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Are you using the right business tools?

Are you using the right business tools?

There’s a good chance you’re using way too many business tools that complicate your life. It’s time to simplify.

I recently received exciting news that a friend of mine became the mayor of an airport terminal. I wonder if that honor comes with a sash. Yes, I’m making fun because I just don’t get it. All this “checking in” and posting updates and sharing every little piece of daily minutiae just don’t appeal to me. No, I’m not some old guy who runs kids off his lawn and uses words like “newfangled.” I just don’t have the time or patience for all the complexity that comes with the social media scene. There are so many apps and likes. Who has time for it all?

Social media devotees are not the only ones who suffer from self-inflicted tech complexity. Many small business owners are also impaired by the use of a stew of digital tools, although for them, it’s less of a choice.

Because I work on a team that builds software for entrepreneurs and micro-businesses, I get to meet with lots of business owners. We’ve had countless discussions with them about the tools they use and why they chose them. These are businesses of all types, sizes and ages; but do you know what is common among them? To some degree, they all use a mix of tools that are either the wrong fit or not connected with each other…or both. Imagine if I were to suddenly see the social media light and jump right in. What would happen if I just started using the first 10 apps that came up when I Googled “social media”? I’d undoubtedly use some of the wrong apps for my needs, as well as apps with redundant features. Such is the case for so many small business owners.

This problem we witnessed of the use of ill-fitting and disconnected apps seemed so consistent among businesses we visited that we validated our observations with quantitative analysis (yeah, we sent a survey). Here’s some of what we found among businesses in the U.S. with fewer than 10 employees:

• 66 percent used three or more apps to manage their business.

• The median cost of these tools is $250 per year.

• The top problem with accounting software being used is that it has too many features.

• If business owners could fix one thing about the tools they use to manage their business, it would be to use one application that performs many functions.

• The top problem caused by the use of multiple tools is that the same data has to be entered in multiple places.

• 29 percent said they spend at least 25 percent of their time on business management tasks, rather than billable work.

Our survey confirmed what we had seen with our own eyes: business owners know there’s a problem. They know they’re not being as efficient as they could be, but they’re not sure how to fix it. I remember one woman in particular who timidly demonstrated for us how she uses her accounting software. She was clearly a talented and successful entrepreneur, but confessed that the oversized software intimidated her. We asked her why she chose it and she said, “I don’t know what other options there are.”

If the results from our survey closely describe your business, consider taking some simple steps that will get you spending more time building your business rather than running it.

• First, make a list of the software and apps you use.

• Review the list for any redundancies.

• If you’re using separate apps for invoicing and accounting, check to see if your accounting app can also create invoices. Maybe your contact management app also has a to-do list. Keeping more of your data in one place reduces extra steps and saves you time.

• With your remaining list of apps, contact the publisher of each and see if their app connects with any of the others on your list.

• Get instructions for setting up the connections. You may be turned off by the time or seeming technical expertise required getting apps to work together, but the effort may pay for itself many times over.

You and your business could probably benefit from having more of your attention put on finding opportunities and servicing customers, right? Well, if you’re like most small business owners, there’s timesavings to be had in consolidating some of your tools into one or two leaner, better-fitting apps. Who knows? You may free up enough time to become mayor of your own office.

Mike Savory manages the product management and user experience teams for Sage One North America. His responsibilities include product planning, market research and user experience.

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