14 May Our Favourite Chaos-Wrangling Platforms

There’s nothing we love more than wrangling chaos and we’ve had plenty of experience turning disarray into order. Here are a few of our favourite online platforms that help us achieve calm and order.

Podio.comPodio – for Project and Task Management

Why we love Podio:

1. Versatility

This platform does everything you can think of! We have used it in different ways for different clients. We’ve used apps for tracking expenses, detailing procedures, tracking vacation time, on-boarding, file sharing, branding guidelines, CRM, project management (although there is an extra cost for Smart Gantt integration), tracking competitors and managing marketing campaigns. Wow!

2. Ease of Use

We’ve never had an employee need training on how to use the apps once they’re installed.

3. Looks great.

The interface immediately looks familiar. Some have compared it to Facebook in appearance.

One downside: Time tracking is a little clumsy and not well integrated.

Cost: Basic plan is $9/month/user

TimeDoctorTime Doctor – for Time Tracking

Why we love Time Doctor:

  1. It Increases Productivity

You can choose how ‘big brother’ to get when monitoring yourself or employees. You can choose to have it take timed screenshots of what people are doing, you can select how many minutes of inactivity before asking whether someone is still working, you can decide whether or not to track what websites are being visited, you can decide whether people are allowed to edit their own time sheets.

Regardless of what settings our clients have decided to use, everyone agrees that they see an increase in productivity.

As an at-home worker, I found this the single best tool for increasing my own productivity. Even though I only needed to be accountable to myself I found the reminders extremely helpful. If I get distracted by Facebook it will politely pop up to check that I’m still working on whatever I claimed to be working on and if I disappear to do some laundry, when I get back it enquires whether I was working for the past 12 minutes!

  1. Great reporting.

It is very simple to generate time sheets and time use graphs and charts.

  1. Simple App

One of our clients is a small manufacturer and the app allows each staff member, with one click, to log their hours on specific pieces of machinery for a specific client providing very rich data on job profitability.

One downside: I have had employees with privacy concerns so you need to think carefully about how to introduce Time Doctor (or any time tracking platform) – both in terms of the settings you choose and the way you communicate to employees about the implementation of a time tracking tool.

Cost: Basic plan is $9.99/month/user (includes one free manager account) or $5 for the solo plan which is great for independent contractors/freelancers. There is also a free plan which provides limited access to the desktop version.

Quickbooks OnlineQuickBooks Online – for Accounting

Why we love QuickBooks Online:

  1. Remote, up-to-date access to accounts

Using QuickBooks online often comes as a breathe of fresh air to small companies who may have been used to crowding around a small screen on the one computer in the office with the traditional accounting software installed.

  1. Integration with bank accounts

This means you can more easily keep a close eye on cash flow which can be especially useful for startups.

  1. The ability to receive online payments directly from your clients

This can really take the headache out of taking customer payments and can reduce staffing/admin costs.

One downside: Although there is support available via chat and phone, hold times for phone calls can be long and the knowledge of the customer support representatives on both chat and phone can be limited and frustrating.

Pricing: Pricing for QuickBooks seems to change regularly so don’t take our word for it, but currently the cost is $5 for sole proprietors or independent contractors, otherwise $10/month for the basic plan. The ‘Essentials’ plan is $18/month and seems to include the functionality that most of my clients need. 3 users are included in this plan.

MailchimpMailchimp – for Communications

Why we love Mailchimp:

  1. “Forever Free” account

As a small business ourselves, we are not fans of having to sign contracts or sign up for too many paid monthly plans. You can have up to 2000 subscribers and send 12000 emails per month on Mailchimp’s “forever free” plan.

  1. Lots of awesome email templates

Don’t have an eye for design or knowledge of CSS? No problem! Mailchimp’s designers have put together a bunch of great templates that you can use and customize for your own business needs.

  1. Tons of options as your business grows

Sending a simple email is easy with Mailchimp, but if you want to really optimize and automate your email campaigns you do have the option of upgrading your plan to add services like automation, e-commerce and more.

One downside: I honestly can’t think of a downside to this email management platform. I haven’t had a bad experience yet.

Pricing: The basic plan is free but the upgraded plans range from $25 to $35/month depending on how many subscribers you have. The upgraded plans give you these additional features.

Google HangoutsGoogle Hangouts – for Video Conferencing

Why we love Google Hangouts:

  1. Screensharing

Peta and I live in different cities and see each other only once every month or so. We haven’t let the distance effect our business meetings with the use of Google Hangouts. When we’re doing company planning or discussing work for our clients we’ll frequently share one of our screens to work more effectively.

  1. Grow your audience with Hangouts on Air

We recently discovered Google Hangouts on Air. This tool lets you record yourself live and broadcast to the masses on either your website, Google or on YouTube. There are some other great features that allow you to interact with your audience and make you look like an expert in your field.

  1. Conference calls are a breeze

Google makes it super easy to have conference calls with people from all over the world. Setup doesn’t take long and the call quality is great.

One downside: Making phone calls is currently only available in the US.

Pricing: It’s totally free!

Google Apps for WorkGoogle Apps for Work – for Business Management

Why we love Google Apps for Work:

  1. Access email, calendar, file storage from anywhere

Google Apps for Work is a fantastic way to manage the vital aspects of your business – everything from email to document storage to scheduling. We find this an essential tool for living a location-independent life, but any type of business can benefit from this suite of applications.

  1. Google Sites 

Need a wiki page or a team intranet? Google Sites can be an affordable option for making these a reality. 

  1. Almost no downtime in service

For those of you who are a bit more on the nerdy side like me, Google has a cool Apps Status Dashboard that lets you know if they’re experiencing any issues with their tools. The awesome part is there are almost never any interruptions in email or other services. 

One downside: If you manage more than one company/domain you have to pay for each domain unless you choose to set the additional domains up as aliases. We set up domain aliases for one of our clients who manages multiple companies and it’s been an acceptable solution on a limited budget.

Pricing: Google Apps is really affordable at only $5/month per user. This gets you 30GB of storage. You can upgrade when you’re ready for $10/month per user and provides unlimited storage and includes their Vault service. Sign up for a free 30-day trial here or contact us today for a free 15-minute consultation and a coupon for 20% off per user for your first year. This offer expires June 30, 2016.

There are so many other amazing platforms out there as well. These just happen to be a few that we use on a consistent basis. What are some of your favourites? Please comment below!

Peta Williams
peta@sheldrakeandross.com