There are never enough minutes in a day. If only you could hire an assistant, limit distractions, stay head down, and crank out more work, everyone in the office would be happier, and your business would benefit, right? Yet, on your own, you'll never be 100 percent productive--humans just aren't wired that way. But technology can help. Here are a handful of great tools you can use to save time on the job.
Although Sprout Social and HootSuite are popular social-media-management tools that do all sorts of helpful things, a third option should be on your radar for being simple to use and a huge time saver. Buffer is a tool that lets you link social-media profiles from places such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ and schedule posts to go out across multiple platforms at once. It also includes analytics that not only show you how many reshares or favorites a post receives but also how many people clicked on a link within it.
And if you struggle with finding good content to share, Buffer offers suggestions of posts you can push out to followers that include links to inspirational quotes as well as productivity and life-hacking tips. Pricing ranges from free to $250 a month for large organizations. Also accessible via iOS and Android apps.
If responding to customer emails is a pain point for you, Freshdesk is worth checking out. Consistently lauded for being easy to use, the cloud-based customer service solution can streamline the number of email addresses through which customers contact your company while letting your team manage support tickets in a plethora of automated ways. Other great features include multichannel support via phone, chat, and social networks as well as smart knowledge base suggestions, time tracking to know how long you're spending on tickets, integrated community forums, gamification for agents, mobile accessibility, and integration with more than 30 applications you may already be using. Pricing ranges from free for basic features (up to three agents) to $49 a month per agent to access all the platform's features.
Scads of easy-to-use services let you take payments using a mobile device coupled with a small dongle plugged into the headphone jack of your phone or tablet. Flint Mobile does away with the extra hardware and instead uses your device's camera to read the numbers on the front of a credit card. All that's left to do is tap in the card's security code and customer billing Zip code and have the customer sign with a finger. Flint also offers invoicing via email with online bill payment and the ability to accept, track, and provide receipts for cash and check payments. The service charges 1.95 percent per transaction for debit cards or 2.95 percent per transaction for credit cards. Available for both iOS and Android. With the iOS app, small businesses can also create and manage coupons via email or Apple Passbook.
Most inventory-management systems are designed for enterprises and as a result are complicated and expensive to use. Tech startup Bloomforth came out of the gate earlier this year with a product that keeps small businesses in mind: inexpensive cloud-based inventory-management software that integrates with QuickBooks and automatically updates when a product sells. Also included: point-of-sale software, real-time appointment booking, and email newsletter campaigning as well as timekeeping that lets employees check their schedules and hours worked via any Internet-connected device. Pricing depends on the number of employees and ranges from free to $49 a month.
A Facebook page is often a small business's first foray into having an online presence, which makes Otonomic particularly appealing. It's a one-click tool that uses your company's Facebook fan page to create a mobile-optimized website that automatically updates every time you add content on the social network. Other features include the ability to add an online store to your site and customer reviews sourced from Facebook and search-engine optimization. The site builder just came out of beta and already has created websites for more than 20,000 businesses. Pricing starts at $4 a month.
If your business is one that holds events--maybe classes, networking opportunities, or information sessions, Localist is a cloud platform that lets organizers advertise their events on a central calendar moderated by someone who approves events via a "pending queue." Useful features include bulk uploading, which allows a person to add hundreds of events to a calendar at a time or automatically with feeds from other calendars, such as EventBrite or Google Calendar; recurrence scheduling; automated newsletters; and automatic venue matching that figures out where an event will be held after someone types only a few letters. Pricing starts at $99 a month.