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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, left, shakes hands with Skype CEO Tony Bates during a news conference on May 10, 2011 in San Francisco. Microsoft has agreed to buy Skype for $8.5-billion (U.S.) (Justin Sullivan/JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES)
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, left, shakes hands with Skype CEO Tony Bates during a news conference on May 10, 2011 in San Francisco. Microsoft has agreed to buy Skype for $8.5-billion (U.S.) (Justin Sullivan/JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES)

START: MARK EVANS

The entrepreneur's must-have tech toolbox Add to ...

Microsoft Corp.'s decision to buy Skype Technologies SA for $8.5-billion (U.S.) is certainly major news in the high-tech world, but it also got me thinking about how it might affect my use of Skype down the road.

Right now, Skype is one of my go-to tools because it lets me make inexpensive or free calls. When you are a small business, every dollar and cent counts so not having to pay long-distance charges to a major carrier is a bonus.

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Another great thing about Skype is how it is easy to make conference calls for a modest cost or free.

For small businesses, the right toolbox can be an effective way to compete on a level playing field with larger competitors. Many of these tools are free or relatively inexpensive, which has lowered the barriers to entry.

Some of the other essential tools within my toolbox include:

Freshbooks

Freshbooks is an online service that makes it a breeze to send invoices, track your time, and record expenses.

It offers a free service to handle a few clients, and several premium packages to accommodate more.

Tungle

Another free online service, Tungle lets you schedule meetings without the hassle of going back and forth over e-mail to find a slot that works.

With Tungle, you send other meeting participants the slots that you're available so they can then select which one works for them. Tungle, recently acquired by Research in Motion Ltd., also synchs with calendars such as iCal, Outlook, Google Calendar and Lotus Notes.

DropBox

If you are looking for a user-friendly online service to store files (music, videos, documents) and share them with other people, DropBoxis a no-brainer.

There is a free version that gives you two gigabytes of storage, and two premium packages that cost $9.99/month for 50GB of storage or $19.99 a month for 100GB of storage.

Vox

When using Skype is not an option, I'm a big fan of using pre-paid calling cards from Vox. At less than four cents a minute for long-distance calls in North America, Vox is a more attractive alternative than using your cell phone, which is a much more expensive option.

Google Docs

A free service from Google, Google Docs is an online word processor that lets you work online and, just as important, easily share documents with clients to make collaboration quick and easy.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.













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