By Steven Macdonald
Running your own business is one of the most rewarding and also stressful and time-consuming jobs you could ever do. Especially when you’re first starting out and growing your business, there is never enough time to get everything done. You need to figure out very quickly how to be productive.
The trouble is it’s tricky to know where to start. Lots of software tools out there are designed for big, established businesses with lots of staff and huge infrastructures. Sometimes, though, you just need some handy tools that will save you time and make your business run more efficiently—without having to spend thousands of dollars or waste days and weeks on lengthy implementation processes.
So, with that in mind we’ve researched 25 of the most cost-effective productivity tools that are available. Many of the tools we found are free to use, whereas others cost a few dollars. However, the one thing they all have in common is they are designed to help you run your business more productively and save you considerable amounts of time.
Planning and project management tools
Regardless of whether you’re setting up a new business for the first time, or you’re preparing to launch a new product or marketing campaign, no smart entrepreneur can overlook the need for some proper planning and project management. The following tools will help you successfully plan, measure, and deliver your next business project.
Simple and flexible project management Kanban boards
Pricing: Starts at $0; Business Class is $9.99/month; Enterprise is $20.83/month
Why should you use Trello? Based on the Japanese business system of Kanban, Trello is a highly visual and intuitive tool that allows you to quickly organize, monitor, and update your projects. Not only is it free to use in most cases, but it allows you to break down your projects into specific stages—(e.g., “Not Done,” “Doing,” and “Done”)—so you can easily see at a glance which stage a task is at.
Online-only, collaborative spreadsheet tool from Google
Pricing: $0 (free) for individual users; starts at $6/month for business users as part of G Suite
Why should you use Google Sheets? Let’s face it, we all use spreadsheets to organize pretty much all our business information, right? They can hold anything from sales records and customer lists to financial plans and reporting data. The trouble is, if you’re using a desktop tool like Excel, you’re missing out on the chance to collaborate with other members of your team. It’s this collaboration, combined with the ability to seamlessly import data from a whole host of other software apps that allows Google Sheets to beat Excel hands down as a tool for the modern, digital entrepreneur.
Simple yet powerful to-do list management app
Pricing: $0 (Free); premium reminder features start at $3/month
Why should you use Todoist? To-do lists are at the epicentre of any business or project. Without them you’ll never remember all the things you need to do to reach your goals. Todoist is a to-do list app that helps you to add new list items, review your lists, and will even send you reminders to keep you on task—all from one central dashboard. Simple, yet massively effective.
Keeps track of the time you’re spending on tasks
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free); Starter plans are $8/month; Premium plans are $18/month
Why should you use Toggl? Being in business is all about making money, right? Well, you know what they say, time is money. With Toggl you can measure how long tasks, jobs, or projects take you to complete so you can accurately bill customers. Or, you can measure projects to help you better understand how much more to charge the next time to make it more profitable for you. It’s a no-brainer for us.
Visual, collaborative project management tool
Pricing: Starts at $15/month; pricing for Basic, Standard, and Pro plans are based on user volume
Why should you use monday.com? There comes a time when spreadsheets, Trello boards, and to-do list apps won’t cut it on their own; sometimes you need one single app that can do it all. Introducing monday.com, a project management tool, that lets you visually plan, organize, and track everything you and your team are doing in a single collaborative environment. No more lost email chains or duplication of effort. Everything that’s happening in your project is happening in monday.com.
It doesn’t matter if your business is online, offline, B2B, B2C, or something else entirely. There are very few organizations out there that shouldn’t be using social media of one form or another. Whether it’s to drum up new business, support your existing customers, or just reinforce brand awareness, the world of social media can bring all sorts of positives to your business. Plus, you can guarantee if you’re not making the most of what social media has to offer, then your competitors most certainly are.
The only trouble with social media is it can be a huge time suck, if you’re not careful. To help you benefit from social media without feeling like you’re a full-time “influencer” who is glued to Instagram all day, here are a few handy tools that will make you super productive—and super social, too.
