Productivity Tools Every Business Should Use
Launching your own small business comes with a lot of startup costs. You may not consider productivity tools at the top of your list, but they’re extremely beneficial. Productivity tools like project management tools, CRM software, and scheduling can help your business run smoothly and save you some time and money.
Whether you’re a mortgage lender, a real estate agent, or are launching a totally new type of business, keeping projects and tasks organized can take a lot of time. Using productivity tools can improve workflows and communication across your organization. Learn more about how productivity software helps small business owners.
How do I identify the right tools for my business?
First, you’ll need to take a look at your current systems and processes to find areas that need improvement. Check for gaps in your current workflows and identify inefficiencies. Conducting a business review helps you learn more about what kind of productivity tool your small business could benefit from.
Your business process analysis should include these steps:
- Identify and define your goals for the analysis. What do you hope to gain with this analysis? If you’re interested in boosting business productivity, your goal may be to reduce paperwork, migrate a business process to a digital platform, reduce the time it takes to complete a business process, etc.
- Identify the process to be analyzed: Which process are you most concerned about? This may be the longest business process you have, or perhaps the one that’s most prone to mistakes.
- Collect information: Gather your team and get their input. They’ll have a close-up perspective on how things are going, and they may have ideas for solutions. You may do one-on-one interviews to ask their perspective or have them fill out an online survey to capture consistent feedback.
- Map out the process. Create a map of the process as it is today. This can be a drawing or a digital process made in a process-oriented tool like LucidChart. Google Slides can also be an effective and free tool for whiteboard your process.
- Analyze the process. Walk through the process and note where the current flow is creating inefficiency. If it’s not clear, you may want to add time stamps or durations for each step so you can understand what’s taking the longest. You may also consider walking through the workflow chart with participants in the room so they can narrate their process.
- Identify the potential for business process improvement. Identify where tooling can improve your flow and any process changes that can provide efficiency. Keep detailed notes about what is causing efficiency loss, why, and what type of solution would fit your use case. Think about who needs to have access to the tool, who needs to not have access to it, price point, etc.
Once you’ve done your analysis, start researching tools to fit your needs. It’s likely that a tool in this article can help bridge the gap. If that’s not the case, consider reaching out to tool providers that are specific to your industry. An industry-specific representative can help you understand how their tool can solve your problem instead of you having to find a tool that is capable of solving it.
Project management tools
As the owner of a small business, you’re probably juggling all sorts of appointments, deadlines, and projects. Project management tools help you and your team keep track of everything that’s going on so nothing slips through the cracks.
Different small businesses may have different requirements for project management software. For example, a mortgage lender should consider CRM tools, which help with customer relationship management.
Project management software
Project management software often allows members across the organization to comment, upload relevant files, and set deadlines. You can choose which teams have access to which projects, make tasks transferable to different teams, and more. Some of the most popular project management tools include:
- Microsoft Project
Many project management software programs feature tiered pricing. As your small business grows, it may be beneficial to invest in business tiers to increase storage for documents and data.
Scheduling and time management
Deadlines are obviously important when it comes to time management. Project management tools can also help you keep track of paid time off and project turnaround times.
Time management software works on a micro and macro level. You’ll be able to track hours worked each day, review monthly projects, and keep track of large-scale projects that may take up the quarter or the fiscal year.
Most project management tools allow you to schedule different milestones and due dates for tasks and projects. If one team is in charge of research, you can set a clear deadline for that team without changing the overall due date for the project.
Most project management tools we’ve covered will also have built-in time management capabilities. However, here are a few additional time management tools to consider:
- Calendly. A scheduling software that allows users to set up appointments, send reminders, and integrate with other tools such as Google Calendar.
- RescueTime. A time-tracking software that provides insights on how users spend their time on different activities throughout the day.
- TimeCamp. A time tracking and invoicing software that offers features such as project and task management, automatic time tracking, and productivity analysis.
Communication and collaboration tools
Although some project management software allows you to comment on projects or tasks, sometimes employees simply need to be able to have a quick conversation to clear things up. Investing in communication software can help streamline things internally. Some of the best options include:
- Slack. A team communication platform that allows real-time messaging, file sharing, and integrations with other apps.
- Microsoft Teams. A communication and collaboration platform that integrates with Microsoft Office Suite and allows real-time chat, video conferencing, file sharing, and collaboration on documents.
- Confluence. A team collaboration tool that allows users to create, share, and collaborate on documents, wikis, and knowledge bases.
With more people working from home, there are plenty of options to improve internal communication across your small business.
After the pandemic started in 2020, video conferencing increased by 500%. While that number has dipped as businesses reopened and more people returned to the office, video calls are still incredibly popular.
Video conferencing tools let remote team members participate in meetings and collaborate without commuting to an office. Save on travel expenses by holding a video conference rather than renting a conference room at a hotel. Great video conferencing tools include Zoom and Microsoft teams.
Video conferencing also improves work-life balance. You and your employees can meet from practically anywhere. You can also schedule customer calls, which might be more convenient for your clients since they don’t have to worry about leaving their workday to meet you in person.
