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Essential Tools for every Small Business Owner

As we embark on this new year, it is a good time to review your technology stack. Technology is such a powerful tool but can be confusing and scary to many that do not consider themselves technology wizards. But I am here to tell you, it can be a lot simpler than you think.

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Essential Tools for every Small Business Owner

As we embark on this new year, it is a good time to review your technology stack.  Technology is such a powerful tool but can be confusing and scary to many that do not consider themselves technology wizards.  But I am here to tell you, it can be a lot simpler than you think.  When used properly, technology should complement your business and not be seen as a hinderance or something overly complex.  If you do not have all the technology that you need or it is just not working for you, there is no better time to review and make corrections than right now.  But you have to act.  What is the old phrase “What is the definition of insanity, keep doing things the same way and expecting different results.”  For the remainder of this article, I am going to focus on software used to run your business that can help you improve on last year’s results.  

I have been in technology for 25+ years and a business owner for 20 years.  During my career, I have filled just about every role for technology companies from programmer, QA/QC/tester, enterprise architect, project manager, to leadership roles Vice President and CEO.  Technology has always played a critical role not only in technology companies, but to all types of businesses.  My experience has shown that many business owners seem to only look to address technology pain points when a problem occurs.  Just follow the news recently and see issues that occurred at the major airlines causing them to cancel thousands of flights.   They blamed the weather but much of this was a technology failure.  Technology should have one main goal in a business, to make the business run more efficiently.  To make it easier for employees to manage key business processes and operate the business.  It should save owners and employees time and money.  And it should enable the business to grow.  However technology can be dauting for business owners, especially for those that do not have the technology staff in house.  No wonder with constantly changing terms, like digital transformation, AI, machine learning, business process improvement, cloud computing, and on and on, people consider it challenging.  In addition, business owners fail to acquire and adopt usage of the software they need simply because they are too busy keeping their businesses afloat or do not know where to start.  Does this sound familiar ?   

Business owners are going to find that, acting is much better than the alternative, failure to act at all.  That means consulting with other small business owners about software they use or with IT resources about software options.  In my years of consulting, one thing that has always been readily apparent in organizations, small and large, government and commercial, is that Microsoft Excel (or Google Sheets) is often the preferred tool for all sorts of things.  That means for things like: maintaining customer lists or managing customer interactions, maintaining employee vacation time, doing company accounting,  maintaining a list of products, project management, task management, and on and on.  I get it.  Excel is a great tool and can be used for so many things.  I also use it quite a bit.  I am not going to tell you to stop using Excel, far from it.  I am saying that there are a number of other software options that can be used in addition to Excel and often integrate really well with Excel, if needed.  Today, there are a number of low-cost options.  And once you begin to use these tools, you may find that they better satisfy your needs.     

 

Some of you are going to ask why, why can’t we just keep doing what we are doing.  It is easy and I am comfortable with it.  I guess you can, but if you plan to grow, then the benefits of a more robust set of software to manage key business processes will become apparent. Following is a list of software options listed under categories that are not overly complex but work well for small businesses.   I am a believer of the LIMKIS Principle meaning Less Is More, Keep It Simple.  Therefore I try not to make things unnecessarily complex. The list applies to a broad range of businesses, however, not all categories will apply to all businesses.  Please note that this list is not an exhaustive list; it was intentionally made short.  Why do you ask ? Years of marketing research has shown that people tend to act when given less choices versus more choices.  Two to three choices is about right and these are products that we have used or implemented and seen others utilize with great success. 

 

1. Accounting and Payroll

Accounting is a core component to just about every business.  If you don’t keep track of the money coming in and going out, then you will not be in business long.  However, there are businesses who still manage their accounting using Excel.  They may be comfortable with it, but I can assure you, there are better options.  Here are a few tools that are very popular and worth consideration. 

a.) Quickbooks – helps you manage your tax accounting, payroll, profit analysis, and inventory management, create invoices, and manage expenses. There is a desktop version and an online version. 

Other Notable items

  • Easy to use and learn
  • Integrates well with other systems and flexible with 3rd party applications
  • Provides good accounting reports
  • Affordable price
  • Easy to access from any device – phone, tablet and computer (depending on the version)
  • Easy to find and fix errors/mistakes
  • Easy to look-up customer information
  • Built with Small Business mindset. This can be a plus and a negative depending on size of the business

 

b. Paychex – has HR and Payroll solutions to fit the needs of any size business, from startup to enterprise.

