If you're thinking of starting a business, or improving an existing one, you're going to need the right tools for the job. In this post we look at 10 key online tools that can make your workflow more efficient and your business more profitable.
1. Email and cloud storage: Google Apps
Before you can do anything remotely exciting in your business, you’re going to need some apps that can take care of the boring (but very important) things: a reliable email account and file storage. Google Apps is increasingly the industry standard solution for both - and by using it you'll also get a suite of other tools including cloud-based calendars, a word processor and spreadsheets. Get a free trial of Google Apps here.
2. An online store: Shopify
If you’re selling products online, you’re going to need a platform you can use to to build an online store. That’s where Shopify comes in – you can use it to create a beautiful online store and manage your inventory really easily. (Alternatives? Bigcommerce is well worth a look too; and if you’re more interested in a site that showcases a portfolio, you might want to check out Squarespace. If you’ve got an existing website that you’d simply like to add e-commerce to, try Ecwid.)
3. A database - Capsule CRM
Relying on an Excel spreadsheet to store your company data is, well, a bit 1990s and severely limits what you can do with your data. As an alternative you can use a more sophisticated client relationship management (CRM) tool like Capsule to identify leads and manage clients, and your business will not only run more smoothly, but have the potential to be more profitable too.
4. A cloud-based accounting app - Xero
As with databases, don’t use Excel for your accounts – try a cloud-based solution like Xero instead, which talks to your bank account, allows you to raise invoices and produces fancy reports at the click of a button. And crucially, it can make preparing a tax return significantly easier. There's a 30 day free trial for Xero available here.
5. A mailing list - Getresponse
If you’ve got a large mailing list, or want to build one, you’ll need an e-marketing application. Tools like Getresponse allow you to capture email addresses, host a large mailing list online, send beautiful HTML e-newsletters and track results easily.
6. A notebook - Evernote
There are a plethora of notekeeping apps out there to choose from – but Evernote’s got to be one of the best. It allows you to place text, images, files and research all in one digital workspace which you can then share with friends, colleagues and family. You can access Evernote across all your devices, meaning your notes are always with you.
7. A to-do list - Todoist
Todoist is a simple but effective app for managing, as the name suggests, your to-do list. It works across devices and is available as Chrome extension too, meaning your uncompleted tasks are always following you around (perhaps I’m not selling this as well as I should). Nifty features include being able to turn emails into tasks and categorise tasks by project.
8. A decent Email client for your phone – Inky
Most email apps for mobile devices, even the best known like Gmail and Outlook, are rubbish – because they don’t let you sort or group mail. Thankfully, Inky is different – it allows you to do all manner of funky things with email; it’s available for both iOS and Android; and there’s a free version available. If you really like it, there's even a desktop version you can use as an alternative to email clients like Outlook, Mac Mail and Thunderbird.
9. A scanner - Scannable
Scannable is a must-have app for anybody who needs to scan or photocopy stuff. You just hover your phone above a document and it gets scanned quickly onto your device. You can then email it, save it to Evernote or plonk it in a cloud storage system like Dropbox or Google Drive.
10. A social media manager – Hootsuite
Most businesses end up struggling to manage several social media profiles at once. It can be tricky to keep on top of them all or analyse what’s working and what’s not across all your channels. This is where an all-in-one social media management tool like Hootsuite is invaluable. You can use it to manage all your social media accounts in one place; schedule messages across your profiles; measure your social media campaign performance and assign tasks to your team messages to ensure that all messages generated by your social media activity get answered.
Of course, these are only our suggestions - feel free to add your own below!