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Best 9 Technology Hacks for Small Business Owners

On top of actually selling, small business owners often singlehandedly manage a variety of day-to-day tasks: accounting, record-keeping, inventory, marketing, and more. Without a large team of specialized employees or a large budget for outsourcing such work, the more mundane details of maintaining a company can become overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are technological aids for almost every area of small business operations to help simplify, automate, and organize your work.

Ready to take some of the busy-ness out of business? The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) has compiled a list of nine technology hacks to save time and increase productivity.

1. Create templates for repeated tasks

Email templates: If you find yourself typing the same email in response to a common customer question, you need to create an email template. In fact, you may want to create half a dozen email templates to address the most frequently encountered customer queries. Those minutes spent re-typing the same basic response add up as your business grows. The sooner you craft some prewritten responses, the sooner you’ll be on the way to lightening your email load.

Invoice templates: Creating and sending an invoice should not take more than a minute of your time, especially if your business is established. Free templates are available online to modify and download, or you may want to browse the documents to get an idea for your own custom layout. Your invoice should be as simple as possible — no extraneous information or distracting design elements. For even more streamlined invoicing, there are apps and software services that integrate the billing process directly into your bookkeeping.

Contract templates: Contractors and freelancers issue numerous contracts. These documents are legally binding guarantees that protect both parties — ensuring the work is delivered as promised and payment is rendered. They may not be long or involved, but they need to be precise. Simple templates are available online, as well as more comprehensive templates compatible with Google Docs and Microsoft Word.

2. Automate processes

Automation isn’t just for large corporations. Every business has room for efficiency, no matter how small. Automation saves time and money. By removing a step from your list of manual tasks, it can also help alleviate that nagging feeling you’ve forgotten to do something.

There are apps and programs for almost any repetitive task in your communications, social media, scheduling, or accounting. Many are built in to software you may already be using.

3. Make payment easy

Invoicing can be a drawn-out process when clients are slow to process your bills. The last way freelancers, contractors, and small business owners like to spend their time is chasing down customers for payment.

Checking a post office box only to find it empty is a source of undue stress for many self-employed workers. While late payments are a pain, part of the problem — the inconvenience a customer has in writing out a check and mailing it — can be resolved on your end with a simple technological fix.

Research has shown that customers appreciate the convenience of online payment options. It is easy for businesses to set up Paypal, Stripe, or other online payment services that accept credit cards. Including an online option can result in being paid 35 percent faster than via mailed check, or about nine days sooner on average.

4. Organize your email inbox

Not all technology hacks are cutting edge — the most effective ones are often right there at your fingertips the whole time. Most email clients, for example, provide organizational tools to assist in sorting and ranking emails by importance or subject.

Clients will often send multiple messages under different subject lines, dividing up contractual information, documents, requests, and questions related to a single project. Their own email habits can creep into your inbox, making it hard to find what you need.

One way to overcome the clutter is to think of your inbox as a to-do list. Use star rankings as reminders for follow-ups on more urgent messages. Create folders to keep client or project email histories in one place. Label messages by topic, then use the sort function to see them all together.

5. Get onto the Cloud

Cloud technology is the future of work. But what is it? It’s not as abstract as it sounds. Fundamentally, the Cloud is a global network of servers housed in data servers.

Chances are, you’re already using a Cloud-based storage and file-sharing system. Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive are all popular Cloud services.

According to the Cicso Global Cloud Index, a staggering 92 percent of all workloads will be housed in a cloud data center as of 2020. Cloud servers surpass traditional in-house server systems by three to one, a margin that will only widen in the coming years.

What does the Cloud mean for small businesses? Businesses that move their data to the Cloud eliminate the need for private servers, and all the physical space, security and IT maintenance that comes along with it.

Because Cloud servers are remote storage accessed over the internet rather than hardwired to computers, businesses and their employees have much greater flexibility in where (and on what device) they get their work done. Cloud-based work improves real-time collaboration and communications in work teams of any size. Compare Cloud services to see which one is right for your small business needs.

The smallest business can enjoy savings benefits from Cloud storage because it eliminates the costs of storage hardware, simplifies network and backup plans, and reduces the amount of money sunk into software updates. All of those technologies are maintained remotely by the Cloud provider.

6. Use technology to gather feedback

Customer insights are precious but often hard-won. One easy way to collect customer feedback is the use of a simple pop-up on your website. Ask customers to rate a product or their experience with your business on a scale of one-to-ten. Or offer a discount in return for a answering a short series of questions.

A caveat: it’s always a good idea to incorporate pop-ups sparingly: when they’re overused, pop-ups are annoying and will repel visitors from your site. The script-blocking software will go up, and you’ll lose valuable information from your site’s visitors.

Surveys offer another avenue for lead data and feedback collecting. Survey Monkey is a popular user-friendly software for creating engaging customer satisfaction surveys, and asking questions to generate your own custom market research.

7. Consider a virtual office

Many self-employed people work from home. In fact, it’s not only independent freelancers and small business owners making their office at home or on the road — one study found 70 percent of the global workforce was working remotely at least once a week.

While working from home is convenient and affordable, as a small business grows, the need for a physical office may also grow. This presents a tricky logistical and cost challenge.

A virtual office service offers an affordable solution. A virtual office provides a physical address outside of your home at a cost far below rent. Administrative services like receiving mail and phone call routing are often included, and some virtual offices provide private meeting spaces to businesses to meet with clients. Virtual meeting space provider Hoxton Mix offers a few questions to consider when selecting a virtual office service.

8. Employ a virtual assistant

Freelancing and contracting sites like Upwork are full of professionals qualified to take on business office tasks like answering phones and scheduling appointments. These workers can be employed on short-term contracts or ongoing hourly schedules at highly competitive rates.

If you aren’t ready to relinquish clerical work to an outside contractor, consider the untapped tools you carry around with you on your phone. Most smartphones already include built-in personal assistant tools like Siri and Google Now to help automate emails and prompt you with reminders. Other highly rated productivity apps are available to download through your phone’s app store.

9. Use a project management tool

Project management is where many of the other technologies come together in one collaborative environment. In the last few years, a number of online collaboration tools have come onto the scene that provide new ways for teams to visualize and track work projects.

Online project management software and apps are often all a small business needs to coordinate tasks. Many offer email integration as well as file and task management in both desktop and mobile compatibility.

Even small teams can benefit from a centralized project management system because the technology helps get tasks out of the heads and email inboxes of individuals and into a centralized workspace.

Project management also allows for a clearer organization of multiple projects at once. A manager can more easily track deadlines and budgets. The bird’s eye view also provides insight into the workloads of everyone on the team and helps managers prevent overwork or underwork by employees.

One limitation of many project management tools is inherent in the nature of the technology: they revolve around the organization of projects, which are defined by start and end dates and specific deliverables. For some ongoing work, the use of a project management tool may be unnecessary and create inefficiencies instead of the higher efficiency a small business owner intends.

An alternative option to project management software is collaboration and workflow software like Google Docs and Slack. (Affordable alternatives to Slack also abound.) Workflow software is centered less on projects with end-points and more on ongoing, recurring tasks.

Ultimately, the technology you choose as a small business owner should revolve around your own specific needs. Not all technology is a quick fix — it’s how you put it to work solving your problems.