10 Tools for Small Business Owners to Maximise Productivity
My Best Apps and Services to Make Life Sooooo Much Easier
Being a small business owners is tough. You are undoubtedly crazy busy and do a whole lot of work on your business yourself. That’s just how it is, right? So you need to find tools and hacks that are going to save you time, save your sanity and provide you with effective short cuts to become a more efficient business owner.
Here are the main apps or tools that I just cannot do without. I have no affiliate links contained below, I’m sharing this knowledge from the bottom of my heart simply because they make my working world so much easier and if one of these suggestions saves you from a single grey hair or a moment of lost sleep, then it’s worth it.
What is it Slack
It’s cross platform desktop and mobile messaging system that allows you to chat, share files, and basically streamline workflow between groups of people. Like a much smarter version of WhatsApp with lots of additional features and better layout.
Why do you need Slack in your world?
If you work with a group of people and are in constant touch (several times a day), then Slack is your best friend. You can set up threads for different topics to keep things organised and stop messages get lost, then archive when no longer needed. If reducing email traffic is a goal of yours, then I would wholeheartedly recommend this as an alternative. And the best thing? Snooze it overnight.
How I use it
This literally saves me from hundreds of emails daily and I use it mostly to communicate with a small mastermind group that I belong to. We are in touch every day to provide support and assistance on every aspect of each other’s businesses. If we did that via email it would be chaos and completely unmanageable. I also have separate slack workspaces for clients too (I have four on the go at the moment).
I use the free version and have never needed to upgrade.
What is it Buffer?
It’s a social media scheduling tool that will allow you to map out and auto-post your social media content to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and Pinterest. It will allow you to re-queue previously posted content too – or edit and re-queue which is the recommended method.
Why do you need Buffer in your life?
Unless you have super human powers, then scheduling content across a variety of social media platforms is a total nightmare and takes hours. Having the ability to see a calendar of posts laid out and the chance to quickly re-queue is an essential time-saving and organisational tool. Not to mention it will preserve your sanity.
People do have concerns about using third party tools to post to social media but a recent study by Buffer (who tested also using rival platforms) found it to make zero difference to the performance of their content. Plus, I say realistically when you are running a small business it is simply not possible to post natively (directly) to each channel. You have to take the short cuts where you can!
How I use it
I manage nearly 25 social media accounts across various platforms. Without buffer I would be utterly lost and simply couldn’t cope with that amount of work. Additionally I have team members that use the account too so we can all see what each other is doing at a glance.
Now there are dozens of social media scheduling tools available and almost all of them do offer similar features. For me, Buffer just has the cleanest layout to my eye and offers the most amount of different social media platforms for the least amount of money. It’s simply my personal preference having tried a few of the others.
I use the Small Business Plan which is currently $99 per month (I actually only pay $50) and includes 25 social media platforms and 5 team members. There is a free plan which includes three social media platforms and 10 scheduled posts, or a Small Business plan which includes 10 platforms and 100 scheduled posts (no team members on either of those plans).
3. Pages Manager
What is Pages Manager?
The official smart phone app to enable Facebook pages admins to manage their pages on the go. Created by Facebook.
What do you need Pages Manager on your phone?
To ensure you are managing your Facebook page as your page and not as your personal profile. This is a major frustration for many pages admins who seem to get stuck adding to their pages as their personal profile and commenting and responding to people as their personal profile too. This completely negates the benefit of having page – getting your page visible on other pages, interacting with fans as your page etc.
When I tell page admins about this app at my social media workshops they literally fall over with shock and then rush to download it. We have it set up for them within five mins. It’s the game changer.
How do I use it
I manage all of the Facebook pages I take care of through this app. I cannot live without it. I can post ‘on the go’ to any of the pages that I manage without fear of messing it up or posting as my personal profile. I can reply to comments left on pages by simply grabbing a few minutes throughout the day to manage whilst on the move. It’s a huge time saver and enables me to be very active on the pages that I manage.
Free, gratis, nada, zilch. If you only take one tip from this article, go to the app store and download pages manager.
What is it Canva?
An online drag and drop graphic design tool that is full of images and pre-designed templates. Perfect for designers and non-designers.
Why do you need to use Canva?
It’s a fantastic way to create artwork for numerous uses including your social media accounts and posts, business cards, posters, presentations and ads. If you use a paid version you can create one piece of artwork then magically resize it to use on different social media platforms (though personally, I still prefer to do this manually because I am fussy).
