Five Must-Have Apps for Thriving Small Businesses
Every business owner has a custom suite of apps and tools they use to get their work done, often developed through trial and error. If you ask six of us what works best for a particular task, chances are you’ll get half a dozen different answers. Over the past two and a half years, I’ve invested time and money into finding the right apps and tools to help me run my business. Here are five of my favorites that I highly recommend; I use these for everything from project management to online form creation.
Disclosure: The links marked with an asterisk (*) are referral links, meaning I am eligible for a discount, credit, or payment if you click and sign up for a paid plan. None of these companies asked me to promote their products; I’m sharing them with you because I think they’re great and I hope you’ll think so, too.
Asana | Project Management
When I first started out, I rarely had more than 2-3 clients at any given time. Then my business grew…and grew…and grew! It was time for a project management tool, so I tested out Hive, Trello, and Asana. Hands down, Asana was the winner for me. I could never get down with the sticky notes style of Trello; I’m a list girl at heart. (You can now set up boards in Asana, and for social media management or email marketing, there’s a calendar view that’s useful.) I use the free version, which is quite robust; the premium version is $9.99 per month per member, billed annually.
Acuity Scheduling | Online appointment scheduling *
I love Acuity SO MUCH. I checked out Calendly and Schedulicity when shopping around, but was sold on Acuity Scheduling almost immediately. It has the ability to integrate with my multiple Google Calendars and easily set up a variety of appointment types and intake forms. Clients can see my availability in real-time and reschedule their own appointments if needed. The interface is easy to navigate and customer service is top notch. Bonus: Squarespace recently integrated Acuity Scheduling through the Acuity Block and offers the Emerging Entrepreneur Plan for free! Don’t use Squarespace? Paid plans range from $10/month to $34/month.
Bit.ly | Link shortener
I’ve been using bit.ly as my link shortener for as long as I can remember. The Chrome extension makes it easy to quickly generate and customize short links. I highly recommend using the customization feature for context and to remember your links more easily. As an example, I customized a short link for my client satisfaction survey, bit.ly/MixtoClientSurvey, which I created using Typeform, another tool on this list. Bit.ly is free and I integrate it with the next tool on list, Buffer.
Buffer | Social media management
Buffer does what its name implies: it allows you to buffer content to your social media accounts. When you set up your account, pre-set schedules are created for each of your social media profiles, but you can easily edit these to make custom schedules – or even better, use Buffer’s Optimal Timing Tool˟ to maximize interactions. Buffer looks at the past 5,000 interactions on the profile you want to optimize, along with similar profiles in the same time zone, and plots the best times to post for engagement. I’m on the Awesome plan, which allows up to 12 social accounts across six platforms; it’s $10 per month/$102 billed annually. There is also a free individual plan that allows one social account per platform, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Instagram.
˟ I'm bummed to report that I received an email from Buffer on April 27, 2017 (three days after this post published!) notifying users that they're sunsetting the Optimal Timing Tool as of May 11, 2017.
Typeform | Online form creation *
Simply put, Typeform is a data collection tool with beautiful design that adds a human touch. As I mentioned earlier, I use it for client satisfaction surveys, but I’ve also created design questionnaires and used it to build a database of experts for a professional group. Other ideas include job application forms, market research surveys, event registration forms, online order forms, or even fun quizzes. The possibilities are endless! Once you’ve designed, configured, and shared, you can analyze responses and track visits using Google Analytics. This is one of the more expensive plans I use, at $350/annually (or $29 if paid monthly) for the PRO Plan. However, it’s also the most versatile.
Karma | Mobile WiFi *
Okay, Karma isn’t technically an app, but it is a tool. When I’m working remotely or meeting clients in public, I need reliable, secure wifi. Karma provides just that through the Karma Go ($99), a 2.3 oz portable hotspot. When I signed up, you could purchase a la carte data that never expired; now there are monthly subscription plans. Pulse starts at $9.99/month for 1GB and ranges up to $149.99/month for 25GB. Drift is $3/month + $10 per GB used. You only pay for the data you use and Drift users get access to Premium Features, such as creating a private network and picking up the data tab for friends and family. When someone connects to your Karma Go, you get either free data or credits (depending on your plan) as a thank you – but each connection requires a login and is isolated, so no private data is ever shared with any other user. Having my own wifi has saved me more times than I can count. I definitely recommend that creatives and consultants in particular invest in a mobile hotspot, whether it’s Karma or another product.
While I like to think I have a pretty robust system in place, I'm always on the lookout for new apps or recommendations that I haven't considered. What tools are you using to make your small business thrive?