How Can I Recover Data from a Dead or Erased Hard Drive?

Dear Lifehacker,

I have a hard drive with valuable information on it, but I can't seem to access it—the drive is either damaged or erased. Is there any way I can see what's on the drive and get it off?

Sincerely,
Drive Paramedic

Dear Paramedic,
Don't worry, we're not going to ask where you got the drive, but there are plenty of ways to examine it and see if any of the data is recoverable. With a little time, the right tools, and some care, you may be able to get some data off of that drive.

Step One: Assemble Your Tools and Examine The Drive's Condition

The first thing to do is make sure you have the tools required to connect this drive to another computer safely. Ideally, you'll have some kind of SATA/IDE to USB cable or USB drive enclosure or sled that you can mount the drive into and connect it to your computer easily. Sure, if you have a desktop and like getting your hands dirty you can try to install the drive as an internal one, but an external connection is faster and easier.

Next, take a look at the drive itself. Is it damaged in any way? Are the pins bent or broken? Make sure that the drive is in good enough condition to actually use before you try anything in the first place that may damage it even further. If the drive is too physically damaged to attempt recovery, you may need more drastic measures that we'll get to later. If everything looks good and you have the equipment required to connect the drive to your system, we can proceed.

Step Two: Grab Some Data Recovery Software and Connect the Drive

Before you do much else, make sure your antivirus and antimalware tools are up to date. You don't know what you'll find on this drive, and you don't want it to start misbehaving once the drive is connected to an active system. Once you've done that, it's time to download and install some data recovery tools. Here are a few we love:

Recuva (Windows, Free): Personally, Recuva has been indispensible. Made by the same folks behind CCleaner, Recuva makes data recovery simple and easy. if you're only interested in browsing and restoring selected files off of the drive, Recuva is a great option. Alternatively, check out Undelete Plus for Windows.

FileSalvage (OS X, $80): File Salvage for Mac will set you back some serious coin, but it's one of the best tools to pull data off of a connected hard drive in OS X. It can recover virtually any type of file on multiple partition types, and prides itself on its ability to recover from damaged drives and corrupt media. If you want an alternative, try Data Rescue for Mac ($100).

TestDisk (Win/OS X/Linux, Free): If you're not afraid of the command line, TestDisk is an open source utility that can run against almost any platform or partition type. It does a great job of recovering data quickly, and won't do unnecessary writes against the drive you're trying to recover from.

Bootable Linux distros for drive recovery: If you're not interested in messing around with apps (or paying for them), consider burning a bootable CD or USB key with BackTrack, Bart PE, or SpinRite on it, so you can boot to an OS that's not your primary drive, avoid writing or touching the drive you want to recover from, and run a host of recovery and forensics tools against that drive that are highly effective and completely free. Photo by Roman Soto.

A number of these tools can recover from formatted drives, especially if the data hasn't been overwritten. We've tackled this topic before, and used Knoppix as our bootable linux distro, but the steps apply to the ones we've mentioned as well. For more reading, check out this old but still largely accurate guide at Linux.com to recovering from formatted drives.

Remember, the less you work with the drive you want to recover data from, the better. As you read from the drive, you run the risk of exacerbating any damage it may have. The more you write to the drive, the more likely you are to overwrite something you want to recover. Bootable linux distros—many of which have tools like TestDisk pre-installed (among other, more advanced tools)—are the best way to go if you're familiar with the method and if you're interested in recovering entire partitions, or making a non-bootable drive bootable again. If you're just looking for files and you know the drive was in a Windows system or a Mac, a stand-alone app is an easier way to go.

Step Three: Get Out the Big Guns (and Your Wallet)

Okay, so the drive is physically damaged, has been wiped and overwritten, or nothing else you try works and you really, really need the data off of it. You're even willing to pay a lotfor it. We're not going to ask why, but at this point it's time to call in the professionals. Photo by Glenn Fleishman.

Pick up the phone and call the folks at DriveSavers and OnTrack to see what they can do for you. I've had good experiences with OnTrack. DriveSavers is well known and loved, both because they came to the rescue with free drive recovery services after September 11, 2001 and more recently helping Wired's Mat Honan recover from his epic hacking. Both companies do a superb job at pulling data even off of drives that have been formatted, overwritten, or even severely physically damaged. Keep in mind though that these services generally run in the tens of thousands of dollars thousand dollar range, according to DriveSavers (thanks for reaching out!) and higher.

If the drive is yours, or the data you get from the drive is valuable, we'd strongly suggest you make sure your data is backed up, both locally and online. After all, it's better to be able to get the data back quickly than have to jump through these hoops every time a drive fails. Remember, every hard drive will fail eventually, it's just a matter of time. Now go forth, use this knowledge for good, and recover!

Best CRM Software 2017

Looking for a better way to manage and grow your small business? Customer relationship management (CRM) software can make all the difference. Whether you're looking for a robust CRM software solution, a simple one designed for very small businesses or a free version to fit your budget, there's a CRM software choice for you. Our staff researched and reviewed an extensive collection of CRM software products and picked out what we believe are the best for different types of small businesses in 2017.

Here is a roundup of our best picks and how we chose them. To help you find the right CRM software for your business, check out Choosing a CRM Software: A Buyer's Guide. 

