There’s no question that we have more apps and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools at our disposal today than ever before. If there’s a function your business does or needs to do, there’s a good chance someone has an app or cloud-based service ready to help you out.
In fact, some business leaders get so overwhelmed by the din of competing voices from service providers, they sit on the sidelines and fail to take advantage of some productivity and profitability enhancing systems.
I want to point out several good apps and SaaS tools, but before I get into specifics, I want to create a simple framework in which you should evaluate these tools. Further, keep in mind that one of the biggest advantages these tools give you is the ability to successfully manage virtual teams. However, you will find almost all of them appropriate for local use as well.
We can generally slice businesses organizations into four pieces:
- Research and development (R&D)
- Sales and marketing
I suggest that when you’re evaluating any cloud-based tool, you start by slotting them into one of those categories. You should know from your experience which areas need the most improvement in your organization so you can determine where you will get your greatest “bang for the buck” initially. (By the way, some of the tools I’ll discuss have applications that span two or more of these categories.)
Research and development
Here’s the “think tank” of your organization. If there has been one huge development in business over the last decade or so, it’s the increased premium we place on ideas. Not a day goes by that Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or some other major influencer doesn’t make a headline with an innovative “big idea.”
Efficient collaboration is the key to creating commercially successful concepts today. I know we’ve all heard the cliché “Think outside the box” far too many times, so let me change it up a bit and turn it into “Think outside the office.”
Enabling your team to share ideas and bounce off one another’s input outside of the office can pay big rewards. This is an area where apps and SaaS shine:
Slack: This app has received a lot of press in recent years. When your team members need to collaborate and their work involves other software platforms, Slack can be the answer. It may look like a chat app, but with file sharing and app integration, it is much more.
RealtimeBoard: Among traditional brainstorming tools, few, if any, top the whiteboard. This is a virtual whiteboardon steroids. It will supercharge your online collaboration with loads of built-in extras, like templates, icons, and Google Drive integration.
File sharing: I’m not going to single out any one service here; they all are good and depend on the online ecosystem you have created for your business. They have come a long way in recent years by allowing multiple users to work on the same document at the same time and see each other’s changes. Microsoft, Google, and Apple all have this kind of file sharing available today in their suites of office applications.
Workplace by Facebook: Facebook is working hard to bring its social media magic to workplace collaboration, communication, and organization. It integrates with many tools you may already use, such as DropBox.
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There are a lot of details that need to be taken care of to get your product out the door or your service into your clients’ locations. These apps and services can help:
Calendly: This online scheduler allows professional offices to select the hours they see clients, and then lets clients grab the time slots they prefer. Calendly is adaptable to a wide variety of situations and professionals: freelancers, consultants, professionals, and other businesses. You can embed it on your website, and it integrates with Salesforce, GoToMeeting, and Zapier.
Basecamp: When you need to get things done, some version of a project management software can prove invaluable. Document control has long been critical for repeatability in business; Basecamp keeps everyone on the same page and moving through the tasks required to complete a process or project.
Sales and marketing
This is where the money is made, and it’s also the category with the greatest number of sophisticated apps and SaaS solutions competing for your business:
Customer Relationship Management (CRM): There are many excellent options for CRM, and your choice depends on how your business operates and how much you want to spend. One very highly rated and inexpensive system is Pipedrive. For an introduction and overview of packaged versus hosted CRM programs, check out this article by Richard Morochove.
Infusionsoft: This is probably the granddaddy of online sales and marketing software. While Infusionsoft is also useful for traditional marketing, it excels at automated online marketing. It can be a little expensive for smaller businesses, and the learning curve is fairly steep.
Email marketing: Today’s email service providers are easier to use and with fewer bells and whistles, and most companies also give you autoresponders so you can automate certain responses to your customers’ behavior. Services like Campaign Monitor, MailChimp, and Emmaare solid choices.
Keeping everyone marching in the same direction, and maintaining fiscal control are key to a strong operation. There are apps that do those things:
MoneyPenny: Time is money and if you find yourself asking, “Where did all the time go?” you know that you aren’t getting the level of productivity out of your team that you require. MoneyPenny will track team member hours, charge them against projects, link time logs with travel expenses, and give you other tools to maintain control and vision.
Humanity: Employee scheduling is, at best, a pain. Humanity lets employees set availability and handle shift trades between themselves. You will know at a glance when all your bases are covered—or not.
Accounting and payroll: Patriot is a reasonably priced and highly rated option; you can get both accounting and payroll features, or just one. Quickbooks, FreshBooks, and Sage are also good choices, although they don’t all have payroll or inventory management options available.
I feel like I’ve tossed a lot of apps and services at you, but frankly, there are many more. I’ve tried to select the ones that are most useful to a wide range of businesses. For more specialized apps and services, be sure to check your trade shows and industry publications.