Productivity Tools, Tools & Tips

Three Free Software Tools for Small Businesses

If you’re running a small business, when it comes to admin it’s easy to stick with what you know. I see many clients trying to manage invoicing and time tracking with Excel or an equivalent spreadsheet, or posting to each social media channel separately. And managing projects can always be tricky, especially when you have multiple clients. But software has moved on. Now there are many Cloud-based applications that can really transform your efficiency. In this post I’ll introduce what I think are the best three free software tools. I hope by using one or all of them you’ll find will help you be more organised and efficient with your business admin.

1. Harvest – for time tracking and invoicing

If you’re charging for time or services, this is a great app that, with some canny configuration, you can use for free but still track time for multiple clients.

The interface is clean and intuitive. You track your time, you invoice for that time, you track the progress of your invoices (sent, unpaid, paid) etc. and you can also generate some great reports based on date ranges.

The Harvest Time Tracking Software Invoice Page

If you want to go further, you can also start using it to track expenses.

A nice feature of this app is that it’s very easy to customise the standard field labels in your invoices, making it perfect for those of us running businesses outside of the US or UK. Just go into Invoices then Settings and select Translations, make your changes, and then click Save Translations when you’re done.

Translate your Invoice Field Names with Harvest

Since the French fiscal year starts on January 1st, it’s not too late to set up something new like this. You can easily migrate your invoices, in order to keep the report up-to-date.

As I mentioned earlier, it is perfectly possible to use the free version of this app to manage multiple client projects and will be showing you how via my Facebook page with a Live in coming weeks. Contact me if you need any help!

2. Trello – for tracking projects and making lists

Trello is one of those super-simple apps that has so many great features, you’ll wonder how you managed your projects without it.

It works around a system of “boards” – think, if you had a physical white board in your office on which to collect and prioritise related tasks. For example, you could create a board for each of your clients, or a board for admin tasks.

A Blank Trello Board
A Simple To Do List Board in Trello

Within each board you then create cards within the board. A card is a category into which you add tasks. You give each task a title then you can add as much or as little detail as you like. There are fields for a description, comments, a due date, and more.

When you create a new board you get a new pallet for creating colour-coded labels unique to that board. Here’s how my Admin board looks with a few label categories defined.

Once you have a simple board like this, this is where it gets interesting.

  • Add a Power-Up (one per board, with the free version of Trello) to add functionality, like linking to your Harvest account, meaning you can track time for specific tasks and assign them to clients. This is a really slick way of integrating your project tasks with time tracking and invoicing.
  • Copy and link tasks across boards. So, for example, you could have a client-specific board with a task, “Update Website”, that you duplicate and link under your Tasks board.
  • Enable collaboration, by sharing boards with others or creating teams.

You can also use Trello to keep track of lists. For inspiration there are hundreds of sample boards in the Trello Gallery. Here you’ll find layouts to help you to manage a job search, build a software application, manage your social media content, even plan a wedding or move house — you name it!

It’s a powerful tool with too many features to cover in this summary post. If you have questions about using it or the best setup for your business or project, get in touch and I can help.

To help you get started I’ve made my Admin Tasks Template board public. You can access it here. and you’ll find instructions for copying it to your own account on Trello’s help page.

3. Buffer – for social media scheduling

We’re all on social media theses days and, whether you love it or hate it, it’s an essential part of the marketing strategy for any business. But it can be a real time suck. Make your life easier by scheduling your social media posts. Then you can set aside time to create your social media in advance, then let the posts roll out over the week or month (or however long you plan ahead). I like this over and above other schedulers like HootSuite because it’s simple and is all about scheduling, so it stops me from getting distracted, reading and replying to other people’s posts, responses, and messages.

A Free Version for Publishing to Three Channels

With the free version of Buffer you can link to up to three channels, including Facebook Pages and Groups, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. If you have multiple businesses to promote the workaround is to setup a Buffer account for each business. Or you can upgrade to a paid account.

Handy Browser Plugins

There are also a handy browser plugins, enabling you to quickly create posts with a single click right from the web page you’re reading.

Working your social media this way will really save you a tonne of time!

4. Google Keep – for storing info from the web

Last but not least, Google Keep is worth a mention. You can use it to collect information about anything and everything you find online, from potential suppliers, customers, competitors, tools, holidays – whatever! It’s easy to use, then, now and again, go into you account to transfer the mot useful stuff to a Trello list.

Google Keep comes with browser extensions and mobile phone apps, so it’s easy to add links to it from any device.

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