Just the other day, I was having a conversation with one of my clients regarding the rapidly changing technological environment we live in. This fact becomes even more apparent to me every time I embark on a research project to find the latest and best software for my clients. It’s overwhelming, to say the least, to weed through all the software options, features, and reviews for the growing list of business applications.
Although there are endless choices for practically everything you want to do, there are 15 software tools I can’t live without. A lot of these you may be using because they have been around awhile. But perhaps there are a few you haven’t tried and can add to your toolbox. Ask 20 people and you will probably get different recommendations. These are just the ones I find to be easy, efficient and relatively low cost.
If you are just beginning your journey as a small business owner, this would be a good place to start:
FOR FINANCES: QB ONLINE
Sometimes I’m astonished when I hear business owners are either not keeping track of their finances or using Excel to track their financials. Excel is free, but it does not do what a full financial software program will do. QB Online keeps track of everything, from income, expenses, bank balances, and credit card purchases. With the click of a button, you can have an instantaneous Profit and Loss statement – an essential for every growing business. If you want to know why I love QB Online, read this first.
FOR EMAIL, CALENDAR, AND SHARED DOCUMENTS: GOOGLE SUITE
Most people know about GMAIL and Google Calendar, but others aren’t as familiar with everything that comes with Google Suite. Even if you are a diehard MS Office Suite user, I still love the simplicity of using the Google version of word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations – Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides. Maybe not as robust as MS Office Suite, but I love the sharing aspect of these documents, coupled with the ability to update real time. It’s so inefficient to send files back and forth after revising. And Google Suite doesn’t stop there. It provides you with Google Drive, a storage and file sharing system that allows you to organize all your documents in folders with varying permissions. You can set up Google Chats and although I’ve never used it before, you can create forms using Google Forms. If you decide to use Google Suite, I highly recommend paying $5/month to use your business URL with your email.
FOR TASK MANAGEMENT: WUNDERLIST
I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that I would be out of business if I didn’t have Wunderlist. With hundreds of tasks to keep track of, each with its own deadline date, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without it. Although there has been talk that Microsoft bought Wunderlist and will replace it with their own app, I am hanging on to the very end. I have searched for a task management app that does what Wunderlist does, and there is nothing that compares, in my opinion. Here’s a complete guide on what Wunderlist can do for you.
FOR KEEPING TRACK OF NOTES: MICROSOFT ONE NOTE
When I started my virtual office management business, I vowed to be as digital as possible. And I would say I am about 95% digital. Other than a Steno notebook, I keep all my notes and important information in One Note. One Note is sort of like a filing cabinet, complete with color-coded folders for keeping everything organized. I have a One Note folder along with several sub-folders for each client. Papers don’t pile up, and nothing gets lost.
FOR PASSWORDS: LASTPASS
Ever get tired of trying to remember your passwords? Have you ever been required to change your password, forgot to write it down, and then can’t figure out why your old password doesn’t work? LastPass keeps track of all your URLs, user ids and passwords for all your software. Simply login to LastPass and access all your software from there. Hint: Don’t lose your password for LastPass.
FOR GRAPHIC DESIGNING: CANVA
By far, the most fun part of my job is designing cool graphics for my clients. From marketing one sheets and social media graphics to flyers and newsletter elements, Canva is my go-to software for creating enticing designs. Even though I wish I had a graphic design degree, I don’t, but Canva can help me fake it. There is a free version of Canva, but I prefer the professional upgrade. There are so many templates, photos, and other elements to choose from. Simply choose the type of graphic you want to create, and let your creative juices flow.
FOR WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT: WIX
Not every small business owner can afford to pay a website developer the big bucks to design a professional website. Today, if you have a simple enough website, you don’t have to. I have used a lot of different website tools – WordPress, Weebly, Squarespace, and Wix. My favorite is Wix because of its ease of use, the multitude of creative templates, and all the add-on features that come free with this tool.
