For this column, we will take a break from the financial numbers and discuss cool technology tools that can help your business. Here are five tools that require no financial investment and are simple to implement; so simple that my eight year old can do it.

Chris Radar Google Alerts. The Google Alert function is similar to the Google search engine. Google Alerts allows you to set up search terms that will trigger an e-mail to you when items containing your Google terms have been posted on the Internet. This same type of search is also available fromYahoo and MSN.

I recommend you create alerts using your customers' names, competitors' names, employees' names, your name and the name of your business, of course. Here is why: If great news happens about your customers, you want to be the first to know. When one of my clients was acquired earlier this year, I received the alert right before it was announced to their employees. I called my contact at the company, who was on the way into the meeting to announce the acquisition to their managers. He took my call and could not believe that I knew they were going through an acquisition, because it had not yet been announced to management. I knew minutes before his managers because I was publicly alerted minutes prior to him telling his employees.

As to competitors, it is always better to know where your enemy is and what they are doing than to not know, as Macchiavelli's book The Prince stressed centuries ago. At the same time, if you are going to sell against your competitor you need to know what you are selling against.

With employees, you want to know if they are being published, in the Little League newspaper, or in lock-up.

What about you? You always want to know if somebody has referenced your work or your name. Go ahead and setup an alert on Google, MSN, or Yahoo for your name and your company. The same syntax applies, as most searches where quotes around the word provide exact searches.

For example, "Joe Blow" from "Main Street Lumber" in quotes will return any search for exactly what is in quotes. If your name or your company name is less common, then you will probably be fine without the quotes. However, if your name is common like Joe Blow, then you are probably going to not only have to the name in quotes, but you might also list the city or information that might narrow the search.

If you find it hard to keep up with the industry publications, include terms like "LBM Industry", "lumber prices"; or "lumber" and "new location."

Other functions of the alerts include all posting or specifically, news, blogs, the Web, video, or groups. I have been using alerts for over a year and I have selected "Comprehensive" which include all postings. Also, I have had to tweak my search terms to narrow my results.

Google Maps. This tool not only allows you to find a street address with directions, it also provides satellite images. This can be used where you are making tight deliveries in congested city or finding out about a subdivision that might require a satellite image for your delivery driver. Yahoo also has similar functions, as does MSN Mappoint.

Google Analytics. If you have a Web site, use this tool to see how many hits you receive, from what part of the United States or world, how long people are on your site, and where their search was initiated from.

Google Images. This is similar to the Google Search Engine, but only shows images. For example, if you have a customer that requires a special-order product and they would like to see a picture of the product prior to ordering, you might find the picture quicker by using Google Images instead of your database of a catalog.

And last but not least, Google Blogs. If you are looking for information on a topic and need assistance, a Google Blog Search will provide links to that topic. For example, while writing this I searched Google Blogs for the term, "lumber delivery" and found information ranging from a person's diary of building their home to a resume for a delivery driver.

Again, knowledge is power, but timely information is profit.

How about priceless?