“Set it and forget it” social media posting tool
Pricing: Starts at $15/month; additional plans range from $65/month to $99/month
Why should you use Buffer? At the heart of it, social media is all about interaction with your customers, followers, or fan base. However, in order for you to interact with them, you need to inspire them to talk by posting content—and usually lots of it. Buffer helps you to schedule this content in advance across all your social media channels from one single platform. This means instead of posting to Facebook, then Instagram, then Twitter, then Pinterest, then LinkedIn, you can set it up once in Buffer, schedule it, and forget it.
RELATED: Biggest Social Media Mistakes Made by Businesspeople
Powerful posting, scheduling, curation, and analysis tools
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free); additional plans range from $25/month up to $520/month
Why should you use Hootsuite? Originally a very similar scheduling tool to Buffer, Hootsuite has evolved to enable you to not only schedule posts, but also curate other online content, analyze results and metrics from your posts, and even monitor conversations online, so you can quickly find and jump into customer discussions or complaints and “WOW” people with your timely intervention.
Social media assistant
Why should you use MeetEdgar? The problem with social media is you have to keep feeding the beast. The best posts are based on content you’ve created elsewhere and posted on social. But once you post new content, it’s usually forgotten within a few hours, meaning you’re back to square one and needing more content to satisfy your hungry audience. This is where MeetEdgar steps in. Edgar will help you to reuse, repurpose, and repost your existing “evergreen” content by helping you to schedule it to be posted again at a later date. And, if that wasn’t enough, Edgar is even smart enough to write your posts for you.
Keeps your social media posts on top of trends
Pricing: $0 (free)
Why should you use Google Trends? Stuck for ideas on what to post about on social media? Instead of wasting time trying to dream up interesting topic ideas, you should jump on to Google Trends and let it do the hard work for you. You can look at what people around the world are searching for and base your posts on any keyword, theme, or idea that might be relevant to your business. Use the data that Google has to offer to inspire your next round of social media posts and blog content.
Because people love pictures
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free); pay plans range from $9 to $49
Why should you use Later? Text is old news. When it comes to social media posts, it’s all about images and videos. There is, of course, no hotter platform right now for photos and videos than Instagram, so you’re going to need a special tool to help you get the most from it. Enter Later, which is designed to help you visually plan and schedule your “Insta” posts as well as help you manage other popular platforms.
These days every business, no matter the size, needs a steady stream of nicely designed content to post on social media and be part of their online brand. Unless you can afford to hire your own in-house designer, then chances are as an entrepreneur you’re going to have to wear yet another hat and try your hand at graphic design yourself.
Until recently, graphic design used to be reserved for specialists who had the talent to do some amazing things with tools like Photoshop. Now, thanks to some incredible tools available online, you can quickly and easily produce great looking content with next to no artistic ability at all.
Quick graphic design for non-designers
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free); Canva Pro starts at $9.95/month
Why should you use Canva? Graphic design work used to involve complicated software like Photoshop or Illustrator—not anymore. If you can use Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint, then chances are you’ll be able to use Canva too. With it you’ll be able to take advantage of countless design templates to quickly put together on-brand graphics on the fly. Easy to use drag-and-drop tools and intuitive editing features mean your next leaflet, poster, or social media banner could be ready in the next five minutes or so…
Unlimited on-demand graphic design from real designers
Pricing: Starts at $75 for a single one-off design; unlimited design starts at $399/month
Why should you use Design Pickle? Maybe an easy to use design tool like Canva is still too much for you? Maybe you just don’t have time to do your own design work? Or maybe you’ve always wanted to hire your own full-time graphic designer, but thought it was out of your budget? If you want your very own on-demand, real-life human designer, who can work on your projects every single month, then you want Design Pickle. For just $399 a month you can submit (one at a time) unlimited design requests and even have as many revisions done as you want. Each request takes a business day to process, so really you’re looking at up to 20 design projects a month for just $399–which is incredible value.
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Instant background removal on photos and images
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free), with pay-as-you-go; subscription options start at $9.99
Why should you use AutoClipping? Regardless of whether you’re a pro-level designer, or a complete newbie, one of the most painstaking (and time-sapping) tasks in graphic design is background removal. Luckily now, thanks to AutoClipping, you can take care of it in two mouse clicks, so you can get back to running your business, instead of wasting hours trying to remove image backgrounds.
