Like the thousands of other small businesses around us, we work hard to find efficiencies and value in the tools and products we use. As a technology company, we've come across several products that we use daily that simplify our operations, streamline our workflows and just generally make our lives easier. To celebrate small business week, and because we love to share, Here's a list of our 8 favorites -
Still one of the most fundamental forms of electronic communication, a good email system is a requirement for any business. However, don't let the "old-school" tech providers fool you - this does not require major investment in servers or infrastructure. Services like Gmail are good for the most part, and Google apps for business provide a suite of usable online tools. Microsoft Office365 for example, includes 50GB of storage, multiple access methods (web, mobile, client) and is less than a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte per user. Need a full version of Microsoft Office for workstations throughout your office? Just move on up a plan or two and it's done.
A CRM (or customer relationship management) system is one of those tools that you don't know you need until you actually use it. Nimble, branded the "social listening" CRM, is an excellent tool for any business that is engaged with their clients on multiple levels (such as through email and social media). By pulling together all your social conversations in one place, it can help you save time, listen to what your clients are saying and respond/track to new deals and potential customers. Plus I hear it's built on unicorn giggles and magic.
If you are talking fundamental forms of communication - often nothing beats the telephone (short of face to face). However, small businesses are often dynamic groups working from multiple locations that often don't have the budget for expensive traditional phone systems. As such, products such as RingCentral provide a unique solution that help bring the appearance and features of a traditional expensive phone system to mobile users on the go. Now to actually teach your users that their iPhones can be used for more than just playing Candy Crush.
Speaking of face-to-face communication, how do you achieve this when your clients are miles away? Video conferencing provides an excellent opportunity to connect with your clients on a more intimate level without having to actually travel. While Skype may rule the roost in one on one video conferencing - the challenge has always been communicating effectively with individual Skype users while you are in a small meeting room or boardroom setting. Using the telyHD (or telyHD Pro) you now can easily extend
these Skype meetings beyond the desktop in a way that is cost-effective and easy to use. Just remember to wear pants.
Leveraging cloud based products and services are great, but we all know that a portion of documents we will always keep with us on our laptops and other computers. Guaranteed losing these files (as well as all of our cat pictures) would definitely cause us a great deal of pain. Backblaze, a unique cloud-based backup platform provides secure and unlimited data backups for an extremely low monthly fee. Computer lost or stolen? Backblaze cannot only help get your files back, but will also help locate your lost or stolen computer (real Dick Tracey stuff - minus the fedora).
Document Storage and Sharing
Document sharing through email can be cumbersome and most of the time ineffective (especially for large files). Dropbox provides a unique platform that allows you to share documents, regardless of size, with clients, contractors and other staff. Worried about space constraints with Dropbox personal? Move up to Dropbox for business and get effectively unlimited space, along with a few other features, to make your life easier.
Invoicing and Accounting
Obviously a fundamental key to running a sustainable business is to ensure you get paid. While you can use spreadsheets and mail handwritten invoices to your clients this is neither time-effective nor practical (letter mail? what's that?). Freshbooks, a Canadian-based company, allows you to easily manage your invoicing, estimating, expenses and reporting across multiple devices (mac, pc, tablet, phone). Integrating with popular payment gateways, such as PayPal, you can also offer your clients the option to pay online to ensure you get paid faster.
Social Media Management
So you have a great story and compelling content to share - how do you make sure it gets out? Obviously social media provides an excellent medium to present this information. Without proper management though, a business owner can drown in the different channels that exist. Tools like Hootsuite (another Canadian gem) can provide a dashboard that allows you to efficiently share information across multiple channels and optimize impact (with features like auto-scheduling) but more importantly allow you to measure effectiveness with reports and statistics. Need to see how many clicks your latest version of keyboard cat spawned? Easily done.
Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to quality products and platforms that can make things simple for your business. Have a question or would like to share your "can't live without" products? Please feel free to drop a comment below!