In this day & age there’s a glut of technology that can make our lives easier & if used correctly, more productive. I’m not talking about anything that’s going to save the world here, but what I’m really talking about is simple tools that can change an average business owner into a highly organized business owner.
I’ll speak from experience, I use to try ideas like taking notes in a notebook that I was supposed to carry around everywhere. First time I forgot it, that idea totally went off the rails. When I started my own business I carried a small scheduler in my bag everywhere I went…that went nowhere fast. Finally, I decided enough is enough, I needed to find a tool that I can use that will allow me to keep track of everything…voila technology to the rescue.
So what did I come across, well here is my best in breed productivity tools list;
Office 365 – This is becoming the automatic for most users and probably everyone has heard of it. Microsoft has gone from selling software in a nice package to selling it through the cloud. Office 365 is critical for any/all businesses and the beauty is that it’s relatively cheap…just a heads up don’t be fooled by re-sellers like GoDaddy, they actually sell it at a higher cost. Head to Microsoft’s website, setup an account and you should be able to get it 15-20% cheaper than the re-sellers are offering.
Ipad – Ok, so virtually everyone has an Ipad in today’s world. The reality is that tablets are the way of the future, I honestly didn’t realize how dramatically an Ipad could change my productivity until I finally bought one when they went on sale. No, I didn’t buy it to play Angry Birds or Candy Crush. I bought the Ipad with the strict focus on using it for business only, and thus far I’ve been able to stick to that. Sure I have a couple apps so I can keep up on current news or sports but no games & no distractions. Best thing about adding the Ipad was it automatically shared information with my Iphone and I purchased a wireless portable keyboard so I could use it in meetings. As I’m not a guy who will ever use an Ipad to it’s full potential, I simply waited until they came out with the new model, shopped around and found the previous years version for like half the price.
Evernote – At first I didn’t buy into the whole thing, sure I’m supposed to type out notes during a meeting on my Iphone…not likely. It didn’t really seem like a viable option until I picked up my Ipad, then Evernote became my go-to option for everything. Running a business is extremely hectic, especially if it starts to take off and Evernote allows me record practically anything in a searchable format that is shared across all my devices. A lot of people get into it and decide they don’t like it, the one piece of advice I can give people is that Evernote is the most powerful when it is used for all your note taking. It has honestly changed my productivity habits, where I use to depend on flipping through a notebook to find what I was looking for now I can access the information anywhere & can search documents or even massive notes to find it in seconds. Best of all, there’s a free for life version so it costs you nothing to use it.
Zoho CRM – I always thought that business was done via business cards…boy was I wrong. Sure you go to events & pickup business cards but the whole Rolodex idea is so 1990. After being in business for 6 months I started to notice that I was meeting a lot of people and being handed a lot of business cards. I tried doing it all through Microsoft Outlook for a while but it made taking notes about specific clients pretty cumbersome. I actually read on an article one day about Zoho, so I decided to go check it out, they make apps that can be accessed across all devices which was a good start. The great part was that the CRM app was free for life. I started using it to track leads, which can then be transferred into accounts & potentials. I’ll be honest, it doesn’t do anything near something like a Salesforce.com option but remember it’s free. Once you start to hit a level where a robost CRM is required than moving to a Salesforce is a better option. In the professional services industry we don’t need anything too intense so it makes it pretty easy to use Zoho to track all our leads & potentials.
T-Sheets – If you own a business in an industry where time cards are a requirement you know how ridiculous it is to mess with paper or trying to get everyone to log into a system to track time. Most small businesses don’t have a dedicated payroll department nor do they have major payroll software. T-Sheets allows your employees to enter their time onto their time cards on any device, even if it isn’t connected to the internet but will transfer once they do get service. T-Sheets makes it super simple to track time by employee or by client, it integrates with virtually all accounting software packages and allows you to schedule or track via GPS if you really want to.
Slack – Slack has become the de-facto app for communication among teams. Where you use to have to pickup the phone to get a hold of a sales rep or even the person sitting down the hall, Slack allows you to create teams who can then correspond via instant messaging. Slack comes loaded with search tools that allow users to trace back through entire conversation histories, and allows users to upload files. Slack makes working with remote teams or employees who aren’t always in the office (sales teams) really simple. Again, amazing part about it is it’s free.
Youcanbookme – We’ve never actually used this software but we have worked with companies that we’ve helped set it up for. Youcanbookme is a great app if you work in a “booking” industry…for example a lawyer. The great part of the software is that it integrates with your calendar so it literally avoids you having to actually do anything and automates the process. The software also creates reminders, updates, notifications and allows for rescheduling. You can embed the booking page onto your website which totally removes the need for any human interaction, customers go to your site, book a time that works for them and it integrates with your calendar…your life just got a whole lot simpler.
Smartsheets – We literally use this program all the time just due to the nature of our business but for anyone who isn’t an excel wizard and needs some nice templates Smartsheets has it covered. They basically have created a template for every situation, but I would suggest that the program is best suited for project management work or task lists. We like it because you can share among team members, add comments which can be viewed by all and you can even publish it so your clients can access a secure site to see how the project is progressing. We’ve also used it for a variety of other things, they have a ton of example on their website. I’ll be clear it is not an excel replacement, for those of us that work with excel regularly Smartsheet is just a prettier version with much of the functionality removed…don’t expect to be hammering out any big formulas. It’s best used to keypunch data to make it look really good for clients.
Dropbox – It’s really become the industry standard for cloud file storage. Dropbox allows you to access your files from anywhere, and allows for sharing of folders among team members. Dropbox literally replaces the need to go out and purchase servers, it’s relatively cheap and can be free if you’re a solopreneur (1 person business). We use it for everything as it allows us to access all files in a clients office. Their pricing is a little bit weird, to get a business account you must purchase 5 licenses which doesn’t make a ton of sense but it is worth the money.
Hootesuite – Allows users to manage social media networks from one location. When we first started, we had no idea of the tools that were out there like Hootesuite. Back then we use to literally go to each social media site to post the content we wanted to land on our properties. It was insanely time consuming and just created headaches, after doing a bit of research we finally figured out how simple it could be. We created a free Hootesuite account and voila, schedule your posts, add your content and you’re done.
Those are just some of the top productivity tools we use on a regular basis, I’m sure there’s more out there but these are without the a doubt the best we’ve found.