Run contests to find your perfect design
Pricing: Varies depending on design category; logo contest starts at $300
Why should you use 99designs? We already mentioned Design Pickle as a way to start working with your own dedicated designer, but what if you wanted to see your idea brought to life by hundreds of different designers, instead of just one? That’s the premise of 99designs. You submit a design brief (which details what you’re looking for) and payment, and then you’re guaranteed to receive entries to your design contest from multiple professional designers. The only thing you need to do is choose the winner.
Templates and design elements from just $1
Pricing: Downloads start for as little as $1
Why should you use Graphic River? Perhaps you already have some decent graphic design skills, so you don’t want to hire anyone, or you want more than just the basic features of a tool like Canva. Instead, what you need is somewhere you can download a template that you can quickly edit and call your own. In that case, look no further than GraphicRiver. Part of the Envato Marketplace, Graphic River is a fully searchable repository of hundreds of thousands of templates, design elements, and images that you can search for, pay for, and download in just a few clicks. Whether you want to make your PowerPoint slides pop, refresh your reports, or make your leaflets look lovely, GraphicRiver has templates made by professional designers which are yours to download and edit as you see fit, using tools like Photoshop and InDesign.
Perhaps even more so than graphic design, the one essential that all businesses need is written content. This could range from something as simple as an email to existing clients, all the way through to an epic feature-length blog post, or even a tender response.
Regardless of what you’re writing, there’s no escaping the fact it takes time to research, write, and edit, a good piece of content. So, with that in mind, if you had some tools to help you speed up that process, it could only be a good thing, right?
Accurately transcribes voice notes in seconds
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free); Premium plan costs $8.33/month (billed annually)
Why should you use Otter? Sometimes you just know what you want to write, but your fingers won’t type as quickly as your brain can think or your mouth can talk—meaning you’ll probably miss out on most of your amazing ideas as a result. If this sounds like you, then you’re going to love Otter, an artificial intelligence app that turns any voice recording into highly accurate transcribed text. With just a couple of taps, you can transform a conversation or discussion into a fully transcribed interview document or even dictate your ideas and turn them into a solid first draft of an article.
Online research notes
Pricing: $0 (free)
Why should you use Airstory? The brainchild of renowned copywriter and copywriting coach Joanna Wiebe, Airstory has evolved overtime to become the ultimate writing research snippet tool. Simply add the extension to your web browser of choice and you’ll be able to gather quotes, stats, links, and then drag them (yes, literally drag and drop) into any web-based writing tool, e.g. Gmail, Google Docs, WordPress, or indeed anywhere else that you might find yourself typing online. It’ll save you hours of hunting through old links and bookmarks to find the research you thought you’d already done, meaning you can produce your next blog post or email way faster than ever before.
HubSpot’s Blog Ideas Generator
Quick keyword-based blog topic ideas
Pricing: $0 (free)
Why should you use HubSpot’s Blog Ideas Generator? Have you ever wanted to write a blog post on a specific topic, but were stuck for ideas on exactly what to write about? Worry no more, because instead of wasting time looking for inspiration, HubSpot’s Blog Ideas Generator has got your back. Simply type in one (or more) keywords, and the software will do the rest—providing you with a list of relevant, professional-sounding topics for you to write your next article on. It’s as simple as that: no gimmicks, no clickbait titles—just good solid blog post ideas to inspire your next piece of content.
RELATED: Is Bad Writing Costing Your Company Valuable Time and Money?
Proofreading on a whole new level
Pricing: From $0 (free)
Why should you use Grammarly? When it comes to writing content, it isn’t just typing thousands of words—everything you do needs to be edited, too. This is where Grammarly comes in. This handy proofreading tool uses artificial intelligence to run your text past more than 250 grammar rules to make sure your content is as accurate and grammatically correct as possible. Think of it as a next generation spellchecker and let it do some of the editing hard work for you.
