Top 5 Small Business Tools
Being your own boss can mean being your own marketing department, public relations team or sales squad — you name it, small business owners often end up handling it themselves, at least at some point. With so many hats to wear, you need to make every second count.
Luckily, there are plenty of tools out there that can streamline tasks, boost productivity and, in sum, save lots of time and money. Since I travel frequently, I’ve built up a list of favorites that help me prioritize when I’m short on time and that get me where I need to go as quickly as possible. Most of these services are free, and all of them do a fantastic job addressing the everyday challenges that small business owners face. What’s not to love?
Buffer -- Social media made easy
This user-friendly social media management tool helps me distribute content across major channels — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. — with minimum hassle. It lets me schedule posts in advance, selecting prime times to optimize my reach, which is especially helpful when I’m away from my computer or traveling. And it allows me to leverage analytics to improve my engagement rates, as well as add clean visual elements, perfectly formatted for each different channel, through its intuitive Pablo tool.
You can use Buffer as a browser extension or handle your social media on the go through the mobile app for iOS and Android. It’s free for individuals, but Buffer offers upgraded packages starting at $10 a month to cover multiple profiles, teams and agencies. Sleeker and easier for beginners than tools like Hootsuite, Buffer simplifies the management aspect so you’ve got more time to hone your message.
Outlook -- Smarter inbox, smarter email
“I don’t spend enough time on email,” said no small business owner ever. Managing and organizing an email inbox can be one of the biggest time wasters entrepreneurs face. That’s why I use Microsoft Outlook to either delete, respond, drag to, task or process all mail. Never keep email in your inbox. It creates unnecessary stress and leaves you always feeling behind. Most people use “folders,” but that’s highly inefficient. Processing mail immediately helps me prioritize and label every email that comes my way. This eliminates the need for folders (and trying to determine which one an email should be assigned to), by allowing me to label each email with one or many categories of my choosing. This makes them simple to find when the time comes.
OnStar -- Your car as your ally
Since many newer cars include a free trial of OnStar, people already know about many features it offers: a turn-by-turn navigation system, a mobile hotspot, a diagnostics system, and services such as emergency response, stolen vehicle and roadside assistance. When I’m on the road, OnStar is my go-to. I rely on its excellent AtYourService tool, which comes at no extra cost with my Guidance Plan. With a press of OnStar’s blue button, I can connect to a live adviser for assistance in looking up destination addresses, finding nearby gas stations, making restaurant reservations and even booking hotel rooms. There’s a mobile app as well.
Waze -- Savvy navigation
There’s nothing more frustrating than wasting time in a traffic jam – especially here in the Seattle area. Enter Waze, a community-based navigation app that issues turn-by-turn voice directions and provides road alerts before you get stuck in a back-up. When you enter a new destination and leave the app open on your phone, it contributes passively to traffic data, but app users can also actively share information, pointing out cheap prices at gas stations, reporting accidents and editing maps to update local road data. Available free for iOS, Android and Windows Phones, this handy app saves me time, gas money and headaches.
TripIt -- Taming your travel itinerary
Gone are the days of shuffling through reams of printed travel reservations — or even searching through multiple emails, for that matter. TripIt consolidates confirmations for flights, hotels, car rentals and restaurant bookings into an easy-to-digest master itinerary that I synchronize with my calendar or share selectively with colleagues or family. The free app allows me to access all my info on most of my devices, even offline.
For $49 annually, you can upgrade TripIt to receive real-time travel alerts, alternative flight route information, notifications for potential seat upgrades and frequent-flyer point tracking. TripIt also offers group packages to coordinate itineraries for whole teams, with master calendars and expense tracking.
Saving time for what really matters
These tools leverage technology so that you don’t lose time that’s critical to your business success. You can turn your car into your office, and you can use the spare minutes you spend waiting in line for coffee or to board a plane to knock out key communications. The more effectively you work, and the more time you save, the more you can concentrate on the aspects of your business (and life) that are near and dear to your heart. For me, that’s what it all boils down to.