Posted by Adrian Wilson on April 11, 2017
Every business has repetitive tasks and while some are just facts of life, be assured that others can definitely be fully or at least semi-automated.
Your time is a valuable resource therefore taking advantage of time-saving apps for recurring processes can help focus your attention on growing your business and working towards broader objectives and long term company goals. As Director of a web design agency in Belfast I’m always open to integrating new digital tools which can save the agency time and allow the team to focus on our most important tasks for clients. That’s not to say I’ll try anything, in fact, those that know me will tell you how I can become a little obsessive in my research by reading reviews, using discussion forums and I always make sure to trial each app to look for any downfalls before making the decision to incorporate it into the business.
The 3 key questions we ask at Green17 Creative are:
If you answered yes to any of these relating to your own business, it’s time to explore your options. There are a mind-boggling number of specialised online tools to help all types of businesses but I have deliberately kept my recommended selection as general as possible for SMEs so there should hopefully be something here for everyone.
1. Xero – My first recommendation may not be particularly exciting, however, an easy accounting process is something we all want as SMEs. Xero has done an exceptional job at this with automated bank feeds and staff salaries as well as simple Euro/GBP transactions which is great for cross-border trading in the island of Ireland. With Xero, it's quick and easy to log in and view real-time activity for better and up-to-date decision making. It also offers a 30 day free trial to let you explore its features first-hand.
2. LastPass – This is also high on the list as it’s something that every company needs to invest in to avoid becoming compromised in some way. Green17 Creative regularly see companies using weak security due to lack of education around the risk this poses, and it’s something we’re passionate about teaching. Many companies also use one password for multiple accounts which means if they get hacked through a phishing email or website they are compromising lots of accounts instead of just one. LastPass is a free app which saves all passwords in one place, auto-filling these when you visit each website. It also allows for effective team management whereby different user groups have limited access to passwords e.g. Directors only have access to passwords for finance sites etc. Auto-filled passwords are also hidden meaning that temporary staff or students can log in using LastPass but can never see the password itself.
3. G Suite (Google Apps) – These tools are invaluable to our agency and save time for us on an everyday basis. Calendar makes it easy to share schedules via multiple calendars for different staff or projects, which can all sync across multiple devices. Google Docs and Sheets also allow us to quickly share and collaborate on documents or reports which update automatically, saving time having to email documents back and forth, working and saving versions independently of one another.
4. Timetastic - This a great little tool that lets you quickly manage staff holidays. In the early days of business, we had the time-consuming task of working out holidays and letting staff view these. Timetastic allows staff to see when others have booked time off which means they can understand if their request is likely to impact the team's workload. We have also integrated this with Slack (our online chat tool) which provides notifications when someone is out-of-office.
5. Active Collab – As an agency we rely heavily on this project management tool which lets us assign tasks and track progress on a per client and per project basis. Clients can also log in for live updates on a project's process and or receive email notifications from the system to update them. This app is our most important for streamlining the business and allows us as a micro-business to compete with larger agencies. As with all tools though, it’s only as good as the data that goes into it, but Active Collab makes it easy for everyone to add tasks, track time using a convenient timer tool and communicate with the whole project team for better project management.
6. Trello - Another task list tool which works really well for us. We show Trello on a big screen in our studio that we can all glance at for a quick top level overview of upcoming deadlines. There are some companies out there that use this as their single project management tool and this is possible, however, we use it to help us focus on the top-level parts of projects and leave the finer details to Active Collab.
7. Slack – Even in small studios like ours, Slack is a very useful tool which saves time for everyone. This communication tool allows team members to send quick questions, links to information or resources, documents and more to one another internally without using email, which we reserve for external communication with clients. Slack also supports a lot of third-party integration e.g. TimeTastic and Google Calendars, which updates the team every morning from one handy app.
8. Buffer – Social media scheduling is undoubtedly a time-saving process for all businesses using these platforms, and there are many tools on the market for this. My favourite is Buffer which lets you schedule, publish and analyse posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest in one place. It also has a convenient mobile app for when you’re on the go.
9. Pinterest – You might think this is just for recipes, home décor and wedding planning, but Pinterest is a fantastic tool for categorising visual ideas, particularly for those in the creative industry. Again, teams can collaborate and share ideas in one place for how campaigns could look, logo and branding ideas, office interiors and more… it will surprise you how useful this tool can be.
10. Dropbox - Lastly is Dropbox, which many of you will be familiar with for online storage. We use it to streamline our business in two ways – firstly, it syncs between our main office server to some laptops and my home computer, making documents easily retrievable. Secondly, and most importantly it allows us to share large documents and folders with clients. Some clients still use WeTransfer, Zip folders in emails or USB sticks (thankfully not CD-roms anymore!) but the beauty of Dropbox is in its syncing – updates can be made quickly and any edits updated without the need to re-send.
Integrating the apps above into our own business model has been very successful for us as an agency. In fact, it has recently given us the time to create our first in-house interactive resource for children called My Transfer Test, a project which we have been passionate about creating for some time.
I hope you find these recommended apps useful and I would encourage you to investigate at least a few, as most are inexpensive and come with free trials to explore. Remember that every business is different so it’s important to explore and understand what can and perhaps can’t work with your team before incorporating them in to your business.