Cheap—or free—software that can make you a more productive business owner
I love it when I learn about a new technology that helps me get more done in the day. My business has over 15 staff and dozens of clients, so when I find a new and easy way to stay organized and productive, it's like finding a pot of gold. Here are three of the simplest but most useful productivity tools and/or technologies I've been using lately.
I am head over heels in love with FollowUpThen. It is an email reminder system that helps me keep track of tasks I've delegated, follow up on sales calls and remember things I need to do on a certain date.
The premise is simple. Whenever you send an email, you can choose to cc or bcc to a certain date or time at FollowUpThen. Then, at the appointed date and time, the system sends your original email back to you. For example, if I send an email to our new intern delegating a task and asking for it to be completed by next Friday, I can cc nextFri@followupthen.com. Both the intern and I will then receive an email from FollowUpThen next Friday with my original email, reminding both of us that the task is supposed to be complete.
You can also use bcc if you want an email to come to you, but not to your recipient. I use that function all the time for sales follow-ups. If I send an email to a prospect promising to follow up in a week's time, I'll bcc the email to email@example.com. When I get my email reminder in a week, I'll quickly send out the follow-up to my prospect. Yes, my CRM system can technically do this for me, but I find it more burdensome than FollowUpThen.
There are a few other variations on how you can use FollowUpThen, and I'm sure you'll find a few ways you can use it to stay on top of your to-do list and be efficient. Oh, and the best part—it's free.
This is a simple application that adds contact information from your emails to your address book with a single click. Since I have a hard time manually entering contact information into my address book (somehow it's just too mundane a task to tackle), Gwabbit makes my life easier by scanning the address blocks of all the emails I receive and asking me if I want to add new contacts to my Outlook address book. If a contact of the same name already exists, gwabbit asks me if I want to update the information I already have.
Gwabbit is a handy tool that means I always have the phone numbers and email addresses I need, whenever I need them. And it's well worth the $20 cost.
This project management and time tracking software is easy to use and provides a painless way to record how I'm spending my time—and, crucially, evaluate if I'm using it wisely. I realized just how important this tool was last year when I evaluated how much time I was spending on networking activities compared to other sales and marketing activities.
When I started my company, The Mezzanine Group, over a decade ago, networking was my single most powerful way to attract new clients. But by last year I knew that its impact was dwindling. So I evaluated how many hours I spent at networking events vs. other ways to generate business. MyIntervals made it easy to record how much time I spent on various activities, and for me to understand which activities were generating the best results. Networking wasn't one of them!
The saying that "What gets measured gets done" is perfectly accurate. The problem for most companies is that it's hard to get employees to record how they spend their time. MyIntervals makes it painless, and it has a great reporting system so that you can evaluate where your and your team's productivity (and profitability) is coming from.
There are a few different price options for MyIntervals, starting at $9 per month. The $19 option gives you unlimited users and 15 active projects, which is plenty for most companies.
I hope you'll find these three simple tools as powerful in helping you run your business as they've been for me. And I'd love to hear if you have favourites you'll share with me.
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