Management consulting guru Peter Drucker famously said business enterprises have “only two basic functions: marketing and innovation.”
While perhaps true at a philosophical, strategic level, it obviously takes many other disciplines and activities to support those two functions, from managing people and projects to accounting, shipping, website management, customer service, and more.
Fortunately, as with marketing and analytics and other sales & marketing tools, there are a wide variety of platforms, apps, and extensions to help business professionals in almost any role do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.
Here are nine categories of useful tools for busy business professionals in human resources (HR), accounting, finance, operations, customer support, and marketing.
File Sharing Tools
Sending very large files as email attachments, especially to groups of recipients, is at best bad form, and at worst impossible. Gumming up inboxes with huge file attachments is not an efficient way to work. It can also lead to having multiple versions of the file on different people’s computers, adding confusion to the collaboration.
File sharing tools enable you to easily and securely share videos, high-resolution images, and other very large files with any individual or group, and keep files in sync across your devices. Popular options include DropBox, WeTransfer, Otixo, and Google Drive.
Tools like FTP Today and Bynder Orbit offer highly secure, HIPAA-compliant file sharing. Raindrop lets you clip photos, videos, and other content from websites; organize your clips into collections; and share collections with any individual or group. EnduraData enables multi-location organizations to securely share and sync large numbers of files and amounts of data.
Continuing Education Tools
Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, profoundly impacting nearly every profession. Old professionals are disappearing (remember film processing technicians?), new ones are emerging, and fast-growing jobs like physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and software developers struggle to meet the demand for talent.
Even in established and “safe” professions, the tools and methods used to do the work are changing rapidly. How do you keep up?
That’s where online education tools can play a vital role. Udemy, one of the most popular continuing education sites, offers more than 40,000 self-paced courses across a wide range of subject areas. Coursera and edX partner with top universities to provide online access to popular courses. And if you just need a modest amount of guidance on a particular topic, Clarity connects you with experts on a pay-per-minute basis.
Personal Productivity Tools
Work is infinite and time is finite. And those are laws of the universe that will never change. So what to do?
Personal productivity tools to the rescue! These tools can help you make better use of your finite time, so you get more done without just working harder (or longer). As with many of the other types of tools covered so far, these come in a variety of types.
Create smart personal to-do lists and task schedules with AnyDo or TeuxDeux to keep your work on track and on task. They are like project management tools for individuals rather than teams. Automatically send yourself text messages about important events or tasks, one-time or recurring, with Ohdontforget.
Email can be a productivity killer—especially dealing with all the unimportant nonsense that clutters up your inbox. With MailOverload, you can automatically filter all emails sent from non-authorized senders into a separate folder, where you can deal with them (or not) later. You see only the messages from the people you’ve identified as the most important in your inbox.
Finally, the best way to increase productivity is to let software do the work for you. Use IFTTT (If This Then That) or Zapier to automate simple task workflows, like getting an email notification each time your favorite blogger (or client) publishes a new post, or automatically sharing each of your new posts across your social networks as soon as published.
Google Chrome Extensions for Digital Marketers
Most marketing professionals spend a lot of time—even the majority of the day—in a web browser. Extensions can expand the capabilities of your browser beyond keeping up with industry news, dealing with email, and using SaaS apps.
There’s a vast collection of Chrome browser extensions available, but one of the most popular types is contact insight tools. Extensions like Rapportive, Clearbit Connect, and Nudge display a sidebar in Gmail that shows additional information about senders and recipients, such as profile photo, job role and company, social media accounts, and news mentions. ContactOut lets you find phone numbers and email addresses for anyone with a LinkedIn profile.
Social media is another popular category. Use Hootlet to instantly share content from any page to Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. The BuzzSumo Chrome Extension offers similar capabilities but also displays social share counts for any page across popular networks, and lets you see who has shared that page or post on Twitter.
For SEO professionals, NoFollow will highlight links to any of your domains on any web page, using different colors to highlight nofollow and dofollow links. Open SEO Stats displays information about backlinks, rank, WhoIs, and other stats for any page.
And there are many, many more special-purpose extensions:
- Send and receive text messages on a PC or Mac using your mobile phone number (Android only) with MightyText.