Best CRM Software

Best CRM Software for Small Business: Salesforce

Salesforce is an all-in-one, cloud-based solution that has everything you need in a CRM software. Although this software is typically associated with larger businesses and enterprises, Salesforce's small business edition lets you take advantage of the product's robust set of CRM tools and resources at an affordable, small-business-friendly price. Part of Salesforce Small Business Solutions, the platform is very easy to use and includes key features like lead generation, contact and opportunity management, sales forecasting, workflow automation, and much more. [Go here for a full review of the Salesforce CRM software.]

Best CRM Software for Very Small Business: Insightly

Insightly is a simple, but feature-rich CRM software fits the bill for microbusinesses. It has all the basic capabilities that really small businesses need in a CRM software, but is also highly scalable as your business grows. Additionally, Insightly is one of the most affordable CRM solutions available; there's a free version to help you get started, and paid plans start at a fraction of the price of comparable CRM software. [Go here for a full review of the Insightly CRM software.]

Best Free CRM Software: Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM is powerful CRM software that doesn't compromise on capabilities just because you're not paying for it. Unlike other free CRM, Zoho CRM offers all the core functionalities of CRM software and lets you onboard up to 10 users at no extra cost. You'll also have access to your data anytime, anywhere using Zoho CRM's mobile app, without having to purchase a plan. [Go here for a full review of the Zoho CRM e-commerce software.]

Editor's Note: Looking for CRM software for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

How many employees will need access to this system?

1 to 10

11 to 49

50 to 99

100 to 200

200+

NEXT ?

Our methodology

To find the best CRM software for small business, we started by asking small business owners what CRM software they used, what their likes and dislikes were, and what they think makes the "perfect" CRM software. 

Next, we looked at CRM software that appeared on review sites, business websites and other reputable online sources. We also considered popular CRM software that we were familiar with or have heard about. 

The last steps of our research involved testing our top picks ourselves. This process included signing up for business accounts, trying out software demos, downloading mobile apps, watching videos and contacting vendors with questions as business owners. 

In total, we ended up with more than 50 CRM software products. Our top picks are Salesforce, Insightly and Zoho CRM. Those that made it to our short list include Infusionsoft, SugarCRM, Microsoft Dynamics, Nutshell, NetSuite, Act!, TeamWox and Highrise.

Here are the criteria we used to evaluate each software:

Cost

Ease of use

Contact-management features

Lead-generation tools

Sales and marketing tools

Employee-tracking capabilities

Customization options

Automation capabilities

Third-party integration

Reporting and analytics 

Mobile access

Service limitations

Customer service

 

Here is a full list of CRM software and a summary of what each company claims to offer. This alphabetical list also includes our best picks.

Act! Essentials — Act! Essentials, by Swiftpage, marries contact management with e-marketing to help you get organized, convert new customers and get more from existing customers. The software takes the guesswork out of choosing where to focus time and resources by offering you intelligent, prioritized recommendations based on the level of engagement of customers and prospects. act.com/products/act-essentials

AllProWebTools— If you're looking for a simpler way to acquire leads and maintain customer relationships, AllProWebTools' CRM software is a unique integrated solution. This CRM tool is part of a business suite that also includes email, Web and e-commerce hosting, marketing, task management, and timecards. Having all these tools available from one dashboard keeps you organized and saves you time. AllProWebTools.com

Apptivo CRM — Apptivo CRM combines contact and lead management with project management and marketing software to help your business connect better with customers. Apptivo CRM is part of Apptivo's suite of business solutions. apptivo.com/crm

Avidian/Prophet — Use Outlook as your CRM software with Avidian. The company's own Prophet CRM turns your inbox into a full-featured, mobile-friendly CRM solution. From contacts to emails, tasks, notes, appointments and meetings, Avidian also syncs all your data in a familiar platform you likely already use every day. avidian.com

Base — Called an "intelligent productivity platform," Base is all about using data to help your business make wiser, more informed sales decisions. It closely monitors your sales pipeline, sales rep activities, goals and quotas to make sure your team is productive and succeeding. getbase.com

Bluenose — Bluenose combines big data analytics with powerful technology for customer-success management. Known as a "Customer Success" platform, the software empowers software-as-a-service (SaaS) businesses to proactively manage and engage their customers through its insight-driven toolkit, built-in playbooks and more. bluenose.com

BoomTown! — Do you own a real estate business? BoomTown's predictive CRM software is designed specifically for agents, teams, brokerage firms and other real estate professionals. Services include lead generation, a website builder, success management and the ability to manage multiple offices. boomtownroi.com

bpm'online — Get end-to-end process management, from lead generation to ordering to customer service. More than your traditional CRM software, bmp'online combines sales, marketing and help desk functions so you can be there for customers every step of the sales journey. bpmonline.com/crm

Buddy CRM — True to its name, Buddy CRM acts as a small business's CRM BFF for establishing and keeping customer relationships. It starts by giving you all the information you need about customers before you even contact them, so you're always prepared for a sales call or meeting. Buddy CRM also gives you at-a-glance looks at the status of your business throughout the sales cycle, so you can pinpoint hot leads, identify where and why sales are lost, monitor KPIs and track team activities from a single screen. It also comes with a free mobile app, so you can take Buddy CRM with you wherever you go. buddycrm.com

Bullhorn — Own a service-oriented business? Bullhorn CRM is specifically built to help service providers strengthen relationships with customers while improving sales productivity and driving growth. There are also dedicated CRM software offerings for niche businesses, such as staffing and recruitment firms and PR agencies. bullhorn.com/products/crm/

