Getting a free lunch

I've recently begun to use Skype in my business to make many of my phone calls and it's saved us a lot of money. Are there any other free software applications out there that I could be using? – Michael.

There are absolutely loads of free or open source applications that many small business owners can put to good use in their offices or homes. Here are just a handful of suggestions:

Open Office: Sun Microsystems's free alternative to Microsoft Office with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics and database apps.

Zoho: A range of productivity, collaboration and customer relationship applications which are free for individuals or very small businesses. Popular apps include Zoho CRM, Zoho Invoice, Zoho Meetings and Zoho Projects.

Gmail and Google Docs: Google's free email service and its online office suite. Tonnes of space and very little spam.

Remote Desktop Lite: An iPhone or iTouch app that allows you to remotely and securely access your PC.

Call Time Tracker: Free Blackberry app by Redwood Technologies, which helps you bill hours and calculate expenses on the move.

Dabble DB: Simple, free database creator.

Saasu Accounts: Free for individuals or very small businesses. Sassau provides a full suite of online accounting tools.

Remember to check out all applications thoroughly to ensure they meet your needs before relying on them. Free or open source apps may not always have the range of functionality you get with paid applications, or the level of reliability. However, in many cases, open source software is extremely reliable and very well supported.

Making a mark through the mail: I've sent quite a few mailshots lately but have been getting a very poor response. The offers I've been promoting have been quite attractive. Any tips on presenting these marketing documents better? – Jean

Here are some tips for maximising conversion rate from mailshots.

Avoid clutter – Your page should have at least 45 per cent white space.

Have a clear call-to-action. eg. Phone now for… Email now to…

Present your call-to-action early and often. No later than the third paragraph.

Sell the offer, not the product. Concentrate on selling the benefits of responding and receiving the offer.

Use the customer "you" language, do not talk about "our" company and "our" products. Keep it action-orientated and use active language.

Check your headlines, subheadings and underlined phrases and use convincing language such as a reason to respond now, a call-to-action, or a benefit summary.

Blogging for money: I started a blog earlier this year and I've started to get quite a bit of traffic. How can I begin to make some money from the site? – Eileen

Here are some common monetisation options for blogs and content-based websites:

l 1. Get AdSense: Sign up at adsense and place contextual ads by Google on your site. The ads will match the content of your blog and you are paid according to the number of clicks your ads get.

l 2. Become an affiliate marketer: There are dozens of affiliate networks which will allow you to place ads on your blog for products your readers might be interested in. For instance, if you have a sports blog, you might run affiliate ads for a betting company. With affiliate programs, you are paid a percentage from each sale. So if a visitor to your blog clicks your ad and places a bet, you can earn 30 per cent or more of that wager. The commission rates vary depending on the programme. Visit the likes of, or

l 3. Get paid to blog: There are many services which will pay you a small fee to blog about a particular product or service. Try, or

l 4. Join an ad network: Networks sell ads on your behalf and place them automatically on your site, usually taking a cut of 30-40 per cent. Popular networks include or For Irish-specific sites, try or

l 5. Sell books or t-shirts: The Amazon affiliate programme is the most popular of them all. Sign up direct at and place links to relevant books, games and other products on your blog. Or try selling related products like t-shirts. You can add a free t-shirt store to your blog at

l 6. Create an ebook or product: Why not sell your own product on your blog? You could create an ebook or other information product and sell it online. Check out for more information.

If you have a question or you're looking for help on any particular area of business, ask the entrepreneurs who have been where you are now. Thousands of entrepreneurs and owner managers are part ofwww.smallbusinesscan.comand are there to help you. A selection of questions and answers will be printed here each week.

Imagine what could be accomplished if Irish business people all shared their knowledge, insights, experience and contacts. is a one-stop-resource where small business owners can connect to their peers, experts and new markets.


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