10 apps that can transform your business
If you're thinking of starting a business, or improving an existing one, you're going to need the right tools for the job.
In this post we look at 10 types of app that can make your workflow more efficient and lead to increase business growth.
1. A productivity suite
Before you can do anything remotely exciting in your business, you’re going to need some apps that can take care of the boring (but very important) things: a reliable email account, file storage and productivity tools.
The industry leading productivity suites which provide all the above are Office 365 and G Suite (formerly Google Apps) - and it's quite hard to choose between them.
As such you might like to read our Office 365 vs G Suite review. This explains the core differences between the two productivity suites, as well as outlining what alternatives are available.
2. A website / e-commerce platform
It goes without saying that you'll need a website for your business. But with many website building platforms available, it's important to make the right decision regarding which one to go for.
If you're not intending to sell services goods online (i.e., your website is more of a portfolio or 'brochure' site with business ultimately taking place offline) then Squarespace is often a good bet for startups, because it's easy to set up a site with it, the templates are strong, and you get access to support. Wordpress is another great option - and one that will give you more control over the aesthetics and functionality of your site - but there is a bit more of a learning curve involved.
If you’re selling products and services online, more thought is required. Although it's tempting to just embed a Paypal button on a web page to handle online transactions, there are much more sophisticated options available to you.
Ultimately, if you're serious about e-commerce, you’re going to need a platform you can use to to build a fully functional store: one that can adequately cater for things like product variants, shipping, tax rates and abandoned carts.
If you've already got a website you might find that Ecwid is a good solution for you (it's a 'widget' that's designed to add e-commerce functionality to an existing site).
3. Email marketing
A large mailing list is VITAL to the growth and long-term success of a business. Not only does email marketing provide a great ROI, but it's a great way to share content widely (something which can build great brand awareness and even improve SEO).
Many new business owners think that a mailing list is simply a bunch of email addresses stored in an Excel spreadsheet that get emailed via Outlook from time to time.
Taking this approach is a big mistake. Dedicated email marketing tools allow you to capture email addresses via your website, host a large mailing list online, send beautiful HTML e-newsletters, automate communications and track results easily.
There are many great apps available - our favourites are probably Getresponse (which we use for Style Factory e-newsletters) and Mailchimp. For more information about your options in this area, you can check out our email marketing tool comparisons here.
4. Growth hacking tools
Once you've got your website live and your email marketing app sorted, the next thing you'll need to do is grow the number of people visiting your site and joining your mailing list.
Now, there are a multitude of tools to help you do this. For example, you'll find apps that let you run A/B tests on your site pages to find out which is most likely to convert a visitor to a subscriber; tools that let you create video recordings of your visitors' behaviour on your site and analyse it; and 'welcome mats' which encourage mailing list subscription before any other action is taken on your site.
You'll find an exhaustive list of growth-hacking apps over on the Kissmetrics site, but for me, there are two particular aspects of growth hacking to zoom in on and prioritise when starting a new business: social sharing, and lead generation. You basically want to make it as easy as possible for somebody to share your content or subscribe to receive more of it.
Tools like Sumo can really help you here, providing everything from sharing buttons to live chat to data capture 'welcome mats.' You can get a free trial of Sumo here.
CRM stands for ‘customer relationship management’, and these days the acronym is usually used to refer to cloud-based software that allows you to keep track of and manage the business relationships between your organisation and your leads and clients.
Typically, a CRM app will allow you to
- capture, organise and analyse leads
- track communication with leads and clients
- allocate tasks to your team
- manage your ‘sales pipeline’ (i.e., identify leads and track how the process of converting them to a client is going)
- manage customer enquiries via a support ticketing system
Now, as with email marketing, many new business owners rely on Excel to handle all this sort of stuff - which, as with mailing list management, is a bad move when there are so many more sophisticated options available to you.
At the cheaper end of the CRM spectrum you'll find products like Capsule or Nimble; but you can pay big bucks for more sophisticated tools like Salesforce. Which product is right for you will really depend on the nature and complexity of your business, but either way, finding the right CRM tool will usually be vital to ensuring that it grows successfully.
6. Cloud based accounting
Cloud-based accounting apps are increasingly popular and worthy of serious consideration over traditional spreadsheet usage.
A cloud-based accounting solution is connected to your bank account, meaning that all your transactions are imported into your accounting software in real time (i.e., no more copying and pasting transactions from your online bank account into a spreadsheet).
Not only that, but these apps you to raise branded invoices and produce detailed reports at the click of a button. They can give you access to in-depth analysis of your company finances, and make preparing a tax return significantly easier.
Because of these advantages, if you use a bookkeeper, it often makes sense to hire one that works 'in the cloud'.
7. A notebook
An oft-overlooked aspect of running a business is the amount of note-taking it involves. From capturing brainwaves to taking minutes to jotting down a phone number of a potentially useful contact, you will find yourself taking a host of notes in your business life.
So, it makes sense to take them in the best possible way - and in my view, that's digitally, using a dedicated notekeeping app.
There are a plethora of notekeeping apps out there to choose from – but Evernote’s got to be one of the best.
It allows you to place text, images, files and research all in one digital workspace which you can then share with friends, colleagues and family. You can access Evernote across all your devices, meaning your notes are always with you.
If you use a productivity suite like G Suite or Office 365 however, you may find that their 'Keep' and 'OneNote' products meet your needs perfectly well.
8. A to-do list
To-lists have been part of running a business since the year dot. They're a surprisingly vital part of running and growing a business: without them, nothing gets done.
As with much else in the business world, they've now moved online. And again, there are loads of options available.
Todoist is a simple but effective app for managing, as the name suggests, your to-do list. It works across devices and is available as Chrome extension too, meaning your uncompleted tasks are always following you around (perhaps I’m not selling this as well as I should). Nifty features include being able to turn emails into tasks and categorise tasks by project.
Wunderlist is another good option - for a few more, check out The Guardian's guide to to-do lists...
9. A scanner
Because so much of our working lives now involve storing documents in the cloud, having a scanner has become more important than ever. And the good news is that you no longer need a dedicated device for this: you can use your phone.
Scannable is a must-have app for anybody who needs to scan or photocopy stuff. You just hover your phone above a document and it gets scanned quickly onto your device. You can then email it, save it to Evernote or plonk it in a cloud storage system like Dropbox or Google Drive.
Dropbox now has its own scanning app too, which allows you to quickly get your stuff onto Dropbox.
Particularly if you need to get documents onto an accounting or CRM tool app quickly
10. A social media manager
Most businesses end up struggling to manage several social media profiles at once. It can be tricky to keep on top of them all or analyse what’s working and what’s not across all your channels.
This is where an all-in-one social media management tool like Hootsuite is invaluable. You can use tools like Hootsuite to manage all your social media accounts in one place; schedule messages across your profiles; measure your social media campaign performance and assign tasks to your team messages to ensure that all messages generated by your social media activity get answered.
All this improves your social media comms, or frees up time to do other important stuff!
We hope you've enjoyed this article - do feel free to add your thoughts on it using the comments section below (note: if you're reading this post on a mobile device, you may be viewing the 'AMP' version which disables comments. Clicking here will take you to the normal version, where you can add your comment).
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