Last week we covered the marketing productivity tools that can fit into your most basic business toolbox – and I was really pleased to receive such positive feedback. It is always great to find out how business owners are gaining tangible benefit from these blogs.
In this part, we will help to demystify some further tools in a few other critical areas of business, which may help you lighten the load, or increase the result from the effort put in.
Let’s jump in with the area where almost every business owner of larger, successful businesses want to improve…
Team Management (or more, Leadership) Tools
If your business is growing to a size where systemisation and leverage are becoming important, you should ensure that your team has a clear direction in where they should be headed, and what they are aiming for.
And there are two main areas of leadership where systems and tools can help. The first is task management.
As I’ve said before, you shouldn’t manage your team, you should manage their activities.
A system we use for task management is Asana. This is a reasonably ‘safe bet’ tool, coming from the minds of tech maestros who co-founded Facebook and were integral to the development of essential features of both Facebook and Google. It’s also free for what most businesses need (you would only need to start paying for it if you are an enterprise with significantly large teams of 15 or more).
The platform lets you create tasks for yourself or delegate tasks to one of your team members. You can create a full range of ‘tasks’ from simple reminders, to very detailed plans in complex ‘projects’. You will be notified when a task is complete or when a task is due. You can also comment on tasks – keeping communication all in one place for a project or campaign – and you can even give little heart ‘likes’ to tasks and comments to give small bursts of positive feedback. It has a very friendly interface and does not require spending lengthy amounts of time to get used to it, though as with any tool does require some getting used to at first. There is also a mobile app, allowing you to plan and respond to tasks on the go.
Another productivity app to consider is Trello. This one is more ‘board’ focused (although Asana does have a ‘boards’ feature as well) and is typically more useful to businesses that have a clearly delineated workflow – especially, we’ve noticed, IT services. If your project moves from stage to stage in your business really definitively, you may find Trello perfect for your needs.
The world of task management systems is a pretty extensive one. You could quite literally spend weeks trying out different platforms – and I do not recommend doing that to any business owner. These are two that are tried and tested to work well for many businesses. Of course, do your due diligence before diving in, but remember to keep yourself in check as it’s easy to get caught up in chasing ‘shiny things’.
Before we move on from task management, I should also mention that sometimes you don’t need one of these more complex dedicated task management tools. Sometimes, and this is true in my own team as well as many of our clients’ teams, quarterly planning on a simple Excel Spreadsheet is sufficient – and often preferable for its simplicity – to track weekly activities and get a quick, simple and clear communication of the plans for the quarter. Task management systems can be great for day-to-day task lists, but strategic planning can often be much simpler.
The second area where you can get leverage in leading and managing your team is in communication. And while this isn’t a software solution, I think it’s an important productivity tool, so I’ve included it in this list.
What I’m talking about is the Monday Morning Meeting. Every Monday our team has a meeting with all team members where we cover our business goals and personal goals and learning from the previous week. The team fills out the goals sheet every morning (you can get the word and PDF versions emailed to you by clicking here) and then we go through each person one and a time. We start by reviewing goals from the previous week and then talking about the goals for this week.
This is not only a great way to ensure that everyone on the team is aligned with each other’s work, but it is also a great way to get your team to focus on themselves. Meaning you aren’t the heavy hand taking control of them nor being a helicopter “got-a-minute” boss, but instead your team are periodically reminding themselves of what they need to do and what they have forgotten to do.
Adding personal goals has also proven to be a great way to ensure that your team understands each other on a personal level – creating a more pleasant and actually more efficient work environment. It also helps you know when to be sensitive with your team when you know what is happening in their personal lives – and allows you to support them in every way, which will encourage your superstars to stay with you.
Another key area where I have noticed most business owners typically struggle is managing their time. Of course, this often comes hand-in-hand with team management – when you better structure the way you communicate with your team, the more time you leverage for yourself.
However, if you run a business where you need to book appointments (that could be anything from providing services in time slots to booking in client meetings, training sessions or complimentary ‘taste testers’) then there is some technology that could help.
The first appointment-booking app I want to mention, TimeTrade, I have actually talked about before – in some detail – although that article is perhaps a bit dated now. TimeTrade has since refreshed its brand and its technology. It has a pretty wide breadth of features and customisation – but that also comes with a bit a learning curve for you and your team. If you need a robust system with more advanced functions like queue management and more intensive analytics, then you should consider TimeTrade.
However, a simpler solution for automating your calendar, which we have used recently is Calendly.
Calendly integrates with most calendar platforms – including Google, Outlook, Office 365 and iCal. It is a great way to ensure you’re never double booked, and so that you don’t have to keep aligning calendars – it can be used both internally and externally.
A really great use for this is in sales – instead of having to constantly hand your off-site telesales teams time slots that they can book appointments in for your salespeople, they can all book directly through Calendly, which is synched up to the salesperson’s calendar. That way you can also have all your telesales people working with the same time slots, as it will be updated in real time.
A major flaw our team has noticed, however, is that there’s no calendar view for Calendly. You cannot have a weekly or monthly view of your appointments or appointment slots. You can only see your events in a list. This can be a bit frustrating and difficult to make it clear what’s going on. A workaround is to use it alongside your calendar so you can view the appointments as they’re booked in – not the most convenient thing, but it works.
Calendly is free for the basic plan – so you can test whether it’s a match for you before paying.
TimeTrade has a 30-day free trial and then you can choose one of their custom plans. It is usually my recommendation that if you do need appointment booking software, that you start with Calendly – it’s easy to set up and get started. If you then feel like your needs are more complex than Calendly can handle, then you can look to switch to Time Trade.
Finally, one of the most important areas that must be working totally correctly but would benefit from getting leverage is finances.
Invoicing can be such a headache, but we use Xero and it’s made the whole process a lot less painful. Xero can help you keep track of your inventory, payroll and invoicing in a visual way. You can also perform bank reconciliations – so you can connect to your bank for automatic updates and simple bank reconciliation.
The site has an intuitive dashboard where your cash flow is displayed using analytics-style visual aids. You can also use Xero to pay your bills and record, manage, and claim your expenses.
Xero is also available on your mobile if you’re the kind of tech-savvy business owner who likes to manage things on-the-go!
It has a 30-day trial to see if it works for you, and then membership plans start from £10/month. It should be noted there are additional costs for things like extra employees on the payroll.
Another accounting software of note for your bookkeeping needs is FreeAgent. In most respects, FreeAgent and Xero are equally matched in facility and function. However, where FreeAgent falls down is in detailed reporting and more advanced functionality. Where it excels, however, is simplicity and essential functions for freelancers/contractors. If you are a growing or bigger business, Xero is probably a better option, but if you require something that’s simple and easier to use FreeAgent is probably a better choice – especially at the generally lower price point. QuickBooks is another option to consider as well which has different tiers of complexity according to your needs.
As with the marketing tools from the first article, these software options don’t cover everything you need for every area of your business. They also may not be the perfect solution for your individual niche needs. However, these are almost certainly the best place to start and will hopefully help lead you to the tools that will streamline your activities and get you the double-digit growth that you may be leaving on the table.
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