Many of these small business tools offer free trials and scale-able versions. This means you can try it out and start small – learning while you grow. Some might not make sense until your budget catches up to your functional requirements!
Before looking at the software:
- have your requirements listed out
- know your monthly/annual budget
- know your number of users for the next year for each program
- note how you want programs or information to integrate
Managing Projects & Tasks
Not all companies require a full tilt project manager software like Microsoft Project. In our case we work on a wide variety of projects that sometimes require collaboration with external people and sometimes require very little management at all because they are so short. We looked at a variety of programs to fit our flexible requirements. For larger projects we use Smartsheets but for smaller repetitive tasks we use Asana.
Tracking hours is good practice even for non-billable hours. Knowing where your time is going and the impact of that work on your business is a fundamental piece of business growth. There re several programs that can help you craft time sheets and manage your project hours:
Tracking your time is different than managing your time (though some of these overlap in functionality)! If you’ve never tracked your time before, try it for a week. You may be surprised how you spend your days. Some good time trackers to check out:
Not necessarily fun, but definitely important! Invoicing in a timely manner with easy to read and understand invoicing is key. You want to customize your invoice, allow for repeated or recurring invoicing and probably a few other things. There are a few big names in this space, but I’ve kept this list to online options. The first two are quite affordable and the last two have good starting packages:
Communication/ Conversation tracking/ Collaboration
At WindWater we work with a few trusted freelancers so communicating externally to them as well as keeping clients informed (and involved) is important to us. Tracking collaboration and sharing documents is also needed, but your requirements may be different. I’m not a fan of ‘chat’ for client work as it makes decision processes more difficult to track. But it’s great for teams and I HAVE used it for some client projects where we are working in sync with client team members. It can cut down on email and save a lot of time.
Meetings/ Web Conferencing
Online meetings are a HUGE part of my business so I need something that is easy to use and that a wide range of people have already. I’ve used all three of these (and there are others) but my fav is SKYPE for the added messaging feature.
- Google Hangouts
- SKYPE (SKYPE for Business)
- GoTo Meeting
Going with an integrated system seems easy, but it comes with its own complications. There are certainly more programs than those listed here. However, making sure that your systems can talk to each other will save a lot of headaches later on. If you’re still a team of one then you don’t really need this right now – come back when you’re ready.
I learned a long time ago that there are many ways to organize things. What looks uncoordinated to one might look completely logical to someone else. That’s why there are so many programs out there to help you manage things. The key is to find the programs that work in a way that complements your own style so that using it is easy. As your small business grows you’ll find that different tool combinations work – what started out as cost-effective, may not be when your teams reach a certain size.
In my opinion, Sales and Marketing Software are necessities; however, I left them out of this post to stay focused on the above types of software.
My last piece of advice is to take the time and use the trial version before you migrate things over. It’s a pain in the butt – but in the long run it will help you make a better decision and be happier with your final decision.
Other pieces that fit into my own small business tools are Google Drive and Zapier as they are easily accessible to clients and interenal team members alike. I don’t have to sweat people not having software installed. Good luck!