Gmail has been popular with small businesses because it’s easy, affordable and has a lot of functionality. But you really aren’t getting everything you can out of Gmail until you start taking advantage of some of the many third-party apps that make Gmail even more powerful. Some Gmail apps require a download; others plug into the Web version.
Regardless, if you find yourself spending a lot of your workday in Gmail, check out these apps that will make your Gmail experience even richer:
Rapportive: Rapportive kills the annoyance of sorting through windows to look up your contacts on social media while you are in Gmail. The browser plug-in saves you the hassle of having to remember who the person who emailed you is and instead looks them up on LinkedIn and Twitter – within your Gmail tab. I use it to quickly place the names and faces of the people who email me, since I’m often out meeting new potential partners for my business and get a lot of emails from our customers. Having the person’s context right there can really speed up responding to an email. You can even follow, reply to and retweet people on Twitter all within your Gmail. Rapportive is a free service.
ScanDrop for Mac: (Full disclosure, this is our app.) We built this Mac scanner software to make it easier to scan and share paper via email. It connects many, many desktop scanners directly with Gmail (and other cloud storage options) and makes sharing easy by giving you the ability scan, preview and attach the PDF, look up a contact’s email address, and send an email all without having to open a browser. While we were building ScanDrop we heard from small business customers that they were using Gmail to store and sort documents, since it has seven times the storage capacity as Google Docs. So we added a scan and email-to-yourself option that lets you add Gmail labels for easier storage of PDFs within your own Gmail account. Currently ScanDrop costs $9.99 in the Mac App Store, although we are working on a free version.
Courteous.ly: Courteous.ly lets your contacts see how much email you are sorting through at the moment so they can be courteous about interrupting you with additional emails. Basically, the free service displays either how many unread emails you have or how many emails you have in your Gmail inbox so your contacts can get an idea of how busy you are. Courteous.ly will help your contacts manage expectations about when they might hear back from you, and it also helps them choose the best time to reach you. This is a free service.
HotSpot Shield: If you use Gmail from outside the U.S. then you may need a service like HotSpot Shield. This software lets you log into Gmail from countries that block it with a firewall, such as China. Hotspot Shield does this by creating a virtual private network (VPN) between your laptop or iPhone and HotSpot Shield’s Internet gateway. This prevents snoopers, hackers and ISPs from viewing your Web browsing activities, instant messages, downloads, credit card information or anything else you send over the network – even on public Wi-Fi. So, if you are doing a lot of work for your business on random Wi-Fi networks, you may want free software like this on your computer.
Active Inbox: Active Inbox is for business owners who manage projects or their business from within email – and who are finding their inboxes are out of control. The plug-in allows you to organize emails by project and flag an email chain by status, such as “Waiting on a Reply.” You can also tag emails for immediate action or mark them so that you remember to deal with them later. Active Inbox also recalls your previous emails with a contact inside your Gmail window for quick reference — no need to open a new browser tab. There is both a free and premium version of Active Inbox.
Is Gmail an important part of your business workflow? Is there anything you’ve tried I haven’t mentioned here? Feel free to comment or tell me on Twitter.