Tools help us to organise and manage work effectively and efficiently, and as many small businesses and entrepreneurs use them, there are an increasing amount available. From CRM systems and project management, to email marketing and workflow automation, there are hundreds of tools to choose from. So, how do we know which is best for the job? Here’s a quick guide to ten of the best tools every small business should use.
- Asana – a tool that allows multiple teams to work on multiple projects. Tasks can be viewed as lists or scheduled into a calendar, and messages or updates to do with tasks are clear to see. Asana can email your team each day to remind them of their daily goals. Its intuitive interface makes it one of the most popular management tools in use.
- ClickUp – an effective tool for teams to collaborate on multiple projects. There are some cool features that make it different from Asana, such as being able to turn comments in to tasks to assign to others, plus its Forever Free plan means you can use it for unlimited projects and unlimited users.
- MailChimp – with MailChimp, you can manage your email subscribers, set up auto-responders, send lead magnets, and split-test campaigns to see what works well. You can also create templates to save you time writing emails, plus it provides excellent real-time tracking of how people respond to your emails, such as who opens them, what links are clicked, who unsubscribes and what email addresses bounce. This popular email marketing platform has a free plan to get started with.
- InfusionSoft – this tool is great if you want everything that MailChimp does, but combined with some awesome customer relationship management (CRM) features. Use InfusionSoft to help convert leads into sales, segment your subscribers to send specific emails to different groups, and use the built-in ecommerce platform to sell to them directly.
- Hootsuite – a useful tool that manages all your social media platforms in one place. You can pre-write and schedule your tweets and posts in advance, respond to new comments, see your feeds and new followers all within Hootsuite. This saves you hours of time going between social media platforms and makes it easy to engage with followers.
Files and Documents
- Google Drive – Google Drive makes it easy and convenient to share and store files. This cloud-storage platform means that anyone can view a file provided they have internet access and an invite. For business owners, you can allow team access so people can work in collaboration on documents and spreadsheets, and they are synced in real-time. That means that anytime someone views a file, it is always up-to-date. In addition to file sharing, it is also easy to connect with your team through chats and video using Google Meet.
- Calendly – an absolute time-saver when it comes to arranging meetings and calls, Calendly allows you to communicate your availability through a link, and customers or clients can book a call when it is convenient for them. This simple scheduling program syncs with your calendar, so you always know who is booked in and when. It also integrates with Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The free version is ideal for one user, and the price is low for other plans with more features.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- HubSpot –a marketing and sales platform that is full of features to help attract customers, sell to them, and turn them into repeat buyers. It has the tools ready to create a fantastic customer experience as they journey through the sales process and learn more about your brand. It includes features such as email marketing, advert software, website tools and a service hub where you can collaborate with your team. HubSpot is an all-in-one solution to scaling up a business.
- Zoho – this CRM platform is similar to HubSpot, however it is more streamlined in terms of features. For example, it does not have the team collaboration ability that HubSpot does, but not all business owners want an all-in-one solution. Although the CRM part of HubSpot is free, Zoho offers cheaper pricing plans overall.
- Zapier – this platform allows for easy sharing of information between apps, helping to automate workflows. Connect two or more apps to create a ‘zap’, which then triggers more actions that you set, automating those repetitive tasks and saving you time. With over 3000 apps to choose from, there is not much that Zapier can’t connect!
Using the right tools for business is a must, as working efficiently saves you time and money. When you are not chasing to keep up, you can put your energy into developing and scaling your business further. If you are looking for advice on setting up systems to help you work smarter, or would like help to implement the right tools for your business, feel free to get in touch!
Simply put, business systems are a combination of strategies, tools and processes that help coordinate activities and allow people to work together and to achieve a specific goal, or solve a problem. No matter what the task, a series of actions need to be completed in order to get it done. Systems may work well, or they may not! But, every business, even the smallest, needs effective systems in place to facilitate the day to day running, encourage growth and maximise profits.
The right systems bring many benefits to a business. Not only do they ensure that the needs of both the business and its customers/clients are met, but it does so in a way that makes operations cost-effective and efficient.
Types of Business Systems
Every business needs systems, but what they are and the priority of each one will depend on the business niche and the business goals. As a rule, each business area typically has its own systems that enables movement in steps from point A to point B. Areas of business such as payroll, human resources, inventory management, marketing and accounts each has a set of actions, processes and software that are different from one another, but they all add to the journey that achieves a goal or solves a problem.
