The difference between working with an IT support company that just maintains your network and working with one that also provides you with progressive, modern ways to help you and your employees work better is very valuable. When comparing IT support providers, determining if you will receive these additional services makes it worth the extra money if one is priced higher than the other. The extra investment can pay for itself if the information shared is likely to make an impact on your organization’s productivity. If you haven’t already, try to partner with an IT support or managed IT services firm that actively delivers a high-level of IT consulting services to you on a regular basis. Since I doubt you have time to do this for yourself, it’s critical that you receive proactive recommendations, advice, and updates about hardware, software, applications, and other technology tools that will help your business run more smoothly, help make your employees be more efficient, help bring in more revenue, and/or make things easier and more enjoyable. Assuming I can find enough good options that have a universal appeal, I will include some of the recommendations we are making to our clients in a quarterly blog. Here are some small business tools I like for the beginning of 2016.
- Email – Boomerang
For our clients using the web interface of Gmail for their business email, we recommend Boomerang. This is a tool that I’ve been wishing for many years Microsoft Outlook would develop. It works with Gmail and Google Apps email. Boomerang allows the user to create an email and then schedule a time for it to be sent. There is a ‘Send Later’ button that enables you to choose the perfect time (…maybe that’s at 5:00am to make your boss think you’re up early getting work done). In addition to using the calendar feature to pick a day and time, you can use their text box feature that understands basic language, such as “next Tuesday at 11:00pm.”
Another nice feature of Boomerang is that a reminder will be sent to you if no one replies to your last email. It can prevent things from slipping through the cracks, especially when you’re especially busy. This is a free tool and a no-brainer if you’re already using Google Apps for Business.
- Project Management – Trello
This is a free, web-based interface that enables individuals or teams to see all aspects of a project all at a glance with a user-friendly, modern design. Your ‘Trello Board’ can be filled with ‘cards’ that easily allow users to drag and drop and reorganize in order to illustrate progress and workflow. Because this is a web-based tool, you can easily see it on your smart phone and tablet, and it’s updated in real-time; no accidental version control issues with spreadsheets and no missed emails. You can easily add checklists, attachments, labels, and due dates to your ‘cards.’ Additional features include a calendar feature, ‘card-aging,’ and a voting tool.
At this time, this tool is free. That can always change of course. For business users who are going to working with more confidential information, there is a Business Class version available at about $10/month per user (a discount is offered if you pay in full for the year). You receive notifications when boards are updated, the ability to integrate other tools, such as Salesforce, a more robust administrative security tool, and a support team that provides ‘priority email support.’
- Organization – SaneBox
Dealing with an insane amount of emails to review, and many of them just needing to be deleted? SaneBox to the rescue. This productivity tool allows you to drag an email into the ‘SaneBlackHole’ folder so you never hear from that sender again (which also puts it in the trash). It learns your preferences so you have less to deal with over time. The Response Tracking feature notifies you when an email you sent was not replied to by a certain time so you can follow up. The Snooze Non-Urgent feature allows you to place an email in the ‘SaneLater’ folder and then have it put back into your inbox at a later time that is more convenient. SaneBox works with all commonly used email programs, including the Outlook client, Gmail, and Exchange. They offer a free 14-day trial, and then provide 3 different pricing plans depending on your needs that range from $7 – $36/month.
- Social Media – Pablo
The website enables you to create beautiful images for your social media needs (for free!). Use one of their starter images, or upload your own, then add any color text, and/or logos. They have hundreds of options to choose from. Pablo will then size your image perfectly for sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and many more. In addition, you can edit the photo creating different contracts, blurring the background image, and making it black and white. I created the one used for this blog. This a free tool. I found it quick, easy and fun to use. I imagine the developers will continue to add images and other features; I’ll be watching.