Top 20 digital tools to work smarter and grow faster
In today’s innovative digital world, your business can benefit enormously from the vast array of online tools at your disposal, boosting your efficiency and productivity.
However, most businesses are not getting maximum benefit from these tools. This is, of course, understandable – there are so many options to choose from, and it can be difficult to know where to begin. Many business owners are faced with practical obstacles, such as lack of time to invest in integrating the tools and a lack of information around which ones might be effective and efficient for them.
While larger companies may need advanced and costly tech solutions to serve functions such as marketing, sales, customer service and internal operations, SMEs like yours can take advantage of many similar solutions at low cost to fit within your budget, whether you’re operating in a B2B or B2C environment.
The good news is that many of these tools are incredibly easy to use, and don’t take much time to get to grips with – many are simply apps on your phone.
Nor are they costly, as many of them are free or cost only a budget-friendly amount each month or year (many have the option to pay a little more to upgrade to more advanced features). Yet they all have the power to streamline your business.
You may be worried about finding the time to learn how to use them and integrate them into your business. But the truth is, these tools have the potential to save you a huge amount of time.
In fact, by digitising and even automating some of your processes, you might even find that it’s almost like having an extra employee!
To help you get started, we’ve selected some of the best options to give you top 20 tools to help you work smarter and grow faster. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, we think you’ll find it a great selection of practical, popular and proven tools to help you drive your business forward.
If you need to share large files or documents with clients or vendors, Dropbox is an excellent solution. Email platforms have size limits for attaching documents, but Dropbox allows you to send and share files quickly and easily however large they are.
Dropbox has desktop apps for Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS and Linux, as well as mobile apps for smartphones and tablets. You can also automatically upload photos or videos from a range of devices. It offers the option of a free account (with a file storage limit), while Dropbox Business offers more advanced features and unlimited file space, for a monthly fee.
Increasingly, customers want automated contracts and agreements. DocuSign allows you to do just that. The service offers eSignature – a quick way to sign electronically on various devices.
Speed is an essential factor here, with digital agreements cutting out the delay of physically posting and returning documents. Apart from saving workload (printing, scanning and mailing documents), it’s a convenient way to ensure deals get over the line.
Trust and security are also crucial – signatures processed by DocuSign are compliant with the US ESIGN Act and the EU’s eIDAS regulation, including EU Advanced and EU Qualified Signatures.
Typos and bad grammar can be damaging for your business, especially when you want to portray your professionalism and make a good first impression. This is where Grammarly can help. It is a typing assistant that reviews your spelling, grammar and punctuation in real time. Grammarly works as an app or browser extension on a number of different platforms.
The free basic plan is very good, however to step up your writing game you might want to check out the paid plans which offer more features such as plagiarism detection, fluency, tone adjustments, word choice and clarity-focused sentence rewrites. The tool is a must for businesses doing a lot of content marketing.
Project management tools
Slack is a great tool for team collaboration, which operates like a large chat room for a whole team. It can largely replace email as the team’s main method of communication and information sharing. Its workspaces allow communications to be organised by topic and private groups, for sharing information and files in one place.
Slack has a user-friendly dashboard, and as the messaging is quicker and a bit more casual than email, it provides a great digital environment to work with colleagues day-to-day. This could include sharing new business ideas, sending quick project updates or useful pieces of content. Colleagues are constantly kept in the loop, wherever they are.
Content is searchable within the platform, including files, conversations and people. Slack teams allow communities, groups or teams to join a “workspace” via a specific URL or invitation sent by a team admin or owner. Slack has a range of packages at different prices.
Team members often need to work on one part of a larger project and a tool to manage an overall project is Asana. This very practical tool helps teams to manage projects and tasks within one platform. It is designed to improve teamwork and streamlines work management, therefore helping to boost efficiency.
Teams can create projects, assign work to colleagues, specify deadlines and send messages about tasks directly in the system. Typical examples include assigning content work to graphic designers or assigning content writing or editing tasks.
Its simplicity is a big advantage, while it also keeps the workflow moving within a team and ensures accountability by keeping a centralised record of tasks. It’s free to use for up to 15 teammates under the ‘Basic’ package, so is a very realistic option for SMEs.
Project management tool Trello lets you stay on top of everything you need to do by visualising your tasks and workflow. It gives you an easy way to divide your To Do list into stages (columns), with individual tasks on digital cards that you can drag and drop from one stage or column to the next depending on where it is in the workflow (for example, stages might be ‘incoming’, ‘do today’, ‘in review’ and ‘invoiced’). Each individual task can be opened to add notes and deadlines, as well as checklists and comments, and you can assign them to individual members of your team.
Trello’s pricing includes a free option, with low-cost paid upgrades for additional features.
7. Bamboo HR
From hiring someone new and onboarding them to conducting annual performance reviews, Bamboo HR helps you manage every stage of the employee lifecycle. It gives you a secure place to store employee records, keep track of annual leave requests and it has a timesheet function if that is relevant for your business.
This platform was built with SMEs in mind which make up 89% of their customers. You can check out which package is most suitable for your business.
You probably already have an informal system in place for logging your business expenses, but if you’re still relying on an excel spreadsheet or paper receipts, digitising this area of your admin could save you valuable time. That’s where ExpenseIn can help.
ExpenseIn is a tool that saves time for both you and your employees when it comes to recording expenses, mileage and other business spending. All the employee has to do is to take a picture of their receipt and upload to the app. From the employer’s point of view, expense categories can be set to match your line item accounting and VAT rates are automatically calculated.
Expenses can be logged and approved in record time online, and you’ll also be able to generate reports to show you instantly where money is being spent. The Essentials package gives you up to four active users and costs around £3.80 per month, with larger numbers of users available for a higher monthly fee.
