No matter how good you get at prioritizing and juggling your to-do lists, there are still times when you’d like to make your most tedious business tasks disappear. You know the ones: data collection, data entry, appointment scheduling, managing your inbox and so on. These tasks drain your energy but they need to be done, and done well, to assure your small business’ success.
If these problems sound familiar, you’re in luck. There are tools that can make your most tedious business tasks disappear, or at least take up much less of your time. There are three basic principles at play here, each of which helps to reduce the time you spend on your most tedious tasks: automation, single point of entry and customer/employee self-service. All are addressed by the tools listed below.
Small Business Dashboard Tools
Getting a detailed look at your business’ vital signs can be one of your most tedious tasks. First you would have to gather the data you need by visiting lots of sources both online and off. Then you would need to mash all that data together correctly before you could produce and view meaningful reports.
The tools in this section save you from both of those steps. They gather your business data automatically, merge the data from all your sources into one solid whole and then present very useful, easy-to-understand reports on a dashboard. What a time saver!
One of the most versatile dashboards for the price, Klipfolio can automatically collect data from over 900 sources. You can even upload data manually. Klipfolio then mashes that data together any way you’d like, even if it comes from multiple sources. Then it presents the data, as you can see below, in a useful dashboard on your desktop or mobile device.
Throw in the ability to set thresholds and indicator graphics (e.g. red exclamation point when bad thresholds are passed) and you can see the potential benefits.
Another robust dashboard tool, DashThis can pull data from many sources. But what really stands out is that the tool offers an additional service. It creates a connection to any source not yet included. So this could help you find additional data you may have missed.
Numerics is an iOS-device-only app which can pull data in automatically from many of the most popular online solutions including Google Analytics, PayPal, Zendesk and WordPress. The result is an at-a-glance, drag-and-drop dashboard where each panel can be touched to dig deeper into any one area. See the image below.
One nice feature: you can connect via Airplay or HDMI to display your dashboard on a big screen.
Small Business Automation Tools
Automation rules the roost when it comes to cutting down the time spent on tedious business tasks. These tools take all the small, daily (often many times daily) tasks off your plate. Thus, they free you to work on more profitable to-dos.
Zapier enables you to trigger an action in one app when something happens in another. Here’s an example of a command you might enter: “When someone signs up for my newsletter, create an entry for them in my customer relationship management system.” How much time would that save you in one day? Here’s another: “Add Twitter users to a Google Drive spreadsheet when they favorite one of my tweets”? You get the idea. This is a handy way to gather warm leads.
With hooks to over 200 web apps, the possibilities are huge.
If This Then That (IFTT)
If This Then That (IFTT) is very similar to Zapier except it’s free. True you’re currently limited to 145 “Recipes”, IFTT’s term for a “do this when this happens” connection. Even so, the possibilities seem endless here as well. IFTT even offers the ability to take an action based on your Android or iPhone’s possible location – imagine getting an SMS message when you’re near a client’s office that reminds you to stop by and say, “Hi!”
Even better, you can use recipes that were already created by other IFTT users, a true jump start on getting the most out of this tool.
The final automation tool listed here is Oasis Workflow, a WordPress plugin that enables you to create a content approval process with steps. The process includes conditionals (if approved do this, if not approved do that) and roles (writers, approvers) with specific players ( for example, actual staff).
Oasis Workflow appears to be an incredible time saver for two reasons. First, you don’t have to remember to send an e-mail or text to alert the next person in the process that it’s time for them to act. The plugin handles this for you. Second, you don’t need to search through messages to know exactly what stage each piece of content is currently in. So this could be a handy tool for content managers.
Small Business E-Mail Tools
Thanks to the flood of emails you receive each day, managing your inbox has become a relentless, every-day, all-day task. The tools in this section could help you cut down the time you spend on this tedious task while assuring that you don’t miss important messages.
ActiveInbox turns your Gmail inbox into a to-do list on steroids. With just a few clicks of a button, you can sort your emails into groups such as “Do Today”, “Waiting On”, “Actions to Take” and more. This helps you work through your email quickly and usefully so important messages float to top and stay on your radar while less important messages end up in a bucket for you to deal with when you can get around to them.
There are two other nice features here. One is the ability to schedule emails to be sent at a future date and time. Another is the the addition of “Project” folders that enable you to group emails and tasks by common goals.
Mailstrom uses artificial intelligence to scan email headers (but never the contents.) It then sorts each message into bundles that you can handle as a group. Unlike ActiveInbox, Mailstrom can be used with any email system including Gmail, AOL, Outlook and Apple.
There is also an unsubscribe feature that removes your email from mailing lists you want to leave.
Small Business Appointment Booking Tools
How many times has it taken longer for you to schedule an appointment then the actual event will last? These tools remove that frustration by introducing “self-service,” a way for customers to schedule appointments during slots you’ve marked as available. The process eliminates constant interruptions so you can focus on providing exceptional service.
MINDBODY is an appointment-booking tool that offers some truly useful features. Not only can clients use your website to schedule appointments, they can also use a Facebook widget shown below. They can also schedule using their mobile devices. There is even a free app for your clients to use.
One interesting feature is the “waitlist” that allows clients to sign up for a time slot that’s already been taken. The feature then moves them into place and notifies them if the previous client cancels. There are also a variety of reporting, client login and marketing features that come with this tool you may want to have a look at.
If you’re seeking a tool to create scheduling for clients, co-workers and meeting spaces, you may want to consider ScheduleOnce. Clients can use this tool to schedule appointments and coworkers can use it to find a good time for a meeting (a very tedious business task, as every small business owner knows!) But you can also reserve meeting rooms and even schedule someone else if granted permission. So this appears to be a very versatile tool, to say the least.
Small Business Employee Scheduling Tools
If you run a small business where employees work shifts (for example, retail businesses, restaurants and other service businesses) you may want to have a look at Findmyshift. First, you can set up a schedule for your employees that’s accessible anytime, anywhere on any device. Second, you can enable your employees to claim their own time slots and manage changes and swaps on their own based on their permissions.
The tool also features drag-and-drop scheduling, different roles and permissions, automatic shift reminder notifications and time sheets, so business owners who manage employees with strict time schedules may want to have a look.
Small Business Data Gathering and Organization Tools
If your business uses lots of forms, checklists and other data collection methods, then this is the section for you. These tools eliminate the dreaded double data entry task. This is when you re-enter what’s written on a piece of paper into your digital systems. It’s a tedious task that wastes time and is prone to error. So here are some tools that can eliminate it.
Canvas takes your forms and turns them into mobile apps that can be used anywhere to capture text, images, and even signatures. Once a form is filled-in, the data can be synched with your business systems, eliminating double entry.
But what may impress business owners even more is the Canvas application store where thousands of apps that add both forms and functionality to this tool are available. If you can’t find what you need, Canvas also allows you to create your own apps too.
FileThis acts like a super-efficient personal assistant, securely fetching all your online statements, bills and other documents from companies like American Express, Chase, PayPal and Amazon without you having to log in to their sites individually.
Once deposited in an online spot of your choice such as Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive, your data is sorted, clearly named and converted to a PDF file. Using FileThis online or on your mobile device, you can then search through your data by name, date, keyword and tag.
There may have been a time when tedious tasks in your business were inevitable. But before you accept that this is still true, be sure to check some of the tools in this list. Technology can eliminate time-wasting tasks from your business, giving you more time to create a better product or service and serve your customers better.
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