If you've ever lost an important business card, wracked your brain to remember that website with the great design or struggled to collect three years of sales reports, the free software Evernote can help you organize your business life.
"Small-business owners live and die by the volume of information they need to access," says Alexandra Samuel, author of Work Smarter with Evernote (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). "The time it takes to coordinate all that information into systems can become another job in and of itself. You can easily spend more time managing tools than tasks. Evernote makes accessing information as easy as possible."
Evernote works like a bookmarking tool, but instead of generating one long list of sites, it puts information from the web or your computer into notebooks. For example, if you are doing market research and find an interesting study on the Internet, you can save it in your Research notebook. Or if you're planning a business trip, you can store flight and hotel reservation information and conference details in a Trip notebook.
Two similar tools to Evernote include Catch.com, a free tool that allows you to save and organize an unlimited amount of text, photo and voice notes, and OneNote by Microsoft, which allows you to create and store up to 500 searchable notes for free.
"Because it's flexible, Evernote can manage a lot of day-to-day work," says Samuel, who uses Evernote to track things like financial records, meeting notes, deliverables, and task management.
Evernote's basic service is free, with an upload capacity of 40MB per month, but only allows users to upload certain file types, such as images, audio and pdfs, and comes with advertisments and upgrade prompts that can be annoying. To aviod these, you'll have to pay for the premium version, which costs $45 per year. It offers greater sharing options and a larger upload capacity, as well as the ability to upload of any file type.
Here's how you can use Evernote to organize, prioritize and access information:
Everything you save to Evernote is stored as a note. Open the Evernote software and click on the New Note command to add information. If you want to save information from the Internet, click the Evernote elephant button that is automatically added to your web browser toolbar when you install the software.
To organize your information, you have the ability to group notes into notebooks and notebooks into stacks by using commands in the Evernote file and sidebar menus.
Samuel says a small-business owner might create a notebook for “Contacts” to store names of people you met at conferences; “Actions,” for to-do lists; “Ideas,” for project drafts; and “Inspiration,” for motivating blog posts.
Everything you save to Evernote is searchable by keywords, which means you can quickly find what you're looking for and misfiling a paper is never a problem. And Evernote’s character recognition tool even allows you to search for words within a photo.
Prioritize and Motivate
An entrepreneur's success depends on prioritizing, Samuel says. "Evernote helps you set and sustain priorities by helping you anticipate and structure what you should pay attention to so that you stay focused on what matters most.”
Samuel says business owners shouldn't consider notebooks to be like files; instead, they should think of notebooks as buckets to fill. For example, when generating sales leads, label a notebook "Key Industries" or "West Coast Prospects." Samuel says this will motivate you to add more information to the notebook.
Notebooks can be put into stacks, which will help you pay attention to related groups. Samuel suggests creating stacks for things like current projects, past projects, creative practices and areas of responsibility.
"If you have a notebook stack that you aren't using regularly, it's a sign that there is an area of your professional or personal life that you're neglecting or that there is an area of responsibility you're ready to take off your plate," she says.
Access and Collaborate
Evernote can be downloaded on to your smartphone or tablet, and files can be synchronized between all of your devices. Evernote also has a collaboration feature, providing an easy way to share information with coworkers.