As a small business owner and parent, I’ve spent countless hours searching for and trialing a range of business tools and applications that could make my work and home life easier. Especially as we approach a brand new year, we’re all seeking a balance for life’s juggling act and if something can help streamline our tasks, organise our schedule or save us time, then they are more than valuable.
The Internet is overflowing with options and depending on the size of your business, your work requirements and your skillset, you may find yourself spending more time finding and getting used to an app, rather than actually using it. I have downloaded countless that I thought would be perfect but often times, they have a restricted number of users, their functionality is too simple for what we need or they are too complicated to get used to and use on a daily basis.
On top of that, many of them come with costs. From one-off fees to monthly stings, even the cheapest tools can end up costing hundreds of dollars over time and if they sit there unused, it’s money coming out of our pocket that we could use elsewhere.
The main benefits I look for in tools and applications:
– Usability: I want to download it, master it quickly and feel confident that my team will be able to use it with ease. I also want to be able to use it on my laptop and phone without any dramas.
– Productivity: They need to work for me. The point of an app or tool has to be that they are increasing productivity by freeing up time and energy for other things – if they don’t do this then they aren’t doing their job effectively.
– Growth: As my team grows, I want to increase users and capabilities within the app. If we have to replace or upgrade a tool or application when we exceed users, it can be both time-consuming and costly. I look for apps that can grow with us and won’t need to be replaced to increase their capability.
– Functionality: The more an app or tool is capable of doing, the less I have to rely on and the more efficient my workday can be. If a tool can sync with another one too, that’s an even bigger bonus! If it offers alerts and reminders, double bonus. The more, the merrier.
Whether you’re a startup, or an established company, the app revolution has certainly changed the way we operate. Where software once cost thousands of dollars and was labour intensive, we can now access free, downloadable and web-based apps that save us time, money, headaches and simplify our daily life.
I’ve put together a list of the top five FREE tools for you that I have used over the years – these are the ones that have been the most simple and effective for my systems and communication, that have saved me time and money, and that have been adaptable for our business. They may not be perfect for yours but hopefully they provide some insight into what’s available and a starting point to cross-reference with other apps and tools on the market and reduce some of the research time for you.
The five best FREE business apps/software that have helped our business grow.
This is my number one favourite free tool! It’s essentially a to-do list on steroids and these are the three ways we use it:
1. Daily to-do list/reminders: I use Asana to send quotes, review budgets, research new products on the market and organise meetings with clients etc.
2. Task delegation: With Asana, I can write a task that I’d like to get done, set a due date / time, and then allocate it to one of my team members. We can then communicate by leaving notes, asking questions or adding sub-tasks and it all stays in one place. When completed I get a simple notification that the task is finished.
3. Multiple users: I find Asana particularly helpful with larger projects that require multiple team members. For example, systems and procedures play a huge role at Clean Feeling, which we’re constantly creating, reviewing and implementing. We’ve created a ‘project’ for procedures where the team can request, add and discuss procedures they think are relevant. From here, we can delegate the task to a single person or team as required. But we all get to follow the progress and be part of the discussion.
A group communication app for both mobile and desktop (mac and windows) that our 30 team members have access to and use to communicate through ‘channels’. It has the ability to private message or post through a group channel with unlimited invitees. As an example, you can have a channel for client feedback, ideas and suggestions, training tips, safety reminders, share fantastic team feedback or congratulate a team member on a job well done. This platform encourages team members to communicate with each other through the shared channels, rather than through group text messages – particularly if your team works at different times or locations.
How many times have you remembered tasks in the middle of the night or while you’re out and about? Notes for Apple and Evernote for Android are a free option for tracking tasks on mobile or through the desktop app. Personally, I use notes for everything! From shopping lists, to business ideas, important points in podcasts, places I’d like to travel to, quick calculations and so forth. Another great aspect to this app is that you can link it to multiple devices; so you can set reminders (like milk and bread!) on your desktop at work, and then receive a reminder from your mobile app on your way home.
One of the more well known and common apps, I always fobbed Google Calendar off as a standard add-on to a Gmail account, but once I looked further into it I was pleasantly surprised about its functionality and usefulness. Did you know that you could have multiple calendars for different areas of your life? I use it to find suitable meeting times between groups of people, share my calendar with others, set ‘working hours’ to provide easily found work blocks for meetings, and that’s just the start of its capabilities.
For more advanced and detailed scheduling, there are a variety of apps such as Timely and Calendly, but this free tool is all you need for daily work schedules, kids activities and personal appointments!
Fiverr is the world’s largest freelancing marketplace, where you can hire experts in areas such as graphic design, web programming, video and animation, through to content writing. While this platform is free to use, each project does have an associated cost and most are unfortunately not $5 anymore. That being said, Fiverr has still been our best friend from day dot. Think of it as access to thousands of Virtual Assistants who all specialise in whatever you need. Throughout the years, we’ve used Fiverr to order Powerpoint presentations, format documents, create social media designs, boost SEO, make changes to our website and much more. Our recommendation is to take the time to investigate the best sellers, start off with really small simple jobs and if you find a great seller, favourite them quickly!