Other Notable items

  • Improves your hiring processes
  • Includes employee onboarding solutions
  • Offers professional employer organization capabilities
  • Provides payment processing solutions
  • Automates payroll tax filing
  • Includes time tracking and attendance
  • Includes HR tools
  • Manages healthcare and employee benefits
  • Easily stores all your documents
  • Offers cyber liability insurance

 

c.) Gusto – provides a cloud-based payroll, benefits, and human resource management solution for businesses. Gusto has several self-service features that enable employees to manage benefits themselves. It also integrates with Quickbooks. 

Other Notable items

  • New hire paperwork
  • Employee birthday reminders
  • Easy to navigate
  • Visually pleasing layout
  • Employee paycheck contributions to charities
  • Keeping all of my payroll documents in one place for easy access
  • Easy distribution of W-2s at year end

2. Video Conferencing and Collaboration

Video conferencing has gotten much better over the last few years, especially since the start of Covid.  Do you think the average person would have known what a Zoom conference was 3 years ago ? Covid changed or at least enhanced the way many businesses operate and made reliable conferencing critical.  Here are a few tools that you should take a look at.

 

a.) Zoom – is a cloud-based video conferencing platform used for video and audio conferencing meetings, webinars, and live chat. It has a white board feature that enables users to sketch things live and enable other meetings participants to contribute in real-time. There is a free option as well.

Other Notable items

  • Access from all devices
  • Host up to 100 people (free plan) & 500 people (paid plan)
  • Screen sharing and co-annotation
  • Meeting participants can be placed in breakout rooms for small group discussion
  • Stream Your Meetings/Webinar on Facebook
  • Google Calendar Support
  • Has a free plan

 

b.) Microsoft Teams – Microsoft Teams is a workspace for real-time collaboration and communication, meetings, and file & app sharing. The video conferencing tool allows you to chat with up to 10,000 people at once. If you used Skype before, you will really like Teams because it is much better.

Other Notable items

  • Integration of all Microsoft tools in a single place
  • No additional cost for Microsoft 365 users
  • Useful chat additions
  • Seamless files search, backup, and collaboration
  • Helpful bots
  • Works really well if you are already a Microsoft user

 

c.) Webex – Web Meeting Solutions for Businesses of All Sizes. This have been around for a long time and has always been very reliable.

Other Notable items

  • Webex supports file transfers and removal of attendees from a meeting.
  • It is quick and easy to change presenters,
  • create whiteboards for live collaboration and pass keyboard and mouse control,
  • There is a free option

 

d.) Miro – a productivity software that lets you conduct meetings and workshops, perform product development, agile workflows, user experience research and design, innovation/ideation, strategic planning, and mind mapping in one compact yet powerful software.

Other Notable items

  • Excellent for collaboration and presentation
  • Has a large feature set
  • Easy to use
  • Integrates easily with other apps and services
  • There is a free option

3. Web Providers

Just about all businesses require some sort of web presence.  A website is almost mandatory.  However, this does not have to cost thousands of dollars.  There are many do it yourself providers to get you started until you are ready to invest in a more robust site, with a powerful SEO – Search Engine Optimization foundation. Here are a few that will get you started.

 

a.) Godaddy – helps business owners get a domain name, create a website, has fast hosting, and do online marketing.  It is beginner-friendly for those with limited or no coding or design skills.  It is also one of the most well-known.

Other Notable items

  • Very simple and straightforward
  • Integrated eCommerce features
  • Allows you to get a website up and running very quick
  • Great Page Load Time at 280 ms
  • Over 125+ One-Click Install Applications

 

b.) Wix – a user-friendly website-building platform. It helps you customize your website and achieve high-quality SEO.  Very easy for inexperienced users.

Other Notable items

  • Easy Drag and Drop
  • Variety of Free Widgets and Apps
  • More than 500 Templates to make getting started very easy
  • Modern & Sleek

 

c.) Siteground – is a web hosting platform with more than 2,800,000 domains for its top speed, unmatched security, 24/7 fast, and expert support. It may not be as well known but it is a very good option for those looking for performance, reliability and simplicity.

