12 Essential Tools Your Business Needs to be Efficient

Small businesses, big businesses, self-employed freelancers--just about everyone would benefit from one of their resources being infinite.

And we're not talking about money.

Time. we're talking about time.

We can guarantee that today almost all of us will start, progress, or finish at least one task that we could complete with greater speed and accuracy with the help of technology.

So, without further delay--yes, we see you looking at your watch, your digital watch--here are 12 tools that are essential for making your business more efficient. And that statement applies whether you’re a freelance writer or the CEO of an enormous services company.

1 An office suite that offers real-time collaboration

How many times have you tried to edit that word document, or the monthly report spreadsheet, and met a frustrating pop-up box, whose only objective seems to be to impede your progress. You don’t even read the message, it just says “blah blah blah READ ONLY.” At that point, you click okay, and then hit the red X to close it and do something else because what’s the point right now if you can’t edit it?

Let’s all sigh a collective sigh in memory of those moments.

It’s 2018. It’s time we opened the innovation windows and let a little real-time collaboration zephyr into our workplaces, right?

Simply put, Google Docs is that zephyr. It’s that “breath of fresh air” your documents need.

Because let’s face it, Read Only stinks.

The Google Suite is free, syncs up with Gmail, and enables you to devise, store, and share documents with your collaborators. Word docs, spreadsheets, and slideshow presentations--all no problem. And you can convert Microsoft Office files to Google Docs, too, just as long as you’re not using Microsoft Office that’s older than 95. (But if you are, what are you doing?)

When you share, you can choose whether somebody can edit with you, or just suggest comments to you, or, if you’re feeling tyrannical, you can set their privileges to VIEW ONLY. Let them watch you in real time. How dastardly.

Oh, and about 3 seconds after you stop typing or clicking, Google saves the file.

2 Shift planning software

Why oh why should you lose valuable time planning rotas and establishing who’s going to be working when? 

With a planning tool for shifts and rotas, you can reclaim lost time. You want your tool to give you the option to create a single rota, or multiple rotas at once. And, a reliable piece of software is a far more efficient way to handle tasks such as scheduling time off for staff than a messy spreadsheet that you’re not sure you even understand anymore.

You want to be able to share a new rota with your staff at all times--otherwise, what’s the point? This way, you’re placing accountability in the hands of your staff, and giving them a chance to prove their timekeeping is impeccable.

Oh, and wouldn’t it be great if the tool you use for your shifts and rotas gave you unlimited cloud storage space? The best ones do.

And as for other cloud storage…

3 Cloud storage

Stop looking out of your office window--none of those clouds are the cloud. That’s the phrase, these days. The cloud. They’re in the cloud.

We keep thinking, it must be one heavy cloud.

There are a number of very cost-effective and secure cloud storage options that you can choose from. The industry leader, Dropbox, seems to be one of those tools that even our grandparents know about now.

Dropbox allows you to store your important (and unimportant) files in that heavy cloud. You don’t need to worry about those big storage servers at the back of the office anymore--get everything in the cloud. Make it heavier.

When you sign up to Dropbox, you initially receive 2GB of free storage. For $10 a month, this goes up to 1000GB, or 1TB. Features such as versioning and recovery come with your subscription. And of course, you can use both Dropbox and most of its competitors both as a web interface and a mobile/tablet app.

4 Finance tools for the pro

Who knew that you could save time by having a tool to help you with your business’s finances?

A good finance tool needs to offer you value for money. And that value comes in its features. What are you looking for? The chance to create personalised invoices? Produce customer and supplier statements?

We're guessing you want to connect the tool to your bank account and, well, if you’re multinational, would it help to have multi-currency options? You bet it would.

Sage One lets you access your accounts anytime, anywhere. It’s digital made simple. Time spent on excessive finance admin is a thing of the past, and let’s keep it that way.

5 Forgotten your password again? Good job you have a tool now

That’s right, kids. We’ve all forgotten passwords. One sign-up form requires a simple 6-character password, and the next sign-up form is asking you for a minimum of 8 characters, at least one capital letter, at least one number, at least one special character, and for you to do all of this with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back.

Oh, and by the way, the small print: you had to remember the password too. Pfft. Small print.

One example is LastPass. It works with all the major internet browsers (Chrome, Edge, Opera, Firefox, Safari), and it stores your passwords securely. You can’t see the locks, though. They’re a bit like the cloud.

Before you can ever access your ‘vault’ of passwords, you’ll use LastPass’s two-factor authentication. Another great feature is that LastPass servers have ZERO access to your data.

All you need to do to get started is create a master password—unfortunately, you have to remember it, but it might just be the last password you ever need to remember.

You can compare password manager tools here.

