Top 9 tools for streamlining & managing your business
Whether you are a seasoned entrepreneur or just starting your first venture, one of the toughest jobs is to know exactly what tools you need to run your business effectively. There’s a whole world of cloud based options that can make life easier but unless you know what you need you could waste a lot of time and money.
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey suggests that you always “start with the end in mind”. This is key for any business, whether you’re a one-person freelancer or you’re trying to build an empire with 2,000+ employees.
Setting up your business with the end in mind means that you can effectively manage growth, support your clients more efficiently and ultimately scale the business faster. If you have any desire to sell your business at some point this is a key factor to bear in mind.
So, how do you do this? Setting up your business with the end in mind is really about one thing:
Unlike in the dark ages, systemising your business is no longer a massive expense that can make or break your idea before you even start. We’ve put together our top 9 tools for ensuring your business run smoothly from day one, allows you to grow but doesn’t break the bank in the process.
Bear in mind that you may not need all of these tools. It depends on your business and what you’re building. To make this simple for newbies, technophobes or anyone that is scared of the word “system” I’ve focused on tools that are simple to set up, primarily free or affordable and where there is a cost, there are no long term commitments, just pay monthly solutions that allow you to cashflow your business more effectively.
Importantly most of these tools have mobile apps making your new system more streamlined and portable. Without further ado, let’s look at where you should start.
1. Accounting Apps
Accounting and bookkeeping is vitally important for all businesses, regardless of size. A good app can help you manage your income and expenses as well as allowing you to be able to invoice clients directly from the app, whether from your phone or desktop. Xero is a particular favourite of mine as it is simple to use and well priced and has everything you’d need whether starting from scratch or if you are already established and looking to streamline your business processes. There are more cloud accounting specialists that are able to help you organise your company finances so using an option like Xero means that your accountant is already aware of how to navigate the software.
2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Regardless of your business you’ll have customers, clients, suppliers and important contacts that you need details for, that ideally you’ll need access to when you’re on the go, on your way to meetings or if you are in the office. Also it’s worth thinking about GDPR and how you store data. A spreadsheet on your desktop or floating around your office is not good and could leave you open to data breaches. A simple CRM like Capsule, is cost-effective (free for small users) and allows you to securely store your data. You can access from the desktop, a mobile app and as your team grows you can add new users easily.
3. Project Management
Depending on what you or your business do, project management tools can be key in staying on top of workload and also giving clients a good overview of where work is currently at. Even if you are just trying to stay on top of internal projects a tool like Streamtime (free for the basic account and comes with an iOS app) allows you and your team to always know what is going on, where you are and what has to happen next.
4. Social Media Management
Almost all businesses have a social media presence now and if your industry isn’t overly social, that’s just more reason to stand out and build an audience. Managing your accounts from one central location not only makes your life easier but tools like Sprout give you great insights in the form of reporting allowing you to focus your efforts more accurately. Again mobile apps are available and although this has a monthly subscription cost, there are other tools that do the same thing for free, like Buffer, just with a few less features.
5. Business Phone Number
Again, this one isn’t vital for every business, but if you want to have a dedicated landline (or the appearance of one) but don’t want the expensive costs, long term commitments and the hardware to go with it CircleLoop have just the solution. Starting a £5 per month, CircleLoop is a mobile app and cloud based tool that gives you a UK number that forwards to your mobile with call recording and a voicemail service that sends via email. International calls are cheap at 3p a minute and the freedom you get and money you can save makes virtual numbers not only easy but convenient.
6. Increasing Sales
If you need to send proposals or overviews of services and contracts that need to be signed Better Proposals is a great tool. It gives you a well designed template that allows you to stand out from the competition and has analytics built in so you can see when it has been opened, how long for and which pages were viewed. My favourite feature is the ability to e-sign and get things moving quickly not to mentioned you can integrate payments with Stripe or PayPal so you get paid quickly.
7. Customer Support
Email is great but it can get messy and things inevitably go missing. Even when you’re in the early stages of business it’s good practice to implement a good support ticket system so you can properly keep on top of queries or complaints. Tools like SupportBee for new businesses or ZenDesk for more established teams offer everything you’ll ever need to keep things moving forward.
It’s a cost of doing business that someone, somewhere along the way, will be unhappy with something you’ve done (even if it’s not really your fault - delivery turns up late, package damaged in transit etc). Having a dedicated support tool helps manage customer expectations, is surprisingly cheap and comes with iOS and Android apps to keep your team and customers happy even when you’re on the road. Another benefit of this is that it avoids cluttering up your CRM or Project Management tool with updates on complaints.
8. Social Media Design
Standing out on social media isn’t easy, in fact it is getting harder every year to build an organic audience that engages with you and wants to see your content. Tools like Canva and Bannersnack can help you create more visually appealing content and even video and animated GIFs to really stand out from the crowd.
9. Cloud Storage
In a world that is moving increasingly towards being paperless, having a good cloud storage system is vital. Whether it’s to store contracts, templates, images or any other important backup's (like websites and databases etc) tools like Google Drive and Dropbox are standard practice and make sharing information safer and easier. Other options like WeTransfer are also good ways of sharing files on an adhoc basis.
Putting it all together
There are more and more cloud based tools and mobile apps that can help you run a smoother business and be more efficient. With so much competition out there, these essential tools are becoming increasingly more affordable and will help you be more productive and connected to your business, your team and your clients/customers.
Most of these tools come with dedicated APIs, which essentially means that you can connect everything together so that all these apps can talk to one another. It’s particularly useful with CRMs, customer support, project management and accounting software. If you find that one app doesn’t connect to another and it is important that it does our bonus tool is Zapier. A simple tool that connects almost every app.
There it is, our top 9 (10 if you include Zapier) tools that you’d need to get a business set up and running efficiently.