Last week began a 10-week blog series on my favorite free tools, all of which will help VAs alleviate overhead business costs and boost productivity. Now on to…
Week 2: Virtual Assistant Uses for Everything Google
So, pretty much everything Google has to offer is just too darned cool. From scheduling to sharing to tracking and everything in between, you can’t go wrong with Google—and you can’t beat FREE! The most you have to do is register for your free account and then start using all these wonderful tools. Google has so much more than what is listed here, but these are my favorites, and I use them every day.
Google Alerts: Setting up Google Alerts is like having your own little Internet research team. Want to know when your name or your business name pops up somewhere on the Internet? Google Alerts has it covered. Want to keep track of the latest news on your favorite band? Google Alerts can handle that too. Google Alerts sends you an email with the latest relevant Google results based on the criteria you set up for each alert.
Connie’s Tip: I have several alerts set up, including my name, my business names, and other topics of interest. But don’t forget about your competitors! The only way to stay competitive is to know who your competition is and what they are doing. Keep tabs on them by setting up alerts on them too!
Google Analytics: Google Analytics is a great way to track your website statistics. Not only is the format visually appealing (unlike many of the statistics programs offered by web hosts), but everything is really easy to understand. It takes just minutes to set up, and then you simply insert a few lines of code into your web pages, and voila! Instant stats—and you don’t even have to go through a lengthy installation. Another great feature is that you can add as many sites as you need to. For me, I have six sites to track—all my own. If you use Google Adwords, it is also integrated with Google Analytics, so you can view your ROI metrics without doing anything extra.
Google Calendar: Keep everyone organized with Google Calendar by sharing it with your family, friends, colleagues, or clients. Or you can share it with all four separately! Don’t want your clients to see your personal schedule and events? No problem. You can share it with whomever you choose, make it public or private, or even allow clients to view it from your own web page.
Another great feature is that you can subscribe to other people’s calendars and view them simultaneously with yours—and it’s all color-coded. What could be cooler than that?
Google Docs & Spreadsheets: I’ve seen many questions from VAs who need to share documents with their clients, but either they don’t have compatible programs or they need the ability to access the document at the same time. Google Docs & Spreadsheets is the answer! You can keep documents and spreadsheets to yourself, share them with specific people, or share them with the entire world if you want to. Multiple people can even view and edit the same document at the same time, because it is all done online. The best part is that you can access these documents from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Jaime Lee Mann and I wrote the entire Visionary VAs Getting Started Series using Google Docs & Spreadsheets because it was so much easier than emailing each other bits and pieces, and then editing and sending them back, which would have caused a lot of headaches in version control. But what do you do when you’re done writing and editing? You can export the documents to Word, PDF, OpenOffice, or RTF.
Google Base: If you have products to sell, then add them to Google Base and make them searchable on Google. It’s free to submit your items, and you can link directly to your product’s web page. You can also create AdWords to advertise your offers directly from Google Base. Another nice feature is that you can process your online sales using Google Checkout without any fees on sales you process through Google Base.
Google Notebook: I am the Queen of Notes & Lists—literally. I make notes and create lists for everything, whether it’s for business or personal tasks. Lists for shopping, lists of to-dos, notes from client conversations—you get the picture. With Google Notebook, you can organize your notes, create multiple notebooks, drag and drop your notes, and even add text, images, and link clippings from web pages without leaving your browser window—and, of course, you can access them from anywhere using any computer.
Google Reader: We all spend more than enough time each day on the information superhighway, and we waste even more time by having to click to each of our favorite blogs to read new posts. Stay up to date with Google Reader by subscribing to your favorite blogs via their RSS feeds, and then read them all in one window. You can even share those interesting tidbits with your friends and family using Google Reader’s built-in public page.
Gmail: For everyone who hates webmail (I’m one of them!), check out Google’s Gmail, because as it claims, it really is a new kind of webmail. Besides being more interactive than most webmail clients, it is much easier to find your messages. Each thread is stored as one, so no more searching to find messages you replied to. Rather than using folders to store your messages, Gmail uses “labels,” so you can still organize your messages by subject, category, person, etc. In addition, you can “star” your messages to easily find your important correspondence. You also get lots of storage space, you can chat right inside Gmail—and my favorite feature of all—you can read your Gmail messages on your mobile phone.
Google Picasa: I’ve just recently learned about Google Picasa, and it has already proven to be a really great photo organizer for me. Keep in mind that I have a two-year-old daughter, so to say that I have tons of photos on my computer would be an understatement. Picasa locates all your photos and organizes them for you. It also allows you to easily share your photos on the Web, or through email and prints.
Google offers so many other things—it’s almost mind-boggling! I love the new iGoogle where you can customize your own little home page with multiple tabs and all sorts of little widgets. My home tab includes my popular bookmarks, Google Calendar, Documents & Spreadsheets, the Virtual Assistant search engine for VANA, and my Google Notebook. I have a tab for reference items, such as phone directories, maps and addresses, dictionary and thesaurus, and Wikipedia. I also created a “Tools” tab that includes a currency converter and my local gas prices so I can find the lowest gas prices in my area. With Google, you have everything virtually at your fingertips!
Leave a comment and tell us what you love about your favorite Google tools! And don’t forget to check back next week for more free tools!