Top 5 Free Online Tools for Business

Aren’t some programmes just amazing finds for all sorts of areas of your business?  The tools that are available – often completely free of charge – seem never-ending and I just love to test them out when I’ve read about something new or someone suggests a system I’ve previously undiscovered!

Five of the top programmes I use and recommend in my business as a Virtual Assistant are detailed below.  Each of these are available free of charge and can make your small business (and life) so much more streamlined, organised and efficient.  All of them offer amazing business support and help give a much more professional look and feel for your customers too.

1)         Wetransfer

If you’ve never used Wetransfer before, it will transform your life!  No longer any need to send more than one email when sending a lot of data or having to make images smaller to reduce their file size.  No login or registration is required, just a straightforward nil-cost system of securely sending up to 2GB of files direct from one email address to another, via the internet.  

2)         Toggl

This one is an amazingly useful time management tool and available as an app.  If you’re running a service-orientated business, juggling various clients or just need to know how long certain tasks and activities take, sign up for the free version of Toggl.  You can assign all sorts of projects to different clients and then record your time, either manually or automatically.  The end result is that you can accurately track how many hours have been spent on any project and even produce a professional report with all the details per project/client.  

3)         Mailchimp

Mailchimp is a simple system and app to use.  Facilities include being able to create and send branded, professional, templated emails with the additional capability to track customer behaviour on a mobile dashboard.  You can easily receive sales alerts and performance reports making it a great one-stop shop for creating and monitoring customer newsletters and promotional communications.

4)         Hubspot

Hubspot is a great CRM system with a mobile app for when you’re on the move.  It makes it easy to streamline all the data for existing and prospective customers, offering up to 1,000,000 contacts, users and storage completely free of charge.  The categories for client data and the tasks involved are easy to amend and add to with an easy to use facility to change which areas of information are more relevant for your business to view.  You can link Hubspot with your calendar and set task reminders to be emailed to you on any timescales you choose.

5)         Brightbook

Although not able to be connected to any bank account, this free of charge, basic but fabulous accounting programme is available online but currently sadly not available as an app.  With the facility to record and report on outstanding monies per client as well as generate, save and send invoices and statements whilst logging and storing in one place, all relevant bills and expenses, it’s an amazing free accounting tool for small businesses to feel on top of their accounts.

Declutter Your Mind – Get Organised

We all know that we should declutter our lives to bring about harmony, calm and a sense of wellbeing but doing it on a physical basis can be a much easier process than mentally. If you set aside a day to declutter cupboards, for example, you have a set pattern to work to: put on some old, comfy clothes; get some cleaning products and bin bags together and set about sorting everything into piles.  Once the job is done, the reward is a real sense of achievement and positivity.

However, decluttering your mind can be much more daunting and difficult to achieve, albeit hugely important!  Organisation is key to both physical and mental decluttering and below are 5 tips to help declutter your mind, stay in control and have fewer matters pressing on your mind.

1)         Write it Down

Physically writing a list, either digitally or on paper is an amazing way to feel you can let go of remembering that you must do – or come back to – something.  To-do lists are often talked about in a negative way in terms of your to-do list growing and not reducing, however, if you’re juggling too many action points in your head, writing down a list of tasks or goals which need to be achieved can seriously serve to take away stress.  It can even be a good idea to keep a notebook by the bed in case a lightbulb moment happens at 3am and you think you’ll forget by morning!

2)         Review

Periodically it’s also useful to review a to-do list.  Often a task which dates back in time turns out to be either unnecessary or just no longer a priority and it’s possible to tick it off without even doing it – result!

3)         Prioritise

Prioritising tasks and goals on an ongoing basis is the only true way to make headway with a to-do list otherwise tasks/ideas/goals can remain there for the duration.  Prioritising the tasks that are the most important or those that can be done quickly is a great way of methodically making steady progress through everything on your list.

4)         Schedule

It can really help if you strictly schedule periods of time where you perhaps tackle your email inbox or spend time on social media.  Reducing the need for multi-tasking and focusing on individual activities reduces the risk of adverse mental clutter.  Setting aside specific time to focus wholly on one area increases productivity, avoids mindlessly trawling through social media and as a result saves time and reduces facts, figures and information overload.  Any interesting blogs or articles you come across online can easily be saved for reviewing at a specific time.

