There are more ways than ever to boost your productivity and run your small business at optimal efficiency. From organizing your receipts to low cost labor to user-friendly accounting services, small business startups can now operate effectively on a far lower budget than would have been possible even a decade ago. And if you take advantage of the wealth of productivity tools at your fingertips, you can gain a serious leg up over the vast majority of your competition.
With so many new innovations coming to market by the week, it is nearly impossible to be aware of everything that is available out there to make your business run more productively. But here are 10 small business productivity tools that every startup should consider.
1. Shoeboxed: Shoeboxed is one of our favorites. This is a ‘set it and forget it’ way to keep all your paperwork and receipts organized in one secure online folder. If you are a small businessperson working out of your home, you are probably aware that there are many ways you can reduce your tax burden. Small businesses filing a schedule C can deduct home office expenses, business-related travel, lodging, meals, etc.
The challenge is keeping all those receipts in one place and organizing them so they make sense in the event that Uncle Sam ever wants to check up on you. Shoeboxed solves this problem. All you have to do is mail your stray documents using their secure postage-paid envelopes or you can take a photo of your receipts on your smartphone and send it to them electronically. They will organize everything for you (per your preferences) in a secure folder that you can access online. Your folder is also built to be compatible with top accounting software programs such as Quickbooks.
Shoeboxed has several monthly plans to accommodate small to medium sized businesses. They have a ‘forever free’ option that gives you up to 5 document scans per month – good for those just starting out. For $9.95, you can get 50 scans per month. $29.95 gets you 150 scans per month, and $49.95 gets you up to 500 scans per month. Most startups can get by on the $9.95 plan – a very minimal cost to maximize your tax deductions and keep your office organized and without all those paper receipts lying around. And if you’re not sure Shoeboxed will work for you, they offer a free 30 day trial for you to check it out.
2. Sprout Social & HootSuite
Let’s talk about social media. You know you need to be on it. In fact, you know you need a strong social presence to build your brand online. But the challenge is there are so many social platforms out there, and there are several you should be using to effectively promote your business. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google Plus are all platforms you should have a presence on. But how do you keep all this stuff organized without wasting half your day logging into and out of various accounts? Sprout Social solves this problem, with a tool that allows you to manage all your social accounts in one place. After a 30 day free tial, prices start at $39 per month to manage up to 10 profiles, which should be plenty for any small business startup.
HootSuite is another social media management tool. It is similar to Sprout Social, just without as many ’bells and wistles’. But you are able to access and manage all your major social media accounts from one place, and for small businesses on a budget, the cost of entry with HootSuite is significantly lower. HootSuite’s free option is a basic plan that lets you manage up to 5 social profiles and gives you basic analytics reports. The pro plan (good for most small to medium sized businesses) is $8.99 per month for up to 50 social profiles and enhanced analytics.
One thing to be aware of with HootSuite -- they only give you one free analytics report a month on the pro plan. Additional reports cost $50. For businesses that want multiple monthly reports covering Google, Facebook, and others, this could become rather expensive. If you think you will want more detailed reporting, then Sprout Social may be the better choice.
3. Marbles The Brain Store: Okay, brain training may not seem like a small business productivity tool at first glance, but we all know that running a business requires keeping track of a hundred things at once, and making sure everything runs smoothly. Time invested in brain exercises keeps us functioning at optimal levels, allowing us to out hustle our competitors in today’s competitive marketplace. Marbles The Brain Store has a comprehensive suite of brain enhancement tools covering several areas, such as critical thinking, memory, coordination, visual perception, and word skills.
4. eLance: This is a big one – how do you find the most qualified employees at the best rates to keep your business both productive and competitive? Here’s a hint – it doesn’t happen by placing an ad in your local newspaper. These days, we go to outsourcing websites where we can find great talent in numerous skillsets from areas throughout the world. It is a global marketplace, and there is also a global workforce ready to help you build your business.
One of the top outsourcing websites is eLance. eLance is known for having quality talent, particularly in areas such as technology, content production (writing and video), customer sales & support, virtual assistants, and many others. And one of the big advantages to hiring subcontractors is you can often pay by the project, and there is no need to deal with the mountain of paperwork involved with having employees. BTW – eLance is one of the best outsourcing websites out there, but not the only one. There are numerous eLance alternatives that also have quality talent available for your business.