CampaignerCRM — Campaigner offers two types of CRM software. One is for businesses that deal with shorter, simpler sales processes, and the other combines CRM with sales-process management to help companies with longer, more complex sales processes. The latter option offers more advanced functionalities, such as reporting, customization, a sales process API and more. campaignercrm.com

Capsule — Capsule aims to make CRM as simple as possible by offering six core capabilities to help you run your business: managing relationships, managing the sales pipeline, organizing emails, saving contact histories, performing task management and completing customization. capsulecrm.com

Commence — Specifically designed for small to midsize businesses, Commence is a Web-based CRM software that's both powerful and affordable. It's also designed for fast deployment, meaning it's easy to implement and you can get started right away. commence.com

Contactually — Contactually is all about getting the most out of your CRM investment. It is built to help businesses convert existing leads into closed sales, build relationships for long sales cycles, stay on top of revenue opportunities and get more prospects down the sales funnel. contactually.com

GoldMine — Need a premise-based CRM software? Unlike cloud-based CRM software, GoldMine is installed on your own servers and infrastructure to give you more control over your software. In addition to its many CRM features, the company also offers one of the best customer support systems, so you can get help right when you need it. goldmine.com

GreenRope — GreenRope combines the best of CRM with robust marketing automation to help you save time and dedicate more resources to closing sales. Additional features include project management, collaboration tools, e-commerce, event management and more. greenrope.com

Hatchbuck — One of our runner-ups, Hatchbuck is all-in-one sales and marketing tool built with small businesses in mind. It focuses on simplicity, ease of use and affordability, while giving you all the tools you need to organize data and automate marketing processes. hatchbuck.com

Highrise — Also a top contender on our list of best CRM software, Highrise focuses on helping you manage three key areas of your business: contacts, tasks and communications. You can maintain and share contacts with your team, create tasks and set reminders, and keep track of emails, notes and other forms of correspondence. highrisehq.com

Hubspot CRM — A popular inbound marketing and sales platform, Hubspot's CRM software streamlines your sales process across multiple channels in your organization. It works in the background to save you from wasting time manually performing repetitive sales and marketing tasks. The software also specializes in automatically logging and syncing data from different sources of communication, such as your website, phone calls, emails, social media and more. hubspot.com/products/crm

Infusionsoft — Infusionsoft is a favorite amongst small business owners we talked to, because of its ease of use and because it offers a comprehensive set of CRM tools at a small-business-friendly price. Users particularly liked its automation features, ability to nurture leads all the way to closing the sales and extras like email marketing, billing and project management. infusionsoft.com

*Insightly — Our pick for the best CRM software for very small businesses, Insightly is a simple, scalable solution that grows with your business. It offers both basic and advanced capabilities, so you can start with a free or super-affordable standard plan, then upgrade as your business expands. Read our full review here.

iSEEit — Focus on sales. iSEEit offers an intuitive way for sales people to manage all their daily sales activities. This iPad and Web-based CRM solution makes it easy to focus on the right steps to move deals through your pipeline by letting you better qualify leads, tasks, and opportunities; manage deals via milestones and qualifiers; and coordinate and collaborate with customers and colleagues, all from a single, consistent source. now.iseeit.com

LeadMaster — If you're looking for a simple way to gather, manage and convert leads, LeadMaster can help. First, the software aims to save you hours spent looking for high-quality leads by automating your marketing system. Next, its sales lead-management tools helps you turn those leads into sales by making it easy to track, analyze and communicate with those prospects. leadmastercrm.com

Maximizer — Need more flexibility in your CRM software? Maximizer is an all-in-one CRM solution that is completely customizable to cater to your business's unique needs. In addition to offering three robust CRM tools — sales management, marketing automation and customer service — the software also gives you a choice of using the cloud-based version of the software or an on-premise version hosted on your own servers. maximizer.com

Method:CRM — Do you use QuickBooks as your accounting software? Intuit-approved Method works with QuickBooks to integrate your customer data with your financial data. This software links and syncs everything from contact information to invoices, purchase histories and much more to give you a complete view of customers in one, easily accessible place. method.me

Microsoft Dynamics CRM — Microsoft Dynamics CRM takes a different approach to CRM. The software uses social insights, business intelligence and campaign management to help your business strengthen relationships with customers, improve marketing campaigns and, ultimately, boost sales. It is available in the cloud, on premise or a combination of both, and you can integrate the software with Office 365 for even more productivity. microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics/crm.aspx

NetSuite CRM — NetSuite CRM lets you track leads through each step of the customer lifecycle, from lead generation to prospect nurturing, sales ordering, fulfilment and support. It also shows you opportunities for up- and cross-selling, as well as renewals to boost sales and maintain customer loyalty. Other features include order management, commission management, sales forecasting and e-commerce. netsuite.com/portal/products/netsuite/crm.shtml

Nimble — Does your business rely heavily on social media marketing? Known as an Intelligent Relationship Platform, Nimble automatically syncs all types of contact data across multiple channels, including social media. It uses "social listening" to filter contacts and prospects on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn to help you find and close high-value opportunities. The software also syncs emails, direct messages and @mentions, making them easily accessible straight from your dashboard. nimble.com

