Small businesses need help. Most key employees in small businesses complain that they lack time to focus on priorities in their daily schedules. Read the guest post below by Gavin Zuchlinski, founder of Acuity Scheduling, an online scheduling platform that has helped thousands of small business save time and improve efficiency by automating the scheduling process. You can find Acuity on Twitter at @AcuitySchedulin
On average, we spend about 28% of our workdays writing and responding to emails. That’s over two hours a day. Imagine if you had an additional ten hours a week to focus on sales. In the cutthroat world of small business, every advantage counts. Automating menial tasks is a great way to gain an edge on your competition. Whether it’s automatically backing up your files online instead of scanning them or streamlining customer support, the automation tools covered in this newsletter can go a long way in getting you there.
Customer Support Software
The goal of customer support software is to simultaneously increase productivity and customer satisfaction. Increasing customer satisfaction is dependent on a quick response time and an engaging approach. These days, customers want you to be reachable and get to know the personality that exists behind your business. The tools below can help keep them happy by organizing and automating some of the tasks without sacrificing sincerity. If your customers don’t feel important to you, they’ll go elsewhere.
Acquired by Salesforce in 2011, Desk.com allows businesses to quickly consolidate support cases across websites, email and social channels. All employees are able to access cases, keeping everyone on the same page. Instead of manually responding to recurring questions time and time again, programmed responses can be set up. This allows you to boost productivity and customer satisfaction by responding quickly and consistently.Desk.com will also help you set up a branded self-service support page to minimize the amount of inbound inquiries. With no IT support needed, and starting at just $3 a month, Desk.com doesn’t hold businesses back from scaling quickly. It’s also, of course, tightly integrated with Salesforce, allowing the sales and service teams to remain aligned in their goals.
You’ve probably heard of Zendesk, arguably the most popular on-demand help desk. Many large companies use it, including Vodafone and Groupon, but you might be surprised to find out that Zendesk also appeals to small businesses. With plans starting as low as $1 a month, it’s worth trying out. Because it’s made for such a range of business sizes, some of the functionality can seem intimidating at first. It’s unlikely your small business will need the same amount of support as Vodafone. If you ignore the capabilities that don’t apply to your business, it’s actually quite a smooth experience.
File Storage & Sharing
Do you still print everything out? Or send attachments back and forth over email editing and reediting documents? Neither is an efficient way to operate, but there weren’t too many alternatives until the emergence of cloud-based file storage and sharing services. Not only can you now upload and organize all of your important documents online for easy access from any device, you can work on them in real-time with coworkers regardless of whether they’re in the office or working remotely. We recommended checking out Dropbox and Box, two of the most popular services.
Dropbox is a cloud-based file storage and sharing service used by over 4 million businesses and 275 million individuals. The beauty of Dropbox is that it makes backing up all of your important files easy and automatic. They’re all easily accessible online in a secure central location. In terms of sharing, it’s an easier, safer and more organized alternative to emailing attachments. Access your documents from any device. No paper needed.
The company also just announced two new additions, Project Harmony and Carousel. Project Harmony is a feature allows users to seamlessly collaborate in real-time as they edit files in Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint).
The second addition, Carousel, is an app that saves and organizes all of your photos. Sharing photos is easier than ever, but they’re scattered all over the place. Carousel is meant to be the solution to that problem: all of your memories in one place.
Both Project Harmony and Carousel are part of an effort to make Dropbox a one-stop shop to save and share all of your files. A “home,” as Dropbox puts it.
Dropbox offers free personal accounts, which may be enough if you’d just like to backup your important business documents. Business accounts start at $75 a month of$795 a year and offer centralized billing, unlimited deletion recovery, phone support and unlimited space.
Box is a similar service, but has focused a bit more on collaboration since its inception. While it would be fair to say that Dropbox was designed for individuals and has moved into the business space, Box was designed for businesses. More specifically, it was designed to provide an efficient and secure way for teams to work on projects together from multiple locations.
Plans range from free Personal accounts with 10 GB of storage to Enterprise accounts for$35 a month with unlimited storage. If you’re running a one-person operation, a Personal account should provide you with enough bandwidth. However, if you have a small team, you might consider the Business account for $15 a month, which allows content collaboration and more control.
* Fun facts:
Ø Both Dropbox and Box have filed for IPOs
Ø Box CEO Aaron Levie is 28 years old
Invoicing and Expense Tracking
If you spend a lot of time sending invoices and manually tracking all of your expenses, this section is for you. There are several services that make the process simple and painless. Any businesses with recurring services for recurring clients should be billing them automatically. The services below allow you to do just that. Time spent doing it manually is time that could be spent doing something else. Even if you aren’t in a situation where you can automate invoicing, these tools make invoicing and expense tracking more convenient and organized.
Given a 9.9/10 rating by Top Ten REVIEWS, FreshBooks is continually evolving to meet small business needs. The cloud-based accounting solution was designed with small businesses owners in mind, or, as
they say, the “non-accountants.” It’s intuitive, works on any device and can be setup quickly. Like many of the services we’ve listed in this newsletter, FreshBooks operates on a freemium business model. You can continue using the free account you get when you sign up for a 30 day trial forever, but if you want more control over the settings and additional features, plans start at$19.95 a month.
If you do a lot of project-based work, you might want to check out Harvest. It helps you track billable hours and quickly turn them into invoices. It’s highly customizable and you can get an account for three users at $12 a month. This plan includes unlimited projects, clients and invoicing. Like FreshBooks, Harvest is easily accessible from any device.
When it comes to simple recurring billing, Invoicera is one of the best options. If you have regular clients, just put in their card information and they’ll automatically be billed on whatever basis you choose. Unfortunately, Invoicera does not offer a free account. Plans start at $19.95 a month.
If you’re going to sign up for one of these services, we suggest starting with one that offers a free account. That will give you time to determine if it’s right for you and if you need addition features. In addition to invoicing capabilities, all of the services listed above also allow you to easily track your expenses. Having all of this information in one place can go a long way in keeping your business organized.
Social media doesn’t need to be intimidating and it certainly doesn’t have to be time consuming. To begin, try spending 30 minutes or an hour each week scheduling posts to go out at predetermined times. This small step alone will give you an edge over your competition. Two of the most popular social media automation tools, and the two we recommend looking into, are Buffer and HootSuite.
Buffer allows you to write several posts at once to be distributed throughout the day at the best times to reach your target audience. In addition to the analytics Facebook and Twitter provide (numbers of likes, shares, favorites and retweets), Buffer provides more in-depth analysis, such as the exact number of people who click on links you share.
HootSuite is the most popular tool for scheduling social media posts. It tracks your brand mentions and analyzes social media traffic for you. Some of the biggest brands in the world, including PepsiCo, Sony and CBS, use HootSuite, but it’s also great for small businesses.
Tying It All Together
Simply put, EntreDot Twitter follower Zapier integrates all of the services we covered in this post, allowing them to work together. The platform works with over 250 web apps to automate tasks. For example, when you schedule an appointment with a new client, they can automatically be added to your mailing list and invoicing software. Each process you set up for your apps to communicate with each other is referred to as a Zap. Free accounts allow you to set up 5 Zaps and handle 100 tasks per month. Three other plans, Basic, Business and Business Plus, range from $15 to $99 a month. Either the Free or Basic plan will provide enough bandwidth for most small businesses.
If you want to pack a more powerful punch and get more done with less resources, consider automating some of your everyday tasks. In the small business arena, adopting these practices as early as possible can give you an enormous advantage over your competition. That being said, not every service is right for every business. Check out what we recommended and see what works best for you.