How to Improve Your Business Operations with 9 Free Apps
With all the tools and apps available it's hard to know which ones to use. Often, you waste money trying a bunch of different software options looking for the perfect solution to your problem. Only after a few months of trial-and-error do you realize it doesn't quite give you what you need. You either choose to make do, leave it altogether, or do what most people do, try to find another tool and try to piecemeal a solution together. Small business owners don't have the budget to create their own software solutions from the ground up. Even large companies are leery of creating in-house solutions unless the problem it solves or information it holds is proprietary.
Fortunately, there are some apps that have proven their value. These apps tend to be popular for a reason. They do exactly what they say they will do and from time-to-time, blow your mind with a new feature or you learn something new that was there all the time. The apps below are resources I use on a daily basis and they are critical to my operational excellence. They've proven to be integral, seamless solutions to most administrative problems and even better they integrate well with a host of other solutions.
*This post may contain affiliate links. However, I only recommend products and services that I have, use, and love.
G*Suite - Office Applications
With good reason, Google is a universal term for "searching for things on the Internet." They've made sure to maintain their reputation with G*Suite. This cloud-based software enables you to work from anywhere---on your phone, tablet, or desktop. You can work with your team simultaneously to create and edit documents which is a great plus for teams. Google also takes security very seriously and works hard to ensure that businesses that use this business-focused software solution are protected. With G*Suite you get access to:
- Google Mail, Calendar (using your custom domain)
- Google Sheets, Docs, Slides (comparable to Microsoft Office, now Office 365, but cheaper. Microsoft products work on this platform)
- Google Drive (file sharing & storage)
- IT Administration
- Google Forms (can be used for many things, but as a survey or sign up form are great because of the backend analytics
- Google Hangouts Meet - online conferencing tool
Trello - Project Management
Trello is a board and card-based project management tool. Boards manage individual projects; information and activities are managed on this level. Lists are a collection of activities. These lists together fall under each individual board. Cards manage tasks. Thus, several cards make up a list, and multiple lists make up a board. These actions represent the traditional project management process. Trello allows sharing of boards with team members. If you use G*Suite and have a Trello Business account you can directly integrate the two together. You can add activities to Trello via email and see activities on your calendar. Power-Ups allow for integration with third-party applications such as Salesforce, Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, Harvest, MailChimp, and others.
Acuity Scheduling - Client Scheduling
If you need to manage clients then this is the app for you. Acuity is more than just a scheduling tool. Your clients can manage their own bookings based on predetermined schedules you've set based on the type of service they're requesting. You can plug in messages for automated email and SMS messaging, and connect your payment processor to manage payments, too. Acuity allows you to set up coupons, giveaways, gift certificates, and packages, which are great tools to market your practice and get repeat business and referrals. This is a great solution for anyone who manages clients, but this is a great solution for practitioners who require added client and patient security. Acuity Scheduling is HIPAA compliant, so you can control patient information with confidence that PHI is secure. On the backend, you can connect Acuity to most cloud-based accounting software, track analytics on conversions, connect to your CRM, email autoresponder, manage client engagement and set up video conferencing. As an added bonus, if you use Squarespace, you can use their integration to plug your Acuity info into your website simply with a content block. Squarespace users get an Emerging Entrepreneurs plan with Acuity for free.
Evernote - Productivity
This app is popular for a reason! Evernote is a note-taking app on steroids. Imagine Microsoft Access in note-taking form. In Evernote, there are notebooks and notes. Your notes go into a notebook. You can share those notebooks/notes with your team, add images, PDFs, voice notes (it can transcribe your notes through your mic---that's how I create many of my blog posts, but more on that in a second), set reminders and format them. Evernote is cloud-based so you can access your notes on your desktop, tablet, and phone. You can also clip web pages which is amazing, too. Why do I love Evernote? Well, I'm often very busy (aren't you?) and I have a million things running through my head. Because of that, ideas will come to me, but I'm either not able to write them down or write them down fast enough to capture everything I've thought. Well, I open Evernote, tap the mic and start recording. It types as I speak. Then later, when I'm on my computer I can edit my note. That's when I can add links, tables, checklists, images, audio recordings, and handwritten notes. Did I mention everything is searchable?