Nutshell — Specially built for small businesses, Nutshell helps you close sales fast. In addition to standard CRM features like contact and lead management, Nutshell also offers collaboration tools, custom reporting and third-party integrations. You're also in luck if you use Google Apps; the software automatically imports Gmail messages and events and meetings into Google Calendar. It promises fast deployment, too, so you can get started in no time. nutshell.com

Odoo — Odoo is an open-source software that focuses on tracking leads, closing opportunities and generating accurate forecasts. And because it's open source, it lets you customize the software to your exact needs and add on a wide range of apps. Supported apps include marketing, project management, e-commerce, Website building, billing, accounting and even human resources. Odoo is a little on the pricier side, however. It requires a monthly per-user fee in addition to a monthly per-app fee, though you get two free users to start. You can also use the software on multiple companies for an additional fee. odoo.com/page/crm

OnContact — OnContact combines CRM with marketing automation, giving you a complete sales and marketing solution in one. Unlike many CRM solutions, however, OnContact comes with powerful customer-service features, such as contact center capabilities and incident tracking, so you can be there for your customers whenever they need you. OnContact is available as a cloud-based or on-premise software. oncontact.com

Pipedrive— Small business owners like Pipedrive because it is simple and easy to use. It's also a highly visual platform, making it easy to quickly navigate the dashboard and get the data you need at a glance. There is also no training required, and setup takes less than two minutes, so you and your team can get started right away. pipedrive.com

PipelineDeals— PipelineDeals doesn't just help you boost sales; it also helps you and your staff be more productive. What makes it stand out from other CRM software is that it goes the extra mile. For instance, it can send snapshots of your pipeline to your inbox every morning so you know exactly how your business is doing before you even open the software. Plans also come with premium support, so you can reach a real, live PipelineDeals representative any time to help resolve any issues. pipelinedeals.com

Pipeliner — If you're a visual person, you'll like Pipeliner. This CRM software presents all your data in an intuitive, visual way, so you don't have to go through multiple steps to get the data you need. For instance, when you go to the Pipeline section of the software, you'll be greeted with charts showing you who is in which stage of your pipeline. This way, you don't have to open each stage or contact separately to get this information. Pipeliner also offers an all-inclusive pricing model, so you get all the features for just one monthly price. pipelinersales.com

Podio — Podio aims to cut through the noise of CRM and deliver a clutter-free CRM solution. It is a very lightweight software that lets you customize features, so you get all the capabilities you need without all the fuss. With this product's simple interface, you can easily get where you need to go without getting lost in extra steps navigating the software. podio.com/site/use-cases/crm

Sage CRM — Sage CRM is an all-in-one solution that lets you do more with your CRM. In addition to contact and lead management, Sage CRM offers targeted marketing, email marketing, social CRM and more. It also comes with a built-in customer-service portal to help you deliver excellent customer support. And if you use Sage ERP, Sage CRM integrates seamlessly for even better sales acceleration. sagecrm.com

*Salesforce — Our top pick for the best CRM software for small business, Salesforce has everything you need in a cloud-based CRM software. It's affordable and easy to use, and offers a ton of features at a small business price point. It also comes with top-notch customer support, so you can get help any time you need it. Read our full review here.

Salesnet — Salesnet takes CRM to the next level by pairing it with Microsoft Office. Besides Salesnet's native CRM features, the software integrates with Outlook to automatically sync contacts, meetings and tasks; Excel to view and edit reports; and Word to merge data and attach files to the software. salesnet.com

SalesNexus — SalesNexus isn't just another CRM software; it combines CRM with email marketing to help you better target leads, connect with them and convert them to loyal customers. You won't even need a separate email-marketing solution to get the job done. SalesNexus' lead-generation tool also lets you find leads using a wide range of specific categories, such as by industry, title, company revenue, location, social media profiles and more. Each plan comes with 500 leads and 25,000 emails per month. salesnexus.com

SAP Digital CRM — SAP offers enterprise-level CRM tools at a small business price point. Features include lead, contact and opportunity management, as well as robust collaboration capabilities to help you and your team engage more effectively with customers. It's also easy to get started — just follow the step-by-step wizard and you're good to go — and you can manage the software yourself (for instance, you don't have to wait on SAP to make user changes to your account). And because the software is built for small businesses, there are no minimum user requirements and it is scalable to your needs as your business grows. sapstore.com/solutions/99026/SAP-Digital-CRM

Snapforce — If you want a truly comprehensive CRM solution, check out Snapforce. This CRM software eliminates the need to use multiple tools to manage your business. In addition to core CRM features, Snapforce offers cloud-based file storage, calendars and event management, email syncing with your email client, and case management via a ticket system. It also comes with a complete call center software, so customers can reach you with a simple phone call. snapforce.com

SugarCRM — Another favorite amongst small business owners, SugarCRM is powerful CRM software that integrates sales, marketing and employee tracking. The base plan comes with a robust set of features, such as sales automation and forecasting, lead management, call-center automation, reporting, unlimited customizations and unlimited online support. SugarCRM is available as a cloud-based or on-premise software. sugarcrm.com

TeamWox — Need a more advanced CRM software? More of an enterprise management system, TeamWox brings big business tools to small businesses. In addition to CRM, it also helps you manage teams, tasks, service desks and other areas of your business. But if you're looking for a ready-to-use, cloud-based solution, look elsewhere — you'll need to download TeamWox, then install it in your own systems. TeamWox is also on the pricy side. It's free for up to five users, but it will set you back several hundred dollars if you need more than that. teamwox.com

