Time is your most precious resource as a startup or a small business. Managing time efficiently is key to your success. Luckily, an array of digital tools are available to help you do that and be more productive.
“Choosing tools is very personal and should complement the way you like to work,” said Juliana Marulanda, founder of Scale Time, which helps companies stay organized as they grow.
To make sure you are as efficient in choosing your tools as you will be once you start using them, Marulanda suggests asking a series of questions before you start to shop:
- Where do you work? If you’re out of the office a lot, you’ll want tools you can access on your tablet and smartphone as well as your desktop.
- Are you an Apple, PC or Android person?
- How much functionality do you need for the task at hand? For example, Google Drive is great for simple word processing and spreadsheets, but if you need heavy-duty functionality, Microsoft Word and Excel are better.
- How much can you spend on tools? If you’re a startup, you want low- or no-cost tools. Tools that integrate with other tools, work in real time and have collaborative functionality cost more money and may be a luxury you can’t afford initially.
- At what stage is your business? Do you need tools to integrate with existing systems? Which ones?
- Are you a visual person? Some people like the graphical representation of information that dashboards provide. Others prefer a linear format like a list. Know yourself and how you’re most productive to choose the one that’s right for you.
- What functionality is most important to you? If you’re on a budget, knowing what’s most important to you will help you choose tools within your budget.
Fortunately, there’s an ample selection of tools for every preference to assist with various areas of running your business. Many have lightweight versions you can try for free before paying for more robust versions with all the bells and whistles. Here are some suggestions from Marulanda.
Unless you have an assistant, you probably spend a lot of time coordinating meetings. You can reduce the time and hassle using scheduling tools.
- Sunrise Calendar is easy to use and connects with all the major calendar services. It’s also free. Other tools you might want to consider are Assistant.to and Calendly.
- If you need a calendar tool for your website so people can book an appointment with you, check out Appointy, YouCanBook.Me and TimeTrade. The beauty of YouCanBook.Me is you don’t need to have an account or login in with Facebook when you’re using the free account.
Customer Management Tools
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems manage interactions with current and future customers. Tools can be very sophisticated and costs can add up quickly. However, if you’re just starting out and you don’t need a lot of integration with other systems such as marketing, Streak is a good solution. It manages your gmail messages and interactions, lets you see what needs to be followed up on and makes sure your messages are getting sent when they’re needed and read when they’re received. You can even develop templates so you don’t have to write the same type of emails over and over again. Streak fully integrates with gmail and is free for five users or fewer. Also check out Contacually and Pipedrive. As your needs get more sophisticated, you might consider Infusionsoft, HubSpot and Salesforce.
Once a prospect becomes a client, you need to keep track of workflow for projects. If you prefer organizing projects and smaller tasks in list format, check out Asana (they do have a calendar view available, too). If you prefer a more visual presentation, take a look at Trello.
“Don’t be afraid to experiment,” said Marulanda. “If you don’t like a tool, find another. As your needs change, change your tools. As new tools come out, consider testing them.” All tools have pluses and minuses. Talk to other small business owners and check out reviews to find out which are the best ones for you. A small investment in research time now could end up saving you lots of your most precious resource in the future.