As almost every business now relies heavily on technology and computers, it has become increasingly important to choose the right digital business tools to have in your toolbox.
To help you along, we are listing the business tools (software, phone apps, and web apps) we use in our day-to-day business. Chances are you will find a new tool for your business that benefits you. If you have suggestions for an addition that should make this list that we have missed then please leave a comment in the comment form below.
Benefits of a Good Business Tool
There are four aspects that define a good business tool:
- Saves you Time
- Saves you Money (ties into #1)
- Easy to Use
- Inexpensive or Free
The tools and software we present have at least one of these attributes, but many will have several if not all.
Essential Business Tools
Microsoft Outlook is probably the software business tool that we use most. It ties all of our email addresses into one central command. Using filters, email can be automatically sorted, deleted, or moved to the spam box. It’s also easy to archive and backup emails and there is virtually no limit to how many emails you can have. On top of all this functionality, we also use plugins that allow us to do everything from track email campaigns to create paypal invoices.
Arguably the best free email provider, Gmail has tons of great features that allow you to get most of the goodness of Outlook without paying a dime and is a great business tool. With priority mailbox, you can set rules to filter your emails in a number of ways to get to important emails quicker.
One of the most important features of Gmail email is that you can import email accounts from other providers. So if you have a Yahoo email address, a Hotmail email address, an AOL email address, and a Gmail address, you can funnel all of those email addresses into Google. No longer do you have to log in to each account and check emails at each site. Other providers either do not offer this or charge for it (ie Yahoo).
Another great feature of Gmail is that it uses Postini spam filtering. Postini offers some of the best spam filtering on the market and constantly gets rave reviews. We can attest to its usefulness as VERY little spam reaches our inboxes.
For these reasons (among others), Gmail is our go to solution for a smart phone app as we can easily view our email using the free Gmail app. For those that use Outlook, you can also get a connector program that links your Gmail data with your Outlook data, and vice versa.
This great Android app (also available for iPhone and iPad) is a great scheduler/calendar for on the go. There are tons of scheduling apps available but what makes this one special is that it is rock-solid, free, and integrates with Gmail for a seamless calendar experience across the board from desktop to phone. For example, if you are on site with a client and the client wants to schedule a meeting, you can pull up your schedule on Schedule St. and book a time to meet. When you enter the time, it can sync with your Google calendar and when you pull up your Google calendar from your desktop a few days later, you will see the time slot reserved.
Remember that Outlook connection program we mentioned before? It syncs your Gmail and Outlook. So when you look at your Outlook calendar, you will see the time slot reserved as well. In other words, it works seamlessly to sync Outlook, Gmail, and Schedule St. into one awesome system for keeping track of your schedule and tasks no matter where you are or what device you are using.
This is probably a given for most people so I will not go into it. If you want free alternatives that can work just as well, check out our previous blog post or check out this resource for more office business tools.
This is another obvious choice but needs to be stated. Using advanced search methods, you can uncover a treasure-trove of results that can save time, answer questions, and even provide you with new leads.
Paymo is an incredible, free web app for keeping track of time and billing clients. You can create any number of clients and tasks and then bill time to those clients with an easy to use stopwatch. Reports can be generated at any time, covering any time interval, and then be sent to a client as a PDF or a link. They also offer invoices and payment options for a monthly fee if this turns out to be an important business tool for you. We are quite happy with the free offering for our needs. (Hint: create “reports” instead of “invoices” and invoice your clients with paypal)
Alarm Clock Xtreme Free
This Android app provides a very flexible alarm clock and stopwatch. If you have set times when you need to do things throughout the day then you can use this app to remind you. Just load up an MP3 file and let your favorite song inform you it’s time to move on to something else. This is a great business tool for those of us that get carried away.
Hootsuite is an excellent control panel for your social media activity. If you wanted to, you could do all of your social media posting and reporting straight from the dashboard. But it gets better than that. We have our blog RSS feed linked to Hootsuite which in turn post to all of our social media accounts including Facebook and Twitter. There are over 40 different social sites that you can link to. When you post a blog post, your content gets sent to all of your social sites automatically. There’s no need to log into all of your social accounts and post a link to your article. This saves enormous amounts of time. With the reporting features, you can see metrics in near real-time.
By far the defacto social media site is Facebook. For that reason, it is important to stay on top of this incredible business tool not only with your own activities on Facebook, but the activities of others. Your competitors can give you ideas, but the best place to start with gathering ideas for your own posts and social activity is to scan Facebook everyday and look for trends or novel articles, pictures, or videos that can help your business in some way. When you start using Facebook with your business in mind, you’ll be surprised at how this simple change in perception can influence your business’ social presence.
Besides the many benefits of social media and spreading your blog, there are also several SEO benefits. For one thing, you get lots of backlinks and every time your story is shared you have the potential for new visitors.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
There is absolutely no point in pursuing SEO if you have no idea where you are right now and where you should be as far as search results are concerned. Google Analytics provides you with a suite of business tools to judge the performance of your website(s) and track it through time.
It’s important to check in on your metrics at least a couple of times a week. As you implement your SEO strategy, you want to be able to see increases in visitors and page views. As you change website elements to increase conversions, you want to be able to see higher interactivity (page views, conversions, email sign ups, etc.).
Google Webmaster Tools / Bing Webmaster Tools
Google and Bing both provide great business tools for analyzing your website(s). With your webmaster tools you can identify website issues (uncrawlable pages, broken links, html issues) and view performance data (backlinks, search queries, visitors). Like Google Analytics, you should regularly review your data for any signs of bad performance or website issues.
Commercial SEO Products
Tons of commercial SEO products exist today. We’re not going to cover any of them in this article, but there are winners and losers just like any software category. If you are serious about SEO and/or are a professional SEO then consider the following criteria when choosing your commercial SEO tools:
- Does it have a recurring monthly fee? If so, does it provide you with the tools that will allow you to pay for it and then some?
- Does it provide an extensive suite of tools?
- How many people use it and what are their results?
Avast Free Antivirus is easily the best free antivirus on the market today. Even in the free version, it is proactive and really does block threats before they come a problem. Their secret lies in heuristic analysis of common virus behavior. We use it on all our PCs and install it for free for all of our clients. It is a must have if you are using a PC. Ditch the Norton or McAfee and start using REAL protection.
This is an enormously powerful tool for removing all kinds of security threats as well as privacy concerns (tracking cookies, spyware, trojans, keyloggers, etc.). The paid version gives you more features and better active security, but the free version is a great business tool on its own as long as you remember to update and run it every once in a while.
What Essential Business Tools Did we Miss?
Our business tools have evolved over time and we have found new and better tools while abandoning old ways. Do you know of some better tools? Or maybe we missed some key business software that should not be omitted? Let us know!
Leave a comment below or contact us.