Some systems may be small, such as sending out email campaigns. Others may be larger and more complex, such as on-boarding new clients or staff members. It is also important to work out who is responsible for running each system, so that it works properly. For example, if a payroll system does not have someone to ensure all the necessary inputs are made in the right time frames, it would lead to a lot of unhappy employees!
Successful business systems create easy workflows, but it is important to realise that systems also need to be flexible so they can be adapted when business needs change. For example, a change in the market, new rules and regulations, or changing demands of a supplier, could create gaps in output or bottle necks that slow down productivity. Having flexible systems in place helps to keep business flowing during times of change.
Whatever the purpose of a system, it needs to run smoothly to reduce the need for additional work and supervision, allowing business owners and their staff to work smarter, not harder.
Do your business systems need upgrading?
Good business systems create standards for consistent output, streamlining your processes and operations. This also makes your business more profitable. However, creating the right systems and implementing them can be a challenge, especially where old systems that worked previously are no longer up to the job.
Sometimes when we have done things in a certain way for a long time, it can be daunting to make changes, especially when there are many other correlating links in the chain of action that may also need to be changed. That is when hiring an Online Business Manager (OBM) can help.
Developing new systems can be a time consuming process, but it is worth it in the long run. An OBM can look at the systems you already have in place and, with a fresh set of eyes, can see what works well and what could be improved. They have the skills and expertise to tweak existing systems, or completely overhaul them, by developing new processes and finding the right tools to create better workflows for your business.
When business systems work well, it means that time and energy is not wasted and can be channelled into new areas of development, or give business owners the chance of a better work/life balance. If that sounds interesting, get in touch to see how we can work together!
Sometimes the words ‘Virtual Assistant’ (VA) and ‘Online Business Manager’ (OBM) are used interchangeably. While both are support roles for a business, there are some key differences between the two. If you’ve been considering hiring a VA or OBM, knowing the difference will help you decide what level of service you need for your business.
What is the role of a VA?
When your business grows and tasks become too much to handle with the capacity and resources you have, outsourcing to a VA is a great option. Whether it is help with general admin, or specialist tasks such as social media management, a VA has the expertise to take on many common business processes on your behalf. A VA takes direction from you, so when you want help, you send your VA tasks for completion.
A VA often works for a number of clients, each for an agreed amount of hours per week.
What does an OBM do?
An online business manager is less task oriented than a VA, rather they focus their expertise on helping you manage your business to drive growth and increase revenue. Partnering with an OBM means you allow them to understand your business inside out, and use their knowledge to work independently and manage things as they see fit. The advantage with this is that you do not have to micro-manage, an OBM can solve problems and keep your business running smoothly without your input.
Another advantage of working with an OBM is that you can take time off work or put your effort into new projects without worrying about the details of your existing business. Your OBM handles it all!
Adding to the confusion between the two roles, there may be some VA’s that also offer OBM services, but an OBM typically dedicates more time to their clients and has a deeper level of business management knowledge. An OBM tends to have fewer clients, and charges a higher rate due to their higher level of business acumen and expertise.
Do you need an OBM or a VA?
The level of help you need, how much control you are willing to hand over, as well as your budget, will be factors in deciding whether to hire a VA or an OBM for your business.
If you are looking for someone to oversee the complete management of a project, want to hand over the running of some parts of your business, or need help with planning and strategy to take your business forward, an OBM is the right choice for you.
If you need more staffing power to speed up day to day tasks, you like to keep a close eye on your operations, or would prefer to hand over the less exciting jobs to free up your time, a VA is there to help.
It is easy to see why the two roles are often confused with one another, as there is some overlap with the types of activities that a VA does, and an OBM will oversee. But when you really understand the difference, the two roles are distinct.
There are many great reasons to hire an OBM, especially for small business owners and entrepreneurs who typically lack a balance in their professional and personal life. There may also be a point where you feel as if you are spending too much time managing your business, and not doing the creative thinking that made you start your business in the first place. Whatever the reason for hiring an OBM, it can make a huge difference to your time, stress levels and overall well-being, as well as enabling new business growth and direction.
If you are looking for an OBM to help take your business forward, feel free to get in touch.
When you run a business, there are always ongoing jobs that take up precious time. It can be frustrating to spend hours on tasks that need doing, yet which don’t necessarily push your business forward, bring in money, or drive growth. Luckily, there are some ways to make life easier and free up more time to focus on other areas of your business, and that is by using automation tools. Here’s a quick guide to some business processes and workflows that can be automated, and some of the best tools to use.