Vtiger — Vtiger is a one-stop shop for all your sales, marketing and customer-support needs. It features a bevy of built-in CRM solutions, including email marketing, project management, calendar and task management, reporting, document management, and more. It also has a customer portal where customers can access their accounts and submit help tickets. vtiger.com

Workbooks — Known for its high level of customer satisfaction, Workbooks is one of our runner-ups for the best CRM software for small business. It focus on four core areas of CRM: sales to boost your business's growth, highly targeted marketing to help you get the most ROI, order fulfilment to streamline your sales processing and customer support to keep your customers happy. A free version is available for up to two users; it also comes with free online support. workbooks.com

*Zoho CRM — Our top pick for the best free CRM software, Zoho CRM is packed with features, despite its free price tag. Unlike other free CRM software, Zoho CRM offers a ton of premium capabilities and lets you add up to 10 users at no extra cost. Read our full review here.

Ready to choose a CRM software? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

How to Choose a CRM Software

Salesforce Review: Best CRM Software for Small Business

Insightly Review: Best CRM Software for Very Small Business

Zoho CRM Review: Best Free CRM Software

 

Editor's Note: Looking for CRM software for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

7 Platforms for Conference Calls

The word conference used to be something that only business magnates used to use, people with high rankings in the business scene. Nowadays, anyone can create a quick conference call with anyone they like; their business partner, their associates, or just a newcomer who needs to be told what to do. It’s all possible, at no cost.

It’s better known as the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) way of communicating. You’re technically accessing these apps, tools and platforms for free, but you still require an internet connection to connect with the other person. You might say: Hey, that’s not free? But, you can literally boot up your free conference calls from anywhere you like, be it the gym or a cafe.

Right, there are quite a few ways to understand conference calls, but as far as learning how they work goes - I recommend you read this post about the rates of conference calls, and why are they labeled free, and I recommend you read this podcast article to learn more about regulations and stipulations of VoIP conferencing. Make sure to dive into the comment section for the second article.

Apps, Tools & Platforms for Free Conference Calls

I’ll be putting the emphasis on a few video calling services, because I believe as the technology trends evolve, we’re going to see more and more one-on-one type of conference software come out. It’s - a lot - cheaper to use a program like Skype to host a conference call, whereas an premium service - without video - might prove to be quite costly.

Google+ Hangouts

Google+ Hangouts is probably one of the quickest ways of getting up and running with your free conference call. You can use it literally on any device that has either video or audio support, and the quality of calls is remarkable. You can organize your contacts so that you may always make quick calls necessary, you can also live-stream your conferences if you like, transparency is looked upon a lot!

Skype

Who doesn’t know Skype? It might not be the most secure program in terms of government policies, but it certainly has its appeal when it comes to free video calls, free voice calls, and free instant messaging. You can easily create a video call that consists of up to 25 people, see the official group calls page for more details.

FreeBridge

FreeBridge is a free conferencing platform that can host conference calls of up to 100+ people, a number that you most likely won’t achieve in the very near future, as I believe that major corporations have this part of their business already taken care of. (I’m talking about premium conference call tools!)

FreeBridge is commonly used to conduct board meetings, legal depositions, sales or training seminars, or even phone conferencing with family and friends. Host a free conference call, and see your business processes streamlined, increase productivity, communicate vital information quickly, and save time and money with FreeBridge!

Rehuddle

Rehuddle is the winner in terms of simplicity and straightforwardness, it’s such an easy tool to use - all you have to do is create a group name, you can then dial the given number and enter the extension that was given to you. Same applies for everyone else who wants to join the call, simple and flexible!

Free Conference Calling

I’ve to give it to these guys, snagging the ‘Free Conference Calling’ company name was a pretty smart idea, but luckily these guys are also providing the necessary value. (If we choose to take the name for granted.) You can create calls that consist of up to a 1,000 people, but the most interesting feature is that you can get detailed reports of your conference calls in the account dashboard. Statistics are always great, especially if you have to monitor attendance.

OpenVoice

OpenVoice will allow you to build open call groups for up to 500 people, not only is it easy to use, OpenVoice also provides statistic reports, and features that allow to create specific call groups. If you’re always travelling or on the go, you’ll be happy to learn that OpenVoice has a mobile app that makes conferencing a true breeze!

SendHub

SendHub brings simplicity, affordability, and multi-channel customer service to business telephony. Finally a phone solution that is flexible and adaptable to the dynamic needs of small and midsize companies, without adding costs and complexity to their operations.

Their customers include companies such as Asana, AT&T, and Pigeonly. Out of all the great futures, things like automatic voice transcribe to text and ability to send people messages with a link to join the conversation have really stood out for me. What about you?

Platforms and Tools for Free Conference Calls

My own conference calls so far have been quite small in their size, but it doesn’t mean that they won’t grow as the time goes by. I’m sure that I myself will need to return to this list of platforms and tools myself, but while you’re still here - which one of these have you tried out for yourself, and would you recommend it to others?