How I use it
Mostly to create social media post artwork – I make templates and then can quickly create lots of different posts. I also use it to create artwork for newsletters and blog posts. It’s good enough to create custom print artwork too, but that depends on the complexity of the job – it doesn’t, for instance, handle curved text.
I pay $12.95 per month for a small team version so that I can share artwork with a team member, and also resize artwork at speed. This is worth it for me but I would argue that you can really get a huge amount of value from the free version – paying for is not actually a necessity.
5. Affinity Designer
What is Affinity Designer?
This is the Apple version of Adobe Illustrator. It’s a graphic design app to create artwork and can also open and edit files that have been created in illustrator, photoshop and various other design programs and formats.
Why do you need to use Affinity Designer?
If you are paying a subscription for Adobe Illustrator (I was for £15.99 per month) then for a one-off payment of £55, this app replaces the need for your subscription. Note: It is only available for macs from the app store.
How I use it
Mostly to create artwork that is too complex for Canva or to edit artwork sent to me by clients. I find it to be a much simpler program than illustrator but with pretty much all of the features. It simply saved me money, which was the appeal.
A one-time payment of £55. One and done deal!
What is Trello?
Trello is a project management tool based on the Kanban system of managing projects against resources. It’s simply put a visual app to move tasks around and share information about each task.
Why do you need Trello?
If you have big projects to manage (such as website builds or product launches) then Trello is going to help you break it down into manageable tasks and help you track your notes, changes and updates to each task. It will help you to manage the project, rather than have the project manage you. This is especially helpful if you are managing external contractors to support you with any of the project or particular tasks – notes and questions can be managed underneath each task, saving lots of emails.
How I use Trello
Aside from big projects I have a Trello board for every client’s website. Whenever there is a technical update or change required I add it to a ‘To-Do’ board and tag the appropriate programmer or designer responsible for the update. Once he or she starts work on the task it will be moved to ‘Doing’ so that we know it’s being taken care of.
When ready for inspection, it’s moved to ‘Ready for Testing’ so that both me and the client can test and sign off on the work.
Then I move it to ‘Done and Tested’, where I know it will be invoiced at he end of the month. After a while I simply ‘archive’ these tasks, but what’s great is that they can still be searched in case at some point in the future we need to look back at the action we took.
Nothing. Free. There are paid versions but I cannot see any benefit to a paid version – I get everything I need from the freebie.
7. Sane Box
What is Sane Box?
A tool for training your inbox to be more efficient and filter out unwanted emails arriving throughout the day to interrupt your workflow. It simply filters your emails to allow through instantly the ones you train it are important, and holds back emails that you may not want to see immediately. So you will get a daily email listing the emails that are in the vault for your attention to either move to your inbox or train to bin or continue to hold.
Why do you need to get involved with Sane Box?
To regain your control over your inbox and in doing so, your sanity. Have a distraction-free work day! I don’t think any of us spend enough time thinking about ways to effectively manage emails and many people are simply allowing their inbox to define their day. Time to get over that and be the boss of your inbox.
How I use Sane Box
I use it to massively reduce my email traffic but without having to unsubscribe to all of the email lists that occasionally hold some value. I do have a sane later inbox so I can quickly see what’s in it if I do not want to wait until the daily summary/email training session.
I should note that since I have started using my macbook’s smart email folder settings in full (emails from people I know are automatically filed into their folders and new emails are simply flagged for my attention), then sane later is not quite as effective as it used to be. But that’s simply because I went one better with a very hard core email management system of my own. But it’s still great at culling unwanted interruptions to my day.
I paid $29 for the year. Worth it for some email peace. But I see at the moment it’s priced at $59. I think I got an offer after trialling it for two weeks.
What is Evernote?
Evernote is an app to capture, share and organise notes from any of your devices and keep them sync’d (phone, computer, laptop, tablet). It’s very similar to using google docs but you can be offline when you use it and it will sync with all of your other devices once you are on wifi. You can also snip articles from the internet and saves for future use.
Why do you need Evernote in your life?
Write blog posts on the go, clip stories from the web, share your work with colleagues and have it at your desk top when you are ready to work on it.
How I use Evernote
Now I shall admit that I am not really using Evernote to its full potential, but what I do use it for is basically blog writing, note taking and list writing. When I am travelling on trains, cars or planes I will often plan out a blog post or a press release on my phone using evernote. When I sign in to my desktop or laptop, it will syncs and all my notes are updated. For example, I planned this article on my phone using evernote, and am now writing it out on my desktop, using evernote.
I use the free version and have never needed to upgrade. This limits me to two ‘offline’ devices, but I can get around that by simply signing into evernote online when on my desktop computer, leaving my phone and my laptop to be my two devices.