IFTTT - Productivity
Now, it's time to start automating tasks. The preceding apps required you to do some work. Well, IFTTT takes the work you've done and starts to do some of it for you. IFTTT, stands for, "If This Then That." This free service connects tasks and completes them for you. Want to know the weather every evening at 6 pm? Done. Want to dim your smart-led lights away from home? Got it. Need to get out of an awkward situation, it will call you and talk to you long enough for you to excuse yourself. If you'd like you can create as many as you need on your own. If you use the task often enough you can share it to your home screen for quick access.
Zapier - Productivity
Zapier, like IFTTT, automates tasks. However, Zapier is more focused on connecting software. For instance, Squarespace does not have native integration with ConvertKit. To use the Form and Newsletter features on Squarespace, we have a "Zap" that connects a Google sheet (Squarespace integrates with Google Drive) to ConvertKit and adds the subscriber to the relevant categories. Similarly, we use Zaps to connect my CRM--ActiveCampaign, my accounting system--Freshbooks, client scheduling--Acuity, shopping cart--Samcart, and Paypal/Stripe. After setting up the initial Zaps, that was it. Zapier handles all the rest. Similarly, you can create these kinds of connections with most tools you'll use for your business. With a paid subscription, you can automatically run failed zaps and connect to premium apps. In short, Zapier allows you to set most repetitive tasks and then forget about it.
Zoom - Online Conferencing
If you're looking for a web-based conferencing tool, Zoom is a great tool to use. They have a free version which allows you to host meetings with up to 100 participants. You can hold unlimited 1-on-1 calls, and you get almost an hour for group meetings. Meetings are also unlimited. The paid versions offer more customization depending on the size of your business and usage. Zoom also provides webinar services. Their webinar service is pretty popular and allows for up to 100 participants. They make sharing recorded webinars pretty easy and allow for dual screen-sharing with panelists and the material you're presenting. As an added bonus, you can broadcast your webinar directly to Facebook Live and YouTube.
HelloFax - Online Facsimile
If you still use faxes in your business, HelloFax is a great option. Faxes are sent both electronically to email and traditional to a dedicated fax line. HelloFax allows for you to send multiple faxes at once, which is helpful if you're sending the same document to multiple people. You can edit faxes, sign them, and share them all online. HelloFax integrates with the major file-sharing services (Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, etc.)
Momentum - Focus-Boosting
Do you find yourself online drifting and distracted? Well, enter Momentum. Momentum is a landing page for Google Chrome. Whenever you open a new tab in Chrome, the Momentum screen shows up. How does that help you stay on task? Momentum integrates with Trello, Asana, Wunderlist, Google Tasks, and other task apps. You can also manually input your tasks and it will remind you. You can set a focus item that will show up each time you open a new tab, too. It isn't intrusive, so it doesn't get in the way of you doing work, it just reminds you that you have work to do. You can customize your level and period of time for focus, change your background, get motivational quotes, and take notes and manage a countdown. It's also much nicer to look at than the Google home screen. Sorry, Google.
These are a few of the tools I recommend you use to boost your business operations activities. All of these apps have free versions or components. Their paid versions are generally inexpensive. Most importantly, most of these apps work very well together and with other programs you are probably already using. I suggest you do some research on them and see how they fit into your business. Definitely, let me know what you think and give me feedback in the comments below. If you'd like information on additional programs, you should get my Resource List. It has over 350 apps, tools, and other software solutions and resources to help you run your business. The Resource List covers every major function of your business and is available in a neat Google Sheet. The list is exclusive to members of my Facebook Group, so you can access it as often as you want once you join. You can also view my Recommendations anytime for a list of the apps we use regularly.