I thought it would be fun to do something a little different this week: I am writing about some online tools that I use in my business.

My primary occupation is selling real estate. These tools work for me but I am not a guru, coach or expert — just a geeky Realtor who likes to explore and exploit.

All things Google

Yes, Google isn’t just a search engine. The company offers a range of free products and services that have become mission-critical applications for my business. These are just a few of the offerings that can be found through Google.

1. Google Bookmarks. Bookmarks don’t sound very exciting but when they can be stored in my Google account and access from anywhere they are a big deal. It doesn’t matter which computer I am using I can sign into my Google account and my bookmarks are all there.

2. Google docs. I keep copies of my Inman columns in Google docs and sometimes I write them in Google docs. It is a great way to store a document so that it can be assessed from anywhere. If I am away from my computer and they didn’t get my article I can send a link to it or e-mail it through my BlackBerry or any computer.

I use Google docs to store some documents that I use over and over so that I can grab them when I need to. I share folders with clients and other businesses, too. Any document created on your hard drive can be uploaded to Google docs and documents such as spreadsheets, presentations, word documents and more can be created with Google docs. Documents can be made public or private or can be shared just with the people who you choose.

3. Google Maps. Google Maps is not just for getting directions. You can make your own Google maps and the possibilities are endless. In my market, neighborhood and multiple listing service boundaries are not an exact match. I have used Google Maps to draw in boundaries of neighborhoods and MLS districts so that buyers understand the boundaries.

Here is a link to a simple map that I made for one listing that shows neighborhood boundaries. Maps can be linked to or embedded in blogs or websites, and printed.

4. Google Sidewiki. At this point I don’t think there are many who understand Sidewiki. It allows the user to have some control over what comes up in a Google search and to leave notes right on the search page for future reference. Here is a video from Google that explains how to use it. I just started using it a few weeks ago and now I can’t imagine not having it.

5. Gmail. I have a Gmail account but it isn’t my primary e-mail account. It has a feature that I just love. I can sync the contacts and calendar appointments from my BlackBerry wirelessly and automatically over the Internet. That means that no matter where I am, as long as I have Internet access, I can always find my appointments and contacts. And each time I add information it is immediately backed up in the "cloud." …CONTINUED

6. Google Profile. If you have a Google account you have a Google Profile. Find your profile and fill it out as completely as possible. I promise that it will make it easier for others to find you on the Internet.

7. Google Buzz. This is a newer Google offering that resembles FriendFeed. It acts as an aggregator and will put your social media content in one place. Others can follow you and you can follow them. Buzz is integrated into Gmail. I have not decided if Buzz is a good thing but set it up in case it is the next big thing.

8. Google Sites. Did you know that you can create a website for free through Google sites? It won’t replace your website but it works wonderfully as a free intranet for clients. I can put information in it and give them a password and include links to those Google docs that I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago. Google sites could also be used for quick temporary individual property websites. All the tools needed are available for free. You can also create a free wiki and use it to collaborate on a project.

9. Google Chrome. Chrome is a newer Internet browser. The more I use it the more I love it. I have not used Internet Explorer in years. I switch to Firefox several years ago and while that is an excellent browser, it likes to crash and it does not run as well on slower computers and some netbooks. Chrome is clean and simple. Try it.

Next time you have a little time, go into your Google account and read and set up your profile. It is all free and there are many more handy tools that can be used for business or for fun or both. You can’t break it and it may save you some money because some of the Google applications can replace software that you pay for now.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.


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