This app lets you schedule time in a calendar and create to-do lists, within which you can add tasks you need to complete, create a schedule and include any related notes. Meanwhile, its insights feature shows how much time you have been spending on each project over the past month. Within the insights section is an hour counter that tracks how long you have been in meetings compared with how many hours you have spent completing tasks.
Kirkness says: “As soon as I have a new task that needs completing, I immediately add it to Plan with a due date and drag it into my schedule at the most appropriate time.”
Buffer is a social media management app that allows you to schedule posts across different platforms. If you share responsibility for social media management among your small business team you can add other team members to one account. Its analytics feature shows you how well each of your posts has performed (in terms of reach, retweets, likes) so you can tweak the tone, content and timings of your posts accordingly. The tool is free to use if you are scheduling posts on four platforms or fewer, but is around £70 a year for integrating more social media accounts (up to 10) and more posts (more than 100).
Bradman says: “Managing branded social media accounts is theoretically a 24/7 job. As the sole marketer in a small business, it’s impossible for me to dedicate all my time to social media, so managing all content in one place allows me to use my self-allocated social media time more efficiently.”
Price: Free for basic, £70 for advanced.
Managing customer inquiries
Mark Hughes is the co-founder of Tutora.co.uk, an online marketplace for tutors and one-to-one tuition. Email shortcut tool Gorgias helps his three person team to handle the 100-plus customer inquiries they receive every day more efficiently.
Hughes says: “Gorgias allows you to create shortcuts for any length of message, even pre-populating the subject bar, and pulling out the recipient’s name from their email address. You can customise it to your own needs.”
Tutora uses the Gorgias Chrome extension. This was Gorgias’ first feature and lets the team create company-wide email templates to reply to frequently asked questions. The extension app tells you how much time you have saved by using it. Hughes says he has saved 11 hours 30 minutes since installing the app.
Gorgias is also developing a desktop version of the tool, which will integrate with other tech tools that hold customers’ information and let you complete more complex tasks quickly, such as refunding customers.
Marteau says: “It’s undeniably easy to use MailChimp to create good-looking emails, and the interface is so straightforward.” The tool allows you to create email templates, which you can tailor to specific email lists. Meanwhile, its analytics feature is useful for gauging the effectiveness of email marketing: you can track how many people have opened your emails and see which sections have been clicked on most. MailChimp runs on a freemium model (ie, a basic account is free, but users have to pay for more advanced features).
Price: Free for the basic model.
Nic Williams is the founder of My Own Den, which sells ethical products for children’s bedrooms. She mostly runs the business on her own but has some freelance help with bookkeeping and web administration. She uses website blocking tools such as Freedom to prevent her wasting time online, particularly on Facebook and Instagram.
Running a business alone requires constantly juggling tasks. It can be tough to stay focused on one task at a time when all of them are vital for keeping an enterprise afloat. Williams says: “I block whichever sites distract me and it really does make me more productive. I can do more in two hours than I did in four before I started blocking sites.”
You can schedule in time slots for blocking when you want to focus on a task and you can sign into one account across a number of devices including Mac and Windows desktops, iPhones and iPads.
Price: £20 annually.
Slack is an instant messaging tool, sometimes described as a replacement for internal email, but can also help you to manage projects. You can set up open channels (or groups) including staff inside or outside the business who are working on particular projects and then send messages and share files with the people within those groups, which helps to cut out long and incomprehensible email chains. You can also set up private groups for sharing sensitive information, or message people directly.
dey la Hey says: “Our team members are based at various locations, with one member in South Africa and one in California. Slack gives us the ability to communicate with members in topic specific channels, centralising and organising communications.”
Price: Free for the basic model.
Wave invoices is part of the Wave apps, which also has functions for managing credit card payments and receipts. The invoicing tool is free, and it auto sends monthly invoices to clients and then auto sends reminder emails once the invoice due date has passed, if it has not been paid. It allows you to create an invoice template and cuts down your time in sending out invoices and chasing up those that are unpaid.