14 tools to power business productivity
Despite the exponential explosion in business apps available for just about every device and purpose, we seem to be busier than ever. So what if there was an even better way to get things done in your business?
We asked some small and medium business leaders what they and their teams really depend on in their businesses.
1. Apps to do things faster (and better) in your business
There’s a reason why more than 600,000 businesses can’t imagine life without Xero (from $US20/month) – it makes the essential tasks of bank reconciliations, invoicing and payroll a breeze and cuts bookkeeping time by up to 80 per cent, according to its evangelical customers.
And accountants are embracing it as well. “Our whole business depends on it!” Campbell King, Partner with Melbourne-based accounting firm mi-fi told us. “Working with our clients on live information makes collaborating to solve problems so much faster.”
Meanwhile, CoreLogic RP Data is a favourite for real estate professionals with access to real-time analytics and property data. “It gives us quick access to a property’s sales history and ownership, which helps with on the spot appraisals,” says Richard Young, CEO Caporn Young Estate Agents.
2. Apps for smarter project management
One of the biggest time-wasters in everyone’s business day is email. Responding to emails, tracking conversation threads, finding lost pieces of information you really need right now, which is why there are so many workflow management platforms that promise to take team communications, project files and task monitoring out of email and into instant updates.
The highly visual Trello (from $US8.33 per user/month on a business plan) is the number one pick according to our respondents. “I use Trello on a daily basis for personal and team workflow management,” says Paul Pun of accounting firm dobbyn + carafa. “It helps me prioritise tasks and keep track of the team’s workflow – and we have greater visibility of staff capacity as we can all see each other’s Trello boards.”
Trello also lets you upload files from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and Onedrive, and share access with clients for greater collaboration.
Basecamp (from $29/month) and Asana (free for teams under 15 people) are also popular for keeping teams on track. Uber, AirBnB and NASA all use Asana to make sure their new ideas come to life.
3. (More) apps to cut email in half…
Imagine an app that could make you less busy. That’s what Slack (free for small teams) offers – and according to Jane Oxley, President of legal software business Smokeball, it is transformational. “We have offices in Sydney and Chicago. As soon as we started using Slack it took on a life of its own, the magic is in its channels.”
As well as instant messaging, you can create feeds (channels) for different types of communication. Jane says the integration with Salesforce means people can be congratulated as soon as a deal is done, and it provides real-time digestible data to help her run the business.
“It’s cut my emails by almost half, which is hard to believe. Nearly all intra-office communication happens in Slack now. And I can keep an eye on everything, and notice any patterns developing.”
4. Apps to create exceptional customer experiences
Zendesk (from $5/user/month) promises to bring you closer to your customers – with one place for all your customer communications. That streamlines customer support and self-service, freeing teams up for more personal customer conversations.
King says Zendesk has become the cornerstone of mi-fi’s commitment to being a ‘next-generation accounting firm.’ “It gives us amazing insight into what is going on.”
5. Apps for seamless document management
The way we work may be changing, but we still need constant access to files and documents. Often, these need to be secure, signed, or leave an audit trail. That’s where the next generation of document systems can help.
Dropbox (from $A17/user/month) is still one of the most popular, which means it’s simple to share documents between teams, external partners and clients – and it’s great for large files, version control and user activity monitoring. “It gives me more efficient access to business documents from an device, instantly,” says Andrew Hewison of Hewison Private Wealth.
If you need to cut the time it takes to get contracts signed, look into Docusign (from $A10/month). UK-based Virtual Cabinet also promises to save time chasing client signatures and retrieving important files. And if you’re looking for a simple way to capture documents or images on the go, check out iScanner ($5.99 iOS) – it turns your iPhone or iPad into a portable scanner so you can sync PDFs or JPGs straight into Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive.
6. Apps to capture brilliant ideas
Inspiration strikes at inconvenient moments. So if you’re still depending on a trail of post it notes, you may find you remember more with some smart apps. Less time trying to remember what you were planning to do means more time to do it.
Try Evernote (basic subscription is free) as a way to store ideas, web clippings, research materials and more – and share notebooks with team members for project collaboration. OneNote (free), from Microsoft, keeps all your notes together across all devices and lets you clip things from the web or capture photos of documents (or whiteboard output). And if you’re just looking for a simple to do list, Wunderlist (free) is worth checking out.
What’s the next frontier in productivity?
While these apps are all amazing in themselves according to the business leaders we spoke with, there’s one thing that will make our lives just that much better – and that’s if they all worked seamlessly together.
Many do sync up with other useful bits of software, but if we could get it all automated from start to finish imagine how much easier it would be to focus on the task at hand. For example, automated time tracking, or projects managed from lead and scope to final invoice reconciliation. We’re pretty sure that’s just around the corner.
So here’s to a cloud and app-enabled future where we can do less or the everyday doing (and email chasing), and more of the high value thinking – while our smartphones, tablets and laptops do all the heavy lifting at work.