Improve Your Company’s Efficiency with Productivity Tools
By Kathryn Casna
There are 30.2 million small businesses in the United States, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. If you’re anything like most of these business owners, you could use a few more hours in the day. As an entrepreneur, the more you get done each day, the faster you can grow your business. But there’s only so much you (and your team, if you have one) can do without a little help from technology. You could build your business without productivity tools, but, like digging a hole without a shovel, it’s going to be one heck of a slog.
Some entrepreneurs have tried a whole shed full of tools to build their businesses, but chances are you can make an impact with just one or two carefully chosen apps. There are tons of productivity tools out there, and some of them were created by entrepreneurs just like you. Here are some of the most common problems entrepreneurs have, and how choosing the best productivity tools can solve them.
Productivity Problem: Collaboratively Build a Pitch Deck
A pair of entrepreneurs is putting together a pitch deck to land a big client, and their presentation just got moved up. They don’t have time to worry about taking turns building out slides. They need to work simultaneously to finish on time, so they grab fresh cups of coffee and split the pitch deck down the middle.
In a few hours, they get together to compare slides and realize they’ve done a lot of duplicate work. Even though they decided to use the same theme, their slides are formatted completely differently. They decide to work together more closely with their remaining time, reworking a couple of slides at a time and sharing their updates. When finished, one partner spends lunch combining the two decks, but has trouble figuring out which version of each slide is the latest.
Productivity Tool: Collaborative Document Software
This tool allows multiple people to actively work on the same slide show, document, or spreadsheet simultaneously. You can divide and conquer while keeping an eye on updates your teammates are making in real time, too. This kind of office productivity tool also offers version control that lets you “go back in time” if you accidentally delete a chart or paragraph your partners poured their hearts and souls into.
When it comes to the big picture, collaborative document tools can be a great way to create, distribute, and instantly update templates, data, and other important information your whole team uses. Not all software is the same, however. Look for apps that allow you to control who can access and make changes to each file, as well as the option to update files from a mobile device. You never know when you’ll need to make a last-minute change while out of the office.
Productivity Problem: Closing the Deal Across Miles
You just landed a big client, but they’ll be on a business trip across the country before you can get all the paperwork together. You need them to sign your ironclad contract so you can start work as soon as possible, or you won’t have time to meet your proposed project deadline.
Productivity Tool: Contract Signing and Management Software
Enter contract signing and management software. Your client can review and sign that contract and other important documentation digitally, either by scrawling their John Hancock with a finger on a touchscreen or choosing a signature-like font for their name. The software ensures the right party is signing by requiring a login or by emailing an exclusive link only to the intended recipient. Either way, it’s official.
When business is booming and you don’t have time to wrangle client signatures, you’ll want the management part of this software option to send reminders and show you a dashboard, where you can easily see who’s signed and the status of any other outstanding documents.
Productivity Problem: Personalized Email Marketing on a Budget
Your list of email subscribers is growing. It’s full of current customers, leads you haven’t heard from in months, and people hovering near the top of your sales funnel. You want to fully monetize your list, and for that you need to create and send targeted, relevant content that hits each contact’s inbox at just the right time. After all, segmented email campaigns achieve more engagement because of the higher degree of personalization.
Productivity Tool: Email Marketing Software
If you’re conducting your email marketing through your Gmail inbox, it may be time to step it up with email marketing software. With this software, you can create beautiful, branded newsletters and promotions without any coding or design knowledge whatsoever.
You can do more than make newsletters; email marketing software lets you segment your audience and do much more. Active customers won’t get your “We miss you” emails and dormant clients don’t receive first-time-customer offers they can’t use. Finally, you can predesign an automatic series of emails, called a drip campaign, to trickle out as needed when someone joins your list, makes a purchase, or reaches an anniversary with your company.
Make sure the software you use has data tracking features so you can turn up the heat and fine-tune your campaigns. You’ll want to track analytics such as open and click-through rates for each email you send. Set up A/B testing to settle the debate you and your marketing manager have over whether to put the call-to-action button at the top or bottom. Finally, make sure you can automatically or manually prune your list to avoid receiving those dreaded bounce notifications.
Productivity Problem: Disorganized Project Management
Business is booming and you have a growing list of projects, so you hire employees or work with contractors to help carry the load. With more people on your team, you’ve become a project manager. Unfortunately, just managing other people’s work takes a lot of time. You’re having trouble remembering which projects have been started, how far along they are, and which ones have roadblocks you need to tackle before continuing.
To make things worse, you’re not seeing the significant productivity boost you expected with the extra help you hired, and you begin to wonder if your team is operating as efficiently as it should be.
Productivity Tool: Project Management Software
Keeping track of multiple, diverse projects is challenging. In fact, some companies hire dedicated managers to keep their teams organized and productive. Not every business has the budget for a project manager, however, and even those that do benefit from software that makes keeping track of multiple projects easier.
The most used project management software features are task management, reporting, and collaboration, but the best project management software for your business depends on the type of work you do.
Some tools cater to software developers while others work more like an editorial calendar. What most have in common is that they serve as a single place to house all elements of a project, including various documents, notes about where teammates are in the process, and what’s still needed for completion.
Choose a project management tool that allows the whole team — especially you and any managers — to see, at a glance, which projects are humming along and which could use some help eliminating roadblocks. This way you’re not wondering which collaborator is responsible for the next piece of the project or whether the employee who just departed for vacation left enough information to finish up in their absence.
Productivity Problem: Communicating Across Distance in a Time Crunch
You’re at a lunch meeting with your top client. You’ve prepared reports and samples to show how much progress you’re making on their project, but they have a lot of design questions. You do your best to answer them and take some notes to email designer later, but the client wants answers fast.
Finally, you call your designer, but amid some unexpected questions from your client, your designer gets flustered and struggles to explain the work. The lunch meeting ends with everyone feeling unsettled and a lot of questions unanswered.
Sometimes tapping a colleague on the shoulder for a second pair of eyes on an email or having an impromptu meeting to quickly tackle an urgent problem isn’t easy. Many small businesses hire freelancers or contractors in different cities, while others hire remote team members. In fact, 7% of U.S. companies have workers who telecommute, which can make having impromptu conversations difficult.
Productivity Tool: A Chat App
Communication across distance is easier than ever with the internet and smartphones, but not all forms of digital communication are ideal for speedy messaging while your client is waiting. That’s where a chat app comes in. Your whole team can be alerted with a few seconds of typing. Your designer can give you answers to a client’s difficult questions and get a heads-up to start reviewing project files in preparation for a call. Many chat apps also include a video and voice call feature for topics that are too complex or important to have over text alone.