Best Online Software For Business
What's the best online software for business?
When I talk to new small business owners I often get asked the question, What are some of the best online software tools and apps for business?
The follow-up question is usually, is it free?
Many small business owners find themselves struggling to manage their staff team, they can't get everything done on time, they have so many good ideas but they struggle to figure out how to start implementing them.
So I ask them, what kind of system are they using?
Sometimes the response is “Windows….,”
After I clarify what I mean, I ask them again, “what kind of system are you using to organise your business activities?”
Very often I just get a blank face in response and it becomes clear they are living from one task to the next.
Their system is a mix of write down ideas on scraps of paper, doing tasks as they remember to, lots of fire-fighting and reacting to matters as they come up.
What I find is that they keep fixing the same problems again and again.
Every business, no matter how cool or casual it appears, needs a system of operation that allows for order, consistency, and just plain getting things done on time and to budget.
It will take years of tweaking for you to really build a system that works, but in 2016, there's no excuse not to start using one of the many hundreds of tools available that will immediately help you to run your business more efficiently.
In the back of my book Standard Procedure, I list almost 200 Online software solutions that can be used to start to systemise your business operations.
In this article I'm going to go over some of the different areas of businesses systemisation and which tools I've found work best to make my life easier and lets my business run without me constantly being in the middle moving things along.
At first, it might seem that the different tools and apps for communication are all doing essentially the same job. Essentially, many of them are, by allowing you to communicate in a range of different way with other people online. Audio / Video chat, text messaging, instant messaging, and so on.
What is best online software solution for businesses to communicate?
For internal business team communication, I have to recommend Slack.
Slack is one such team messaging app that I've had lots of success with.
Slack takes you out of the clutter of your inbox and away from the etiquette of business emails, and lets you alternate between chatting with one team member to all of them.
You can share files and code easily and look back over old messages doesn’t require you to root around in your trash can.
By having everyone and everything in the project in one place you can save yourself a lot of time.
Skype is another fantastic serve that I think is underused by many businesses. It has one of the best video messaging services online, but it can also be connected to your email and you can let a colleague look at your desktop as you explain something.
The less time you spend explaining a thing, the more time you will have overall.
By now most people are familiar with cloud storage, and if you have a Google mail account or Windows computer you are already signed up to one.
Having your documents periodically backed-up online and accessible anywhere is basically a must. There’s no need to forget to bring a file to a meeting anymore or to lose a whole day’s work because of a Window’s update.
These services provide another function in your business system: they allow you to share files easily and quickly with anyone you like. Not just single documents but entire image libraries if you like.
By opening up to a colleague like this you are suddenly free of having to manage a lot of the smaller details. If they want a specific file or to alter it they can just do it themselves.
But what is the best cloud storage solution for small businesses?
The most popular apps are Dropbox, Google Drive, and Onedrive and they are very similar in functionality.
There is also Amazon Cloud Drive, which is mainly marketed for photo storage and Amazon S3, which I see as being more for those businesses that require larger online storage space - we're talking Tera Bites, TB.
So, which to use?
I recommend having both a Dropbox and Google Drive account, for these reasons;
Dropbox has by far the smallest free memory allowance at 2 gigabytes but it works on just about everything and many of the other tools in this article are built to work with Dropbox.
I recommend using Dropbox for storing of more static files that don't need to be collaborated on very often. Files such as PDF, photos, and general documentation.
On the other hand, I recommend using Google Drive for sorting files that you're more likely to be sharing and collaborating on. I just find the that sharing files from Google Drive is much more streamlined.
Plus you get 15 Gig of storage space as standard.
Sorry OneDrive - I can't really say much about that service - I've never used it - and I don't really plan to anytime soon.
Both tools sync well to most mobile devices and have a desktop application.
Having a diary or paper calendar is great for writing down tasks you need to quickly, but what if you are on the go and need to add something immediately? What if you need to check a date on the train and it’s on your wall in the office? Worse still, what if you forget to check your calendar until it’s too late?
An online calendar will let you organise the deadlines and events you need to remember and gives you reminders you can’t easily ignore.
A calendar (sometimes called a planner for a reason) is a basic requirement for self-management and you need to be using one if you want to stay on top of things.
There are lots of calendars available, ranging from complicated to overly simple, and from free to expensive office software packages.
But what is best online calendar solution for small businesses?
For me, Google Calendar is the ultimate calendar tool. It’s free, it’s simple to use, it displays information with breezy clarity, it integrates well with several devices and apps, and it works offline.
If you use other Google services it will even fill in some important dates for you. With Google Calendar, there is no excuse to forget anything again.
If you are looking for something else you might want to try the battle-tested Microsoft Outlook.
It can be combined with your email services to make sure you are remembering everything and while it’s not quite as easy to use as Google it’s a great service to use.
The big catch, though, is that it’s not really free, and with Google offering up such a brilliant app, why pay?
If you just want a simple calendar app you’ll find that most operating systems and phones come with one installed that will work to give you a reminder for birthdays, meetings, and other tasks that need doing.
They won’t be the most sophisticated calendar tools but they are already there for you to use.
The key to building a system for your business is getting everything out of your head and the collective heads of your colleagues and documented on to paper or in an application somewhere.
Once you’ve done this everyone knows what they are working towards, what they need to do, what should take priority, and where everyone else is at.
