When you’re running your own membership site or digital business, you know that time is the most precious commodity. Tasks are always piling up, the days seem to fly by, and big dreams that require careful planning keep getting pushed further and further back in your calendar. When you feel like you’re constantly putting out fires or doing menial tasks, it can be hard to set aside time (and energy) for some of the bigger picture things that your business needs to grow.
That’s why for today’s post I’m sharing my 10 best digital tools to maximize efficiency, make your day-to-day a little bit more manageable, and help carve out some time for the things that really ignite your passion.
These tools are designed to help streamline your processes, keep you focused, and in some cases even automate part of your work load. Ready? Let’s go!
There are an insane number of task managers out there (Asana, Trello, Basecamp, etc.) but Teamwork has always been my favorite. Firstly, you get 2 projects and 100mb of space for free with no obligation to ever upgrade or buy. Higher tiered packages are modestly priced and very flexible.
Secondly, unlike many other task managers, Teamwork has a timeline feature built in that allows you to set short-term AND long-term goals. You can set one overarching, milestone goal for your quarter which can then be broken down into various task lists, which are then broken down into specific tasks that are assigned to various team members. And all of these goals and tasks are neatly outlined for you in a calendar. It’s a nifty feature that helps me and my clients stay focused on the bigger picture and not get bogged down by the hundreds of little things we have to do to get there.
Thirdly, Teamwork isn’t just a to-do list manager: it’s an online hub for your entire business. You can store important files related to your projects in there for your entire team to access. You can send internal messages. You can create notebooks to track the minutes of any digital meetings you have. Your team members can log the hours they have spent on tasks (a great feature for checking in on what’s taking too much time). You can even create invoices and bill clients based on logged hours or project fees.
It's a platform that may take some time to fully learn and adjust to, but once you get the hang of it, it could be your most valuable digital business tool.
[File storing, organizing, and editing]
Most of you probably know about Google Drive for storing and sharing documents, spreadsheets, photos, files, folders, etc. It’s an incredible resource for keeping all the files you need globally accessible. That basically means that it doesn’t matter if you’re on your own computer/laptop, or a mobile device, or your mom’s computer because yours is broken… you still have access to the files you need most. Three cheers for the cloud!
Google drive also allows you to keep files up-to-the-second current among team members. What I mean by that is if you make a change to a Google document or spreadsheet, anyone else who has access to the file can instantly see those changes. You can also scroll through revision histories to find earlier versions, make suggestions in “edit” mode, and download ‘hard copies’ of final versions to save to your hard drive.
If your work involves multiple rounds of copy editing, constantly changing spreadsheets, or you simply have a lot of cooks in the kitchen, Google drive might be critical for maximizing team efficiency. Instead of sitting around waiting for Person A to make and email edits around, then Person B, then Person C… all 3 of you could be working on the same document at the same time in real time with a live chat feature to bounce ideas back and forth. This also elements any confusion of which version of a file that has been sent back and forth a hundred times is the most recent – you all have the same master file stored on the cloud. Genius!
[Invoicing, time tracking, and expense tracking]
Freshbooks is my favorite resource for any business owner who struggles with bookkeeping. Whether you’re looking for a sleeker and simpler way to send and manage invoices, track billable hours for client projects, or tally up all your business expenses – Freshbooks has got you covered.
If you’re spending hours of your days/weeks/months meticulously keeping track of your time sheets or handcrafting invoices or organizing receipts, you’re losing valuable time that could be spent elsewhere. Freshbooks is super easy to use, and they even have mobile apps so you can take all of your accounting tools on the go with you. Just purchased some new printer ink? Snap and upload a photo of the receipt and log it as an expense immediately. Done and done.
Digital distractions are dime a dozen these days, and nothing kills productivity faster than a shoe sale on your favorite website, right? If you’re prone to getting sidelined by certain websites or social media platforms, Anti-Social is about to change your life. It’s an app that blocks you out from any website that keeps you from cranking out work. Set the list of websites that tease and tempt you, set the built-in timer, and go! Anti-Social keeps you locked out for however many minutes/hours/days you need, and to override the system is messy and complicated. You can even put your Anti-Social on a schedule (for example, Mondays – Fridays 9am – 6pm you are fully locked out from all distraction sites).