Make your writing bold and clear
Pricing: From $0 (free)
Why should you use Hemingway? Editing content isn’t just about making sure that your spelling, punctuation, and grammar, are on point. You need to try and add some clarity and personality to your writing as well. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s famed punchy writing style, the Hemingway app automagically analyzes your text to find faults, flaws, and errors which affect readability. Pasting your text into Hemingway can be a real eye-opener, but if you take the time to follow the app’s advice, it can drastically improve your writing, both now and in the future.
Whether it’s speaking with clients, emailing contacts, chasing down team members, or something else entirely, it doesn’t matter what kind of business you run, you’re going to need to communicate with people pretty much all the time. The trouble is face to face meetings often involve time-wasting travel and talking to people across time zones, which can be an administrative nightmare. With that in mind we’ve put together five of the best communication tools to help boost your productivity and communicate more efficiently.
Video chat, conferencing, and webinars made easy
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free); Pro plan for small business is $14.99/month/host
Why should you use Zoom? In truth, there are many video chat apps we could have featured here, including old favorites like Skype, or new kids on the block like Appear.in, but we went with Zoom for a number of reasons. Zoom makes it easy for you to invite multiple attendees to your meeting (you can have up to 100, even in the free plan), you can easily record sessions, host your own conference calls, and a whole host of other amazing features–all within an easy to use and highly robust platform. As far as video tools go, Zoom gets our vote.
Productivity tools that will supercharge the way you use email
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free); Personal plans are $4.99/month; Pro plans are $14.99/month
Why should you use Boomerang? Ever wished you could pause your inbox so you could catch up on email? Ever wanted to send emails later so they arrive at an optimum time for your reader? Ever thought it’d be neat to be able to schedule meetings while you’re writing emails? Well, with Boomerang you can do all that and a whole bunch more in Outlook, Gmail, and on your iOS or Android device. If you’ve never tried to tame your inbox and make emailing more productive and less time-intensive, then you should try with Boomerang.
Booking appointments just got a whole lot easier
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free); Premium plan starts at $8/month; Pro plan starts at $12/month
Why should you use Calendly? On the face of it, booking an appointment should be fun and rewarding, after all you could be scheduling a call to close a new deal, or even just to catch up with a colleague. The trouble is trying to lock down a date and time that suits you both often turns into a game of email “tennis” as you go back and forth checking availability. Calendly ends all that. Sync it up to your Outlook or Google Calendar, set up the times you don’t want to accept appointments, then give people your Calendly link. They can then choose a slot that is convenient to both of you. Calendly then takes care of everyone’s calendars and even sends reminders. It’s like having your very own executive PA, but just for $8 to $12 a month.
Live chat and collaboration for teams
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free); Standard plan starts at $6.67/month
Why should you use Slack? Again, we could have mentioned other chat/collaboration apps here–shout out to Microsoft Teams–but we went with Slack for one big reason. Not only can you create your own Slack workspace for your company and take advantage of all the usual collaboration features, but you can also use it to connect with other communities and entrepreneurs. This ever-growing ecosystem of Slack channel communities is an incredible resource that means not only can you control your business communications with Slack, but you can also learn, network, and develop using Slack, too.
Get your apps talking to each other
Pricing: Starts at $0 (free); additional plans start at $20/month
Why should you use Zapier? Not strictly a communication tool in the traditional sense, Zapier does a lot of hard work behind the scenes to connect all the different software you use so it can talk to each other and work in unison. Ever wanted to output data from your Shopify, Google Analytics, and Stripe accounts into a single Google Sheets report? Now you can. This is just one example, because with Zapier you can connect thousands of apps together in countless ways to develop highly productive custom workflows that take seconds to set up—and will save you hours every day.
How much time will you save?
As a small business owner, there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done. Hopefully with these 25 incredible tools, you’ll be able to carve out minutes, if not hours, every single day improving different areas of your business.
RELATED: How Entrepreneurs Can Stay Productive on Sluggish Days
About the Author
Post by: Steven Macdonald
Steven Macdonald is a digital marketer and owner of Kingspoint. Based in Tallinn, Estonia, Steven has helped his clients earn millions of visits and leads through of combined strategy of SEO, content marketing, and conversion rate optimization.
Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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