If you use an online service all of this can be organised in one place, it can be accessed at any time from almost anywhere, and it allows you to collaboratively solve problems at a time that suits you.
To get the most out of any app you do have to be brave and commit to it fully. Everything should be in the one place and everyone should be familiar with how to use it. Whichever app works best is the one you should stick to.
What is the best online project management software for a small business?
Basecamp does all of the above and it does so with an easy to user interface and plenty of style.
You can set up tasks, to-do lists, work on projects together, share files, and have a working calendar and announcements all in one place. It even has an integrated chat service.
You can easily put your entire business’s schedule into Basecamp and more-or-less allow colleagues to manage themselves around it.
It’s big on being user-friendly so everyone on the team should have an easy time using it and it can be used on a wide variety of devices.
The catch? It’s not free, but if your project is big enough it’s a sacrifice you will need to make at some point and a tool like Basecamp can often be the most cost-effective one.
For me, Trello is the ultimate project management (or general life management app) if you like lists, and let’s face it, who doesn’t?
I’ve played around with several project management systems and Trello is the one I keep coming back to. It’s essentially one giant office whiteboard where you make lists of items and then attach ‘cards’ to them.
These cards can have anything on them from images to videos, to neatly laid-out text. Other users can view these and when they’ve seen a card it can be moved into another list.
It’s simple, sleek and very easy-to-use. If you like to see everything laid out visually like I do Trello is a fantastic option.
You can organise your own life with it or use the Kanban method of workflow manage with lists of ‘Waiting to be done’, ‘doing’, and ‘done’ for collaborative projects. The best part is that the basic app is free and fully functional.
The key thing I love about Trello is that you can adapt it to suit more or less any working style and any project.
Asana is the last project management tool on my list, simply because its the one that I've heard so much good stuff about, but never I don't use it personally to manage a project.
Asana is project management in its purest form. You can set-up any type of project, include sub-tasks, assign different elements of it to different team members, and you can add files and links to each task so everything is in one place for you team.
You can arrange projects in terms of priority, make sure every element of a task is done before it can be marked as complete, and it lets you manage every task or project with the same ease no matter how big or small.
It really shines when you want to look at all of the projects you are working out to get a good idea of where you are at, what needs doing, and where the shortfall is in your business system.
If you’re looking for one basic tool that comes close to doing everything you need then Asana is a great option. The free option has nearly all the features of the paid one and it can be scaled for any size of operation you have or you can just use it for yourself.
If you want to take your business to a new level of efficiency then not only do you have to streamline communication but you need to look at day-to-day tasks, break them down into their components, and make them run as smoothly as possible.
When you look at how your team manages tasks you are looking at what is called workflow and there are lots of fantastic workflow management tools at your disposal.
The world of workflow management is enormous: I’m talking a billion dollar industry. Often it is focused on more mechanical and technical processes and it will take things down to a minute level to shave seconds off a process.
For most small businesses you won’t need anything to complicated.
But what is best online workflow documentation solution for small businesses?
More important than a huge list of features when it comes to workflow management is whether or not it easy to use and whether it’s going to make your life easier. Thankfully this is where Process Street excels and any user you give it to shouldn’t struggle too much to get the hang of it.
Process Street lets you ensure that any procedure your company does is done to the same specification each time with checklists, workflows, and reference manuals.
It allows you to easily schedule any task that you company needs to on a regular basis, and it lets you keep reviewing and tweaking your entire system to make sure you are always bettering yourself.
It’s a very powerful tool if used properly that will save you lots of time and gives you consistent results. Best of all it has a free option for users that will meet all the needs of a smaller business trying to build a system for the first time.
Another great feature you will love about Process Street, is the catalogue of ready made checklist templates they make available.
This will be a treasure store for any small business just starting out with processes and workflows.
Database, Spreadsheets & Forms
Previously, I would have told you that it is essential for you to start using Google Apps such as such as Google sheets, Google forms as well as tools like Typeform. But as of early 2016, I was introduced to a new player in the game, which have found has most, if not all of the functionality of these privies apps, rolled into one.
what is best online Database, Spreadsheets & Forms solution for small businesses?
Airtable is a relatively new kid on the block and is the latest addition to my list of recommended essential online tools.
I love it!!
Airtable is an online platform for creating, using, and sharing very smart databases.
It looks and works like a basic spreadsheet, and is very easy to use, but it also gives you the power of a database to organise almost anything.
I like to describe it as being like a very smart version of Google Sheets, with all the formulas already created for you.
One great feature of Airtable is the ability to make and share Forms out of any database you create.
This feature lets you easily collect information from anyone and save it automatically to your Airtable database.
You can create surveys, application form, customer satisfaction forms and general data collections form.
The great thing is that the forms also support file attachments, which work beautifully on mobile devices.
There are lots online software solution for lots business function. I've just shared a few universal tools that I recommend to small business owners to get started with.
If you find yourself constantly falling behind, trying desperately to keep all the plates spinning and keep your team productive and on the same page, you have no reason to not try a few of these free online tools out.
This is a first step in the right direction of developing a culture that will eventually see your business systemised, ready to be run from any location, and even automated.
If you're interested to find out more, and feel like you would benefit from having a discussion about what online tools would best suit your business needs, then lets talk.
You can schedule a FREE 20 mins, informal, no strings attached Discovery Discussion.