File sharing and collaboration
Some project management tools let you attach files and documents to a task or project. However, it can be unreliable if you and your employees have to download and re-upload the same file multiple times.
Tools like Google Drive or Dropbox allow members across your organization to share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in one convenient place. Team members are also able to collaborate across these files. For instance, Google Drive lets you leave comments on spreadsheets or docs if something needs to be changed.
By storing everything in one easily accessible place, you’ll also reduce confusion. If there are multiple versions of the same presentation floating around in your inbox, it may not be clear which one is the most recent. File-sharing programs keep everything organized for you and your team. Great file sharing and collaboration tools include:
- Google Drive. A cloud-based storage platform that allows users to create, store, and share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
- Dropbox. A cloud-based storage platform that allows users to store and share files and folders with others.
Customer relationship management includes any practices, strategies, and technology tools that help you manage and analyze customer interactions. CRM helps you improve customer service and retention while driving sales growth.
CRM systems store important customer data, such as contact information, purchase history, and noticeable customer service interactions. You can use that information to personalize any marketing and sales efforts.
Creating a tailored experience for your clients helps build strong relationships. By having a strong relationship with your customer base, you’ll improve long-term revenue. Mortgage lenders and real estate agents may especially benefit from word of mouth. If your customer base likes you, they’ll be more likely to recommend you to other homebuyers.
CRM can help small businesses spot areas for improvement. By strengthening your customer service and support, you’ll be ahead of the competition. Without effective CRM, small businesses may struggle to succeed.
CRM software takes the busywork out of customer relationship management. This software organizes customer data, tracks interactions, and automates marketing and sales.
For example, as a mortgage lender, if you do a pre-approval for prospective homebuyers, your CRM software files their information as a sales lead and automatically signs them up for marketing emails. This software lets you convert leads into clients without you or your employees having to spend extra time on the phone.
By saving extra time, CRM software gives you and your employees the opportunity to be more productive. Investing in CRM software lets you automate some of the more tedious data entry that comes with keeping track of a growing client base.
There are different types of CRM software. Some are geared toward general purposes, while others are industry-specific. If you are part of a niche industry, consider looking for a CRM built for your purposes. More general-purpose CRM options include:
- Salesforce. A cloud-based CRM platform used to manage sales, marketing, and customer support processes.
- HubSpot. Another cloud-based CRM known for its ease of use, integration with HubSpot’s marketing tools, and free version for small businesses.
- Zoho CRM. Also cloud-based, Zoho offers a suite of tools including lead management, sales pipeline management, and marketing automation.
Don’t worry – this software won’t replace sales reps. The purpose of sales automation software is to free up your rep’s time so they can spend more of their day building relationships and interacting directly with customers.
From lead generation and qualification to proposal creation and closing deals, sales automation tools help streamline the process so the sales team can work more efficiently.
Sales automation software can automatically record customer information when they fill out a form on your website, flagging them as a lead. It can also log activity so sales reps know when a lead was last called or emailed. Data entry, communication, and research can also be automated through sales automation software.
In general, a sales CRM will also provide sales automation features. If you’re shopping for a CRM, ask about what automation functionality the platform offers. Some key features include:
- Email automation. Automates email communication with customers and prospects, including drip campaigns, follow-up emails, and personalized messaging.
- Sales reporting and analytics. Provides real-time insights into sales performance, allowing sales teams to track progress, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions.
- Sales process automation. Automates repetitive tasks and workflows, such as lead routing, data entry, and task assignment, freeing up sales reps to focus on higher-value activities.
- Pipeline management. Provides a visual representation of the sales pipeline, allowing sales reps to prioritize leads, track progress, and forecast revenue.
From email marketing to social media management, marketing automation programs make a variety of ad campaigns more efficient and personalized to your client base. Schedule social media posts, email blasts, and more to nurture your client base.
Automated marketing strategies are deployed across the customer lifecycle. Older clients may not need the same information as prospects or new customers. They might even need less frequent messaging. Marketing automation puts that data to work so your client base receives the campaign that’ll most likely interest them.
By automating your marketing strategies, you’re actually providing more targeted, personalized messaging, which can ultimately increase customer engagement and conversion rates.
Before purchasing sales automation software, check to see if your CRM or other tools provide automation services. Some great marketing automation tools include:
- Marketo. A comprehensive marketing automation platform that includes lead scoring, email marketing, and analytics.
- Pardot. A marketing automation platform that offers features such as email marketing, lead nurturing, and lead scoring.
- Eloqua. A marketing automation platform that includes features such as lead scoring, email marketing, and analytics.
Customer service and support
You try to be available for your clients as much as you can, but everyone deserves a good work-life balance. Customer service automation tools manage and resolve customer inquiries, issues, and complaints. These technology tools give you a centralized system for tracking and responding to customer questions. You’ll be able to track response times, reduce errors, and improve customer satisfaction.