Other Notable items

  • Offers free Domain Name
  • Free Let’s Encrypt SSL
  • Free CloudFlare CDN
  • 9% Uptime
  • Data Centers on 3 Continents
  • Secure Account Isolation on Shared Servers
  • Shared Hosting Utilizes Linux Containers
  • Improved Server Restore Technology
  • Proactive Server Monitoring
  • Unique Anti Bot Artificial Intelligence System
  • Fast Responsive Support
  • Last 30 Backup Copies Available for Restore
  • Staging for WordPress and Joomla
  • Automatic WordPress Plugin Updates

 

4. Project Management

For business owners where project management or even task management is a key part, this next list of products will make your life easier.  Project management has evolved so much in the last 20 years from very complex options that do everything to several CLOUD-based options that are inexpensive and easy to use.  Here are a few for you to consider.

a)  Trello – A visual tool that empowers your team to manage any type of project, workflow, or task tracking. It enables users to create boards, lists, and cards to get a clear view of who’s doing what and what needs to get done.

Other Notable items

  • Easy to Use
  • Easy to see who is doing what
  • Has Powerups that enable you to enhance your project
  • Integrates with Tools like Slack
  • Task Management
  • There is a free option

 

b)  Asana – helps you manage projects, focus on what’s important, and organize work in one place for seamless collaboration

Other Notable items

  • Easy to Use
  • Expansive Integration
  • Collaboration Focused
  • Task Management
  • Workflow Automation
  • There is a free option

 

c)   Jira – is a customizable workflow engine that allows users to track any issue type, whether a task, a bug, or a work item through its predefined workflows. Users can easily modify and customize a Jira workflow to fit business requirements.

Other Notable items

  • This is a little more technical and used a lot by IT people
  • Agile Work Management
  • Organization Alignment
  • Reports and Insights
  • Visibility into DevOps
  • There is a free option

5. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

For those who manage customers, then a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a must.  I have seen many business owners try to manage contacts with Excel but this grows difficult as the number of communications increase or the need to track activity, set reminders and perform follow-ups.  This is an area with a  plethora of choices.  However, a few low-cost options are listed below.

a)  Hubspot – a CRM platform that allows users to manage contacts, generate leads, track interactions, and close deals.

Other Notable items

  • All-in-one platform for everything and anything marketing, sales, and customer support
  • Easy to use
  • There is a free option

 

b)  Salesforce – a leading CRM tool for sales and marketing teams worldwide. It allows businesses to use cloud technology to connect with partners, customers, and potential customers.

Other Notable items

  • Less expensive to implement
  • Setup and management are simpler when using the cloud.

 

c)   Pipedrive – is a web-based Sales CRM and pipeline management solution that enables businesses to plan their sales activities and monitor deals. Built using activity-based selling methodology, Pipedrive streamlines every action involved in converting a potential deal into a successful sale.

 

Other Notable items

  • Intuitive UI design
  • Custom Reporting Capabilities
  • Has a lot of integrations with other apps
  • Communication tracking is top notch
  • Very affordable options
  • Can create custom pipelines and deal stages

 

6. Marketing Tools

Automated marketing is a must these days for many businesses.  The great thing is that many products easily integrate with email and social media allowing for seamless execution.

 

a.) Mailchimp – is a marketing automation platform that allows users to manage contacts with clients, customers, or interested parties through email campaigns

Other Notable items

  • An all-in-one marketing platform.
  • Helps customers improve their conversion rate
  • Very easy to use
  • Has a free option

 

b.) Constant contact – is email marketing software that primarily helps businesses create branded emails, websites, online stores and more in one online marketing platform.

Other Notable items

  • Provides great support and security
  • One of the most popular tools
  • Has Resend option to those who have not seen the first email/ message
  • Consistent on high deliverability rate
  • Social media campaigning is an additional feature

7. Social Media Management

For businesses that post on Social Media sites regularly, managing posts can be a pain.  However, there are several options for software that enable you to manage and schedule posts.  Here are a few popular options.

 

a)  Hootsuite – helps users create, schedule, publish, and manage content and ad campaigns across social networks from a single dashboard.

Other Notable items

  • Supports many social networks
  • Manage Accounts in Multiple Streams
  • Auto-Schedule  of Posts
  • Analytics for reporting
  • Has a free option that enables users to schedule a limited number of posts

 

b)  Buffer – a platform for managing social media across different platforms. It makes scheduling incredibly simple, allowing users to connect multiple accounts and post simultaneously

 

Other Notable items

  • Create Slots and Add Content
  • Has a photo editor called Pablo
  • Has team management features
  • Easy to use
  • Has a free option

 

c)   Dripify – is an advanced LinkedIn automation platform for marketers and sales teams for effective prospecting, lead generation, and business development.

 

Other Notable items

  • Easy to use platform, simple user interface
  • It’s a cloud-based technology
  • Free trial
  • Advanced algorithm
  • Zapier integration
  • Very good Tutorial videos

By Ben Williams

 

#smallbusinesstechnology #  #limkis