If there’s one universal descriptor that defines small-business owners, it’s “busy.” In many ways, technology has made our lives even busier. Fortunately, there are also ways to use technology to simplify your life, and make yourself and your team more productive. Here are three that work for me.
1. Use cloud-based storage. Cloud storage was a game-changer that has simplified the once-onerous process of backing up your data. No more scheduling backups and storing drives off-site—now, the whole process can be automatic. But to amp up your productivity, take the cloud beyond a backup solution by choosing a cloud service that lets you access your data anytime, anywhere. There are dozens of cloud options out there for small business. Here are a few to consider:
Dropbox syncs and updates your data instantly across shared folders so you always have the latest version of everything on all your devices or from the Dropbox website. It works with Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry; and it even works when you’re offline. The basic version is free and might be all you need; there’s also a business version.
After years of rumors, Google just launched its GDrive cloud storage service. If you’re like many small business owners, you probably already use Google Docs at least sometimes to share data. GDrive offers 5GB of storage free; there are also paid options, and the integration with all the Google Apps (Gmail, Google Calendar, etc.) is a plus.
Love Microsoft Office? Then you might want to check out Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud solution that lets your team work together and access e-mail, Web conferencing, documents and calendars wherever they are. Since it’s built for business, it offers business-class security and works with businesses of all sizes.
2. Simplify social media. No small-business owner can afford to ignore social media, but managing all our accounts can become a huge time-suck. Take back your time by using tools that let you manage all your accounts from one dashboard. Here are some popular options:
Hootsuite.com lets you manage multiple social media accounts, schedule messages, posts and tweets. It also tracks mentions of your company in social media and runs analytics. The basic plan is free and the Pro plan is just $5.99 a month.
If you’ve got a bigger business with multiple users managing your accounts, or multiple social media accounts for different product lines or locations, check out Sendible, which offers similar features to Hootsuite, but has more options that enable groups and teams to collaborate. Plans start at $29.99 monthly.
If you’re always on e-mail, check out NutshellMail from Constant Contact. It monitors all activity related to your social media accounts and delivers an e-mail summary. You can post, tweet and manage your accounts from within your e-mail without logging into multiple accounts. And—it’s free.
3. Get a grip on your e-mail. Handling the flood of e-mail is easier said than done. However, there are some tactics that can help. You don’t have to use all of them (I’ll admit I don’t), because even making one of these changes can make a big difference.
Start with some basic etiquette. Limit “reply alls,” don’t feel you need to send “thanks” after every exchange, keep e-mails short, and e-mail only when it’s really the best way to communicate. Sometimes, picking up the phone, IMing or walking next door to someone’s office is faster.
Set expectations for e-mail within your business. Your team is probably overloaded with e-mails too. Discuss standards for what requires e-mail and what doesn’t, when to CC and how to create concise, clear subject lines (“Status Meeting Today 4pm” is much better than “Hey Everyone”).
Minimize how many e-mails you receive. Regularly prune the lists you subscribe to so you don’t get overloaded. Set up separate e-mail accounts for things like newsletters or personal (shopping/deals/sports) e-mails so your main inbox doesn’t get swamped.
Filter. With today’s improved search features, sorting e-mails into folders can be a waste of time. If you must create folders (I admit, I use folders all the time) use the filtering tools available in your e-mail program to automate it. You can also use filters to handle recurring messages by sending them to your assistant or sending an automated response.
There are many more steps you can take to be more productive, but these three will get you well on the way.
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