6 Dictate to me

Sometimes you’ve got a great idea, and you need to just vomit that idea out of your head as quickly as you can.

That’s where dictation as a tool still comes in handy. And there are two options. Sure, you could buy a dictaphone. Or even download a dictaphone app, and just start saving your thoughts as audio files.

But sometimes you might want to dictate to a word processor, and watch the client letter take shape as you dictate. That’s where tools such as Apple’s Dictation are great. 

It’s hands-free, so if you think you can multitask, why not try folding laundry simultaneously?

For every 250 words you speak (clearly, if you please), tests suggest you’ll get one or two inaccurate words. That’s a 99% success rate. And what’s more, tools like this support numerous languages.

Just remember that you’re talking to machine--it can’t understand you clearly if you try speaking with your mouth full. Don’t eat and dictate.

7 Email hosting that’s simple and cost-effective

Unless you’re a hip freelancer who doesn’t mind using your personal email address with the embarrassing aesthetics, then you want a professional email for your business. You know the type: yourname@yourbusiness.com

You want lots of storage, so you can save correspondence and attachments. You might want to integrate your mailbox with Outlook, and other email clients. And who could say no to more than one mailbox?

FuseMail is a great option, and guess what? It offers all the above, and for ridiculously affordable prices, too. No, seriously.

8 And now that you have your very own professional email, why not send an error-free email?

Don’t worry. My back is fine. My chair is fine. Ish. 

Sometimes when we’re typing, our fingers do that thing where they hit a key we didn’t mean to hit. If you’ve ever played guitar, you’ll know you have to spend a lot of time training your brain to really control each finger.

So, when you hit a wrong key, or simply don’t know how to spell a word like agomphious, or you find yourself stuck in the passive voice, putting apostrophes where they don’t belong, splicing your clauses, and getting that old that-which problem mixed up...you need a proofreading tool.

If you can deal with the fact that in order to get the most out of a proofreading tool a soulless AI is going to be watching you type while your work, and essentially be the irritating over-the-shoulder reader who points out all of your flaws, then what are you waiting for? The best tools for getting a grip on your spelling and grammar are available as internet browser extensions and desktop/mobile applications.

9 While you’re writing, why not get a tool for taking notes, too?

Have you ever opened a folder and found crumpled post-it notes with your illegible scrawl on them? Timeless, truly. But when you want to make notes, and keep track of them (oh, and be able to read them, too), you’re better off with a note taking tool.

The best tools offer you cloud storage and let you make plenty of notes, both on the web and through their app. Whether you simply want to make notes during meetings, or you’re planning your next short story collection, a note taking tool might help you organise those wayward thoughts and prevent you forgetting key actions.

10 Make yourself remote with a laptop or tablet

Okay, so this one is hardware rather than software, but there are plenty of benefits. Have you ever been sitting in a meeting, wishing you had a laptop to show your colleagues what you’re trying to explain and feeling crushed when they dismiss you with the old, “Send it over when you get back to your desk, would you?” 

With a remote device, you’re equipped for meetings anywhere you go, especially if you’ve got an internet connection. They’re easy to carry, and you can work from home. Or in cafes, bars, on trains, planes, and outside in the sun if it suits you. No more staying in the office until midnight. Just get home, have your dinner, relax for a while, and then get your remote device out of its small case and do that extra hour you need to do.

11 What about a simple tool that helps you build a client-winning website?

What a great idea.

BaseKit Sitebuilder is a user-friendly and cost-effective sitebuilder tool that’ll have you up and running with your business in no time. They want your business’s online presence to be unique.

Its features include unlimited page creation, unlimited templates, social media integration, free stock images, and all the developer tools you could need.

If you go premium, you can even sell unlimited products and accept all major credit cards while your customers pass through a safe and secure shopping cart journey. BaseKit is compatible with computer, mobile, and tablet. So, if you’re planning to invest in some remote hardware, you can carry on designing your BaseKit website in your favourite watering hole. Who said work couldn’t be fun?

12 And now you’re up and running, it’s time to manage your projects efficiently

A business wouldn’t truly be saving time without an ergonomic project management tool that helps you identify what tasks are going to take 25 hours of your week, and which one is just a 30 minute burst of your concentration.

That’s where project management tools come in.

You want to be able to set priorities on daily, weekly, monthly, and heck, even yearly bases. You want to be able to differentiate between completed projects and ongoing projects; between which new hires are here, and which haven’t started yet; between sales pipeline leads; and a whole load more.

And, you want this dashboard to be integratable with your other tools--such as your note taking tool or your cloud storage tool.

You want checklists, you want 24/7 connectivity, and most importantly, it has to look colourful…

Now what are you waiting for? Get after it and make your business more efficient.

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