Best Online Stock Trading Brokers for 2017

I’ve had an online stock trading account since I was 13 years old. I’ve used at least a dozen of the best online stock trading platforms in real practice and in testing over the past 4 years. I’ve gained a few “learning experiences” from managing my own account and working as a day trader for a firm in Chicago for several years. Using my knowledge of the platforms and experience as a trader, I worked to uncover the top picks and identify who or what each product is best for.

What Matters When You Trade Stocks on Your Own?

Managing your own money can be a stressful endeavor. To minimize this, and to minimize information overload that tends to come from watching the markets 24/7, there are a few must haves that I look for in an online broker.

Clean interface. When I trade, I want to be able to easily find my order entry ticket. I don’t want it buried under a number of drop downs. This interface should have intuitive access to see your balance, available cash, positions with real time P/L and all be easily navigated.

Quick access to basic charting. A chart tells me where the stock has been recently. I don’t trade minute to minute anymore, so I don’t need complex tools like stochastics or retracement lines. All that’s important is that I have a basic chart on a yearly, monthly, weekly, daily and intra day time period. I use a chart to see current price relative to those time periods, mainly to avoid purchasing at a bad price.

Low fees. Self explanatory.

There are over 50 online brokerages where you can open an account. Beyond the my three rules above, best online brokerage accounts aren’t just for trading stocks. Sure, many of them started as online stock trading accounts, but now they’re full-fledged trading, saving, investing, retirement planning, and banking machines.

This industry is more complex than the average person thinks. You shouldn’t just pick any online broker and sign up for an account. The best online broker for one person is often completely different for the next person. Use this resource as a guide to your decision process. Figure out what features are best for you, and make your selection.

What Makes a Great Online Broker?

I analyzed a number of elements to come to my decision on which brokers are the best. Later in this post, I provide full details on how I selected the best online brokerages.

When you take all the features, resources, trading platforms, and technology into account (while also considering every type of trader), the full-service brokers, like E*TRADE and TD Ameritrade are the best for the largest number of people.

For those simply looking to make cheap trades, I would recommend going with OptionsHouse.

If you’re a very advanced trader, high-volume trader, or a professional who manages money, I recommend going with Interactive Brokers. However, I didn’t include Interactive Brokers on my list because they’re best for a very small group of traders and the platform is very complex.

Top Qualities of Standout Online Trading Platforms

Quality trading tools and technology

Multiple trading platforms for all levels of traders

Excellent mobile trading features

Solid navigation that displays the relevant information where you want it

Quality educational resources and research for trader development

There’s more to selecting an online broker than price. You have to consider the resources you’re getting for the cost you pay per trade.

For example, my colleague, who is also an ex-trader, likes to use a combination of stock and options trade in his longer-term trading. He recently switched over to Fidelity because he really liked the cash management features, but was very disappointed by complex order entry, sub-par options execution and frustrating navigation. He’s currently making the switch to one of the brokers I profile here.

Analysis of the Best Online Brokers

OptionsHouse Best Discount Broker

When it comes to getting a deal on a stock or options trade, it’s tough to beat OptionsHouse. Along with the low costs and fees, you’ll also have access to proprietary tools and technology. OptionsHouse isn’t a “full-service” broker like TD Ameritrade, which means you won’t find the same comprehensive financial resources and access to every investment product. OptionsHouse is good at what they do — providing very affordable trading prices, low margin rates, and unique tools for stock and options traders.

NOTE: OptionsHouse was acquired by E*Trade at the end of 2016, but no changes are expected to OptionsHouse pricing or trading platforms, according to this statement released by its CEO.

Scottrade Best Support and Service

For years, Scottrade has been known as the best online brokerage for customer service. Scottrade doesn’t just let you open an account and ignore you. They thrive on building relationships with their clients, which is pretty rare these days. Scottrade is behind the times with some of their features, but they also don’t charge as much money per trade as the other full-service brokerages. If you’re a new trader or you just like being taken care of regardless of how much money is in your account, I don’t think you can do better than Scottrade.

Another reason to consider Scottrade: They were recently acquired by TD Ameritrade. The deal is expected to close by fall of 2017 and a full conversion to TD Amertrade’s systems by 2018. You’ll be well-served with Scottrade’s amazing service for beginning traders and TD Ameritrade’s breadth of offerings for traders of all levels.

E*TRADE Best Trader Resources

E*TRADE is right there with TD Ameritrade and Scottrade if you’re looking for the all-around best online brokerage. What’s interesting about this comparison is that E*TRADE excels in several different areas compared to TD Ameritrade and Scottrade, but also has many similar offerings. E*TRADE’s web-based platform is incredibly advanced and a breeze to use, as is their mobile app. However, you have to pay for these features because E*TRADE is just as pricey as TD Ameritrade and requires a $500 deposit to open an account (TD Ameritrade is free).

TD Ameritrade Best For Developing Traders

I’ve actually had a TD Ameritrade account for over 15 years now. Back in the day, it was TD Waterhouse and then it merged with Ameritrade to form one company. TD Ameritrade is one of the all-around best online brokers because any level of trader can be satisfied here. While the costs and fees are on the high end of the industry, you get access to comprehensive research materials (both third-party and in-house) as well as education resources that can help you advance as a trader.

Choosing the Best Online Brokerage Accounts

Choosing the best online brokers is no easy task. There’s so much variation in this industry from company to company, and then you have to factor in the type of trader or investor who’s opening the brokerage account.

Here’s how I got started:

I conducted research to compile a list of every online broker.

