Five tools to help your small business run more efficiently

Whether you’re looking for a digital platform to manage projects, or simply to share files, the tools that work for a corporation may be not be right for your 25-employee startup.

Toru Hanai/Reuters
A man using his laptop in Tokyo.

For small businesses with analytical leanings but limited resources, the trap is difficult to avoid. Signing up for services and tools that are built to make project management more efficient but actually make it less.

Cumbersome processes comprising elaborate goal-setting, for example, can turn a small task into a larger one. So it’s important to recognize that whether you’re looking for a digital platform to manage projects or simply share files, the tool that’s working for a corporation in the office next door may be not be right for your sub-25-employee startup.

With that, here are five such tools that have come in handy for us at ValuePenguin.

1. Communication: Slack

We use Slack to share company-wide news, updates and links of interest. We also use it for team and direct, or peer-to-peer, messaging. For example, our tech and public relations teams have their own channels. And when a project involves members of various teams — a developer, a designer and our credit card analyst, for example — Slack channels are suitable for long-term projects while messaging gets the job done for shorter-term initiatives.

The flexibility of the platform, plus its ability to integrate some of the tools below, made switching over from Google Hangouts worth our while. It’s also cut down on our use of email, where CCing while keeping conversations organized is harder to accomplish.

2. Project Management: Trello

We have experimented with various project management tools and find Trello to have the most intuitive interface. It also has many uses across teams: Our office manager employs it to track her to-do’s, and our editorial team uses it to track the progress of content pieces (including this one on funeral insurance), from the idea phase all the way to the stage of publishing and beyond.

We like Trello’s ability to quickly set a due date, input a checklist and assign tasks to team members — you tag coworkers the way you would in a Slack conversation. It’s ideal for organizations like ours, where we’re growing to the point of needing more sophisticated organization.

3. File-sharing: Google Drive

Our team recognized early on that we needed a centralized repository for all of the documents that affect our employees. In addition to best practices, brand guidelines and our weekly status reports, we also house folders that affect each of our company’s teams. The sharing function of Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides allow us to easily access and disperse in-progress projects and long-standing materials.

All the while, Drive give us the power to set strict permissions so that we can share a Sheet with freelancers without giving them access to our entire library of proprietary information.

4. Freelancer Management: Upwork

Small teams or companies often need outside help. We have tried many ways of finding good part-time workers, and Upwork has been one of the more successful methods. Through posting jobs and simply searching through profiles, we have connected with talented administrative professionals, content creators and researchers.

Once we form relationships with freelancers we want to continue working with, Upwork makes it easy to track their assignments, offer constructive feedback and get them paid on time and in an accounting-friendly way. (Freelancers often do request to invoice us off of Upwork, which takes a 5-to-20% cut of earnings, based on the amount of work submitted.)

5. Tech Requests: Pivotal Tracker

Our technology team understandably grew tired of fielding our every request, from the time our email login wasn’t working to the occasion we noticed a bug on our website. Their big-picture solution, Pivotal Tracker, allows coworkers to submit a detailed request form, which is then reviewed, evaluated and prioritized on a recurring basis.

This process forces us to think more deeply about our tech issue before taking up the time of one of our tech-savvy colleagues. It also allows them to funnel all of our requests for their expertise — and without us invading their Slack channel.

This story originally appeared on ValuePenguin.

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