Marketing and social media tools
Hootsuite is a social media management platform that lets you manage multiple social media channels. It unifies social media strategy and outputs for a business within one platform, building your audience engagement and gathering key insights. Businesses will benefit from the organisation and structure it brings to this process.
Hootsuite supports social network integrations for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube. Customising the dashboard can save a huge amount of time compared to running multiple social accounts individually. The platform offers free 30-day trials and a range of paid plans, escalating in cost and sophistication.
If you need to create visual content such as social media graphics, videos, presentations, posters and other assets, Canva is a brilliant graphic design tool available on web and mobile and providing millions of images, illustrations, fonts and templates. It has an extensive range of beautiful-looking templates for business flyers, brochures, business cards, logos, posters, infographics and more.
The free package gives you a lot to work with, while the ‘Pro’ and ‘Enterprise’ options offer more customisation and advanced branding tools for monthly fees.
Email is a key marketing channel for many businesses, as it’s a great way of connecting with your customer base, send them information, news and offers.
Mailchimp is a popular email marketing tool for large and small companies alike. It facilitates and manages digital communication and marketing with clients and customers, providing well designed campaigns and powerful data analysis.
You can design personalised email campaigns using their template options, and send different emails to different types of customers by segmenting your contact lists. Their free plan caters for up to 2,000 contacts and 10,000 emails per month – a viable option for many SMEs running weekly, monthly or seasonal campaigns and promotions.
Customer service and sales tools
Zendesk is a cloud-based customer support platform helping businesses offer better customer experience by connecting with customers on any channel, including phone, chat, email and social media. It unifies customer interactions in one simple platform, letting you track support requests and answer questions from customers quickly.
Zendesk offers advanced customer relationship management (CRM) tools to keep on top of customer support demands, and is scalable for businesses of different sizes. The platform is focused on providing better efficiency within the team and improving the customer experience (CX). It offers free trials at the outset.
Hubspot is a CRM platform that allows you to manage sales, marketing and customer service in one place. Features such as lead generation, marketing automation and customer feedback all help you stay on top of numerous aspects of your business.
From running marketing campaigns to turning leads into sales and turning sales into happy repeat customers, Hubspot helps you do it all. Prices start from €41 a month.
Reviews are crucial to building trust in your business and Trustpilot is a great tool for gathering them. It can be integrated into your website to allow customers to leave reviews of your products or services. The platform also gives you the ability to respond to reviews, along with insights to help you better understand your customers.
The basic plan is free.
15. Google Calendar and Google Meet
As well as personal scheduling, Google Calendar is a quick and easy way to set up meetings, allowing you to send invitations to colleagues or clients and include the meeting location and agenda outline. Pair it with Google Meet, a video conferencing tool that lets two or more colleagues chat online – it just needs a working camera and microphone on your PC or phone. Both Google Calendar and Google Meet are free, and you’ll find them in the Google suite.
Everyone has grown very used to Zoom since the pandemic, and it remains a powerful tool for connecting with remote-working colleagues or business contacts from around the world.
It’s great for saving time and money over the cost of meeting in person, letting you schedule and conduct meetings from your desktop or phone and even share your screen.
The basic plan is free, though group meetings have a 40-minute limit. You can also upgrade for larger and longer meetings, and for extra features such as recording.
We all know the difficulty of scheduling a meeting where multiple people need to be involved and finding a time everyone can do. It can result in endless emails and phone calls to arrange a time to suit everyone. This is where Doodle comes in. The organiser simply sends a list of time and date options to all parties, and each person can then indicate what suits them.
Use it to organise attendees for regular business meetings or coordinate work events for an entire organisation, managing it online in one place. It takes just four quick steps to make a poll and easily manage events and details, and the pricing plans are very reasonable.
Managing your company accounts doesn’t need to be a headache with a simple accounting tool like Quickbooks, which lets you create and send professional invoices, log expenses, manage payroll, submit VAT and more – either from your desktop or mobile phone.
The mid-level Essentials plan costs €11 a month.
Revolut is a really handy tool for businesses who operate locally and globally and need to save money on sending or receiving payments, giving you business banking at market-leading rates.
Whether you’re paying employees who are based abroad or receiving bank transfers from customers, it takes minutes to set up and you can start using it immediately.
There’s a free option, but to get basic features you’ll need to pay a monthly fee, which starts from €25 a month and includes a certain number of free international payments each month.
Customers who have traditionally paid in cash for household services such as gardeners, electricians are increasingly expecting to be able to pay by card. If you need an easy way for your business to take card payments, the answer is SumUp, which lets you accept card payments for a 1.69% fee per transaction, wherever you are. This is ideal if you run a business that means you’re always on the go – for example, a plumbing business, taxi service or market stall – and need a quick way to take payments from customers when you’re attending a job.
Their card readers start at just €29, pairing with your smartphone and also letting you have a free online business account to track your payments. From €32 a month, you can get the full point of sale functionality that enables you to process payments quickly and offer a great service to your customers.
Digital tools really can be your ‘invisible employee’, saving time and money, as well as growing customer numbers and loyalty. If your business can leverage them to work smarter, the time invested to introduce and integrate them will be paid back many times over. It will also improve your customer experience, boosting your brand, reputation and revenue.
Clever use of digital tools can streamline and improve efficiency within your business, while also freeing up much-needed time for you to concentrate on other important areas of the business.
Get lots more advice on growing your business at our SME Start hub, or head to SME Evolve for insights to help you take your business further.
Oonagh McCutcheon is our Corporate Communications Manager and National Director of our .IE Digital Town Programme.