You run a small business. That means you’re wearing far too many hats during the day to be inefficient. You need to be able to switch from accountant to project manager to CEO as seamlessly as possible and you need to set yourself up with the tools that can best help you do that.
Unfortunately, most small business owners don’t have the time to shop around for the best solution. They just need to know what works. Below are several tools that we use at Outspoken Media, my recently formed small business, to help make sense of our day. Each tool was recommended to us by other small business owners through word of mouth, their own blog posts or Twitter. Of course, if you have something you absolutely love, please leave it in the comments!
I know, it sounds funny, but this is as great desktop task management application for those of you who are (sadly) Mac dependent. It allows you to schedule tasks and projects, assign tags and people, and most importantly, attach files to a task by simply dragging and dropping an email, text document, spreadsheet, etc. Things syncs with iCal and the iPhone. This is a one-time purchase and you can add-on other users within your household, so it really is a personal task management solution.
Remember The Milk
If you’re not using a Mac (and God bless you), then I very much recommend Remember the Milk as your task management tool of choice. RTM is similar to the Mac’s Things, allowing you to schedule tasks or projects and then assign people, tags, locations, notes and a priority to them. One feature I like is that you can designate other RTM users as contacts to make it easy to set up groups, share to-do items, etc, which means its great for group collaboration. And if you sometimes forget what you put on your To Do list, they’ll notify you via iCal, GTalk, AIM, MSN, Yahoo IM, Skype, email, RSS, Twitter, text message and probably even carrier pigeon if you asked nicely. If you opt for the $25/year PRO account, you’ll also be able to synch RTM with your Blackberry or iPhone.
One of the leading project management solutions, Basecamp is a Web-based app for small business owners. We use it to keep track of internal projects, assign tasks to contractors, share files and track time. They have a monthly fee that varies depending on how many projects, the amount storage and level of security you need. Most importantly, it has an API that integrates with a number of other small business management tools.
This is a new addition for me, but it’s quickly become invaluable. RescueTime is a time tracking solution that you can use simply to monitor your own time or everyone in the company. When you see how much time you’ve wasted in a particular area, your productivity will likely climb purely from the shame of it. The best part of RescueTime is that it’s free, incredibly versatile (you can choose to ignore certain sites or only track certain hours of the day), captures absolutely everything and has a number of widgets and hacks that make it even more robust. For a minimal monthly fee you can track specific documents, not just program usage and get enhanced filtering options.
If you need a quick and easy way to do online invoicing and expense tracking, Freshbooks is the best Web-based app for the job. They don’t do full-scale accounting, but if you’re a small business or contractor, you can keep track of your contacts, estimates, invoices, expenses and time. You can also customize the design of your documents and send them to your contacts directly from the site. Similar to Basecamp, Freshbooks integrates with a number of other apps, mostly accounting apps, which makes your life easier. It also offers a sliding monthly fee based on the number of clients and users.
If you need user-friendly small business accounting software, Less Accounting is one of the more robust solutions. A secure Web-based app, you can import contacts and bank accounts, track your mileage, track business expenses and share access with your accountant for simple tax preparation.
No, really. Working a smart phone into your life will make you and your business far more efficient. If it feels like an invasion into your daily life, I understand. Still, get one. The ability to quickly respond to emails, keep track of your tasks, communicate with employees via chat services and more makes it the most used tool in our small business. We couldn’t function at the level we do without it. Whether you prefer the Blackberry, iPhone or another solution, there’s a plan and a phone that fits your needs. Not that you asked but we’re Team Blackberry.