Most small businesses have nimble bare bones teams that get an astonishing amount of work done every single day. They are used to stretching a bit more, staying at work a bit longer and (usually) putting in a lot more effort than teams in large organizations.
However, working (or running!) a small business does not have to be so punishing. With technology by your side, there are tons of everyday business activities that you can and MUST automate to achieve greater efficiencies. Who knows, with all the spare time that these tools will give you, you might just start a new line of business!
So here goes.
1. Google Analytics
Every business, big or small has their own website today. If you have a website, you cannot NOT have Google Analytics or GA as it is “fondly” called by long time users. According to Builtwith, 66.2% of the top 10,000 sites in the world use Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is the eyes and ears of your website. It tracks in minute detail what people are doing on your site, which pages they land on initially, which pages do they leave from, which parts of the world do they come from, what time of day and so on.
This virtual gatekeeper, is a necessary resource as it tells you whether your site is attracting traffic, is the traffic growing, whether that traffic is converting into sales and where the leaks are.
- Basic as well as advanced site analytics – track traffic, sources of traffic, keywords being used to arrive at your site, navigation patterns and more.
- Create goals and track them for conversions. Conversions could be sales, registration on your site, downloading data, sharing content to social media etc.
- Create and share tailor-made reports and dashboards. You have the option of saving these dashboards and running them on a regular basis.
- Track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns by identifying the sources from where conversions happened.
- GA can be integrated with other tools. Google Analytics works well with other sales and marketing automation tools. It can be linked to your marketing campaigns, CRM software, your social media pages, your Email Marketing Software and so on.
- Multiple users can access GA simultaneously. Every member of your marketing team can stay hands on with the latest numbers using Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is completely free. There is a paid upgrade available, but for the vast majority of users, the free version is more than enough.
While Google Analytics gives you data about what people do on your site, Optimizely lets you test how they would behave differently if certain elements on your site were rearranged, modified or dropped altogether.
Optimizely is one of the most easy to use website optimization tools out there, which allows you to test each web element on your site and see which iteration of your web design works best for overall conversions.
- A complete testing suite comes with Optimizely. Test your website in every possible way, ranging from A/B Tests, Multivariate tests, Split tests and more.
- It can be easily integrated with website analytics tools like Google Analytics, Site Catalyst or KISSmetrics.
- Modify Optimizely based on your requirements. Unlike a number of other closed box software options, Optimizely allows you to tweak its code any way you want to match your business requirements.
- Take website modifications live instantly using Optimizely. When you zero in on the best version of your site by testing it using Optimizely, you can take the winning version live right away to 100% of your site visitors. Your developers can take their time to convert the site into the desired version while Optimizely takes care of the live traffic on the chosen version of your site in the meanwhile.
Optimizely is a paid service with a range of plans available. The cheapest plan starts at $14 per month and can go on to $299 per month for fully customized enterprise edition versions.
Choose Your Experiment Type
The one marketing tool EVERY small business needs to embrace is email marketing.
Email has many things going for it – it’s cheap, allows you to send out communications when you want, to the exact individuals you want at the best ROI available today.
“Email marketing delivers $67 of revenue for every $1.7 spent.” ~ Direct Marketing Association
You need automated tools that can send emails to thousands of customers at one go and manage your email communication for you. Enter MailChimp. MailChimp is an end to end email marketing suite that allows you to design, test, send out and monitor email campaigns to your subscribers.
- MailChimp is a web based tool – no downloads, no plug-ins. Just log into your account from anywhere on the internet and get going.
- It allows you to design and test your emails before send out. Use the free templates that MailChimp offers or use your own. Send out test emails to check for content, design or coding errors before the actual send out.
- Test various elements of the email – subject line, send time, design and layout – on test audiences. This will allow you to pick the best options to get optimal results before sending out the emails to the entire subscriber base.
- Schedule email send times in advance. This allows email marketing to continue as per schedule, whether or not you are in the office to hit ‘send’.
- MailChimp goes beyond marketing emails. You can also send out transactional emails, auto responder emails or triggered emails based on customer behavior using MailChimp.
- Maintain multiple email databases on MailChimp. This is useful if you have different sub brands that have mutually exclusive audiences. It is also useful when you split your original database into different customer segments based on their needs and user behavior.
- MailChimp equips you with top of the line email analytics – open rate, click rates, bounces and more. It also links up with your website analytics tools like Google Analytics or SiteCatalyst to track how the users who click through from your emails to your website behave. This helps in tracking conversions from your email campaigns more efficiently.
MailChimp has a free account that works great for most small businesses without the need for an upgrade to a paid version. The free account allows you to reach out to a maximum of 2000 subscribers and send out a total of 12,000 emails per month.
Once you exceed these limits, you can opt for paid plans that begin at $10 per month and get more expensive as your subscriber base grows larger.
Managing finances is not always an entrepreneur’s forte. Book keeping, taxation, payroll are all fields requiring specialized training and dedicated teams to manage them.
