Some great technology tools have been coming into the market that automate processes related to sales, marketing, finance, and project management, and communications. The sheer number of products that are available on the market can be quite overwhelming.
Well, I’m here to help! I use all of these products. They are all cloud-first, designed for small businesses, are super cost-effective, and are generally awesome. They save tons of time and money and make your company run like a well-oiled machine.
1. CRM — Pipedrive: This fully-fledged CRM system was built in the cloud specifically for small businesses. Unlike more established systems, there isn’t a lot of capability that I don’t use, yet I get everything I need. Pipedrive makes it easy to import contacts, set up deals, create activities, take notes, and schedule meetings. Everything automatically syncs with your Google Calendar. What I love most about Pipedrive is the view of each deal at every stage of the sales process. By a simple drag and drop, you can move deals from one stage to the next (or backward as the case may be), with the total deal revenue by each stage clearly visible at the top of each stage. Pipedrive costs $12 per month per user, and it has changed my life.
2. Accounting — Xero: Many entrepreneurs use Quickbooks and Sage, but Xero was built for the cloud, and it makes accounting fun. I love the flexibility, such as being able to edit an invoice when I inevitably make mistakes. You can take photos of your receipts right from the Xero app for automated expense handling and receipt filing. You can also email or drag-and-drop receipts into your Xero account. (I’ve been using another excellent tool, Expensify, for receipt capturing and expense reporting.) You can set Xero up to pull your bank feeds for automatic reconciliation. Xero costs $30 per month and their online support is excellent.
3. Marketing Automation:Sharpspring.com: Embracing a marketing and sales automation system can take your business to the next level, and it doesn’t need to be complicated. Sharpspring drives relevant leads, converts leads to sales, and helps you close deals by sending exactly the right message at exactly the right time. The platform provides CRM, Email distribution, landing pages, and importantly, easy to set up automated workflows. The retail price seems expensive at $400 per month, but I know a crowd in South Africa that can deliver Sharpspring for much less.
4. Video Conferencing — Zoom.us: While Skype is the go-to video conferencing tool, they now suffer from Microsoft disease — and it hasn’t evolved in years. Conversely, Zoom works beautifully. The video quality is superb, but more importantly, it just works. Audio options are also there for mobile users, and you can record calls at the click of a button. The freemium model includes group meetings of up to 40 minutes and unlimited 1–1 meetings. For R15 per month, you get unlimited meetings with unlimited users.
5. Project Management — Smartsheet: I have found that most project management tools are clumsy and difficult to use for non-experts. Smartsheet is different by making it easy to manage projects, budgets, and processes in the cloud. The collaboration element works beautifully by making it easy to share screens and view updates live in real time. As part of the Google stable, Smartsheet is integrated into G-Suite (more on that later), so all of your deadlines can integrate with your Google calendar. Smartsheet starts $14 per month for a single user for unlimited collaborators, and up to and there are loads of tutorials to get you started.
6. Email & Document Management — G-Suite: This may seem entirely obvious, but I’m surprised at how many small businesses create unnecessary discomfort by using Microsoft360 for their email, calendar, storage, and document management. Yet they do. Google just works. The browser or email client works great, set up takes minutes, I love Google Docs live collaboration, where your colleagues appear as ghosts as thei edit documents in real-time. Most importantly, and many people don’t know this, you run your business URL email through G-Suite. The cost is $5 per user per month.
7. Messaging — WhatsApp Web/Desktop: Most of us happily use WhatsApp for messaging and voice calls. It simply works beautifully, it’s free, and it works on all mobile operating systems. However, when I’m at my laptop, I have a choice between a small screen, typos, and autocorrect, and my keyboard. You can set up WhatsApp Web/Desktop (the actual product name) from your mobile phone WhatsApp settings and it’s free. When I’m spending lots of time on my laptop, I can save 15 minutes a day in typing and loads of embarrassing typos!
8. Spelling & Grammar — Grammarly: While Microsoft Word will correct your spelling and provide a pretty good Thesaurus, it doesn’t help your grammar, and can’t help you when you are online. Grammarly is an excellent tool to check your spelling and grammar. For me, Grammarly finds potentially embarrassing and/or fatal errors on a daily basis. The free version works online and you can download the MS Word plugin. The premium version seeks to make you a better writer, with over 400 checks, vocabulary improvement suggestions, and a plagiarism checker. At the odd price of R11.66 (paid annually), it’s a small price to pay for your credibility.