- Use OneTab to dramatically reduce memory use when you’ve got multiple browser tabs open at once.
- Manage passwords with LastPass.
- Add speech recognition capabilities and the ability to “type” long documents using only your voice with Dictation.io.
- Stay safe online, stop phishing attacks, and get warned when you visit dodgy websites by using Avast Online Security.
- Convert any web page to a PDF file (Windows only) using the Adobe Acrobat Create PDF extension.
Project Management Tools
Keeping your own tasks and projects and projects on track can be challenging. Coordinating the efforts of a project team multiplies the challenge.
Fortunately, there are project management tools to help you keep projects running smoothly (or least understand why they are off track). Features and capabilities vary, but most of these tools include a core set of functions including the ability to:
- create and monitor projects;
- add team members;
- assign tasks;
- track the status of individual tasks and overall progress;
- chat with or message team members;
- set up and receive alerts and notifications; and
- attach and share project-related files (documents, images, videos, etc.).
Like marketing automation, project management is a popular and competitive technology category. Among the leading tools in this group are Basecamp, Asana, Wrike, Mavenlink, Teamwork, Dapulse, eXo Plattform, ProofHub, TimeCamp, and MeisterTask.
There are also a wide range of project-related and special-purpose tools that provide unique functionality for specific needs. For example, JIRA Software and Scrumy are project management platforms specifically for software development using agile and scrum methodologies.
If you need a platform for team communication, in place of or in addition to project management software, Slack is one of the most popular options: it supports multiple discussion threads, the ability to invite only specific users to particular threads, file attachments, and searchable archives of past discussions.
Kinetic Response offers similar features designed specifically for creating “virtual war rooms” to manage collaborative crisis management. Voxer is a lightweight messaging app for sharing photos, text, and voice messages within a team.
Finally, this category includes special-purpose tools like Alertful for setting reminders of important tasks; TagMyDoc for managing collaborative document production processes; and zipBoard for managing website development projects.
Online HR, Payroll, and Employee Scheduling Tools
Though HR departments sometimes have the reputation of being mostly about “enforcement and elimination, or Catbert-style torment, there are plenty of good people in the profession fighting back against bad HR policies and practices.
Particularly in small to midsize firms, HR is a mix of tactical, operational requirements like making sure employees are paid accurately and on time, and more strategic functions (where most HR professionals would like to focus more of their efforts) like employee engagement and professional development.
There are a variety of online tools to help with both the tactical and strategic sides of HR. General purpose HR management tools help take care of the operational basics. Features vary a bit from package to package but commonly include:
- payroll management;
- regulatory compliance;
- employee record keeping; and
- benefits administration.
In industries like retail, restaurants, and hospitality, employee scheduling is a major issue. Employers need the ability to add or reduce shift staffing, sometimes on fairly short notice, to accommodate uneven demand. Employees need the flexibility to block out certain time periods and trade shifts with other workers when unexpected conflicts arise.
When I Work is one of the most popular employee scheduling tools for independent businesses and small chains, while Branch Messenger offers similar capabilities for employees and managers in large retail and restaurant chains as well as call centers and distribution centers.
There are also a variety of special-purpose HR tools on the market, such as Jazz to manage online recruiting and hiring; Saba to help optimize talent management, training, and succession planning; and Structural to foster employee engagement and collaboration, particularly in businesses that use remote workers.
Small Business Accounting and Finance Tools
It may not have been exciting to Peter Drucker, but without an accounting function to collect revenue, pay the bills, and manage cash flow, all the marketing and innovation in the world wouldn’t do a business much good.
As with project management and HR tools, there are a number of general online accounting platforms that vary in terms of specific features but offer a common core of functionality, encompassing:
- invoicing and billing;
- purchasing / purchase orders;
- expense tracking;
- payroll administration;
- inventory control; and
- financial reporting.
This category also extends to special purpose accounting-related tools, such as TaxJar (sales tax filing for online merchants); Slimvoice (simple invoicing and payment management that integrates with Stripe for credit card processing); and Hubstaff (team scheduling and time tracking plus client invoicing).