For example, chatbots might be a good option for your website. They can answer frequently asked questions at any time of day. If the customer requires further assistance, the chatbot is able to redirect them to a representative. Meanwhile, the rep will have the transcript of the previous conversation readily available, letting them assist the customer faster without your client having to repeat themselves. Some great customer service tools include:
- Zendesk. This platform offers a range of customer service tools, including ticketing systems, chatbots, and knowledge management tools.
- Freshdesk. This software allows businesses to streamline their customer support operations, with features like ticketing management, collaboration tools, and automation capabilities.
- Help Scout. This tool offers shared inbox features, automated workflows, and reporting features, among others.
In general, this can be a win-win for your business and your clients. You’ll spend less time answering the same question over and over again, but your client still gets the important information they need – and a live representative when required.
Analytics and reporting
While marketing automation helps you reach out to your customers, analytics and reporting let you know how well that marketing is working. These tools give small business owners important insights into customer behaviors, preferences, and trends.
By implementing analytics and reporting tools, you’ll be able to make data-driven decisions for your team. These tools show you areas for improvement in your customer service or sales force and measure the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and customer relations strategies.
Accounting and finance tools
If you’re not able to hire an accountant or bookkeeper quite yet, it doesn’t make sense for you to waste your time managing the books. Accounting and finance tools automate much of the tedious admin work that comes with tracking sales or running payroll.
Accounting software like QuickBooks or Xero takes the stress out of invoicing, expense tracking, and financial reporting. You can rest assured that your numbers are accurate, which they might not be if you or another over-extended employee is left in charge.
Quickbooks is free to use. Depending on the size of your organization, this could be a great place to start. Research different accounting software programs to find the one that works best for your small business.
Accounting software improves accuracy and efficiency. Like the other technology tools discussed here, this software frees up your time for client-facing activities and improves net profits.
Payroll management tools, like ADP or Gusto, help improve payroll processing. These programs automatically help with time tracking, tax calculations, and distributing employee payments. By getting everyone enrolled in one automated system, you’ll save time and your employees won’t have to wonder what’s going on with their paycheck.
Budgeting and forecasting
Plan and track your financing with budgeting and forecasting software. Create detailed budgets, predict future revenue and expenses, and keep track of actual performance, all in one centralized location.
Create future budgets using past empirical data. Collaborate to create budgets across multiple departments, and keep all relevant data organized. This software provides faster insights into earnings and expenses, making for more accurate forecasts and budgets.
Expensify and Concur are just two expense management tools available on the market. These tools help businesses track employee expenses. By using this tracking software, you’ll have a streamlined process for your employees to record and manage their business expenses.
Investing in expense management tools can help reduce the risk of fraud and errors. They give you a clearly outlined place for employees to track and categorize expenses. Having this system in place encourages compliance with your company policies.
Data management and cybersecurity tools
It’s important to protect your data, especially if you’re working with remote employees. You’ll need a secure place to store and analyze your data. As a small business owner, these are some of the most important tools to invest in. While not all small businesses have big data needs, those that do often leverage software like Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle Database, and MongoDB for their data needs. It’s a good idea to speak to internal data and security experts or reach out to a consultant if you’re not sure what you need.
Business intelligence tools help you make data-driven decisions. The software provides real-time insights into key performance metrics like sales, revenue, and customer satisfaction. This is useful information for you and your employees.
Business intelligence programs provide these insights automatically, saving you time on research and analysis. The ultimate goal of this program is to improve performance, retention, and revenue.
You’ll need a reliable storage solution for your records. Cloud storage keeps track of your data, which includes anything from customer information to employee records. It’s especially beneficial for remote workers who might have limited storage on their laptops. Besides, you don’t want company information split across your team’s individual desktops.
You likely use Google Drive or Dropbox for your own personal file storage. These companies offer business programs to keep your data organized, and cloud security helps protect your data from potential threats.
Balancing cybersecurity and productivity
Implementing strict cybersecurity measures can hinder productivity. It’s important to find the right balance for your employees. Educate your employees on best practices. If they’re able to see a potential threat - like a phishing email - and respond correctly, that’s incredibly valuable.
Make sure their work processes are streamlined. Excessive security protocols, like multiple logins or too-frequent password changes, could slow down their work. It’s best practice to update your passwords on occasion, but if you have a policy that requires employees to update them too often, it’ll be easy for them to get mixed up and potentially locked out of a program.
For smaller businesses, HR tools can take care of many of the tasks you’d rely on the HR department to do. Startups may not have the budget for a full department, so using these tools for scheduling, tracking time, and storing important documents is a great option.
Keep all W2s, emergency contact forms, and other employee records in one organized place. HR software can even automate basic employee training, freeing up your time for more specialized training later.
The right HR technology can also automate certain parts of recruiting. Post job descriptions to different websites all at once. Some software may pick out the top resumes for open positions, screening the best candidates for you to interview.
Investing in productivity tools is a smart move for any small business owner, especially if you’re customer-facing. Mortgage lenders and real estate agents can free up their valuable time by automating CRM, accounting, marketing, and more. You started your small business because you were passionate about your idea. Spend your time on the parts of your business that excite you the most and let automated productivity tools take care of the rest.