It’s a new year, which means it’s a new chance to take your business to the next level. Now that the initial resolution rush is over, you’re likely left staring at a long list of tasks and goals, without knowing where to start. Don’t worry–this list of business tools has you covered, even in areas you may not have thought about before.
Communication can make or break your company. The way your business is perceived by customers or clients and potential customers or clients is one of the defining factors in whether you’ll fail or succeed in the long term, and how you and your employees interact with and are reached by people is a huge part of that. Most tips for this area focus on social media and email communications; phone tools often get left out. So with that in mind–
Free: Google Voice is probably the most useful free solution out there–it will let you create a business number that will redirect to your phone(s) of choice, without you having to plaster your personal phone number all over the internet. It also transcribes your voicemails, which is very handy (when it works right–sometimes the effect is more comical than useful).
Paid: Grasshopper is something like a more full-featured version of Google Voice, with the added ability to make the default phone number that people call a toll-free number. If you’re looking to go 110% pro with your business communications, the Hastings Humans are a good place to start–you can have them handle receptionist duties, answer calls 24/7, and take orders from your customers, among other things.
Communication is all about how customers are perceiving you; delegation is all about making sure your business is running as efficiently as possible. If you’re trying to do everything, chances are that you’re not getting near as much done as you should be–and the work you’re doing that’s outside your zone of genius is definitely not going to be your best work.
Free: Unfortunately, free delegation tools are pretty thin on the ground. Delegating is all about getting someone else to do the things that you’re not good at or don’t want to do, and that means you have to pay them.
Paid: Two great places to start are FancyHands and Zirtual, both of which come with multiple plans to fit different peoples’ needs. FancyHands is a little more focused on life-related outsourcing, Zirtual is a little more focused on business-related outsourcing. Both of them are geared towards general needs–if you need a specialized task done, check out the contractors at Upwork, oDesk, or the old standby: Craigslist.
Data breaches are big news when they happen to big companies (like the Target fiasco this last Black Friday), but small businesses aren’t exempt by any means. Cyber crime is on the rise and if your business gets attacked, it could be expensive.
Free: There are a lot of free ways to increase your security–here’s a list of ways to secure your online privacy. If you and your team members follow all of the steps, you’ll be at least a little bit ahead of the hackers. And if you use WordPress, the Better WP Security plugin is a great place to start.
Paid: If you manage a team and work largely out of the cloud, CloudEntr can save you from the dreaded “login credentials” spreadsheet that’s rarely updated and is a huge security risk when a team member leaves. One click lets you remove their access, without you having to change every single team account password. Carbonite can help you securely back up your data, and Prey will let you find lost devices before someone uses them to access sensitive data.
You probably have tried productivity tools before, of course–what business owner doesn’t want to be more productive? But the usual productivity app lists focus on task management tools, which are great, but not the be-all end-all of productivity.
Free: SelfControl will let you block distracting sites (including the productivity black hole that is Facebook) and your email inbox for a predetermined amount of time. IFTTT‘s slogan is “put the internet to work for you,” and it can streamline and automate a lot of your processes using “if this, then that” rules (hence the name). For example, you can set it to email you every time there’s a new result for a search on Craigslist. FocusBooster is a free Pomodoro timer that works on both Mac and Windows, and makes it easy for you to utilize the Pomodoro method of productivity.
Paid: Zapier is similar to IFTTT, but with more business-related apps available in the library. Concentrate is similar to SelfControl, but lets you set up different routines for different activities (for example, a “writing” routine vs. a “designing” routine). VitaminR is a full-featured tool intended to not only train you into better productivity habits (reducing task switching, for example), but also letting you see data about what conditions lead to peak productivity levels for you.