One of the hardest parts of being in business is actually running (or working on) the business and one of the second hardest lessons is learning how to create systems that make running your business more effective. I have compiled a list of 20 of my favorite apps, gadgets, and tools that make my life, and more importantly my business, run smoother. While this isn’t an overwhelming list I think you will find a few tools to add to your toolkit. Most of these items are free or minimal in cost outside of the large techie items.
Have you ever noticed that when you go to search something on Google, video’s pop up first? Videos are ranked high on Google and can give your brand the opportunity to be seen as a thought leader on a particular subject. Whether you are creating a painting or educating customers on the stock market, video may be for you.
Blogging is a great way to create great content for your brand and become Google-able, which is super important to your personal or professional brand. Create your blog, outline the type of content you want to include on the site, create a list of key words and phrases so that you can be searched, and don’t forget to add a catchy title. After publishing content, it is important to share the blog using your social media platforms for greater exposure. Oh, and there are other blogging platforms…but wordpress is my personal fave.
3.) Google Docs/Drive
Have you ever lost hundreds of documents on your computer or on a thumb drive? Well, I have, and it is not fun. After your stomach sinks to your feet there is joy in knowing that maybe you backed up the back up. Google docs, now known as Google drive, is a great clouding system. It’s for everyone from solopreneurs to large teams who need to host and edit documents without the hassle of several emails back and forth. It will save your business in an emergency and is a great system to back up the back up.
4.) Google Voice
Efficient businesses create boundaries and balance. An important element of your business is learning how to turn off, have business hours for customers and clients, and create a work/life balance. One of the ways I have found to create such a balance is by downloading and using a Google voice number. It will receive its own voice messages and text. Here is the secret: have the phone ring your number when a call comes in from that line, that way you know if it business or personal. Your business and your life will thank you for creating a line in the sand.
While this is an expense for your business sometimes you have to weigh your best options which is either lugging around a heavy laptop that could break or working from a more travel friendly device that can serve as a mobile office? I like the luxury of taking notes, recording meetings, and using the teleprompter app when necessary, but very rarely use them while in the office. Any tablet would probably do, but I suggest researching its capabilities to make sure it meets your businesses needs.
6.) Physical Calendar
When I was younger my parents, my dad in particular, told me to write everything down. Of course, I didn’t because I thought it was such a task but boy oh boy do I understand why he would lean so hard on me about that. When I went full time in my PR business it was essential for me to see every single appointment, make notes while on a call, and map out the year all in one swoop. My notebook-sized datebook keeps me on track more than most can imagine and I have only missed one appointment in two years (yay ME)! I suggest going offline and going low tech for the most important area of your life…your time.
7.) Idea Book
Second to my physical planner is my idea book. I scribble, draft out plans for business, and create ways to take over my part of the business world. The most successful people I know walk around with pen and paper and guess what…it leads to a more successful business and life. Some things just can’t be typed into your phone or tablet. Write it down and visualize it.
I did not quite understand how valuable internet bookmarks could be to my business and efficiency but if you are like me you just can’t read every site you come across. When I find a site that I like and need to reference more than once I immediately bookmark it. But there is one more step that I think can help; be sure to create lists that assign the bookmark to a specific folder. Here are some folders to get you started: For Business, Personal, Accounting, Time Saving, Balanced Business, Social Media Advice, etc.
Have 5 different email accounts to check? Thunderbird is a great cross-platform email system that will allow you to import all of your addresses into one place. You can easily switch back and forth between emails and keep track of everything email related in once place. You can import your address book and there are several other plugins you can use to ensure your success within this system.
Speaking of Thunderbird plug-in’s Wisestamp.com gives you an opportunity to streamline your email signature and include social links. This is a super easy plugin and can be used within other platforms outside of thunderbird as well.
Need a url and host for your website? I own about 10 sites and they are all hosted on 1and1. From time to time they have great deals where you can register a new site for 99 cents for the first year and it goes to about $10 bucks for the next year. I have called and emailed the support team several times and have yet to have an issue. Will I have an issue one day? Maybe! But for now it really works for my clients and I and I suggest at least looking into it for your sites.
Need a task manager? Of course you do! The best way to run your business is with the thought that if you are sick the business can run itself. Well, not necessarily run itself but help someone else to step in and run the business for you. This free system can be synced with your phone and computer and creates an online timeline of every step in a task. There are two great ways to use this system. 1) as you develop systems in your company create a task list for it so that if you ever step out a virtual assistant, intern, or contract employee can implement. And another great way is to 2) outline tasks for a new project so that multiple people can be working and updating at the same time. This works great with Google Drive and items can be checked off upon completion. No matter where you are in the country you can see that business is still running smoothly.
People receive information on multiple platforms. Have some great news to share and want to make it easily accessible? Create a podcast so that those who like to listen at work, in the car, or while washing dishes can tune in with minimal interruption to their work flow. This is, again, a great way to position yourself as a thought leader; but of course the information needs to be good.
Yet another way to increase your expert profile is to offer your presentations on slideshare for view or download. If you optimize them correctly (use appropriate tags and create an engaging headline) you will find that you will receive many views of your presentations. You can also use the description box to include your contact information so that you can be called on to present the presentation to other audiences outside of your network.
I have found that relationships work best when they are built around the trust that comes from looking into another person’s face. While I don’t use it all the time, Skype is a great tool to access when necessary. I also have found that it works well for a group of people as well…but hey you can use a Google Hangout too.
16.) Paymo Widget
Do you manage multiple projects for clients? Whether you charge by the hour or by project, it is a good policy to account for your hours to see where you are spending your time. This widget allows you to “clock in and out” essentially and assign the time to a client to create an invoice. This might help you better outline your contracts and forecast future work.
Your phone is an on-the-go extension of your business so it needs to update along with the rest of your tools. You can find a reasonably priced smartphone so that you can incorporate some helpful apps and tools to make your out of the office systems just as compatible as in the ones you have in the office.
Whether you are in a product or service based industry you should be able to take money on the spot. After all, you never know when someone needs to pay you! There are several programs that are easy to set up and efficient for business transactions. It costs you nothing to request the square card reader, they charge a small fee on each transaction, you can give receipts for cash, and you receive your money each night. How simple and super efficient is that?
Need to share a large document or folder? Dropbox is the best thing since sliced bread to receive and share large files without having to host them on your own server. I encourage you to use this site and to encourage those who you are working with to do the same. You can work directly through the site or download it to your desktop and drag and drop items for an instantaneous upload.
Need to host a one-on-one or group call and record the content? This is great for listening back to what was shared during the meeting or to host a large group of people on a secure line versus a cell phone.
Whew! That was a lot. While there are many more tools and apps to add to your toolbox this is a great start for you as you make your way through the end of the year. Any tools that have worked for you? Please share below!
Kia Jarmon is a brand strategist and PR coach with boutique public relations firm, The MEPR Agency (www.MEPRagency.com). She speaks, blogs, mentors, and is soon to be an author.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com