Even though we live in the digital era, accounting still uses many different processes and ways to gather information. It may involve data entry into numerous spreadsheets, electronic and paper invoices, filing, and using a calculator. But, using automation tools can save you time, eliminate human error, and give you the convenience of retrieving information whenever you need it. What’s more, many of the tools will merge seamlessly with your accounting software and can interact with one another. For example, payments that arrive through a gateway such as Stripe or PayPal can assimilate with accounting software, for an invoice or receipt to be created using a tool such as Zapier.
Not just for accounting, Zapier is a fantastic tool for connecting different apps and automating many business processes. It allows data to be shared from many apps you use, and passes information between them, so workflows become more streamlined.
Call scheduling tools make it easy for clients or people interested in your services to book a time slot for a call. It is then automatically added to a calendar so you can see exactly what is booked in on any day. This saves you time on sending correspondence via email to arrange appointments, and organising your diary.
Some of the best call scheduling tools are Calendly, ScheduleOnce, HubSpot and YouCanBook.me (I use this one), and most will also sync with Google apps such as Google Calendar and Gmail.
Creating an engaged community around your business is an essential part of marketing, but posting on social media takes time. This is especially true if you have an audience on many different platforms. One great way to save time is to use social media scheduling tools. This means you can batch create posts and set them to be published at the best times of day to reach your audience, and it can be done in advance.
Tools such as Hootsuite can schedule posts across different platforms, and you can also reply to comments, see new followers and keep an eye on your timeline too. Other options include Social Sprout, Buffer and Later. The key features of many of these tools allow you manage multiple social media platforms from one place, saving time.
Lead Magnets and Email Marketing
When someone lands on your website, one of the best ways for them to become a customer or client is to offer them something, in return for their email address. Once you have a subscriber, you can then contact them directly with news of the services you provide. Lead magnets include useful resources, such as a planner or template, an eBook, a mini email course or taster coaching session.
Once you have your lead magnet created, it can automatically be sent once a website visitor has opted in. Every new subscriber will follow the same path, and receive a lead magnet and set of follow up emails over time, automatically. One of the most commonly used tools for this is MailChimp. Other options include ActiveCampaign, InfusionSoft and ConvertKit.
Using automation tools can be a great benefit to your business, and many are free to begin with. As your business grows, or you increase your use of the tools, you may need to upgrade to use additional features. When running a business, smooth workflows makes all the difference. If you want some helpful advice on how we can work together to streamline your processes, feel free to get in touch.
An Online Business Manager (OBM) provides professional, managerial level support for businesses. While there are similarities between an OBM and a Virtual Assistant (VA), there is a marked difference. A VA provides general office support, whereas an OBM oversees and manages a wide range of operational processes, freeing up your time so you can use your expertise where it is needed most.
Here are the top 5 reasons how hiring an online business manager benefits your business:
1. Handles Daily Tasks
Those daily tasks that seem to get in the way, yet are an essential part of keeping your business running smoothly, can all be handled by an online business manager. Project management, administration, communicating with staff and customers, organising documents and data… an OBM can create efficient workflows and improve time management.
2. Increase Growth
When you are not bogged down in the nitty gritty of core operations, it allows you to focus your time on developing your business further. You will have more time and resources to scale up and expand your customer base, and be able to act on new opportunities that come up.
Not only that, an OBM is likely to have the experience and skills to help you create new business strategies, and a wide business network where you can make new connections.
3. Fresh Set of Eyes
Sometimes, we are so close to our business that we ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’. When you first began your business, you may have had ways of doing things that worked well at the time. However, as your business grows or changes, those processes become less efficient. It can be hard to make changes when you’ve always done things a certain way, or don’t have time to implement a new way of working. An OBM is a fresh set of eyes on your business, and may be able to suggest new ways of streamlining processes that you never thought of before.
4. Improve Work/Life Balance
Running a business is often challenging, especially for entrepreneurs who have to manage many aspects. When you spread yourself too thinly, both your business and your personal life begin to show the strain. There may also be times when you need to take a day or two off, such as through illness or commitments. It’s impossible to be in two or three places at once and still expect to be working effectively, so hiring an OBM can help provide that much needed manpower to make sure all areas of your business are running smoothly.
5. Freedom to be Creative
As a business owner, founder, or CEO, you are the visionary that steers the ship. When the day-to-day pressure is lessened, you can use your creativity to think of new ways to develop your business, how to best serve your customers or clients, and create future plans that fully align with your business values.
Ready to find out more?
Whatever the size of your business, if you are finding that time spent on core processes is slowing down growth, then hiring an OBM could be the answer you’re looking for. Feel free to get in touch to see how we could work together to support the growth of your business.