You’ve probably already tried some online tools to help you manage your business more efficiently. Here is a list of some favourites. Most of them are free or have a free trial option and most are based in the cloud.
The advantages are they can:
- save you time and money
- make you look more professional
- improve your customer experience
- be easier to use than you might think
Design and visuals
Posts that include an image on, for example, Facebook receive far more attention than those without. It is therefore useful to become quick, efficient and cost-effective at making great-looking images of the correct size.
Canva is an online graphic design tool that enables everyone to make beautiful designs. You can use it for free to make the correct-sized images for social media covers and posts. Upload your own photos and use Canva’s backgrounds, fonts and templates. Remember to choose colours and fonts that are in keeping with your brand.
If you’re interested in exploring some tools that can make Facebook easier to use, or provide additional functionality, here are some applications that are worth looking at.
Buffer allows you to schedule posts for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ from a single website. By scheduling posts up in advance, you can smooth out your workflow while still ensuring that your posts appear regularly on your social networks of choice, and that they appear at your preferred time. Buffer has a fairly comprehensive free plan that will suit most small and medium businesses as a starting point.
If you love the scheduling in Buffer, but wish you could also read posts and respond to comments from within a single service, then HootSuite is worth a look. Hootsuite provides similar scheduling functionality to Buffer, but also enables you to build dashboards that show you your news feed from Facebook, alongside content from other social networks. HootSuite supports Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, as well as a variety of other popular networks.
If you want to have a crack at getting your own website up and running using a cloud-based service, you’re currently spoiled for choice. There are lots of options springing up, many of which can create professional looking websites, including online store functionality, for a small recurring monthly or annual fee. There are a whole heap of options to choose from, but here are some market leaders to take a look at first. If you’re not sure which option is best for you, take advantage of the free trial periods that each product offers. There’s nothing quite like firsthand experience to help you make up your mind.
If you’re looking for a beautiful marketing website that looks slick and professional, then Squarespace is a good option to look into. The toolkit that Squarespace offer is easy to use and while they only have a small number of templates to choose from, changing a few photos can really quickly change the look and feel of the website and make it your own. If you need a large online store, or integration with your back-of-house stock management systems, then Squarespace may not be the best fit, but if you’re just looking to present your business in a favourable light and establish a strong, professional online presence, then give Squarespace a look.
If you’re looking for a basic website and ease of use is your main consideration, then Weebly might be worth a look. Weebly focuses on being easy to use, with a simple drag and drop interface. If you don’t have a lot of experience using computers, if you need to be able to teach your staff how to manage your website quickly, or if you’re part of a volunteer-based organisation where everyone needs to pull their weight and contribute to the website, Weebly can be a good choice, as it’s easy enough that most people will be able to pick up the basics in 30 minutes or less.
If you're looking for a website building tool that also includes the capacity for a big online store and integration with common back-of-house stock management systems, then Bigcommerce has some distinct advantages. It’s straightforward to build a website from a template, get your stock into the Bigcommerce back-end stock management system and start accepting sales. There’s also a free trial, so you can give it a look before you commit to paying for the service.
Shopify is a fantastic way to get a new online store up and running quickly. It's currently the market leader for cloud-based online store systems, with over 150,000 businesses using their platform right now and over $7b worth of sales on the books. If you’re looking for a reliable option with an established track record, then Shopify is definitely a platform to consider. Shopify also have a retail point of sale product, which can provide a seamless way to integrate stock management across your physical store and your online shop. If you’re not quite sure whether it’s the product for you, then take advantage of their free trial and give it a look first-hand before your commit.
Cheap calls and free video chat are features of these communication tools. They can help you build trust and do business with customers and colleagues.
You need to download the free Skype software before you can start, and then create a user account. When you are logged into Wi-Fi, all face-to-face chats are free. There are phone apps, too, so you are not necessarily locked to your computer. Users can share their screens and documents through Skype, which offers options for cheap phone calls as well.
Google Hangouts is similar to Skype, with a few additional features that might be useful. In particular, Google Hangouts supports up to ten participants at a time, which can be helpful if you’re trying to organise regular meetings of a group that is distributed geographically. You’ll need to sign up for a free Google account to use Hangouts.