What is Calendly
An online appointing scheduling tool. It’s ideal for customer appointments but also great for managing meeting schedules for groups of colleagues.
Why do you need Calendly for your business?
If you have any sort of business that makes use of appointment slots or needs to manage meeting schedules then you need some sort of calendar appointment system like Calendly.
How do I use Calendly?
I use Calendly to allow people to book ‘Power Hours’ with me (blatant plug alert!) – a one hour Skype session to get marketing expertise and advice without the need for further commitment. I simply link the call to action button (Book a Power Hour) to my calendly account which allows clients to choose a date and time, which I have already marked as available slots. I can easily edit or update my availability.
I use the free version, which is very limited but it’s just about enough for me. It means I cannot automatically link to a payment gateway, but I don’t mind as I need to create tax invoices anyway, so prefer to skip this. I can include a few questions that people need to answer as they book, which is also just enough to get the information I need to prepare. It’s slightly annoying that I don’t have the ‘add to calendar’ feature for ical on my free version, but that’s not been sufficiently irritating enough for me to upgrade until now.
I have a friend who uses the paid version for her life coaching clients and it links directly to payment gateways, terms & conditions and even has the ability to process gift vouchers, which is pretty cool. The paid version starts at $8 per month.
What is Mailchimp?
Mailchimp is an email list building and newsletter tool.
Why do you need Mailchimp on your world?
Because you should be collecting customer email addresses and undertaking a strategic email marketing campaign as part of your marketing plan. I still believe that email marketing is the number one way to grow your business, especially as social media becomes more noisy – and you have less control over who sees your content and and how it is managed.
There are lots of tutorials, templates and layouts for you to use so everything looks very professionally designed.
How do I use Mailchimp?
Now I must confess that I use ConvertKit for my own email marketing purposes, but that is mainly so that I have the experience across a number of different email marketing platforms. I use Mailchimp (and one other provider) for several clients and I do think it’s by far the easiest in terms of creating beautiful looking emails. Additionally Mailchimp has just added a feature to create beautiful looking landing pages, which would eliminate the need for paying an additional provider for this tool, which is an extra incentive.
The cost of Mailchimp is on a sliding scale and increases with the number of subscribers you have on your list, which means your costs grow as you grow. It starts out free for the first 1000 subscribers, which is a pretty good deal.
OK, this next one has nothing to do with work productivity, except that it helps me to be so much more efficient throughout the week, so I’ve included it as a bonus!
11. Hello Fresh
What the hell is Hello Fresh?
Hello Fresh is a meal box subscription service. You get fresh ingredients and interesting recipes delivered to your door enough for two, four or six people per meal. Choose from three or five meals per week.
Why do you need Hello Fresh in your life?
If you love to cook but hate to shop, then this is for you. If you hate wasting food then this is for you. If you hate meal planning then this is for you.
How do I use Hello Fresh?
This weekly subscription box saves my life. I started using it about four years ago when I decided to stop eating meat. I wanted a way to eat interesting meat-free meals but wasn’t very interested in trailing through recipe sites, planning meals and ugh… shopping! I joined this subscription service and solved the problem instantly. I get five interesting recipes and all the ingredients delivered every Tuesday to my door. It’s the best day of the week! I have it set by default to meat-free but I can go in a week in advance and change around some recipes if I don’t fancy what they picked for me. I usually do that a few weeks in advance then completely forget about it so I get a nice surprise when it arrives.
I especially love is the zero food waste element to the boxes. I get exactly what I need, no more, no less. Though I would like to see them working a little harder to reduce the packing, but I am seeing improvements to this over time. There is a lot of transparency and collaboration with their suppliers too. I feel quite connected to the food I am eating and understand where it comes from, which I feel quite passionately about. It’s not always organic but it is a lot. It’s a reasonable compromise.
Mostly it’s the time saving element and the variety of recipes that enjoy. I really like cooking – it’s quite a meditative part of my day but I do not enjoy meal planning or shopping. Hello Fresh gives me the bits I love and completely removes the bits I hate!
Being based in Germany I pay €55 per month for five meals for two people. I used to get three meals a month but found I spend so much at the supermarket in between that by committing to five meals per week I almost eliminated the need for a supermarket shop at all. There is almost always enough to feed me and my husband each evening, plus a small amount left over for my lunch.
That’s it. These are my secret super powers that enable me to fit more hours in a working day than should be humanly possible. And now you can too! If you want to know specifically how I utilise these apps and tools, just hit me up with an email and I’ll give you a private tour.