By Meredith Wood
The proliferation of apps to help small business owners is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great that there are so many business tools to streamline our lives…but there are so many tools out there, choosing the right ones for you can be overwhelming. Here are five business tools you shouldn’t run any business without.
Why: Quick and easy solution for getting a grip on pesky travel expenses
If you or your employees travel on business as often as I do, you’ll love Concur’s solutions for business travelers. One of its most useful business tools, ExpenseIt, makes dealing with annoying piles of expense receipts a thing of the past. No more fishing around in your purse or pockets to find that tiny receipt for your cab ride—just take a picture of the receipt and toss the paper; the app records and categories the expense. Concur for Mobile is another useful tool that integrates business travel and expense management, allowing you to book travel, manage itineraries and manage expenses from your mobile device. Concur offers a range of products for everyone from the small business to the enterprise, making it a business tool that can grow as your company does.
Free 30-day trial; then small business solutions start at $8 per person per month.
Why: Keep all your “read it laters” in one place
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you come across 10,000 interesting articles/blog posts/business ideas a day you’d like to look at later. Save them all in one place with Pocket, the app that lets you save just about anything to read later—even when you’re offline. Get an email with an interesting link? Send it to Pocket. No time to digest that 10,000-word New York Times article just now? Save it to Pocket with one click and you can read it on the plane. Anything that can be viewed online can be saved to Pocket from an email, the Web, your computer or just about any mobile device and platform, including Apple, Android, Kindle, Amazon Fire, Windows and yes, even BlackBerry. Pocket is also integrated in over 300 third-party apps, so you can save to Pocket without leaving the app. Whether you actually get around to reading all the stuff you’ve saved in Pocket later…well, that’s up to you.
Why: Meetings made easy
Meetings can get bogged down when we waste time searching for emails and documents, or have different memories of what we decided or who was following up. Do eliminates these headaches by putting all your meeting stuff in one place. First, it creates a visual timeline of upcoming meetings, topics and attendees. Pre-meeting, you can upload all the materials needed for the meeting (notes, emails, agendas, documents, PowerPoints, etc.) to the Do “canvas.” Once the meeting starts, participants can take collaborative notes in real-time so there’s a record of what’s discussed and decided. Items recorded in Do are easily searchable. After the meeting, just push a button and Do automatically emails the meeting notes to everyone you choose.
Why: No more toggling between social media accounts
Marketing via social media is essential to small business owners, but managing multiple social media accounts while also running your business can quickly turn into a disorganized nightmare. Hootsuite helps you pull it all together by providing one platform you can use to manage social profiles for more than 35 popular social networks in one place. You can schedule and reply to posts, save common responses to post again and again, target the users you want to see your messages, monitor what people are saying about your business and identify online “influencers” as well as possible leads. Analytics tools let you measure results, see characteristics of your followers and find out what type of social media content gets the most engagement and clicks. The free plan lets you manage up to three social media accounts, schedule one post at a time and get basic analytics reports; the Pro version offers much more functionality including the ability to schedule hundreds of messages ahead of time and add more users so your employees can get involved, too.
Pro: Free 30-day trial; plans start at $9.99 per month.
Why: Turns a dead hard drive from a disaster into a minor annoyance
Backing up your computer used to be a big hassle, but with cloud-based backup services, there’s no longer any excuse for not backing up your data. With plans for one computer that start as low as $59.99 per year, Carbonite automatically backs up your files when you’re connected to the internet, saves encrypted copies of your data in state-of-the-art data centers, and gives you 24/7 access to your data in the cloud no matter where you are. If your hard drive gets destroyed or files get corrupted, simply restore the data from Carbonite and you’re good to go again. Higher-level plans offer more security, such as backing up external hard drives or providing HIPAA-compliant data storage for companies in healthcare industries. Best of all, you can actually talk to a real person on the phone when you need help, and the company’s customer service is based in the U.S.
Pricing starts at $59.99 annually