In our first article on this topic, we highlighted the process for defining the apps and tools you will require in your eco-system of apps for your business. If you missed that article, you will find it here http://www.horticulture-nextgeneration.com.au/ecosystem-of-apps-and-tools/
When I followed the process and started defining my ecosystem, I thought about the key functions that I wanted to get right and ended up mapping out 7 areas that are really important for me and my business. Below are those areas and the key apps that I use to be productive and efficient.
1. Client Information
Where do you store your client information? Unfortunately, lots of people are storing their valuable client and sales information in their accounting system and end up not being able to use it for marketing and sales because they are using the wrong software for the job.
Client information is important because it's linked to how we market and sell our business in a modern, electronic world. The challenge is to collect, store and manage client information using the appropriate tools – a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
I have found Insightly (https://www.insightly.com/) to be an excellent Entry level product to store and organise your client/customer information in a simple, intuitive useable format. It links to a wide variety of other apps in my software ecosystem and enables me to share data across these platforms. It's also cost effective at $15 per User per month (Aug 2016).
There are CRMs such as Salesforce (http://www.salesforce.com/au/), Base (https://getbase.com/), Capsule CRM (https://capsulecrm.com/) and Zoho (https://www.zoho.com/crm/), and they are all good programs. The challenge is that you need to find a CRM system that is intuitive for you and has the features and linkage benefits that you will actually use to help grow your business.
2. Data Storage
For me and my business, data refers to my Office 365 files, image files, etc. so I need to have an accessible and integrated way of storing all of these. I found OneDrive to be a very useful tool for this area of my ecosystem.
OneDrive (https://onedrive.live.com) integrates really well with just about everything I do so it makes perfect sense to use it. Other data storage apps to consider are Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/) and Box.net (https://www.box.com/).
3. Information Storage
I find that most business have a requirement to store information and resources that won't necessarily fit in to a traditional data storage system and where we require different mechanisms or modes for retrieval. I'm talking about information like websites, videos, PDF documents, workshop manuals, etc.
For resources and general information, I've found Evernote (https://www.evernote.com/) to be the tool for me. It is a series of digital notebooks. The beauty about Evernote is that you can put information in in a variety of ways – i.e. voice recording, video clip, and then share a note or a notebook with people. It is available in desktop, Mac, Windows, IOS and Android formats – very flexible. It also works seamlessly with my Livescribe Pen (http://www.livescribe.com/en-au/)
An alternative tool for Windows users is One Note (https://www.onenote.com/) which integrates with the Office 365 suite. I found the Mac version of OneNote to be lacking when compared to Evernote, but the Windows version is excellent.
4. Task Management
We need to manage tasks – we need to manage projects and stay on top of all this stuff. In fact, many businesses have a really strong need for effective task management.
One app that I find great for task management is Trello (https://trello.com/). It's a powerful tool that enables me and my team in the Philippines to collaborate, work together and do planning. It's got an easy drag and drop navigation and I can add in files from OneDrive or Dropbox. It also integrates with Cloudmagic (now Newton) on my IOS devices and the Mac.
Other options are Kanban Flow (https://kanbanflow.com/), BaseCamp HQ (https://basecamp.com/) and Bitrix24 (https://www.bitrix24.com/).
If I look at my ecosystem, my email and calendar systems are quite central to it and really important. I use Cloudmagic (now Newton) (https://cloudmagic.com/), Airmail (http://airmailapp.com/) as email programs on my Mac and IOS devices, respectively. Why two systems? To take full advantage of Insightly CRM (see above). I need an email program that can auto-bcc to a specific email address and Airmail and CloudMagic both do this whereas others do not. The Mac version of CloudMagic is a new release that doesn't have some of the great features (Trello and Evernote integration) available on the IOS version and doesn't support "Rules" for email management. Airmail is the "stand in" until the Newton people upgrade the system.
I have tried a range of calendar systems but Google Calendar (https://www.google.com/calendar) is the one that works across all platforms and integrates easily with my other apps. It just works.
Alternatives will include Outlook (https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/outlook-com/), Apple Mail and Apple Calendar.
Other communication tools that I use are Skype (https://www.skype.com/en/), GoToWebinar (http://www.gotomeeting.com/webinar). They are really important communication tools for me as they enable me to communicate with my team but also with external parties to my business.They are available across all my platforms.
I've swapped my whole business over to Xero (https://www.xero.com/au/) because it's cloud-based and it gives me leverage to log in to other apps. Xero also links to my CRM (Insightly.com) which enables me to have a complete view of my clients from a contact and a financial perspective.
Another app I use is Receipt Bank (http://www.receipt-bank.com/). When I travel, instead of coming back with a wallet full of receipts, that I then don't have enough time to sit down and actually do anything with, Receipt Bank allows me to take a photo of the receipt with my Phone and upload it to their server where details such as Vendor Name, ABN, sale amount, tax amount and date is inputed to the system. My bookkeeper then comes in and codes it against the relevant code for my Xero chart of accounts and uploads it. It pays for itself by simplifying the process of claiming my allowable business deductions.
Other finance tools to consider are: MYOB (http://myob.com.au/), Entryless (https://www.entryless.com/) and Shoeboxed (https://www.shoeboxed.com/).
I don't have lots of operational software in my business but my Mindshop Online system (http://www.web.mindshop.com/) is where I give my clients access to a wide range of business tools and online training programs, and where I coach over 100 people. It is available on my desktop and IOS devices.
Other businesses may have some specific operational software that is important to the running and maintenance of their business.
Office365 for Windows and Mac (https://products.office.com/en-au/business/explore-office-365-for-business#ZBALHsKeuqAqAp7o.97) is also a great product. It's cheap, it's about $10 per month for about 5 users on a Home package – the Business Package is pretty good value as well. It keeps you up-to-date with new software releases – you get the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, One Note, Publisher and you get 1 terabyte of free storage using OneDrive per user.
What apps will be important to you and how will you ensure that they work together to leverage your time and resources? Take the time to follow the process in the first article – http://www.horticulture-nextgeneration.com.au/ecosystem-of-apps-and-tools/ and don’t just have a random collection of apps. Make sure they integrate.
If you would like to have a more detailed discussion of the process and apps, you will find our recorded webinar on this topic at http://www.horticulture-nextgeneration.com.au/productivity-apps-tools/
I’d be interested to know what apps are you using that are critical to your “ecosystem” – comment below.