Being a business owner can be challenging on the best of days, but many of us know it is all worth it in the end. Many owners will tell me where they have difficulties and areas they wish they could be better. Many of them are frustrated by expensive software and hardware solutions that are just not needed. What they really need are inexpensive tools that make their lives easier.
I want to share 8 such tools you can use to make yourself and your business better, increase your productivity, and overall make your life better, many of which are free. These are tools we personally use and have found tremendous value. Over the next few weeks, we will post specific articles about these items, but in the meantime, make sure to explore them on your own!
Do you love Gmail? Never used Gmail? Surely you have heard of Google Docs? Google Apps for Work is essential for someone starting out and looking to make their life easy. Not only does it allow for super easy setup of your email at your own domain, but it allows you to use all the features of Google Apps. You get docs, sheets, drive, forms, and slides all as part of the package and 30GB of storage.
Once you get it set up, you also can create simple email groups, manage users, and control many aspects of your experience. Its ease of use is powerful, and the ability to store everything in their secure cloud means you can work anywhere. You can also install a plugin to allow google docs to work offline.
There are a lot of pros to Google Apps for Work, so make sure to check it out.
Cost: ~$5 /month/user
I discovered streak it first was released, and since then have not stopped raving about it. It is super simple, super customizable, and free for the basic features. The main benefit of Streak over other CRMs is that it is powered by Google Cloud and lives in Gmail, so you don't have to jump between windows or programs.
Sharing with other users is easy, and creating additional information fields to track things like costs, estimates, names, phone numbers, or notes is straight forward. See all emails tracked to that particular box (think account, project, or person) as well as see updates from other users. Adding it to Gmail is as simple as hitting up the chrome store and installing it.
Streak also has Email Power Tools, like snoozing, send later, mail merge, templates, and thread splitting. Ill detail these in another post, but these are worth having even if you don't use the CRM pieces, and are all included in the free version. Check it out!
Cost: Free w/ paid plans available
Ok, not a lot of people like to talk about accounting, but Quickbooks Online (or as the cool kids say QBO) is the cat's meow of accounting tools. It truly brings the business owner back into the picture of accounting and allows you to do a lot on your own, from just about anywhere. It is also entirely cloud-based, meaning you don't have to buy expensive software for your computer, manage license keys, and export files onto a thumb drive and deliver to your accountant.
The ability to add an accountant directly to QBO is one of the best features. They can look at your file anytime, and see up to date information. QBO also has an iOS and Android app that lets you add expenses, create and print invoices, and manage your books right from your phone, anywhere, anytime. Have an expense? Take a picture, add it to QBO, and you're done.
QBO also has an app store so you can sync with many different apps, like Square. They also have an online invoice payment system that lets people pay directly when you send an invoice.
Setup is a breeze and migration is fairly straight forward as well. If you are just getting started, take a seriously long look at QBO. It will save you so much hassle in the future.
Cost: ~$10 a month (watch for promotions)
As a business owner, I often wonder where the time has gone. I also need to have a way to accurately bill clients. That's where Toggle (no e 'cause they're cool) comes in.
Toggl is an app for iOS, Android and Web that lets you easily track where you are spending your time. You can run timers or enter your time in manually after it occurs. You can segment everything by client, project and task, as well as using tags to organize things. The apps work really well together, so you can start a timer on your phone and stop it on your computer later.
On top of this, the reporting is simple. You can dial it down, filter the data, and create a PDF on the fly for your client. The pro paid plan even lets you upload your own logo for white labelling if needed.
Its Chrome extension is also killer. It inserts a little toggle button in just the right spot on many different sites so it's front and centre as you start and end tasks. It is so easy to use.
It has earned a permanent spot in chrome for me, its pinned in the tab bar. When the timer is running, the icon turns red too, a helpful reminder you are on the clock! The free version has pretty much everything you need for a small business.
Cost: Free w/ pro paid plans available
One thing many business owners have told us is that getting contracts signed can be a nightmare. EchoSign makes things really easy, and its all legally binding and secure as well, so no worries there.
The process is quite simple. You create a PDF of the contract you need to be signed, upload it to their website, add in the fields you want to be filled out (name, date, signature, etc.) and then send it through email. You can have multiple signers, multiple reviewers, and as many fields as you want.
Each user is notified and can sign it online or through their mobile devices. This is a great tool for businesses that go through a lot of contracts as well.
Now the price may deter you, but think about how much time you have spent chasing people down for a contract or meeting to get a contract signed. Worth it? They have a 30 Day Free Trial, so may as well check it out!
Cost: $10 US / Month
Square takes the cake in credit card processing. If you want a super easy to use the system to take credit, this is the way. The best part, it is free. No monthly charge. Ever!
Square works by allowing you to swipe credit cards on your smartphone. When you sign up, they will give you a free card reader in the mail, and once you set up your account you are ready to go. The card reader plugs into your headphone jack and is about the size of a quarter, so fits in your pocket with ease. Processing is done in a day, so you have the funds in your bank, directly deposited, usually in 1-2 days.
Making sales couldn't be easier. The desktop interface lets you set up products and services so you can easily add them to an order, and taxes are automatically calculated. You can also send invoices to people if they don't have the card right in front of them.
Pricing is based on your account, but at the time of this post was 2.65% for swiped cards, 2.75% for invoices, and 3.4% + 15 cents for manually keyed in card numbers. The convenience and the increased potential in sales makes 2.65% all worth it.
Cost: Free Monthly, pay as you collect funds
Gone are the days of using your personal cell phone number on all your business cards. Ring Central allows you to set up a virtual system that uses local or toll-free numbers to patch you through. Multiple features like voicemail to email (I LOVE this feature), auto attendant (Press 1 for sales, 2 for ... ) and multiple extensions are included, so you can set up multiple people easily.
You are able to record your own intros and modify many settings around how you want calls routed, who should answer them, and when your business number should just go straight to voicemail (no more 10 PM phone calls). It also helps add professionalism to your company.
The app is good as well, letting you see who called, access voicemail, and easily send and receive faxes. Faxes received come through as emails as well (although not many use fax anymore). Check out the service, it's pretty neat and super affordable.
If you have any questions about these tools, please let us know. We are happy to help get you set up and working with any of these great tools and answer any questions you may have.