Running an online business is one of the most challenging things you will do during your lifetime. Whether you’re a solo-preneur or managing several employees, it’s worth investing in a few tools that will help make life easier and keep your business on track.
Social Media Management Tools
Social media management tools are useful for keeping track of the level of client engagement through your social media accounts, and saving you time through update scheduling. Different social media services and software packages perform slightly different tasks, however all provide the ability to schedule posts for different networks, keep track of online interactions and analyze statistics for each post.
Popular social media management tools include Hootsuite, Seesmic, Sendible and Sprout Social. Seesmic is free while the service is still in Beta, Hootsuite has a free service that offers basic management tools, and a subscription service with more features, while Sendible and Sprout Social both require monthly subscriptions, with a variety of packages available.
Scheduling tools and calendars
Keeping track of client appointments, meetings, important dates and your life is key for running an online business, and there are a number of helpful services that not only help you organize your own life but also help you organize meetings with others too.
Tungle.me is a scheduling service that lets you create your own private calendar and a public profile, allowing you to keep track of what’s happening in your life and giving others the chance to book appointments with you.
Doodle and When is Good are simple yet effective scheduling systems that enable you to arrange group meetings. Simply use either service to create a poll containing meeting time options, send it to the participants and they will vote for their preferred slot.
Scheduly is a service specifically designed for managing client appointments. You can specify which hours you’re available, your client picks their desired time, and you can both make appointments quickly and efficiently without spending time exchanging emails.
Online storage is useful for several reasons. Not only does it free up space on your hard drive, and prevent unexpected data loss, but it also allows you to access documents from different locations and different machines.
Dropbox is a storage and sharing space that enables you to upload files for your own use, and share them with other people too. Files can be in any format, and you can access 2GB of storage for free.
Google docs allows you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms and drawings, and store them in your Google account. You can share documents with other people, and give them permission either to view or edit files.
Mozy is an online data back-up service. Mozypro is especially designed for businesses and you can choose from different packages and price plans depending on your storage needs. Once you’ve backed up your data, you can sync it to multiple computers, and access your files from a mobile device using the Mozy app.
Time and Task Management
Creating effective time and task management systems will improve your efficiency and keep your business running smoothly. Whether you’re a business owner or employee, using a personal productivity tool to keep track of your task list will reduce your stress levels and help you stay on top of what you need to do.
Things is a simple yet effective Mac and mobile application that is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. You can sync your account between multiple devices, schedule tasks to appear on a certain date in the future, and create different projects.
Omnifocus is similar to Things in that it runs on Mac computers and mobile devices, and is also based on Getting Things Done. This program, however, is more suitable for complex project management, as it includes contexts – where you will be when you can do a task – and the ability to capture emails, messages and similar with a few taps of the keyboard.
Keeping track of invoices, incomings and outgoings is crucial to the success of your business. Good record-keeping alleviates some of the stress associated with tax season, and using proper finance tools to receive and record payments will save you time and energy, especially if you don’t have an in-house accounting department.
PayPal and Amazon payments are two online systems you can use to receive payments through your website. Both charge fees, and the amount depends on the value of what you’re selling. They provide an easy way for clients to give you their money, and you can use the services to produce monthly and yearly statistics on your product sales and overall income.
ContractPal develops custom web applications that can help you turn processes that are traditionally paper-based, such as contracts, into cloud-based services. This provides clients with a quick and easy way to sign contracts, rather than dealing with the hassle of signing and scanning or sending papers.
Freshbooks is an online service that provides invoicing, billing and accounting software. Using Freshbooks, you can keep track of time spent on a project, send invoices to clients, receive payments and keep track of your money.
LiteAccounting is similar to Freshbooks, but offers a more basic service, so is more suitable for businesses on a smaller budget who have simpler invoicing needs. LiteAccounting allows you to create and send invoices as PDFs, and receive payments via PayPal. The website offers different user packages, but the basic service is free.
When running a bricks-and-mortar business, collaborations usually involve face-to-face meetings, or even working in the same office. Collaborating online presents different challenges, especially if you have colleagues, partners or employees who work from a different time zone or country. Help is at hand, however, and there are several software packages designed to help collaborators work on projects together, wherever in the world they might be.
skrbl takes the concept of the whiteboard and makes it digital. Perfect for brainstorming, providing feedback and sharing documents, this service also provides a bulletin board so you can have separate project discussions.
Sosius is a hosted online workspace, where you can store, share and collaborate on documents and projects. As well as sharing files and images, you can host group IM and video chats, and engage in secure screen sharing.
Basecamp is one of the most popular online collaboration apps available. A cross between a task management system and a shared online workspace, the program allows you to keep track of your projects, delegation, roles and deadlines. You can also invite clients, vendors and contractors to take part, and store files so anyone can access and use them.
Conferences, Calls and Meetings
Conference calls are an inevitable part of running an online business, so you need to find a system that won’t let you down. Free services like Skype are suitable for individual calls, however using special software designed to host calls for two or more people will help your business look more professional and give you peace of mind that you’re using a dependable service.
Persony allows you to host and attend meetings from your desktop or mobile device. Offering voice or video web conferencing, you can conduct calls through a browser with no download required.
GoToMeeting is a service that provides a range of products designed to host online conference calls, video chats and presentations. If your business provides webinars, GoToMeeting enables you to present to large groups of people, and run polls among your audience. You can also conduct group training, and upload teaching materials and tests.
An email list is a strong tool for every online business, as it contains people who have directly expressed an interest in finding out more about your products and services. With a potential customer base at your fingertips, you need to make sure you manage your lists in a way that will benefit your business.
Mailchimp helps you to track signups, create emails and newsletters, and provide statistics on opens and clickthroughs. With a variety of templates to choose from, this email handler lets you create professional autoresponders and email campaigns at a low cost.
Aweber specializes in email marketing services. It offers similar features to Mailchimp, allowing you to create and send customized emails, track and analyze statistics, and integrate third-party applications.