Using automation to boost your small business’s productivity.

Automation boosts your small business's productivitySmall business owners take on a ton of different responsibilities, so anything you can get done automatically is going to boost your productivity. Small business technology has come a long way. Here are four tasks you can automate to free up more of your time.

Social media

A business could spend exorbitant amounts of time posting and responding to posts and never get any work done. In order to use social media effectively for your business, you need to schedule your posts, manage your accounts and track your performance. This could become a full time job if you let it, or you could use one of these social media apps to do the work for you.

  • Hootsuite is the market leader in social media apps. It will automatically schedule up to 350 messages at a time. Keyword search is built in and there’s a mobile app. There’s a free version, and a pro version that starts at $9.99 a month.
  • Buffer lets you create your own content schedule. The free version allows one user to post to one profile per platform, up to 10 posts per profile. Small business plans start at $99 per month for up to five team members, 25 profiles, and 100 posts per profile, and adds posts to Pintrest.
  • Onlywire lets you post content to 50 different social media networks at once. View and respond to comments with monitoring console, Pricing starts at $5 a month for up to 1000 submissions. Analytics lets you track performance.

When posting to social media, beware of what you say, especially when replying to comments. Posts can get misinterpreted and people can get angry and upset.

Email marketing

Email marketing is the heart and soul of many business, particularly those that sell to consumers. Automating your email marketing brings a host of advantages: professional-looking emails that strengthen your brand identity, the ability to test messages and offers, and analytics that show which campaigns work best.

  • MailChimp boasts customizable, easy to use templates that are mobile-friendly, as well as unlimited free storage, automatic A/B testing, a mobile app, mobile list signup and social analytics. The free version supports up to 2,000 email subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. The paid version starts at $10 per month for up to 500 subscribers.
  • Constant Contact offers lots of choices for templates, sorted by industry and function. There’s access to a library of free stock images to customize your messages. Pricing ranges from $20 per month for up to 500 contacts to $85 per month for up to 10,000 contacts.
  • iContact offers a basic Email Marketing package and an advanced Pro Automation package. Features that have an extra charge in the basic package but are included in the Pro version include A/B testing and Google analytics. The basic version ranges in price from $14 a month for 500 subscribers to $79 a month for 10,000 subscribers. The pro version ranges from $99 a month to $189 a month.

Project Management 

Planning, organizing and managing the many resources needed to run a business can be overwhelming. Do you use email to communicate with your clients, staff and vendors? Is sharing documents and juggling multiple to-do lists proving difficult? Whether you are working on a small or large scale project, utilizing a team management software will help you and your business be successful.

  • Trello is a free project management system that allows users to move cards – representative of task- to create a visual representation of where a project is in development. The front of the card serves as a label, but the back hosts a plethora of information – like who’s working on the task, when its due and what has already been completed. There is also a calendar function allowing all team members to collaborate on the project transparently. The free version offers unlimited users and projects, but only offers 10MB of storage. Upgrade to Trello Gold for $5 a month, or $45 for a year to receive 250MB.
  • Basecamp is the grandaddy of project management apps and is considered the leading project management tool around. It boosts a simple and easy to use interface that allows you to collaborate with your team and client/s. Create multiple projects and setup discussions, write to-do lists, manage files, create and share documents, and organize dates for scheduling. Best part? It is fully responsive so you can manage your projects and check statues on your mobile device on the go. Basecamp’s basic plan starts at $20 a month.
  • Asana is another very popular and well-loved PM app. This intuitive task-management system works best for teams seeking real-time interaction by allowing you to easily collaborate with remote workers and freelancers. Asana allows its users to visualize their goals, track their time, assign priority to their tasks, and get updates on the project right in the program. A calendar function graphs the team’s tasks right onto the dashboard. It also keeps all the actionable tasks, scheduling, sharing files including Google Drive, Dropbox and Box.com and receive status updates without using email. Asana also comes with mobile apps on both iOS and Android, so you can work anywhere whilst on the go. Asana is free for teams up to 15 people for a basic dashboard. Asana Premium is priced per member at $8.33 each for a more in-depth package.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

CRM helps you organize your prospects, clients, vendors and everyone else you come into contact with in your business. But a good CRM program will do much more. It will automate processes as your clients move through the sales funnel from target to prospect to customer.

  • Salesforce is the market leader in CRM, and is used in companies of every size. It features a customizable dashboard, so you can set it up to show just what you want to see. Each contact’s social media accounts automatically populate their record. Salesforce has three packages for small businesses, ranging in cost from $25 per month for up to five users, to $150 per month for unlimited users.
  • Insightly is designed specifically for small businesses, so it is very easy to use. It lets you manage projects, events and tasks. The contact manager lets you tag and group your contacts, and stores background data and the contact’s communication history. Insightly has a free version that allows for up to three users and 2500 records. The paid version starts at $12 per month per user, and allows 100,000 records.
  • Zoho lets you see your contacts, pipelines and sales cycles, and automates workflows and repetitive tasks. The free version has just about everything a small business needs – contact management, workflow automation, lead generation, analytics, social collaboration and more, for up to 10 users. The paid version starts at $12 per user per month.

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