Juggling new leads, keeping on top of your to-do list, chasing invoices, updating your social media channels – the admin tasks facing small businesses can easily weigh you down. Is it possible to get it all done? The good news is, yes! Hiring an amazing virtual assistant aside (you can read more about how a virtual assistant can help you in Carly's very first blog post here), there are productivity tools to help with just about any task these days. But which are the essential productivity tools for small businesses right now?
To save you the research, here’s our top 12, including a handy info graphic at the end!
1. Office 365
Microsoft Office 365 might not be the most whizzy tool on our list, but we think it's essential. By using Office 365 you can be safe in the knowledge that your Word, PowerPoint and Excel are completely up to date at all times. Outlook acts as a central email hub, meaning you can seamlessly manage all of your accounts from one place. One Drive is a great cloud-based storage system and One Note is a brilliant alternative to Evernote.
2. Google's suite of productivity tools
Google Drive and Docs is invaluable for working with clients and other team members, especially if you are not based in the same location. They are easy and intuitive to use, all you need is a Gmail account and away you go. Using Google Docs allows you to collaborate in real-time with clients and team members across word documents, presentations and spreadsheets - saving time emailing back and forth and maintaining version control. And, if Office 365 isn't for you, consider G-Suite, which provides business email, shared calendars and cloud storage - perfect for small businesses.
Trello is the ultimate project management tool, especially if you are a visual thinker. Whether you are a solopreneur who needs a powerful to-do list, or a small team needing a tool to support you in working collaboratively, Trello is the productivity tool that can help you get things done. With boards, lists, cards and a calendar view, you can see the big picture at a glance or dive into the detail – including comments, attachments, checklists and due dates. Available on all platforms, including mobile, Trello keeps you updated on each of your projects, wherever you are. The free version meets most people's needs, but we recommend checking out Business Class if you want to make use of all the great ‘Powerups’ and integrations Trello offers.
The days of using email for internal communication are over. Utilised by over 4 million active users every day, Slack is the ultimate group-messaging app for 2017. According to Slack, it’s customers see an average 48.6% reduction in internal email, resulting in a more productive work life. Through the creation of channels you can organise team conversations by project, team or topic allowing members to exchange comments and files so that everyone who needs to know stays in the know. For more personal communication, Slack offers direct messaging and if you need to chat instantly with a team member or group you can make a voice or video call right from the app. With its powerful search functionality, you can be reassured that, with Slack, the information you need is right at your fingertips. The free version of this productivity tool is great for entrepreneurs and small businesses, but subscriptions are available for even more powerful capability.
Capsule is a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) – an essential tool to help businesses manage sales leads and opportunities, contacts, tasks and projects. While there is a range of CRMs on the market, Capsule is perfect for small businesses. It’s simple, powerful and affordable. The free version allows up to two users and 250 contacts, so is suitable for most entrepreneurs and small businesses. It has plenty of integrations, including G Suite and Mailchimp, can pull in contacts' social network information and comes complete with a mobile app for managing leads and projects on the go. it's also worth mentioning here that, although not strictly a CRM, Trello's capability for keeping track of new business leads shouldn't be overlooked - especially if you don't need all of the functionality offered by a traditional CRM.
As we're sure is the case for most entrepreneurs and small business owners, finance and accounting are not what makes us leap out of bed each morning. Although it never will be, Wave does make it much more bearable. Through Wave, you can create and track invoices (which can be customised with your company branding) and manage all business finances. The app can connect directly to UK bank accounts, and receipts can be emailed or scanned in, allowing easy reconciliation. It’s easy, quick and best of all, completely free.
If you are taking your security online seriously, you should have a unique and secure password for each application you use. But this makes remembering them impossible, right? Wrong. LastPass is a productivity tool that stores all of your passwords. Not only does this mean that you don’t have to remember your passwords, but it will save you wasting your time looking them up, or constantly resetting them to gain access to your accounts. Lastpass also auto-fills login forms online, saving even more time. With an encrypted vault and two-factor authentication, your data remains completely secure – not even LastPass can access it. What’s more, you can share passwords securely with your teams, clients and suppliers so they can log in to your accounts without seeing the password itself – meaning that you can revoke access at any time.
Curating content and staying one step ahead of the curve when it comes to the latest industry news and knowledge is always a challenge, and no more so than when you are a small business or solopreneur with limited support. Make life easier and keep on top of content using Feedly, an RSS reader through which you can organise, read and share relevant content, all from one streamlined newsfeed. As well as helping curate content for sharing on social media, Feedly can also be an invaluable source for blog post inspiration, keeping up to date with news and for self-development. Content curation wise, Feedly integrates seamlessly with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Buffer and Pocket. So, whenever you see an article of interest you can immediately publish it to one (or more) social media channels, or schedule it in Buffer. Which brings us to the next of our essential apps for entrepreneurs, number…
If you use social media for your business (and if you’re not, you more than likely should be) you’ll know that keeping your feeds topped up with engaging content can easily seem like a full-time job in itself. How do people keep on top of it all? The answer is scheduling (or hiring someone to do it for you!). Buffer is our productivity tool of choice when it comes to scheduling social media. It's especially good for those who are new to scheduling, as it's so easy to use. Whenever you come across a piece of content you want to share – be it your own, or someone else’s – all you need to do line it up in Buffer and Buffer does the rest. Consider scheduling content with Buffer a few weeks in advance, meaning that day to day you only need to focus on real-time engagement or sharing more time-sensitive articles. The free version is great if you are just getting started, but the Awesome plan is affordable and gives added flexibility with the number of accounts you can link it to, the number of posts you can schedule and when they are posted. Like all schedulers, Buffer does have its downsides. The main one is the lack of a feature to automatically repost evergreen content. For this, try Hiplay - which integrates seamlessly with Buffer.
Pocket is a brilliant app that allows you to store articles and videos to read, view and share later. This is especially useful to create a library of content the followers of our (or our client's) social media channels will find interesting and helpful, so we always have great content to share. It integrates well with Feedly, Buffer and social media platforms (as well as over 15,000+ other apps!). The tagging system and ability to search by title or URL means you can easily view content by topic, or find a specific article at a later date. The mobile app makes it perfect for catching up on, or sharing, saved content on the go. As with most productivity tools, there are free and paid for versions. We recommend starting with this and upgrading as and when needed.
Without a design team to rely on, or the money to spend hiring one, Canva is perfect for small businesses. It can be used to design logos and other branding elements, graphic content for websites, blogs, social media and emailers, and print materials. It's worth investing in a Business Plan subscription if you think you will use it regularly, as it allows you to create a brand template with chosen logos, colours and fonts, making the creation of branded graphics quick and easy. Canva won’t turn you into a professional designer overnight, but it will give your visual content a boost in the absence of design support. Great visuals increase the likelihood of people engaging with and sharing your content so for us, this is an important addition to our suite of must-have tools.
If your business involves selling your time, you need to check out Toggl. Start the timer at the beginning of a task and stop it at the end – it’s that simple. You can organise your time by clients and projects, increasing efficiency when it comes to invoicing. Your time can be tracked from your browser, computer or mobile so that wherever you are and whatever you are doing you never miss a minute of billable time. And it's not just for freelancers - teams can also use Toggl and there are some brilliant analytic features which provide valuable business intelligence.
So, there you have it – our top 12 essential productivity tools for entrepreneurs and small businesses right now. We'd love to know what productivity tools and apps you use for your business, so please leave a comment below!