I narrowed the list down to just under 50 brokers by eliminating those that did not allow U.S. stock trading.

I individually researched each broker, visited their websites, and analyzed rankings and reviews across the web.

I concluded that there were 15 online stock brokers worth digging into.

My next step was to come up with measurable data to compare these brokers.

I had to be aware that comparing a full-service broker to a discount broker or options broker was going to be difficult. I didn’t want to penalize companies for specializing, but I also needed to reward the full-service firms for offering additional resources.

These were my next steps:

I came up with 10 important categories of features to measure each company.

Some of these features included costs and fees, access to investment products, research, education, trading technology, and financial resources.

I compared each of the 15 online brokers across these features.

Once this comparison was complete, I was left with four of the best online brokers that excelled in specific areas. These four online brokerage firms cover the spectrum for anyone who would sign up for an investment account. I knew I could recommend one of them to a specific group of investors or traders.

Here are the final steps I took:

I tested out each of the top four brokers (I actually tested several in the top 15) and simulated the trading experience.

I analyzed the unmeasurable aspects of each broker that the data could not account for, like usability and functionality, and downloaded all the mobile apps.

I looked for additional features unique to each online broker that I also did not capture in the data.

Investment Calculator

To help you determine what to expect from your investment, we’ve created this investment calculator. Simply enter your investment details and our calculator will let you know if your goals are achievable and if it’s not, how far you are from it.

A Valuable Lesson at 14

When I was 13, I had about $1,000 worth of stock in a company called Superconductor Technologies, Inc. The company still exists today and trades under the ticker SCON.

This was the time of the first technology boom from 1999-2000. By the time I was 14, my $1,000 worth of SCON (I purchased 50 shares at $20/share) was sitting at $480/share and worth $24,000. The stock eventually went up to nearly double that and then crashed with the rest of the tech market. Being 14 years old and thinking this stock was going to go up forever, I rode the wave up and all the way back down — down to nothing.

Check out the chart of SCON below and feel my pain. You can see that the stock took two major spikes up and crashes back down (I was involved in the first one). Today, the company trades for under $3/share.

I tell this story because I learned three great lessons about stock trading:

Stay disciplined

Have a plan

Entries AND exits matter

Some people liken online stock trading to gambling (this can be true if you have no clue what you’re doing), but it’s really all about risk and reward.

Staying disciplined can keep you from losing money and ensure you lock in your gains. By discipline, I mean picking your prices — where you get in and get out ahead of time — and sticking to them. Always risk less on the downside than you’re willing to make on the upside.

The good news about many of the best online brokerage accounts is that you can start by trading virtually before you risk your money. You can practice strategies and track your gains and losses without having to invest a dime using the same software the broker offers for real money.

By applying what you learn and maintaining discipline, you have the potential to earn a decent side income if you’re willing to invest the time.

Becoming a Day Trader

I’ve been told several times that “trading is the hardest way to make an easy living.” That’s the truth. The best traders in the world are extremely disciplined and always on top of the latest research and trends in the market. I worked with several of these people and witnessed it firsthand on a daily basis.

I spent just under three years trading S&P futures, oil markets, foreign currencies, and other markets as an employee of a day-trading firm. The same principles I learned from making that big $24,000 mistake in my teens carried over to that job. The amount of money I would make on my biggest winning days was significantly more in comparison to the amount I would lose on my worst losing days.

I’m telling you all of this because I don’t want you to sign up for one of the online brokers I’m recommending and lose a bunch of your money. If you’re interested in trading, I want you to find a way to build a substantial income on the side and grow your money slowly.

I eventually quit trading because it wasn’t my calling. Once I figured out what I wanted to do with my career, enduring the daily stress of watching money come and go just wasn’t worth the massive upside. However, I can say with confidence that trading was the greatest education I’ve ever received.

Now, I’m able to leverage my trading experience and knowledge of online trading to thoroughly review each of the best online brokers to help you set up the right account. The experience was well worth it.

Recap: Best Online Brokerages

My recommendation to most of you is to open an account with a full-service broker. There are different scenarios in which you should choose each of these brokers I reviewed.

You should sign up with Scottrade if you put a high value on getting help, but you don’t want to pay $9.99 per trade.

If you’re a new trader looking to advance up the ranks and absorb knowledge but still want to make trades on one of the best trading platforms around, try TD Ameritrade.

If you’re simply looking to make cheap stock and options trades, open an account with OptionsHouse.

For those of you who want access to every investment product and a great mobile trading platform, go with E*TRADE.

Finding the Best No Win No Fee Compensation Lawyer

Why go through all the trouble of having to pursue a compensation claim on your own when you can hire the experts - with no up front costs to you. 

Whilst it’s true that it is possible to seek damages from the person who has caused your injuries without seeking professional help, like most legal experts, we would strongly advise against this. Apart from the fact that it’s exhausting and time consuming, it is highly likely that you will not achieve the compensation you are entitled to for your injuries, or the loss and damage you have sustained as a result of the accident, without expert legal representation.

When you have the opportunity to engage lawyers who are specialists in personal injury law on a No Win No Fee basis, you really do have "nothing to lose" as they say. This is because under the No Win No Fee service, you are not charged any money for the legal services provided to you during your claim, unless you receive compensation for your injuries. You do not have to pay anything until the very end of your claim when that compensation is paid to you.