FOR SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT: BUFFER
For a while, I used HootSuite to schedule social media posts for clients, and I became frustrated when they changed the rules with their free version. Then I was introduced to Buffer, and I became a fan. For about $100 a year, you can schedule posts for up to 10 social media accounts. My favorite feature of Buffer is the ability to scan a list of articles (based on your choice of sources) that are compiled for you and blast them out to your followers. It eliminates the need for searching the internet for interesting articles to share.
FOR AUTOMATED SCHEDULING: ACUITY
There will come a time when it will be too much for you to manually schedule all your appointments. You will want to empower your prospects and clients to schedule their own time with you. This eliminates the back and forth of trying to coordinate schedules. Acuity has a lot of extra features like forms, customized confirmations, and reminders, and even setting up packages, memberships, and group classes. The only downside of Acuity is a lack of phone support, but their email support is extremely responsive and helpful.
FOR CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT (CRM): HUBSPOT
HubSpot CRM is free! And it has to be one of the most user-friendly pieces of software for managing all your prospects and clients. Organize all your contacts complete with contact info, notes, emails, meetings and tasks in one place. Customize your sales pipeline to help you keep track of all the potential new business you have. HubSpot integrates with a lot of other software as well. Although you can do a lot with the free version, HubSpot will handle any growing business with its HubSpot Sales and HubSpot Marketing modules.
FOR NEWSLETTER AND MARKETING CAMPAIGNS: MAILCHIMP
Everybody who uses MailChimp remembers the monkey who gives you a high five every time you send out a campaign. MailChimp, also a free software, can manage all your newsletter and marketing campaign subscriber lists. Keep multiple lists for all your different marketing needs. Set up automated messages that keep all your prospects and clients in the know. The software is fairly easy for creating customized and branded templates for all your marketing communications.
FOR VIDEOCONFERENCE MEETINGS: ZOOM
If you have Google Suite, you can use Google Hangouts for your video conference needs, but another alternative is Zoom. For a small business owner, Zoom makes it easy for you to set up one-time or recurring meetings so you can have that face-to-face connection. For me and my clients, it is ideal because Zoom enables you to share screens back and forth. When you need to explain something, a picture is worth 1000 words. The one downfall of Zoom’s free version is you are limited to a 40-minute meeting if there are three or more computers logged into the meeting. But for one-on-one meetings, it works great!
FOR CREATING SURVEYS: SURVEY MONKEY
Another monkey, Survey Monkey makes it easy to create customized surveys to gather information from anyone. Use it to rate customer satisfaction, gather data needed for decisions, or create fun interaction with your followers. You can create short polls or full-blown branded surveys. Email the survey, create a custom survey link, or embed it on your website. Track all the results and generate reports that give you everything you do or don’t want to know.
FOR CREATING FORMS: JOTFORM
I was introduced to this software tool from one of my clients. JotForm specializes in helping you create online forms for people to complete. With the free version, you are allowed five forms and 100 submissions per month. Use your logo to customize the form and create colored or photo backgrounds to make your forms fancy. Once the form is submitted, you and the person filling out the form will receive an emailed PDF copy of their responses. The only clunky feature with JotForm is the way it handles long forms – it’s not exactly easy for a person to start filling out a form and come back to it later. But all in all, JotForm is an easy way to create forms for your business.
FOR GENERATING PROPOSALS: PANDADOC
The newest addition to my collection of business software tools is PandaDoc. I searched high and low for the best solution for creating sales proposals. I originally started with Proposify but found that to be not quite as user-friendly as PandaDoc. In a nutshell, PandaDoc allows you to create custom branded proposals and quotes, email clients, gain signatures, and track results of all your proposals. As a newbie, I can’t say much more than that, but I do know it’s rated as one of the best on the market.
It would be nice if I had the time to scour the web and learn about all the new and cool business software available to me and my clients. Few small business owners have that kind of time. So, I am hoping this list of business tools will give you a jumpstart, help you be more efficient and grow your business. If you can add to this list, please share. Knowledge is power. Together, we can help one another stay on top of our technological world.
15 Business Software Tools I Can’t Live Without
April 19, 2018