The Ultimate Short List of Awesome Tools to Automate Your Work Day
Time is every small business owner’s most precious commodity. Fortunately, there are more solutions than ever to help us make the most of the 24 hours a day we’re given to start, manage, and scale our small businesses. Here are 10 of the best.
The first step to managing your time is seeing how you’re spending it, and this super-simple time tracking tool can help. Use it for everything from getting a grip on where your hours really go to tracking your team’s billable hours. Create a Toggl account and the app starts time tracking on whatever device you’re using, syncing continuously so your time-tracking is accurate from one device to another. You can also track time offline or manually input hours. The basic version is free for up to 5 users; for more users, check out paid plans starting at $10/month.
Seems to me it’s the little stuff (like managing your calendar) that takes up most of a small business owner’s time. IFTTT (short for “if this, then that”) gets that little stuff off your plate by creating “recipes” to automate how the apps you use interact with each other. There are also hundreds of pre-existing recipes you can use—for example, “Automatically create new reminders on your iPhone for emails you star in Gmail,” “Automatically share your Instagrams to Facebook,” or “Automatically back up new iOS contacts to Dropbox.” Think of it like having a free, invisible personal assistant.
Let’s get real: How much work time do you waste surfing online? The Freedom app blocks you from distracting websites for set time periods so you’re forced to focus. You can customize which sites you want blocked from or use pre-set lists. The basic account is free; paid accounts offer more customization and start at $29/year.
As an information junkie with limited time, I rely on Pocket daily. Create a free account to easily save articles, images, videos, or anything you find online to the app. You can save info from your browser by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org, or from within more than 1,500 apps. Everything syncs so you can save something from your computer and read it later on your phone.
So busy that even Pocket isn’t fast enough? Just install this free app on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. It uses a bot to scan webpages you’re looking at, then reads a quick summary of the content aloud so you can decide whether to read it later.
I’ve used a lot of project management tools, but Trello is my favorite—maybe because it’s so visually oriented. Use Trello to create lists and lay out tasks and to-dos as “cards” within them. Put everything from images to file attachments in the lists; just drag and drop to move items from one list to another. You can add comments, labels and due dates, and share lists with team members. Set up Trello to notify you of changes to lists however you prefer, so you never miss a beat. Trello integrates with popular apps like OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox. The free version is plenty for most small businesses; upgrade to Business Class for $9.99/user/month for more app integrations and greater security.
If you like the immediacy of text messaging but not the difficulty of digging up conversations later on, you’ll love Slack. This collaborative communication app organizes conversations among your team into “channels,” where you can share all types of files using drag-and-drop actions. Conversations and files are searchable using a variety of filters; data syncs automatically so you’re always up-to-date. There’s a free version, and premium plans start at $6.67/user/month. While I’m a fan of Slack, I admit I’m looking forward to the general launch of Microsoft’s Teams in early 2017.
8. Workflow Max
This all-in-one job management tool for freelancers and small businesses lets you manage leads, generate quotes for clients, and then turn leads into accounts after you get the job (no need to re-enter all the data). Workflow Max also handles project management and tracks time, and then generates invoices when the work is done. Try it for free for 2 weeks; plans start at $15/month.
This social customer relationship management (CRM) app integrates all your interactions with contacts into one dashboard so it’s easy to see everything at a glance. Get notifications whenever a contact emails you, connects on social media, or posts a social media comment relevant to your business. Every day, Nimble surfaces timely information about your contacts, such as anniversaries, job changes, or birthdays, and suggests ways to reach out. The app makes it easy to manage email communications with prospects and clients, improving your ability to manage the sales pipeline. After a free trial, accounts start at $25/license/month.
Managing multiple social media accounts for your business can be a real time-suck. Enter Buffer, one of the earliest and most popular social media management apps. It lets you manage it all from one place, easily scheduling posts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+. Find a cool article you want to share? Buffer’s mobile app makes adding new posts as simple as tapping on your smartphone. For more functionality and social media analytics, upgrade to the Small Business account for $99/month.
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