For this reason, it is only logical that you hire a lawyer who specialises in personal injury claims and is an expert in all matters involving pursuing injury compensation. But with so many compensation and personal injury lawyers offering their services in Queensland, which of them should you hire?

When looking for a good personal injury lawyer - think experience, experience, experience

When it comes to hiring a good personal injury lawyer to assist you with your claim, always make sure that the person or law firm you choose has extensive experience in handling cases similar to yours. Experience can make a huge difference between getting a mediocre result and a great result, or in some instances, winning or losing your case. It can also help ensure that you get your money’s worth, rather than paying for mistakes or a learning curve.

So how do you make sure that the lawyer you hire is indeed experienced? During the initial consultation, here’s what you should do:

First, ask the law firm who will be in charge of your claim, or who will be doing your work on a daily basis.

Speak to that person, not to the most experienced partner or head of the law firm you have chosen.

Obtain the necessary information by asking the lawyer the right questions. You can start by asking how long they have been working on claims similar to yours, the results of those claims, the challenges they have faced and how they have overcome them.

After doing a quick background check, it’s time for you to assess the lawyer’s ability to manage your case. The next thing you need to do is determine how they intend to work on your claim. Ask them to explain if there are things or procedures you don’t understand.

Pay attention to how the lawyer responds to your questions. How did the lawyer sound? Did he or she answer with confidence and competence? Was the lawyer able to give you all the information you need? Finding the answers to these questions will give you an idea as to whether lawyer is indeed someone who is experienced, reliable and trustworthy.

Ideal years of experience

According to experts, a good personal injury lawyer is considered “experienced” if he or she has spent at least five to seven years handling compensation claims and other related matters. This should be enough to ensure that they will be reliable, competent and good at their jobs. It is even better if you find someone who has more years of experience.

Why a No Win No Fee Lawyer, or, more aptly, why not a No Win No Fee Lawyer?

Normally, hiring a lawyer, whether for a personal injury case or to recover the costs of repair to your motor vehicle damaged in an accident, costs money up front. This is usually a primary reason why injury victims, whether from a road accident, workplace accident, or a slip and fall incident, often don't even consider pursuing a compensation claim. They simply think that the legal assistance they will need to pursue such a claim is beyond their financial reach. In some cases, thinking that the services of a good lawyer can add to their current expenses, some people would rather try pursuing compensation claims on their own, which, as mentioned earlier, is a tough road to take and usually does not end with the best result. But with the No Win No Fee service, this is not a concern. 

When a lawyer offers his or her services on a no win, no fee basis, it basically means that the client won’t pay the lawyer anything if their claim is unsuccessful. In other words, if you suffer an injury through the fault of another person, there really is nothing to lose in bringing a claim for compensation using a No Win No Fee Lawyer, because if they don’t achieve any compensation for you, you do not have to pay them anything at all.

"There really is nothing to lose..."

More often than not, only the best and most experienced lawyers offer this kind of service, because if they didn't know their business, they wouldn't be able to keep their doors open. So when you engage injury lawyers who provide this service, your odds of succeeding and receiving the amount of compensation you deserve are usually much higher.

Another advantage of hiring such a lawyer is that it can help you better manage your finances when you are having financial difficulties whilst waiting for your claim to settle. No win no fee lawyers don’t ask their clients to pay up front, so you don’t have to scramble for funds if you want to enlist their assistance.

When hiring a no win, no fee lawyer, the following is a piece of advice you should definitely take on board - make sure that you look over their costs or client agreement carefully. There are lawyers who word their costs agreement differently and may not include certain things in their ‘no fee’ clause. If you don’t want to be saddled with unexpected expenses later on, you should read the fine print carefully and thoroughly. If there are clauses in the costs agreement you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek clarification. This is something that a good no win no fee lawyer expects from their client, so don’t think that you’ll be inconveniencing them by asking questions. No doubt they would be doing the same if they were in your shoes. If you are uncertain of what they are telling you, then call us at The Personal Injury Lawyers and we will be able to advise you as to what their Client Agreements are really saying.

Fortunately, The Personal Injury Lawyers, one of the best and foremost personal injury law firms in Queensland, with head offices in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast and visited offices throughout Queensland, offer their services on a no win no fee basis to all injured Queenslanders. 

The Personal Injury Lawyers, upfront and transparent

As for how we charge you, we like to be upfront and transparent with all our potential clients as to how they will be charged for work done at the end of their case, when compensation is received. Right from the start, we will provide you with a copy of our standard client agreement as well as our "Disclosure Notice", a further document explaining the client agreement in more detail and in simpler terms, to help you understand the way in which costs are charged at the conclusion of your claim.

Strict time limits apply

If you have suffered an injury, which you think has been caused by the wrongful or negligent act of another person, chat with us online or on your mobile, email or call us free and we'll be happy to help. Remember, STRICT TIME LIMITS APPLY to personal injury claims, so you need to contact us as soon as possible to ensure that you are not missing out on significant compensation. 

Get our accredited Lawyers to assess your claim for free. Contact us now

If you have been injured as a result of any vehicle such as car, bike or boat accident, or whilst at work, on holiday, or in many other situations you believe was caused by someone else's wrongful act or negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Even if you think your actions may have contributed to your injury, you may still have a claim well-worth pursuing. Chat, call, email, or let us assess your claim, just press the button below. There is no cost, and no obligation.


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