No matter what the industry, there is one thing that all business owners have in common. We need to find ways to best utilize our time and to stay organized. Whether you’re just starting out or have had a successful business for years, in order to grow you need to plan for the future. The trick is finding a way to organize all the information that you gather along the way so that you can effectively develop a plan of action. You also need to be able to share your ideas and vision with others in a way that is concise and easy to follow.
The Solution – Mind Mapping
For small-business owners, mind maps are a useful tool for everything from brainstorming to strategic planning. Mind mapping is a way to visualize what you need to do and helps to organize information the same way that your brain does. NovaMind explains it quite well:
Our brains like thinking in pictures… The left half thinks linearly following direct linkages to related ideas. Our right brain likes to see the whole picture with colors and flow. A Mind Map caters to both sides of the brain… [making] it a very good way of storing and recalling information, presenting things to other people, and brainstorming new ideas.
Want more info about the benefits of mind mapping or need a refresher on how to create one? MindTools (another great resource for free stuff!) is a good place to start.
Practical Uses for Small Businesses
In his article “Mind Mapping for Small Business,” author Chris Brogan shares ideas on how mind maps can be used to help you do things like draw out your ideas, see the big picture, shake out the little details, make it easier to re-think decisions and talk through presentation points more efficiently. There are many practical ways that you can use mind maps to visually represent information for your business, such as…
For more ideas and information, NovaMind offers a Business Guide to Mind Mapping which looks like a good resource for business owners who want to learn about using Mind Maps.
Best FREE Mind Mapping Tools for Small Businesses
Up until recently, I have always done my mind maps by hand. Since they have been for personal use, it didn’t matter that I can’t draw very well, that my handwriting when brainstorming is atrocious and that they are full of cross-outs and erasures. I believe that it is a “lack of artistic talent” that often scares people away from using traditional mind maps. Plus the fact that you can’t easily make changes and move things when done on paper.
Today there are a wide variety of mind mapping, brainstorming and flow charting tools that simplify the process and enable anyone to put together a diagram that they would be proud to show off. But with so many available, how do you decide which to use? Because my goal as a business consultant is to always make the life of my client’s easier, I have reviewed well over 20 different mind mapping and flow charting tools.
To be included in my list of recommendations, a Mind Mapping program needs to:
- Be free, have a free version or have free trial that includes the ability to create an actual map that can be used without paying.
- Be able to be used immediately (or with a very short learning curve), regardless of background. Users need to be able to quickly create a diagram without long tutorial.
- Have direct relevance for the needs of small business owners and does not require any knowledge of “flow charting” lingo.
- Be able to easily share final projects. Bonus – able to collaborate and sync with others.
Beginner – Easy to Use. Create basic maps and diagrams.
The following are all good for beginners and are a great way to create simple mind maps. Free versions offer unlimited usage with no limits on how many maps you can create.
Xmind (www.xmind.net) – This program was so easy to learn that my 9 year old was able to create a basic mind map without having to go through any tutorials. What impressed me was his ability use the mind mapping process to brainstorm ideas quickly and efficiently. The free version comes with built in templates for the most common types of mind maps, which is a nice touch. The paid version has lots of features for more advanced diagrams and maps features for more advanced diagrams and maps.
Bubbl.US (https://bubbl.us) – Powered by Flash, Bubbl.us makes it easy for anyone to plan and sort ideas through the use of linked text bubbles. This free tool is designed to provide a quick and simple way to organize information. The process to develop a mind map uses a simple “click and type” format. When you first get to the site, there are no instructions, but there is a wiki page that provides quick steps, tips and a video tutorial if you need them.
MindNode for Mac, iPhone & iPad (http://mindnode.com) – Although MindNode is not free, the cost to download the app is minimal (Mac $19.99, iPhone/iPad $9.99). I did not personally test this program but based upon the website information and reviews from others, I feel confident including it in my list. It looks like there are some really nice features for advanced mind maps too. “MindNode is a powerful and intuitive mindmapping application. Its focus and flexibility make it the perfect tool for brainstorming and organizing your life—and iCloud & Dropbox support means you always have your mindmaps with you.”
Wisemapping (www.wisemapping.com) – Another open source and free mind mapping program that was easy to use. The format is similar to most word processing programs with point and click functionality. Wisemapping has a little over 100 icons to add personality to your mind maps. You can also use this program to create traditional flow charts.
FreePlane (http://freeplane.sourceforge.net) – An offshoot of the popular Freemind program, Freeplane is a free, Java-based tool for creating mind maps. This open-source tool is available in a wide range of interface languages. For beginners, this program may be a little bit intimidating but for people experienced with mind mapping and flow charting, FreePlane offers a lot of features for creating advanced mind maps, diagrams and flow charts.
Experienced – Advanced Maps. Work collaboratively w/ real time synching.
If you are new to Mind Maps, you will definitely want to start off with one of the less advanced tools to learn the process, but when you are ready to move to a program that offers the ability to create more elaborate maps, these are the ones that I recommend checking out. Each of these offers the ability to create advanced projects well beyond simple “brainstorming” and organizational maps. All have a free trial or limited free version that lets you check them out and pick the one you like best.
- Mindmeister – www.mindmeister.com
- Mindomo – www.mindomo.com
- Nova Mind – www.novamind.com
- Gliffy – www.gliffy.com
- MindJet – www.mindjet.com
BONUS TIP: Using free version of one of these more advanced programs is a great way to prepare something for a formal presentation or document with zero cost! Check out the samples on the sites for ideas.