This is not necessarily true with tools like Quickbooks. Quickbooks is an extremely user friendly accounting software designed for small businesses that allows novices to manage complex accounting, invoicing and payment functions with ease.
- Generate and send invoices to clients using Quickbooks’ automated tool. Invoices are archived in Quickbooks for future reference and auditing needs.
- Elegant dashboards that give you a single screen look at the financial health of your business. Income, expenses, profit or loss – all get captured and displayed in one shot.
- Get instant alerts on important activities like overdue payments, invoices, or tax returns.
- Receipts can be scanned and their data will be automatically captured by Quickbooks. No more manual entries of your utility or internet receipts.
- Generate and send invoices to your clients. Pick from any of the available templates or make your own.
- Manage payroll and reimbursements. Tax calculation and deductions are taken care of automatically.
- Sync your company’s bank accounts with the rest of your financial data to make payments faster and frictionless.
The most basic version of Quickbooks is available at $12.95 per month while the more feature rich versions cost $26.95 or $39.95 per month. You can take Quickbooks for a test run with a free 30 day trial period.
Sync Your Bank Accounts
Every small business owner knows the woes of keeping travel, official entertainment, telephone bills and other such expenses under control. There is invariably a bunch of missing receipts, tickets or authorizations that will surface at the end of the financial year, throwing your accounting into disarray.
Concur takes care of this vital but oft overlooked area of expense management. It manages reimbursements, authorizations and payments to employees for expenses made for official purposes.
- An easy to use UI that allows employees to enter their expenses in minutes and create their own expense reports. It also stores expense reports on its system for each employee, making it easy to retrieve records at a later date.
- Set expense limits for individual employees or for different employee levels.
- Create travel itineraries and book your travel on Concur and expenses get authorized automatically using the employee’s authorized expense limit.
- Click a picture of receipts, tickets etc and upload them into Concur and it’ll pull out information from scanned receipts automatically. No more manual entry of expenses with paper receipts.
- Mobile app that allows your sales teams to book travel, report and get authorization for expenses made ‘on the road’ instantly. The Concur app shows travel itinerary details, directions to your hotel and maps integration so you’ll never be lost on your business trips.
Concur has versions for every size of organization. A small business can go with their starter small business version that comes at $8 per user per month. The costs involved go up with the number of users, the number of reports the company generates per month and the features that you choose to include in your version of Concur.
Creating Expense Reports
Track and review past expenses
Maps integration with directions to your hotel, airport, train station etc.
Every business needs to crunch the key numbers – production, sales, shipments, orders received and so on to see where it stands today and to chart a course of action for the future. Arriving at successful corporate strategy requires the right type of business intelligence and data that will help you make the right decisions at the right time.
Tableau is a beautifully designed, comprehensive, yet easy-to-use business intelligence tool. With its reporting and corporate strategy features, it can give your small business an edge over the competition. Visualize and control key data about your business, identify opportunities and take decisions that get captured into the tool in real time using Tableau.
- Drag and drop various data sets into a single screen to create your own tables and analysis. The dashboards you’ll create are interactive and ‘speak to you’ even as you move data around from one column to another.
- Pick from a variety of visualization and charting options that offer a birds-eye view or granular details depending on your decision making needs.
- Unlike most business intelligence tools in the market, Tableau is extremely fast. Every query dives into hundreds of millions of data records and retrieves the data you need in seconds, making the user experience extremely smooth and quick.
- It can be supported on individual desktops, on company servers or even the cloud depending on your preferences.
- Sharing data is super easy with Tableau Server. You can publish your charts, graphs and insights on the internet in minutes and your team can access this information anywhere in the world.
Tableau is a paid tool, but unlike most other tools, it offers a free trial of its full-fledged platform to give you a taste of its real capabilities.
If you don’t use a collaboration tool to work together with the various teams in your organization, do it now! Basecamp is a wildly popular collaboration and project management tool that lets cross functional teams work together on a project simultaneously.
- Create multiple projects and record them all in one place. Basecamp allows you to send messages to your project team, share data and upload files with them in real time. No more missing documentation or last minute scurrying about for lost data.
- Assign roles to team members using Basecamp. Allow various members to contribute to projects based on the levels of permissions that you can control at your end only.
- Create project schedules and manage timelines. Track the progress of each project using Basecamp – a one stop shop for your project management needs.
Basecamp has double the usual trial period – it gives you 60 days to play around with it before you put down your money. Plans depend on the number of projects you’ll manage and the amount of storage space you’ll use. Starting from $20 for 10 projects and 3 GB of storage space, plans become progressively more expensive as the number of your projects and storage requirements grow.
Manage multiple projects
Tools are available for the asking. Even as you wonder which tool would make most sense for your business, somebody somewhere is busy working on the next big challenger to Plain Jane MS Excel.
Evaluate your current business position and take each of the tools listed here for a test drive. Start using the ones that you find the easiest to use and the most important given your stage of business. Once you get comfortable with a handful, move on to the rest and try and incorporate every one of these into your business. It’s not going to be easy. But the business of being in business was never easy to begin with, right?
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