Miscellaneous Online Tools for Marketers
A marketing professional’s day is filled with both big projects and a myriad of small tasks. Just as their are tools for the big areas—content development, social media management, marketing automation—there are an array of apps to help with the smaller things as well.
Here are just a smattering of examples:
- Domain name research: Determine who is hosting any website with the aptly named WhoIsHostingThis. Search for availability of any domain name, across extensions, and easily register and transfer domains using iwantmyname.
- Language translation: Translate text between more than 100 different languages with Google Translate.
- Password management: Argh, all those passwords—different websites, services, tools, subscriptions, social media accounts, and on and on. Securely keep track of all those passwords in one place with Dashlane or 1Password. Create new, hard-to-guess passwords using Strong Password Generator.
- Direct mail: Use Postcardly or Inkit to send postcards as easily as sending emails. The latter lets you create targeted lists based on industry or zip code, and run A/B tests to optimize mailer design. For a more upscale mailer that will really grab the recipient’s attention, use Video Plus Print to mail printed materials plus an integrated video screen, up to 10.1″,with personalized video content.
- Mileage tracking: For consultants or anyone who needs to keep track of their driving mileage for tax or other reporting purposes, MileIQ automatically captures and stores data for every trip.
- PDF conversion: Try PDFEscape for editing PDF content, creating forms, and encrypting PDF documents. OnlineOCR lets you upload PDFs or any file containing text (JPG, GIF, PNG, etc.) and convert the text to into Word, Excel, or editable text formats. Learn more about editing PDFs in this helpful guide from JotForm.
- Web printing: PrintWhatYouLike lets you clip out the parts of a web page you don’t want to print (ads, related articles, etc.) and print only what’s left. PrintFriendly automatically removes ad and navigation elements and allows you to output what remains to a printer or PDF file.
- Website annotation: Finally, Marker.to is a yellow highlighter pen for web pages. Highlight any parts of a page you want to call attention to, then share it via a custom URL with anyone else.
Special-Purpose Business Software Tools
As with the miscellaneous marketing tools above, there are a variety of difficult-to-categorize online business applications. These serve either a very specific and narrow function, or general capabilities that cross departmental boundaries.
Apptivo is sort of a Swiss Army knife for small business; an all-in-one operations management suite incorporating functionality for CRM and email marketing; invoicing and expense reports; help desk and field service support; and project management.
kinops from Kinetic Data is a lightweight business process management tool for midsized enterprises. It offers many similar features to project management tools (team collaboration, task assignment and management, file attachments, team chat/messaging) but is designed to automate repetitive tasks like employee onboarding.
Most of these applications are more limited in their ambition, however. Examples include:
- Office software suites: Installing Microsoft Office on your desktop or laptop is no longer the only option for integrated word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation capabilities. Alternatives include Open Office, Office.com (a.k.a. Office 365—the MS Office suite online), and Google Docs. The latter two also provide online file storage, so your files are easier to share and won’t them if your hard drive crashes.
- Online payments: Square enables you to accept payment anywhere using a small mag stripe reader that attaches to an iPhone or iPad. Invoice Home lets you create professional-looking invoices, track payments, and apply applicable sales taxes.
- Package shipping: For anyone who sells physical products online, ShipStation is ecommerce fulfillment software that integrates with popular marketplace and shopping carts to automatically print shipping labels and send using the lowest-cost carrier. Boxoh is a universal package tracking tool that works across carriers.
- Other business tools: Find out if anyone is stealing your content and violating your copyright online using Copyscape. Scan documents (business cards, receipts, etc.) anywhere using your iPhone and Scannable by Evernote. Easily fax documents from your PC with FaxZero.
Business professionals across functional areas will (almost) always have more work to do than time to do it. Fortunately, online technology lets professionals replace “do more with less” with “do more with more (tools).”
The online apps, browser extensions, suites, and platforms above help marketers as well as professionals in HR, accounting, finance, operations, and customer support improve their own productivity as well as coordinate team efforts more effectively, by simplifying and automating a wide variety of common business tasks.
This is the ninth and final post in the Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing Tools series.
#9: Nine Valuable Varieties of Online Business Tools