two will show results on a month-by-month basis, while later years show only annual estimates. At a bare minimum, the financial projection will show details of future cash flows. An integrated financial projection will also show future income and expenses and balance sheets.

Many banks and other financial institutions have developed financial projection model spreadsheet templates or software apps that they distribute at no cost to loan applicants.

If you'd like an alternative to your bank's Excel template, consider Planware's solutions. It offers free Excel templates both for financial projections and for cash flow planning. The company also sells more sophisticated versions of these financial models. Free, limited trial versions of other business planning apps are also available.

Financial Markets: ADVFN.com

If you want to keep track of financial market price changes and business news as it happens, ADVFN.com has a lot to offer, including free, streaming stock quotes.

I especially like its Monitor service. This allows you to follow the prices of stocks, bonds, financial market indices, foreign currencies, and other financial data. You can watch securities prices as they change, colour-coded green for a price increase and red for a decrease. You select just the securities you wish to track and can set up more than one Monitor display.

Monitor is available for securities listed on major exchanges. Trading data is provided almost in real time, delayed by a few minutes. The site also offers breaking news reports, financial bloggers, and discussion forums.

ADVFN is advertiser-supported, and the pop-up ads can be annoying. The cluttered home page is practically a poster child for poor web design. This makes the site difficult to navigate until you spend the time to figure it out.

Some services, such as Monitor, require free registration. Enhanced, fee-based financial services are also available.

Project Management: Basecamp

If you need to work with others on a business project, such as creating a customer proposal, then Basecamp could be just the simple project management solution you need to help everyone stay on track.

Basecamp is an online service that is particularly suitable for coordinating the efforts of a geographically dispersed project team. Members of the project team can keep up-to-date by logging into the project site, by subscribing to the RSS feed, or by email.

You can post messages in a project forum and collaborate on documents in progress using the Writeboard. You can also set up project milestones and to-dos to help stay focused on the task at hand.

Basecamp's free service is limited to one project with two Writeboards. Paid plans are available to handle multiple projects and Writeboards and to add additional services such as time tracking and online file storage for shared documents.


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