Essential Business Tools for a Small Business
I was less than five minutes away from finishing the mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving and my hand mixer started smoking. This mixer has been there for me for the past two decades. Yet, as it started to smoke, I was not reminiscing. I was panicking. We needed to be at my mother-in-law’s house in 45 minutes… if the mixer, my essential tool for that particular meal died, what was my Plan B?
The good news is that the mixer survived long enough to do its job and Thanksgiving was not impacted. However, the potential fail experience with the mixer gave me perspective about the essential business tools that we rely on every day at Lodestone Logic. If we did not have them, I can guarantee that we would be panicking.
Google provides a suite of business and efficiency tools for companies. The free version that we use is for a small company of <10 users. I am sure that we are not tapping the full potential of this tool, but the most important elements is that we all have emails with the @lodestonelogic.com domain and can share a company calendar. It’s free up to 10 seats/users. We are also using Google Analytics and Google Insights to support our website management and development.
(UPDATE: Google Apps sent an email the week after this blog was posted that this service would only be available for a per seat charge. Sorry entrepreneurs and start-ups!)
This allows for time tracking of individual tasks by team member, project, and client. We tried to do all of this in Excel and it wasn’t pretty or sustainable long term. The free version of Toggl allows for up to 5 accounts, but limits functionality regarding tracking and calculating costs per project. It has web and mobile interfaces and is able to use Google permissions for account authentication/use purposes.
No more emailing of documents and being out of sync with the one-true-current version. DropBox is an awesome “cloud-based” tool for document sharing between team members and clients. A user can get up to 2GB of storage space for no cost; even though Google Docs offers more storage space, we found that it’s extremely painful to create, share, update MS Office docs and wouldn’t recommend it. DropBox syncs with PC/Mac file management systems so that documents automatically save locally so they are accessible offline and have archived versions available in DB if there’s issues. The one downside is that DB does not notify the user if/when someone else is working in a document; this has created several instances of having to do re-work because team members saved over each other’s work and the last person out of the document is the only version that DB recognizes.
This is a major efficiency tool for our email campaigns and communications. It allows us to upload our contact lists and segregate them into specific campaign groups. We are able to efficiently target our email communications to individuals for whom the information is most relevant. In addition, we also take advantage of their email templates to design our communications to match our company or our client’s branding. The only downside is that the free version of MailChimp forces their branding on the footer of the email template; we pay for the upgrade. Their intuitive social media tools allow us to seamlessly integrate our email campaigns into social media tactics.
The Lodestone Logic team has differences of opinions on these Twitter tools, but we all realize that both improve our overall ability to tweet and monitor the Twittersphere. TweetDeck and Hootsuite are free and allow users to integrate company and personal social media accounts; which could be dangerous if the user tweets to the wrong account. We probably do not leverage either of these tools to their fullest extent, but from the preference standpoint, TweetDeck is better for tracking multiple threads of key words and hashtags at the same time. Hootsuite allows us to schedule and time tweets.
From a small business perspective, time is money. So, identifying and leveraging essential technology and tools that will drive for efficiency and productivity does matter. We would highly recommend all of the ones that we have highlighted in this blog post. If you want more information about our experiences or if you know of tools that we should consider, please comment on the post or send us an email to email@example.com.