5. YouSendIt or Dropbox: When you’re working with subcontractors from every corner of the globe, it is inevitable that you will need an efficient way to collaborate and share files. With YouSendIt, you can send, receive and share virtually any piece of electronic data, from small Word documents up to 2GB video files. The free plan gives you up to 50MB file transfers and 2GB of storage – great for startups or businesses that don’t do a lot with photos or video. For $9.99 per month, you can transfer 2GB files and have up to 5GB of storage. For just $15.99 per month, you can make your storage capacity unlimited.
Dropbox is another storage alternative that allows you to store and share files. It’s also a great way to keep files up to date across multiple devices and stay in sync with your team.
6. Evernote: It took me a while to learn how to effectively use Evernote and the learning curve was worth it. It helps me storage information, collect data, organize projects, keep track of my todo list, share notes and so much more. These two blog posts by simplifilm and 47hats do a great job of showcasing how useful it can be for your business.
7. GoToMyPC: GoToMyPC is just like it sounds; this service allows you to access your PC remotely from any Web connection anywhere in the world. So for example, if you are at an Internet cafe in Manila, you can access GoToMyPC and see a real-time image of your computer screen back home. This allows you to work with all the files inside your computer, alter documents, send emails, print out documents, as if you were right there on your own computer. GoToMyPC also has a 30 day free trial, and if you decide to keep it, monthly rates start at $9.95 per month for one computer, and increase by $9.95 for each additional computer you have on the plan.
8. RingCentral: In the old days (like as recently as the late 1990s), when you wanted to start a business, you needed to call up the local phone company and decide how many lines you needed, what calling features you wanted, voicemail boxes, long distance plans, etc. Then you would wait a few weeks for the phone tech to come out and install an endless maze of wires into your office. Once completed, you would pray that everything worked properly. And when you added (or subtracted) an employee, you needed to call the phone company to come out and rewire everything to accommodate the change.
Today, all this can be done in the cloud, and at a fraction of the cost of the old cable and pair lines the phone company used to install. RingCentral is on the leading edge of the communication revolution. They are one of the most cost effective options available to set up and manage your entire phone system. The big benefit is that your phone system is customizable to the specifics of your business and can be reconfigured within minutes as the needs of your business changes. RingCentral plans start as low as $19.99 per month. Coupled with an affordable 24/7 business phone answering service, you should have everything you need to communicate effectively with employees, clients and customers.
eVoice is another alternative phone system that automatically answers every call with a professional greeting and routes them to your office, cell phone, home—or any number, so you'll never miss a call. In addition, eVoice provides the added conveinance of sending your voicemail to email, transcribes your voice messages, screens your calls and allows you to work from anywhere. Plans range from $9.95 to $29.95 a month with the benefit of signing up without a contract, paying month to month and it doesn't charge cancellation fees.
9. eFax: eFax is a tool that eliminates the need for a fax machine and a dedicated line for faxing. For brand new startups, you can have a dedicated fax number completely free – so when anyone faxes you a document, it will be sent directly to your email as an attachment that you open up, print out, and/or save in a document folder. There is a catch to this free option, however. You do not get to choose the area code for your dedicated fax line, so it is highly likely you will get one that does not match your home area code. These days, this is not much of an issue since most everyone has free domestic long distance.
eFax has 2 paid plans – eFax Plus for $16.95 per month with a local or toll free number and 150 inbound & 150 outbound faxes a month, or eFax Pro for $19.95 per month and 200 inbound & outbound monthly faxes. RapidFAX is an up and coming competitor to eFax offering 300 total inbound and outbound faxes for just $9.95 per month. This service is worth looking into as well.
RingCentral also has a fax service starting from $7.99 a month. They are running a 25% off promotion for the first six months.
10. Quickbooks: A small business productivity tool list would not be complete without a good business accounting software. We like Quickbooks, because it is chock full of integration features that allow you to do all your financial transactions from one platform. You can do bookkeeping, payroll, invoicing/billing, inventory management, and much more – all tailored around your specific business or industry. After a free 30 day trial, monthly plans start at $12.95, with the ability to upgrade to the $26.95 & $39.95 plans as your business grows.
There you have it. Ten tools to help you jumpstart your business. Are you using other ones we haven't mentioned? Let us know in the comments.