It’s no secret that new technology is taking over small businesses that have traditionally relied on brick and mortar storefronts, filing cabinet account management techniques and face-to-face consultations.
But if you’ve tried any of the free or low-cost tech tools available to you and come away feeling a little overwhelmed (or even turned off) by the whole digital revolution, you’re not alone. Sometimes software just doesn’t work the way you think it should – even though technology’s only job is to make your life easier.
Don’t give up! There are plenty of solid, reliable and valuable tech tools out there that you can use, no matter what business or industry you’re in. Below you’ll find some of the best of the best, endorsed by small business owners, top-level management and even innovative entrepreneurs.
Account and Customer Relations Management
Hashable 2.0 – This mobile app (available for both iPhone and Android) makes staying in touch with clients and customers a snap. Not only does it handle all of your contacts’ info, it can also be used to set reminders for yourself (which automatically sync with your calendar and email accounts) and to network digitally by introducing one contact to another.
Google Apps – This suite of business tools is more than just a one trick pony. Each of Google’s powerful tools integrates with the others to create a virtual customer relations and account management suite at your fingertips. Plus, as nearly all the programs are free to use, it’s one of the most affordable options available!
Nimble – This fast and flexible piece of CRM software is a very usable alternative to heavy hitters like Salesforce or SugarCRM. Though the company is relatively new, that may actually work in their favor, as they’ve been able to capitalize on all of the research and experimentation that’s come before them in order to provide a fully-functional product right out of the box. The company’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is the perfect solution for any small business that deals directly with clients. Tentative users can opt to try the program for free to see if they like what Nimble has to offer before committing to the platform.
Highrise – Highrise is a web-based software program that blends the idea of a CRM with a digital black book to create a contact management system that functions intuitively. The software automatically groups, prioritizes and sorts email communication in order to keep related conversations, documents and users as organized as possible.
“Because I have all the information, files and discussions in one place and can access them before talking to the client, I come across as completely buttoned-up and in-control,” Peter Sorgenfrei, founder of Sorgenfrei L.L.C., explains.
Highrise can also send you text messages when it’s time to follow up with clients or customers, and email communications can be shared with select users (such as across a department). Highrise also smoothly integrates with over 100 existing business applications including Zendesk, Olark, MailChimp, LessAccounting and more.
Accounting and Billing
Expensify – Specializing in “Expense reports that don’t suck,” Expensify has quickly become one of the fastest-growing expense tracking apps in the marketplace. Designed especially with small businesses in mind, Expensify offers entrepreneurs like Lisa Nicole Bell of the Inspired Life Media Group the ability to simply and easily “stay organized and save time at the end of the month and at tax time.”
The award-winning package comes with mobile integration, “total expense automation,” and “ironclad” security. Altogether, Expensify takes the hassle out of expense tracking and allows you to concentrate on making money.
BlackLocus – The BlackLocus program allows small businesses to get an inside look at how their competitors are pricing similar products and services. The online service uses sophisticated data collection and analysis algorithms that survey the web and crunch numbers on pricing. This allows small businesses to price their products exactly where they need to in order to gain a competitive edge.
But it’s not all about pricing… BlackLocus also delivers data on product descriptions and product assortments, and can even predict future trends so that you can jump on new opportunities as they arise.
Cloud Website Backups
CodeGuard – While large businesses can absorb significant amount financial flak, website crashes can be fatal for small businesses. That’s why online back-ups are essential. One of the most flexible and affordable options for this purpose is CodeGuard. Essentially, the company offers “a time machine for your website,” which allows you to easily back-up everything server-side and near-instantly revert to a past configuration in the event of a breach or data loss.
According to Logan Lenz of Endagon, CodeGuard is well worth the small monthly fee just in peace of mind.
Wunderlist – Derek Johnson, CEO of Tatango, lists Wunderlist as one of the reason for his success (as do many of the program’s 3.5 million other users). This “to-do list on steroids” allows users to plot their day, week, month or even decade from their computer, smartphone or tablet, quickly and easily. To-dos are organized by categories and can be prioritized so that you’re always working on what needs to get done, making it an excellent way to combat procrastination!
PBX or VOIP Phone Systems – The cost of telecommunications should no longer be a big budgetary concern for businesses of any size. VOIP (“internet phone”) and PBX cloud-based communication solutions not only offer more flexibility, but also a smaller price tag. PBX systems allow small businesses to secure separate business phone numbers or port their existing number into the system. Users can then easily create their own phone trees by routing to existing cell or traditional phone lines and enjoy voicemail and other familiar features for roughly $10 per month. What’s more, there’s no equipment to buy, rent or set up!
VOIP systems, on the other hand, are a little more “traditional” and do require the purchase (or adaptation) of certain hardware items, including routers and traditional phone handsets. However, these systems are another great low-cost alternative for businesses to consider, with plans ranging from roughly $25 per line, per month.
Employee Scheduling & Time Clock
When I Work Employee Scheduling Software — Our incredibly simple interface and intelligent communication platform saves time and money while reducing absenteeism and improving employee accountability. Spend less time scheduling your employees. Communicate schedule changes instantly through email, text, and smartphone apps — no more excuses.
When I Work Time Clock App — Put a time clock in everyone’s pocket and monitor attendance with ease. Simplify time and attendance by using mobile devices, GPS location, work schedule enforcement and mobile alerts.
Finding What Works For You
Don’t be afraid of the future. While older technology now appears spectacularly clunky and buggy – like the old “brick” cell phone from all of those early 1990s movies – times have truly changed. Technology has made business simpler, less expensive and infinitely customizable.
That’s good news for you, because you can get more done, in less time, with less money invested – translating into higher profits in the long run. There’s simply no excuse for continuing to do business the old fashioned way – no matter what industry you’re in. It may take some time to find the right tech solutions for your business, but they are out there waiting for you.
Tech Tools All Managers Need Chad Halvorson