Evernote is a tool that helps you organise your work. With it you can take notes, track tasks, and save things you find online. It automatically syncs Evernote information between your phone and computer. You can also share, collaborate, and discuss with colleagues without switching apps.
Document sharing & collaboration
Dropbox is used for sharing files between colleagues. Everything you keep in Dropbox is synced automatically to all your devices. It’s possible to share single documents or whole folders. It’s secure enough for everyday documents (and widely used), but perhaps not for critical information or documents affected by privacy legislation.
Google drive is a suite of online document editing tools, which includes cloud-based applications for preparing documents, working on spreadsheets, creating presentations and building online forms. While Google Drive isn’t as feature-rich as, for example, Microsoft Office, it does have many of the same basic tools and can be used for free from within your web browser. Google Drive also stores your files in the cloud, so you can easily access them from any Internet-connected computer, just by logging in to your Google account. However, the greatest advantage of using Google Drive is that it enables multiple people to edit the same documents simultaneously. By combining Google Drive with a video conferencing tool like Skype or Hangouts, you can collaborate effectively on documents and spreadsheets, even if your collaborators are distributed all over the world.
Cloud-based accounting tools have a number of advantages. If your accountant uses the same platform, they can log into your account and see your information in real time. This is useful if you call them with a question, or at tax-return time. You can store your tax invoices and expense receipts online, and there is no need to update your version of the software, which used to be costly. You can automate transaction tracking and there are add-ons for inventory, CRM and timesheets. You might want to involve your accountant in your selection.
The following all have 30-day free trials, a mobile phone app and a variety of plans that can be cancelled at any time.
If you don’t need a fully-fledged accounting tool, but are looking for something to help manage client information and make invoicing a little easier, FreshBooks might be worth a look. FreshBooks is a lightweight invoicing tool that can help reduce some of the hassles of sending invoices, tracking payments, accepting credit cards and maintaining a client database.
MYOB is proud to be a leading provider of business management solutions in New Zealand and Australia. From desktop software to cloud-based solutions, MYOB can fulfill your needs. With the right tools for your business, you’re free to focus on doing what you really love.
You can certainly take the hassle out of organising events and taking payments online with either Eventbrite or Meetup.
With Eventbrite you can create events and take registrations online, including payments. It's free for organisers to use if your tickets are free. If you're charging for ticket sales, Eventbrite charges a percentage and a per-ticket fee. Paperless tickets are possible through the Eventbrite phone app.
Meetup is an online social networking portal that facilitates face-to-face group meetings. It allows members to find and join interest groups by location, and the website helps them arrange a place and time to meet. There are monthly payment plans for group administrators.
Get paid on the go with mobile payment devices. Send invoices, log cash payments and send instant receipts. They work with point of sale systems and connect with mobile devices.
PayPal accepts MasterCard and Visa credit and debit cards, as well as PayPal payments. You buy the device then pay a percentage fee with each transaction, but there are no monthly fees. Link the device to your smart phone and accept card payments, send receipts, view your sales history, process refunds and view and withdraw your balance, all from your mobile.
Point of sale
Online point of sale tools use real-time stock level information to send alerts when stocks run low. They can integrate with accounting tools and e-commerce platforms.
The leading software at present is Vend, which is intuitive to use and applicable across all types of retail. If you’re looking for a system that can integrate your front-end and back-end systems for both retail point of sale in store, and your online store, then Vend might be worth a look. Vend also integrates with popular online store providers, so if you have an established online store, you might find that Vend can integrate with it natively, without any major changes to your existing website.
When it’s time to get some systematic customer feedback, SurveyMonkey is a tool well-worth using. It provides free surveys that can be customised, as well as a suite of paid back-end programs that include data analysis, sample selection, bias elimination, and data representation tools.
Spotify should get a mention on this list as a tool for enhancing your workplace with new tunes. It enables you to stream music to any device, search for and discover new music, follow artists and share your favourites. You can sign up for free or opt for the ad-free premium plan.