New technology is making us faster, smarter, smaller, and more efficient.
While it’s not always easy to learn new systems, some are just too good to pass up. We’ve selected a few of our favorite tools to make your life easier.
But don’t just take our opinion—we’ve also researched what others are saying and doing. We referenced two recent surveys to reinforce our top picks.
One survey, published earlier this year in Inc. Magazine by SurePayroll, asked 350 small-business owners nationwide for their favorite online tools; another survey we accessed interviewed over 500 entrepreneurs to find their favorites.
We bring you the best of these lists—with our endorsement of how this technology is changing our small business life.
Communication and Meetings
Google Hangouts: At Prestobox, we use Google Hangoutsevery day. It’s an easy way for us to have “face to face” meetings when we can’t be there in person. Sometimes we share our screen and do training with customers on Skype. Other times we gather our remote team for internal meetings.
We use Google Calendar as well, so we send out meeting requests that automatically have a link included to the Hangout. It makes it so easy to click on the link and join in. We’ve had meetings with people around the world and it feels like they’re next door. And it’s free.
Skype: This is our backup. We have Skype accounts in case a customer prefers Skype, but don’t find it quite as easy, or full functioning (easy screen share, multiple participants) as Google Hangouts. However, we are including it on this list because in the surveys we referenced, many small businesses do use and enjoy Skype.
See Also: 85 of the Best Tools for Startups
Box: This is a great cloud-based storage system that allows you to securely share, store, and manage all your company’s files. Your team can access your files anywhere and they are securely backed up. We use their starter package for $5/month/user. We came to Box after a few heart-stopping moments with Dropbox where we lost files, or functionality. That might have been our user error, but it scared us enough to make the switch. Box is also on the Inc. list of favorite tools.
Google Drive: Lots of our partners use Google Drive, and we’re on here too. We don’t find it quite as easy to use as Box, but it’s also free and probably easier to set up. Google Drive is also recommended in the other two surveys we referenced.
See Also: 34 Educational Resources for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Trello: Trello is a visual project management system. It allows you to see how you are progressing through a series of steps. Your entire team can access it, write notes and instantly see where things stand. We use this with our tech team to identify what needs to be accomplished each week, and to track progress. Trello was also selected as one of the best online tools in the Inc. poll.
Evernote: Evernote is a nifty way to take notes across different devices. You download the app onto any device you use—your phone, your computer, your tablet—and then it all syncs together so your notes are always up to date and accessible. The search function in the notes also works well so you can find what you’re looking for. No more scraps of paper; it’s all organized online. We use the free version of Evernote. The surveys we referenced agree with us too; many small businesses swear by this app.
See Also: 19 Funding Resources for New and Existing Businesses
Moz: If you want a quick hit to your search engine rankings, try Moz Local. They push all of your contact and location information to the major data aggregators. Then, the search engines can find you more quickly and your customers can find you.
We recommend this to our website customers, and have found that the results are fairly instant and dramatic. Access to Moz is $84/location.
Weebly: We use Weebly technology for the backend of the websites we create, and we love it. There’s really no need for custom coding for most websites anymore.
Weebly’s platform creates mobile-enabled websites that are as easy to create as a Powerpoint doc. Intro websites (you don’t get your own URL) are free.
PrestoBox: Full disclosure, yes this is our company and we created it with the sole purpose of automating branding for small businesses. Our “Brand Genie” software quickly identifies your colors, fonts, images, and brand personality. Then you create a logo, business cards, and a website. Our websites are on the Weebly platform with your brand on top. What used to take months of time and cost thousands of dollars, now happens in a snap. The Brand Genie is free; logos are $9; custom websites are $345.
Canva: Canva was called “the easiest to use design program in the world” by the Webbys, which gives awards for best on the internet.
They have turned me into a designer. I’m still not as good as a pro, but the Canva online platform features all sorts of pre-loaded graphics and tools that make design simple for everyone. The tool is free to use with minimal charges if you use certain graphics.
See Also: 3 Tools That Will Turn You into a Designer
Managing a small business is always a juggling act, and if you’re like the majority of small businesses, you’re the sole proprietor. That means you don’t have employees that specialize in whatever it is that needs to get done. You usually have to do it yourself.
These online tools are here to help. Each one should help you become more productive and free up more of your time—without impacting your budget. We hope these tools make your small business life easier.
Happy New Year. Thinking ahead to what's hot for business in 2016? This Fast Company list has some gems that I agree will define our 2016 work lives.
A few of my favorites:
More Female Founders - "[There is] a growing recognition that it’s not just one or two or three female entrepreneurs who can be successful, as in the old days of one-seat-at-the-table-for-a-woman in corporate America. Instead, there is room for the pie to grow and for us lift each other up."
A Growing Demand for Gigs - "Professionals are increasingly choosing freelance jobs in order to gain more control over their lives, have flexibility, and be their own boss. The rise of this trend is attributed to many factors, including increased access to technology, the impact of the recession, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act that has imposed new costs on employers. The ‘gig economy’ has allowed employers to hire on-demand, lower cost talent and has given rise to entrepreneurial entities such as Uber."
More Diversification - Terrorism, the presidential election, and the federal government’s interest rate hike are combining to make 2016 a year of uncertainty. CEOs are going to be looking for additional streams of revenue. They will be opening new divisions and offering new services—something to bring in additional money outside of their primary area of business, so if there is a temporary dip in the economy or their industry sector, the additional money will help provide a cushion."
For the full list, click here to read "10 CEOs Make Predictions" at Fast Company.
Sara Conte is a frequent contributor to online discussions about strategy, branding and entrepreneurship.