Time-Saving Tech for Your Small Business
Software and services that can increase productivity and efficiency
If time is money, you could be losing a fortune.
Professionals waste 56 minutes per day, says a survey from OfficeTeam, a division of the employment agency Robert Half.
Employees waste up to 21.8 hours per week, according to a survey by business-coaching firm Maui Mastermind.
Business owners have only 1.5 hours of truly productive time per day, says the small-business advisory firm The Alternative Board.
Fortunately, technology has provided tools to cut the waste of time and improve productivity.
Use time tracking
The first step in time management is measuring how you and your team spend the workday. If you use time cards or time sheets, you may know how much time your people spend but not what they do with it.
Time-tracking software records what they do. Once installed on laptops, phones, and other tech, a time tracker can automatically monitor and report how many minutes people spend in attending meetings, answering emails, and doing other activities. Most time trackers also offer software for invoicing, timesheet approvals, GPS tracking of employees when they're off-site, and other features.
Time trackers can also create the Hawthorne effect, named for the telephone factory where psychologists discovered it. The Hawthorne effect is the tendency to try harder if you know that someone is monitoring you. If your employees know that an app is clocking their time, they're less likely to waste their minutes.
Dozens of trackers want your business. Some of the most prominent and popular:
Harvest (often recommended for small businesses)
Toggl (a free and relatively simple tool)
Time Doctor (good for monitoring productivity)
Hubstaff (good for monitoring freelancers and remote workers)
QuickBooks Time, also called TSheets
In addition, Exela has its own time tracker, Contactless Entry & Exit.
Time trackers can show how you and your people are spending your time. The next step is to spend it better. Task-management software can help by getting you organized and keeping you that way.
One of the best-known task-management programs is Trello, which business consultant Lucy Fuggle calls "one of the most popular time-saving tools for small businesses." Trello, she says, "will save you time by organizing your projects with simple visual overviews."
Some other strong task managers: Wrike, which the tech consultancy CrazyEgg calls "[the best task management software for fast-growth teams"; monday.com; and Asana.
"Software automation tools are definitely the easiest way to speed up workflow and reduce the time you spend on repetitive tasks," says tech blogger Rachel Adnyana. Quite a few other professionals agree, according to a survey of knowledge workers (people who use information instead of producing goods or services).
Source: "The majority of workers use automation software at work—here's why," Zapier.com, September 1, 2020
How much time can automation save? "Activities consuming more than 20 percent of a CEO's working time could be automated," says a report from the business consultancy McKinsey. "These include analyzing reports and data to inform operational decisions, preparing staff assignments, and reviewing status reports."
Below are some ways in which small businesses can save time with automation.
Automate your schedule
"Appointment scheduling," says tech developer Gary Stevens, "used to be a major time sink but can now be automated. For most customers, the ability to directly book appointments is preferable to having to phone your company, and implementing a system that allows them to do this saves both you and them time and money." You can also use schedule software to set up appointments with your staff, vendors, and anyone else you need to contact.
Some of the best software for this purpose:
Acuity Scheduling (good for individual entrepreneurs)
Setmore (for businesses on a budget)
SimplyBook.me (for companies doing businesses internationally)
Square Appointments (includes a point-of-sale system)
Automate your email
Office workers spend about two hours per day reading, answering, and managing email, according to studies by Microsoft and cloud technology firm SoftwareONE. Research by Adobe puts the number even higher. If you and your team can cut down on email use, you could gain the equivalent of an extra month per year, or more.
SaneBox, Front, and other email software can help you do it. "Rather than manually handling every message as it hits their inboxes, employees are using automation to organize their stacks of daily emails, sending automated responses to some, and directing everything else to specific folders for further attention," says Lisa Schwarz, a senior director at the Oracle business software division NetSuite. "By automating employees' inboxes, companies help their workforce see and respond to relevant messages quickly and efficiently."
Automate your marketing
"Perhaps one of the easiest ways to save time as a busy entrepreneur is to automate your marketing activities," says Chris Bailey of the blog Marketing Know How. "From scheduling marketing emails in advance to targeting key dates like Valentine's Day and Christmas, through to social media scheduling tools that will keep your Twitter and Facebook pages ticking over when you're not around, there are so many ways you can cut your marketing hours."
Some of the most popular marketing-automation software packages for small business come from HubSpot, Keap, and ActiveCampaign. HubSpot is the industry leader, but review and comparison sites like G2 and GetApp prefer ActiveCampaign, with Keap running a respectable third.
These all-in-one packages handle nearly every type of marketing. If you'd rather focus on only a few types, try specialized software. For email marketing, you can use Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or Sendinblue, while Buffer and Hootsuite rank among the most prominent types of software for social media. (Many1 experts2 consider3 Buffer4 better5 for6 small7 business8 - it's less expensive and simpler to navigate - and Hootsuite for larger enterprises with more complex and elaborate needs.)
When you shop for these technologies, "check out as many free trials as you need, and go with the tool that fits how you like to work most closely," says tech writer Tim Brookes. "It's much easier to add a new tool into your existing workflow than try to fit a new workflow around the tool you've just paid for."
Automate your accounting
"Accounting is a time-consuming process that includes a lot of manual steps," says Oracle's Lisa Schwarz. "By automating some or all of the steps involved, companies can save time, reduce errors, and free up employees' valuable time to focus on other tasks."
Some of the best accounting programs for small businesses include:
Use a digital mailroom service
Old-fashioned paper mail devours hours. Sorting, routing, photocopying, filing, scanning, uploading: It's all so slow. Then there's the time wasted in hunting down correspondence that someone's filed away.
You can save all that time with a service like Digital Mailroom (DMR). Digital Mailroom's professionals receive, digitize, and upload incoming mail to a secure web portal where you can read it, edit it, and share it with your team - fast. You can find out about DMR's quickness in this case study about a bank suffering from painfully slow processes.
These are only a few of the ways you can put more productive time into your company. Functions ranging from HR to IT can save hours via easily available technology.
Choosing the technology is a simple, straightforward process: Decide what to streamline, research the software, and talk with the companies that can provide it. In other words, all you need to do...
...is spend a little time.