My list includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Buzzfeed, and a plethora of online shopping sites (#noshame). But ever since I started using Anti-Social, I’ve been more productive in more concentrated bursts of time and visiting those beloved websites has become a treat or reward for finishing a chunk of my work. There is no better motivation than the promise of a silly cat video at the end of my digital lockout.
For many entrepreneurs, a solid chunk of time gets lost in scheduling client calls or appointments. Well Acuity is here to help make your life a little easier on that front. Acuity allows you to set up a calendar with available times for different types/lengths of appointments and then simply share the link with anyone who needs to schedule some time with you. Clients can book, reschedule, and cancel their own appointments without having to bother you with a flurry of text messages/calls/emails. Additionally, Acuity will send reminder and follow up emails to clients that have booked appointments, which keeps you from having big chunks of wasted time from missed calls/meetings. This is easily my favorite scheduling tool for hair stylists, dog walkers, marketing consultants, and just about anyone.
If your business requires a lot of paperwork (and if you’re a service provider, it very well might) you’re probably going insane creating contract after contract after contract. And your clients may not be thrilled about the prospect of having to print, sign, scan, and send back endless paperwork. What if they miss something? Then you have to start the whole process all over again and before you’ve even started providing your valuable service, your client is already feeling stressed and less than impressed.
Meet HelloSign – a digital tool that allows you to upload a template, customize it for each client, and clearly mark any parts that need their e-signature or initials before sending it off. When all parties have signed the contract, a final digital copy is emailed to everyone and can be stored within HelloSign itself or even your Google Drive. Easy peezy, lemon squeezee.
[Social media scheduler]
When you’re running an online business, a social media presence is a must. But who really has time to sit on Twitter/Facebook/Google+ all day posting status updates? I certainly don't. That’s why I use Hootsuite to schedule out social media content for the upcoming week (and sometimes even the whole month). Spend a Saturday filling up your Hootsuite calendar and let the posts roll out automatically!
On a related note, finding content to fill up your social marketing calendar can take up a lot of time and energy. Flipboard has made my life a million times easier on that front. It’s an app that looks and feels like a magazine, and you can create and follow magazines for an unlimited number of topics. Find something you like? You can either share it immediately to your social platforms or “flip it” into a magazine of your own creation and keep the link safe to upload into Hootsuite later. Flipboard has made keeping up to speed on industry trends a breeze for me and my clients, and I highly encourage you to try it out too!
[Social media stat tracker]
Once you’ve got a pile of content and you’re ready to schedule out some posts, I highly recommend using Bitly to shorten your links and help track the success of your marketing efforts. Bitly will keep track of how many times your link was clicked and where all it was further shared. It’s a very easy way to get some baseline stats on your social marketing strategy.
If you’re ready to kick up your online presence with a blog, CoSchedule is the only editorial calendar I would recommend. It’s layout is that of an actual monthly calendar so you can plan content well into the future. At the same time, you can plan out related social media posts to promote your editorial content. But what sets it apart from a variety of other calendar tools is how great it is for managing a small or large team of contributors/writers. You can assign different posts to various writers along with a breakdown of tasks and deadlines and even leave comments for one another to get the brain juices flowing. In case that wasn’t enough, their support is unbeatable and they really make you feel like a human being they genuinely care about with free online trainings, tons of valuable information on their blog, free goodies in the mail, and routine personal check-ins. If that's not enough to keep you on top of your blogging game, I'm not sure what is.
Phew, that should do it (for now). I hope you found this post helpful and are feeling inspired to digitize some of your internal systems and processes. It’s all to easy to get bogged down by the mundane tasks of running business. But your time and energy is always better served at planning for the future and building your business.
What tools are you guys using to increase efficiency and productivity? Let us know in the comments below!