 5)        Clear the Decks

‘Tidy space, tidy mind’ might be an old adage but there’s certainly a lot of truth in it.  Clearing the decks and making a tidy workspace can bring about a wave of positivity, productivity and motivation.  Filing copies of all relevant paperwork electronically hugely helps keep the clutter at bay and together with keeping an electronic diary and categorising emails in your inbox in the same categories as your files, all your papers are very easily stored and subsequently located. For those few bits it might be essential to keep as hard copies, colour coded files regularly cleared out are all that’s needed in a filing cabinet drawer.  Only keeping pens that actually work and any other necessary bits and bobs tidily on your desk is the only other ingredient to feel organised and in control of your workspace and by default, your work!

Proof it!

proof it

If you’re writing an email, essay, website, promotional copy or anything else, apart from being engaging, it’s essential that your text is free from any errors.  We’ve all come to rely on spellcheck however in reality, it’s just not enough. The solution is to proofread any piece of writing and detailed below are 7 tips to help make your proofreading more effective:

1          Print out your finished article and proof from a printed sheet of paper.  It can really help and even more so if you use coloured paper, such as yellow or pink.  It’s been proven that people with dyslexic tendencies struggle less to read from coloured paper.  It can be very difficult to spot mistakes on screen and if you also read aloud, it can help pick up on those missing small words that your mind can think it’s seen even when they’re not there!

2          The misuse of apostrophes can be the most problematic issue faced in our quest for good grammar!  The meanings of ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ are very different and although we associate an apostrophe with ‘belonging to’, confusingly, this rule doesn’t apply when using ‘its’.  Equally, apostrophes should never be used to signify a plural.

3          Homonyms are words that share the same pronunciation– or spelling – but have very different meanings.  For example, using ‘principle’ instead of ‘principal’ or ‘accept’ instead of ‘except’ can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence.

4          Punctuation such as a comma is invaluablein making sense of a phrase. For example, ‘let’s eat Grandma’ means something far more sinister than ‘let’s eat, Grandma’!

5          Numbers such as those used in phone numbers or monetary values need to be checked very carefully.  No one wants to have misrepresented the cost of a product or service or directed their customer to the local takeaway by giving the wrong phone number!

6          Focus is key when proofreading.  Sounds obvious but your mind can readily mislead you when reading text and assume it’s seen ‘your’ when ‘you’ has been typed or the words, ‘an’ or ‘of’ when they’re just not there.  Make sure you give full concentration to the piece you’re proofreading – no phone, no television, no conversation, no distraction.

7          If all else fails… get someone else to read it.  A fresh pair of eyes will read copy in a very different way from those of the author who knows exactly what he/she meant to say but hasn’t always typed it!

Versatile Virtual Assistants

Do you:

– run your business remotely and are unsure how to practically recruit support?

– only have need for periodic business support?

– worry about recruiting permanent staff or a series of ever-changing temps?

– need help managing your email inbox or diary?

– run customer events and have little time to follow up?

– spend time on writing social media posts, proofing, data management, research, etc. which would be much better spent on other matters?

– on occasion, just have need for a no-fuss, efficient, experienced extra pair of hands?

The solution to all these issues and many more is to appoint a Virtual Assistant- ad hoc or retained.

A Virtual Assistant does NOT need:

– time and money spent on recruitment

– access to your office

– hand-holding

– company training

– office equipment

– additional costs allocated to pensions, leave or NI

– showing where the coffee machine is….

Inbox Overload?

‘Inbox Zero’ is a strategy developed by US podcaster, Merlin Mann, to stop the stresses of an overloaded email inbox in three steps:-

  1. Completely clear your email inbox to start with a clean slate. Mann said, ‘If you can find the time to check email, you must also use that time to do something with that email.’
  2. Set your inbox to retrieve emails only at intervals, not every time a message arrives; unsubscribe from newsletters and organise folders by deadline not by subject.
  3. Thereafter only check and deal with your emails during dedicated email management periods of time.

Emails prove hugely distracting as they constantly drop into your inbox and – according to one study – it can take up to 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction!

Social Media Posting

social media posting

Posting and blogging across social media platforms is often a continual business need but one which is hugely time consuming. A Virtual Assistant can implement brand messaging on a regular basis, bringing about continuity and freeing up business owners’ valuable time, best spent on the top line strategy planning involved.