Whether you have only just started your small business or you have been running it for a while, you should be thinking of ways to streamline what you do to create more efficiency by using the right tools for the job.
In today's digital age, a lot of efficiency and process improvements come from the use of tech, whether apps or better devices. As the year ends, I thought it might be useful to see what's out there ready to make your 2022 a more efficient, effective year.
But first, while I use a lot of tech in my business, I am not a tech expert by any means, so treat this article as a user's view of what might work well in your business, and do your own research. I came across these products through my own use of them in my business and I put them here as I've found them to be useful and effective in what I do.
Let's start with the very big elephant in the room.
While Google's business suite and Apple's products are very similar, Microsoft is still the biggest supplier of office suite products to business in the world.
If you're still using your old copy, that you installed from a disk, it's time that you converted to the cloud subscription for the suite. Most app providers have moved from the buy up-front model to a monthly subscription model, putting their apps in the cloud so that any updates are immediate.
Microsoft 365 includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Notes, Publisher and Access. Subscription will also get you 1TB of online storage on OneDrive. You can also get access to SharePoint for team sharing and Teams for team communications. They have different bundles you can subscribe to where you get variations on what is included.
If you like Microsoft's package (many don't by the way) this is a great way to have everything you need in one package and using a common interface so you don't have to learn different tools and commands.
For those who don't like Microsoft (philosophically or tech-wise), there's always Google's business suite of apps that you can also subscribe to.
These include Gmail, Meet, Chat, Contacts, Drive, Calendar, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and many more.
Suffice it to say that whatever you can get in Microsoft 365 you can get in Google's G-Suite, and in some cases depending on what you need, could be cheaper and easier to use. All the apps are online and not installed on your computer. All you have to do is log in. That means that you could log in from your desktop, laptop, a library or someone else's computer and get to your files immediately.
All businesses need to keep the books. Rather than talk about each app I like and have used, I thought I'd put them together in this category.
The key online players are MYOB, Quickbooks and Xero.
MYOB (Australia) and AccountEdge (MYOB US Inc) produce online accounting solutions aimed at small business and supporting the accountants for small business. They are now almost 100% online and you no longer need to install the app on your computer, with the data stored on their servers in the cloud.
MYOB Australia has a "BankFeed" facility that allows your bank statements to be automatically inputted into your data, and all you have to do is to allocate the transactions, with a nifty "memorisation" function to memorise similar transactions automatically.
What differs is the user interface - some people like one and not the other, and the support. In my experience, Xero's training videos are excellent while MYOB is catching up.
All three apps have different packages so be careful when you do your research that you are comparing the prices of apples with apples. For example, Quickbooks starts at a very low monthly cost, but if you need Payroll, Receivables and Payables Ledgers, and so on, the price increases with each module purchased.
Frustratingly some of the pricing models are based on volume - and you have to estimate the number of payments you will process, or have to increase your subscription of you go from 5 employees to 6, etc.
Trello is a....well, I don't quite know how to describe it.
If you are old enough, think index cards, if you are a bit younger, think Post-It notes.
It's a very functional database system where you write up "cards" on "boards". The cards can be organised into a column of "lists" and each card can be labelled with user-defined labels, have members of your team assigned to them, can include dated comments and activities, include checklists and attachments. You can drag cards from one list to another on the board.
I use them to organise complicated projects, keep track of work for clients, graphically design the contents of my online courses. You can get ready-made templates for anything from a customer support system to an employee manual.
You can start with a free account, and if you grow your use, get a paid account.
It takes a while to "get" how to use it but since then I've found it incredibly useful to organise my thoughts - but then, I started my career with index cards!
All businesses need to send out some marketing email, or even mass email blasts for announcements and so on. You can do this, with a lot of effort, using a word processor like Word and your email app like Outlook, or you can use a dedicated email marketing platform.
I use Mailchimp to send my emails (including this one if you get it in your mail) and I started with their quite generous free account before my list grew to the extent that I had to get a paid subscription. You pay for what you use, with the subscription automatically changing as your numbers go up and down.
You can have multiple lists - say one for customers, one for prospects, or you can tag and group one list into several categories. You can create templates and create automated campaigns. For example, you can create a campaign where people who subscribe to your newsletter get sent a newsletter every week, plus a "how-are-you" personalised email at the end of say 3 days of joining.
The use of Mailchimp can cut a lot of time if you are planning marketing campaigns and follow-up. It will also save time for large-scale email blasts to all of your customers.
If you have any need for creating graphics - social media posts, emailed brochures, newsletters, and so on - you will find Canva your artist on your computer.
Canva has many templates you can use to start your design. Each template has the ability to use the stock photo/image or change it up with your own. The designing process is drag-and-drop so easy to use for a beginner. You can even use it to create logos, business cards, Christmas cards and so on.
Their pricing is dependant on what images you use - some are free, some are paid for on a pay-as-you-use basis.
Finally, one of the grand-daddies of the cloud storage systems is Dropbox.
If you are used to File Explorer on your desktop and saving files into "Documents" or "Desktop", using Dropbox is similar except that the original copy of each file is saved in their servers in the cloud. You can choose to link a copy to your computer, or just access your documents directly from the cloud.
I use it to save all my documents in it (rather than OneDrive because I started using Dropbox first before I had access to OneDrive) so that I can access any documents from anywhere as part of my remote working lifestyle.
You can also share folders or individual documents with others, allowing for flexible collaboration.
You can start with a free account that has basic storage space, and then graduate to larger or business accounts if you need.
So there you have it! These are the apps I use on a daily basis, and unless something comes up that cannot be entirely ignored, I'll continue to use these in 2022.
Each of the apps I have listed above has either saved time for me, made some process or workflow more efficient, allowed a better and more organised record of my work, or has actually created a new and productive process for my business and team.
Go test them out and have a great Christmas break and a Happy New Year!