One of the most prominent commonalities among small business owners is a general lack of time and resources. If you’re running your own business, then you are no stranger to the juggling act that comes with wearing so many hats. Thankfully, there are a number of great business tools available that are designed to improve efficiencies and streamline processes, effectively helping to free up your time so that you can focus on other things.
However, with such a plethora of tools available out there and all of them claiming to be the ‘latest and greatest’, it can become difficult to know which tools are actually worthwhile investing your time and energy (and sometimes money) into. Below is a list of questions to ask when determining the right tools for your business.
- What challenges is your business facing? – To determine which tools to investigate, you must first be clear about what challenges you need to overcome. Consider the nature of your business, your daily operations and processes, (i.e. do you keep a tight daily schedule? How do you communicate with your clients and co-workers? etc.) and where there are any opportunities for improvement.
- Which tools will address those challenges? – Once you have clarity around your key challenges and opportunities for improvement, the next step is to research which tools match your needs. Once you have a list of options, you can then run a comparison of these against your requirements to see which ones tick the most boxes.
- Does the tool offer a free trial? – Many tools offer a limited free trial period or in some cases, offer the basic features for free with paid options to access the more premium or advanced features. Accessing a free trial or product version allows you to assess whether or not the tool meets your expectations and requirements.
- Is it simple to use and actually more efficient? – Once you have had a chance to trial the product, you will be able to gauge whether it is easy to use and whether it actually makes things easier/more efficient. Some tools may seem to tick all the boxes, but once you use them they aren’t actually any more efficient then your original process methods.
During our day-to-day we come across a lot of tools, a number of which we use ourselves to help streamline our work processes and make collaboration among our team and with our clients a whole lot easier and more efficient. The ‘perfect tool’ will vary for each business and is highly dependent on a number of factors, however the following list outlines some tools that we love and that have helped make our day-to-day activities run much more smoothly.
It’s very likely that you would have come across Dropbox at some point in time. This cloud based storage system makes it easy to store and share files, which is fantastic for file collaboration. We often use Dropbox when we need to send large files to clients or share larger files with members of our team. One of our favourite things about Dropbox is that it automatically syncs files in real time across multiple devices, so that the file is available and ready for use at all times. Dropbox uses a freemium business model, so you can enjoy up to 2 GB of storage capacity for free. If you need more storage, premium plans start from AU$12.99 per month.
Google Apps for Work
Google Apps seem to be growing in popularity among businesses and it’s no surprise. With a suite of collaboration, storage and communication tools that make working together a whole lot easier. Our favourite tools from Google Apps are:
Gmail is Google’s email solution, which I am sure you would be familiar with. The work version offers professional (use your custom domain), ad-free email that integrates with all of Google’s other products, which is super handy (trust us!). With 30GB of inbox storage and 24/7 support, Google has you covered and it’s also compatible with Microsoft Outlook and other email clients, if they are more to your liking.
Again, you have likely heard of Google Calendar, but the true potential of this tool so often goes unrecognised. We use Google Calendar every day to organise our daily schedules and booking in meetings. In our line of work, we are constantly needing to find meeting times that fit in with multiple people’s schedules, Google Calendar allows us to check our colleague’s calendars to find a time when everyone is free, saving a lot of time and hassle as opposed to checking with everyone individually. The integration with Google Maps is also super handy, allowing us to easily pop in the address of our client or meeting location to be able to then easily pull up the information and directions prior to leaving for a meeting (which when done on our phone, will open Google Maps and we can start navigation).
Google Drive is Google’s online file storage solution that allows you to store all your work in one secure place. We use Google Drive this to store and organise files that need to be shared with multiple team members. Drive automatically syncs files from your desktop and provides access across all your devices. Another great feature of Drive is that is is compatible with over 40 popular file formats including videos, images, Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets and PDFs, meaning that you can view documents in these formats even if you don’t have the correct software installed to open them.
Through Drive you can also access Docs, Sheets and Slides, which are Google’s version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The advantage of using these tools is that you and your team can create and edit documents within your browser and multiple people can be working within a document at the same time (fantastic for real time collaboration!). To make this collaboration easier, you are able to see edits as others are typing, communicate through built-in chat and ask questions using comments. These documents automatically save and have an unlimited revision history if you ever need to undo anything.
Google Hangouts is a free communication platform that offers instant messaging, video chat, SMS and VOIP features. You can use Hangouts as an alternative to Skype to speak or video conference with multiple people. We use Hangouts internally to quickly chat with team members. Hangouts can also be installed on your phone to allow communication and collaboration while on the go.
Manging multiple tasks for multiple projects across multiple teams can be challenging. With a plethora of task tracking apps available, we couldn’t go past Todoist, which we now use company wide to manage our individual workloads and to maintain effective communication of responsibilities and tasks for group projects. We love Todoist because it makes creating, sharing and completing tasks oh so very quick and easy! Their ‘karma score’ creates a fun way to track your productivity as well. The basic features of this tool are available for free, however if you want to be able to collaborate on projects then you will need to upgrade to the premium version, which starts at $44.99 per year.
Streak is an amazingly handy little tool that integrates with Gmail and essentially allows for basic CRM functionality within your Inbox. We find this particularly helpful for the tracking of sales lead from initial prospect through to becoming a client. It allows for team members to be assigned to ‘boxes’, each box representing a contact (in our case, a box could also represent a task depending how you are using it). This is also a great solution for small businesses that don’t have the budget for a bigger CRM system, with so many potential uses including recruitment, sales, product development, marketing and more.
We recently started using PayPanther, an all-in-one software solution that combines CRM, Invoicing, Time Tracking, and Project Management into one, easy to use platform. We decided on PayPanther as our CRM as it most closely met our specific requirementsand so far it has been fantastic for what we need it for. This CRM is relatively new to the market and is constantly being improved upon. One of the great benefits of this is that they are really open to feedback from their users. PayPanther offer a 30 day free trial, perfect to test it out and see if it’s the right fit before making a commitment.
For many of the projects that we work on, we need to create flowcharts, timelines and other diagrams. Gliffy is a fantastic tool that makes this super easy to do, providing a drag-and-drop approach to designing professional, neat and personalised diagrams quickly and efficiently. It also allows for collaboration between team members. The free account allows you to create up to 5 public diagrams, and the paid accounts start at only $3.99 per month.
The business tools outlined above are tools that we use at Reload Consulting. These have been selected based on our specific requirements and while all of these tools are fantastic for our needs, they may not necessarily be the best tools for your business and should all be considered based on your specific processes and requirements. There is a whole world of business tools available to help businesses run their operations more efficiently and the key is to choose the best tool for your business based on your needs. In order to do so, it is important to take the time to research and evaluate your options before making a decision. Periodic evaluation of the tool will also be beneficial, to ensure that it remains the best option as your business grows and changes, or to determine when a change of tool may be needed.